Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie gave his keynote address to the Brighton Liberal Democrat Conference this morning. Seeing him speak after MIke Moore, you can see how their vastly different styles complement each other.
Mike is statesmanlike and reasonable,Willie will get in there and say things that are uncomfortable for our opponents to hear. I know that there will be many SNP supporters who weep into their beer when they think of Alex Salmond cosying up to Murdoch, or pandering to the Chinese over the Dalai Lama’s visit, or see their MPs cosying up to the English Democrats.
Willie’s speech was a call for liberal values, not exhibited by the First Minister and some of Salmond’s colleagues, to come to the fore in the run up to the independence referendum.
While he had harsh words for those who associated with the likes of the English Democrats, who similarly want to break up the UK and espouse some pretty unpleasant policies to boot, he was also quick to point out the benefits of working constructively together to deliver things lke equal marriage and mminimum pricing for alcohol. I was frankly surprised to see his call for minimum pricing across the UK was applauded as the murmurings I’ve heard from English Lib Dems on the subject have not been universally suppotive.
I thought his speech was very good – and he wasn’t at all phased by the lectern suddenly sinking a few inches in mid sentence as it adjusted to his height.
You’ll have to forgive the formatiting. The technology isn’t playing ball with me. However, you have the whle thing here and I’ll pretty it up later.
Last year people were writing us off. Perhaps even some people here, supporters, wondered how a group of five MSPs, cut by two thirds in the elections, could make any impact on the Scottish political scene.
Although our opponents will always deride us they are privately fizzing that the Liberal Democrats will just not disappear.
Well I am not at all sorry to disappoint them.
As history shows, we have a bit more staying power than that.
Scotland is a tolerant and liberal, understanding and compassionate country. People are generous and value fairness.
Those popular values have given us the strength to argue the liberal case with confidence.
And that is the case I will continue to lead.
We’ll make the liberal case.
Unlike Alex Salmond who does not.
He likes to court the rich and the powerful.
The cosy relationship that he has fostered with those with vested interests runs counter to the values that Scotland holds dear.
He was asked to write a guest column for the first edition of the Sun on Sunday. In it he said that News International was not the only company involved in phone hacking.
He used the argument that many mothers will use when defending their errant son he wasn’t the only one, others did it too.
Alex Salmond’s defence of Rupert Murdoch’s empire revealed a politician prepared to do anything to get the support of the media – even if it meant betraying the phone hacking victims.
Dozens of innocent lives made a living hell. It was wrong, wrong,wrong.
We saw the same in the summer. The Dalai Lama came to Scotland.
We learnt that the Chinese Government was going round telling everybody not to meet him.
People in Scotland didn’t listen to them or bow to their pressure.
Except for one man.
The First Minister.
He submitted to pressure from the Chinese in a way that I am so proud that our Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg did not.
It seems that whether you’ve got a billion pounds or a billion people, the First Minister will do whatever you want. No questions asked.
That isn’t liberal government.
If you live outside Scotland you may not have a vote in the referendum but you do have a voice.
As we approach the referendum, the danger is that the voices on the extreme will dominate the debate.
We’ve already heard from some English nationalists that they want Scotland out. They don’t value our United Kingdom.
These are the allies of Alex Salmond’s SNP in their fight to break up Britain.
They are working together, attending each other’s conferences and sharing ideas.
But despite what you may have heard most people in Scotland don’t want to leave.
We want to stay – but it’s not guaranteed.
So I want to hear your voice in the debate about the future of the UK.
I want you to show that the rest of the UK values Scotland and our partnership together.
I want the moderate, reasonable, open and welcoming voices from outside Scotland to be heard.
You can speak up for what the UK means for you.
Whether it’s the National Health Service designed by an Englishman, delivered by a Welshman.
Or it’s the BBC founded by a Scotsman for the whole of the UK not just Scotland.
Or the state pension introduced by Lloyd George; a Liberal Mancunian with a Welsh accent.
Speak up for what Scotland means to you.
It could be intellectual, with the Scottish Enlightenment giving us great thinkers like James Hutton, David Hume and Adam Smith.
Or it could be as simple as having loved ones from Scotland and caring about the country our children will grow up in.
Whatever you value I want you to make your voice heard.
Promise me you won’t leave the debate to the extreme views of nationalists.
We don’t want Scotland to break from the rest of the UK but we do want to change it;
To deliver home rule with more powers so that Scotland can determine its own destiny on the domestic agenda whilst sharing the risks and rewards with the rest of the UK.
That’s why Sir Ming Campbell will be reporting back next month from his Home Rule Commission.
It won’t be fiscal autonomy or devo-max.
It will be Fiscal Federalism as set out in the Steel Commission.
Ming’s report will open the dialogue on more powers with the voters and between the parties.
We can expect it to recommend powerful tools for Scotland within the UK for fairness, for business and to tackle inequality.
I encourage Labour and the Conservatives to start their discussions to develop a new accord to put to the country in the 2015 general election.
And if Scotland decides to stay in the UK there’s a role for the SNP.
They can work with others to deliver the new accord.
No matter what the result in the referendum, parties of all stripes will need to work together to deliver more powers, more decisions, more responsibility at home.
If we are able to build a consensus endorsed at the general election we can promptly move to deliverHome Rule for Scotland inside a strong United Kingdom.
And we won’t need a referendum to deliver it either.
We didn’t need a referendum for the Calman proposals and we won’t need a referendum now.
Even though independence dominates Scottish politics, there is still an enormous amount of other work going on.
And a lot of it shows the great strength and value we all get from different government’s working and sharing across the United Kingdom.
Different governments will set the pace on different policy areas. We all benefit.
For example, how to tackle Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
Our ground breaking Scottish legislation on minimum pricing on alcohol is something we worked with the SNP to deliver.
There is a close link between price and consumption and consumption and harm.
I am pleased the UK Government is consulting on this and I hope they take the bold steps to deliver this change.
We are also pleased to be able to work with the SNP on giving churches and others the freedom to conduct same sex marriages if they wish to do so.
Equal marriage is a mark of a modern, tolerant nation – a nation that values all no matter what their sexual orientation.
I am so proud that it is the Liberal Democrats that are moving to deliver equal marriage across the UKtoo.
And Scotland can learn from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Listening to the nationalists you would think that problems across the UK can only be solved ifeveryone just does what they say.
But it’s not just one-way traffic.
The Coalition Government is moving to give 40 per cent of 2-year-olds access to early learning. In Scotland it is just a tiny number.
I have shown the Scottish Government how they can find the money to increase early intervention work.
Those children in Scotland are not getting any younger. If they miss out on early education this year, they miss out forever.
The Scottish Government can learn from the United Kingdom right now.
Everyone in the UK benefits.
The United Kingdom is stronger as a result of different governments setting the pace on different policies.
What we can do in Scotland and what we can do in the United Kingdom make Scotland a more liberal place to live and work.