Ed Davey’s speech to Scottish Lib Dem Conference – Independence is Brexit 2.0

Ed Davey spoke to Scottish Lib Dem Conference on Friday. Here is his speech in full:

One of the things that gives me great hope for our Party is seeing so many brilliant rising stars like Joe.

In the year of COP26, Glasgow will be in the global spotlight, and I hope that talented young activists like Joe can be at the forefront of making liberal voices heard. In the crucial debate of our generation – the climate.

I had hoped that by now the Government would be on top of this pandemic. That I would be speaking in person and with you able to knock on doors to get as many Liberal Democrat MSPs elected as possible.

Instead, I was delighted to join some of you for the recent Maraphone event that took place on Six Nations weekend.

You may not have beaten Wales on the pitch, but on the phones Scotland reigns supreme. And please don’t mention the Calcutta Cup.

But seriously, if you haven’t yet had a chance to join one of those Maraphone events, I would highly recommend it. It feels pretty good to connect with voters again.

When I spoke to you last, I was in the middle of my listening tour, travelling up and down the UK.

I talked of our internationalist values and our unwavering pro-European commitment.

And Brexit is already the disaster we said it would be – with huge costs for business.

From the record increase in red tape hitting our exporters to the loss of the Erasmus scheme, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government’s response to the worst economic downturn in 300 years is – to make it more difficult to trade. More difficult to do business. More difficult to keep your job. The Tories seem determined to make us smaller, poorer and more isolated.

They didn’t write that on the side of their bus.

To take just one example: Scottish seafood exporters are losing £1m every day – when the Government could have followed Christine Jardine’s advice and secured a grace period for their trading arrangements.

The UK deserves better than this. I have never been more convinced that being part of the European Union must be part of our country’s destiny.

Sadly Brexit is not the only challenge facing the Scottish economy.

The UK Government has been no more successful at selling the best of Scotland across the Atlantic than it has at keeping the free flow of goods to the continent.

Scotch Whisky exports are now at their lowest levels for 10 years — a product in which Scotland is the utterly undisputed world leader. The Conservatives spent years cosying up to Donald Trump and now we are paying the price.

As we come out of the pandemic, I want to see a green recovery with high skilled, high wage jobs for people in every corner of the UK. I want to see our world leading industries flourishing with hundreds of thousands of good jobs.

That will never happen under Boris Johnson’s cruel and incompetent Conservative Government, whose budget this week threatens to cut off the recovery before it has even got started, letting down small businesses and allowing far too many people to fall through the cracks.

Nor will it happen under a hapless SNP government who would impose independence – Brexit 2.0.

Liberal Democrats want to put recovery first. The SNP want to break-up first.

Liberal Democrats have plans to recover the health and jobs of the Scottish people, SNP plans would harm the NHS and hit jobs across Scotland.

We Liberal Democrats want to see a society richer in more than just material terms. I want to see a society that is fairer, greener and more caring.

That’s why last year I pledged to be the voice of the 9 million carers in our country.

If you’ve heard my story before you will know that this is a deeply personal subject to me. I’ve been a carer throughout my life – for my mum during my teens, then for my wonderful Nanna, and now for my disabled son.

Our Stand up for Carers campaign aims to make sure that carers are no longer forgotten or left behind by those in power.

I have been inspired by Willie Rennie, who has pressed the Scottish Government for months over carers and the situation in care homes.

From exposing the lack of tests and PPE, to pushing for safe visiting to be allowed once more. The people in these homes have spent months apart from their families.

Willie Rennie has been right to fight in their corner. He has been right to make the case for those families to have access to PPE and testing. It has taken months of pressure, but the Scottish Government has finally done as he has asked.

His work has shown how Liberal Democrats can make a difference.

Making it possible for family carers to spend quality time with their loved ones after months of separation and allowing those nearing the ends of their lives to do so with dignity and support.

Liberal Democrats should be proud of our record standing up for local communities and local services. When I talk to voters, it’s not constitutional affairs that are on their mind —it’s the state of the care service, their daughter’s job, their brother’s operation. People have had enough of all the arguments over the constitution and they want to put the recovery first.

Throughout this pandemic the Liberal Democrats have worked with others. It is in our nature. We worked hard to deliver extra business support, testing and a faster vaccine programme.

Too often, Scotland’s two governments have used the pandemic as fuel in their never-ending constitutional war.

They’re happy for the public to watch them slug it out. Boris Johnson is hoping that you will forget that we’re only in lockdown three because he made such a mess of the first two.

And Nicola Sturgeon is hoping that you’ll forget the flames of internal party warfare barely concealed beneath the surface of the SNP.

And while they squabble; people’s jobs and people’s lives suffer.

It’s the job of true leaders to bring people together, not push them further apart.

I wish they could take a lesson from the selfless community activists who have pulled together.

Neighbours bringing food and medicines to those who are shielding or self-isolating.

The NHS staff who have kept calm and carried on in the face of grave horrors.

Instead, people are being offered a Scottish Conservative party in the pocket of Boris Johnson’s Vote Leave cronies or a Scottish Nationalist party that will put another independence referendum before the recovery from the pandemic. What kind of choice is that?

Liberal Democrats can offer the public something better.

I was so pleased to hear that Willie had asked Ming Campbell to take a fresh look at how we can make Britain work better. In England, our Federal Policy Committee is also developing a new federalism policy in relation to England.

And we are not alone. There is momentum behind our efforts to make the UK work for everyone.

Keir Starmer has recognised that he needs to get serious about how the UK works. Gordon Brown too has recognised that it’s time to fix the foundations that our house of nations stands upon. These are allies we should work with.

We can offer an alternative to the corrupt, incompetent Conservative Government in Westminster and the tired, divided and dysfunctional SNP Government in Edinburgh.

With federalism, we can make the whole UK work better.

As a lifelong liberal I want to see a genuine partnership of nations and regions, that gives individuals more control over their own lives.

I want to see great candidates like Molly Nolan in the Highlands, Katy Gordon in the West of Scotland, Catriona Bhatia in the Borders, and Rosemary Bruce in the North East returned to Parliament as MSPs.

I want to see a richer, greener, more liberal Scotland; that puts the recovery first; that makes Scottish education the best in the world again; that invests in mental health so that everyone can get the care they need.

We are just eight weeks from an election that could determine the fate of the United Kingdom.

Lets take up the mantle of John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge, Charles Kennedy, Jo Grimond and Jo Swinson and make it happen.


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  • Brad Barrows 7th Mar '21 - 11:35am

    Ed will have to make a positive case for Scotland staying part of the UK rather than just trying to use scare tactics such as equating independence with Brexit 2.0. Perhaps Ed needs to find an argument why Scotland should want to stay in Union with England when England keeps imposing Tory governments on Scotland while Scotland has been rejecting the Tories every election since 1955.

  • “The NHS staff who have kept calm and carried on in the face of grave horrors”. Yes, indeed, Sir Edward, and throughout the UK.

    But that’s as far as Sir Edward got. Not one peep, not even one peep, from him over the last four days when the story about NHS pay in England first broke. Meanwhile the Labour Party makes all the running on the issue in England.

    The Observer : “Ministers face a public backlash over the 1% pay offer to nurses, with senior Tories already predicting that the government will be forced to rethink the offer. A poll for the Observer revealed that 72% of the public believe the pay deal should be more generous”.

    In contrast, two weeks ago, the Scottish Government (described as “hapless”, by Sir Edward) had announced :

    “In recognition of an exceptional year of significant pressure staff will receive an interim pay increase of 1% which will be backdated to 1 December ahead of the final 2021-22 pay settlement. This follows the £500 thank you payment announced earlier ahead of full pay negotiations being concluded in the coming months”.

  • “Liberal Democrats should be proud of our record standing up for local communities and local services”, Sir Edward Davey. ????

    Fact : When I was a Lib Dem Councillor and a Cabinet Member for Social Work….. and Sir Edward was a Lib Dem MP and a Cabinet Member in the Westminster Coalition Government, the Joseph Rowntree Trust confirmed that Local Government suffered a 27% net cut during the course of that Westminster Government.

  • Helen Dudden 8th Mar '21 - 8:25am

    I must admit being disabled I’ve learnt the importance of carers.
    They are poorly paid, and very important to those like me. Not an way to work, caring for many needs in a professional way. Giving dignity.

  • George Thomas 8th Mar '21 - 3:02pm

    “Instead, people are being offered a Scottish Conservative party in the pocket of Boris Johnson’s Vote Leave cronies or a Scottish Nationalist party that will put another independence referendum before the recovery from the pandemic. What kind of choice is that?”

    But in the last election people of Scotland were offered a choice between May’s DUP-bunging, hostile environment party or the SNP, voted the SNP and got the former because of voters in England. In the election before that the choice was between David Cameron’s anti-disability, pro-austerity party or the SNP with the same outcome. And boundary changes, plus other electoral changes, in preparation for the next election gives the choice between what I presume will be Rishi Sunak’s anti-devolution party, anti-NHS party and the SNP and what appears more than likely to be the same outcome.

    At some point Lib Dems have to recognise that they handed Tories the keys to Westminster and there is no sign the government in Westminster is about to change for the better.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Mar '21 - 5:18pm

    I like Ed’s commitment to federalism. However he does not give it the urgency that it deserves. We need a federalism paper that can be debated this autumn that encompasses the desires of the people of Wales, Scotland, N. Ireland and the regions of England.

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