In Full: Alistair Carmichael’s speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat conference: “Liberalism is needed more than ever”

Here is Alistair Carmichael’s speech to Scottish Conference in which he says the party will confound the doom-mongers and sets out why we can be proud in our records in Government. He paints a grim picture of life with the Tories governing alone and, after praising Willie Rennie, tells us  “Let’s go win.”

Good afternoon, Conference.

It is good to be back in Aberdeen.

Aberdeen is where I attended party conference of the Scottish Liberal Party for the first time here in 1983.

The party was very different then.   In fact it was a different party – liberals and social democrats were still in different parties.

The Scottish Liberal leader then was Russell Johnston.

The party Chair was Ross Finnie and the vice-chairs included a couple of young turks called Jim Wallace and Malcolm Bruce.

What ever became of them?


Our President then was George Mackie.

George was a man for whom the term “larger than life” might have been invented.

It is fair to say that he was no more than a nodding acquaintance with the concept of political correctness.

With George you could never be entirely certain where the self-parody ended and the man began but most of us would always give him the benefit of the doubt.

The provocative lines always came with a glint in his eye.

He was a man who came from a different generation.

A war hero.

A successful business man.

An innovative and resourceful farmer.

A true liberal gentleman from a quite remarkable liberal family.

It is some years since we saw much of him but I am sure that I am not the only one here who remembers him fondly and who will miss him now that he is gone.


Our party has come a long way since then.

We have built or parliamentary representation from the three MPs then to the eleven  we have today.

We have run or shared power in councils from Shetland in the north to the borders and Dumfries and Galloway in the south.

We have shared power in the first two Scottish Parliaments – a parliament that we did more than any other party to shape and to create.

For the first time in over eighty years we have taken our party back into power as part of the UK government.

And now – all the clever people tell us – apparently it is over.

We are all going to lose.

At best I will be the last man standing.

Well, let me tell the clever people this.

I have campaigned in every general election since 1979.

In each and every one of these elections the imminent demise of our party has been confidently predicted.

Our wipe out has been awaited with relish.

But somehow – in the face of all the  cleverness – we are still here.

We have proved them all wrong before and I promise you this, come May 7th we are going to prove them wrong again.

We are defending eleven seats here in Scotland, in this election.

And we can hold each and every one.

From those seats in which our MPs are standing again to Gordon and North East Fife where we owe Malcolm Bruce and Ming Campbell so much for what they have done.

But where we look forward to the great things that Christine Jardine and Tim Brett will do as our newest MPs.


This is not just about electoral arithmetic.

It is about something more fundamental than that.

It is about the fact that in a world where globalisation forces a pace of change that can sometime be bewildering.

In a world where nationalism and populism can seem like attractive options.

A world where the power of the state and corporate interests can seem to overwhelm the  rights and freedoms of the individual.

In a world like that liberalism is needed more than ever before and more than ever before our country needs Liberal Democrat influence in government.

And there is one other reason that I know we are going to emerge from this election intact.

We have on our side a campaign advantage that all the other parties would love to have.

One which will get every single one of us out on the streets, knocking doors.

You maybe think that it is nationbuilder – or connect – it is not.

It is a campaigning force more powerful than all that.  A force that can be described in two words – Willie Rennie.

Not just a party leader but also a force of nature.

Willie, your energy and commitment, your drive and determination, your essential decency and sincerity are our good fortune.

We may have the fight of our lives ahead of us but I can  not think of anyone I would rather have leading our party into that battle.


In May 2010 this party joined a Coalition government at a time of economic crisis.

The banks had crashed.

Unemployment had spiked.

Our national debt was spiralling out of control.

But now, five years later, as people go back to the polls, here are the realities:

Our banking system is reformed.

Our unemployment rate has fallen.

Our deficit is forecast to have fallen by a half.

Inflation is low, wages are rising, borrowing is cheaper, mortgages costs are at a record low and our country is vying with the United States for the fastest growth in the G7 group of major world economies.

In 2010 our country desperately needed a stronger economy.

Now, in 2015, Liberal Democrats have built one.


It hasn’t been easy.

We all know it hasn’t been easy

We inherited a structural deficit forecast by the IMF to be the largest in the G7.

But we faced down the crisis, we took on the responsibility and we have made the hard choices needed to get our economy back on track.

That journey is not yet complete.

Our party believes strongly in good public services that provide opportunity for all.

There is no pleasure for us in cutting public spending.

Easy lending, profligate spending, record borrowing.

Those days are done.

We cannot afford to go back there.

Not with Labour, not with the SNP, not with anyone.


But financial competence does not mean economic masochism.

And that is something that the Tories simply do not understand.

By sticking to our economic plan we will eliminate the structural deficit by 2018.

That is the right and responsible thing to do.

But it is not enough for the Conservatives

In this week’s budget the Tories softened their plans for PR purposes.

But they still want to cut further into the fabric of our public finances.

Further than the economic case requires.

There must be rich, chauffeur-driven venture capitalists out there who live in gated communities, use private healthcare, have no children, and were born to parents were either equally rich or who are long since dead, and who would be quids-in under the Tories.

But for the rest of us on a normal salary  or a low salary, or no salary at all, who depend on the NHS,  who have children at state schools, or use public transport, or rely on the state pension, or who have dependents, or who just live on the same planet and breathe the same air as most of us do

Well, for us, this right-wing, dogmatic, self-centred, ideologically-driven, Ayn Randian dystopia is not a matter of necessity –

It is reality of what the Conservatives alone would do in government.

It is  the Tories unmasked – and it is not pretty.


On one side of us, we have Labour and the SNP standing together – but definitely not holding hands – and bickering over possession of the nation’s credit card.

And on the other side we have the Tories, wielding the axe – just because they can.

The choice between running up debts for our children’s future or cutting into the public services they will rely is false and wicked.

We can get public finances down to sustainable levels.

And we can then move forward with spending at a level that will provide quality public services and opportunity for everyone.

This is about anchoring our politics in the centre-ground.

Liberal Democrats have done that during this Parliament.

And we will fight for it in the next.


A stronger economy, a fairer society, opportunity for everyone.

That’s what we stand for.

That’s why we’re here.

Yes, we have got the economy back on track.

Yes, there is more to do.

But despite the stringent times, despite the necessity to work with others, Liberal Democrats have brought fairness to the table in the way that our country is governed.

I want you to think for a moment about what things would be like today if we have not chosen to become a party of government back in 2010.

I want to think for just a moment about the kind of country we would be now, today, if the Conservatives had governed alone.

Don’t worry, you can keep your eyes open.

On tax, there would have been no increase in the point at which we pay.

The Conservatives didn’t want to raise the threshold to help those on low and middle incomes.

In their manifesto, they ignored it.

In the campaign, the opposed it.

But in negotiations, they conceded it.

If the Conservatives had governed alone, the highest earners would be paying less income tax today, and dead millionaires would pay less tax than ever.

But the starting point for low and middle-income earners would be exactly where it was under Labour.

People paying tax on just £6,500 in earnings.

A quarter of a million of the lowest earning Scots still paying income tax.

And more than two million working men and women failing to benefit from the changes we have made.

Where’s the fairness in that?

And would our pensions system be as fair without the triple lock that ensured the highest ever cash increase in the state pension that our country has ever known?

Would our welfare system be as fair with an additional £12 billion of cuts aimed at the poorest in our society, but without any coherent plan, rationale or basis for where the axe would fall?

Would our justice system be as fair without the Human Rights Act and standards observed across the rest of Europe?

Would the world be as fair without our legal commitment to pay 0.7% of GNP in overseas aid, put into law by our own Mike Moore?

Would our renewables industry be as healthy?

Would our civil liberties be as strong?

Would our future in the United Kingdom be as likely had the Conservatives governed alone?

Working with the Conservatives we have built a stronger economy.

Working against them, we have shaped a fairer society.

That is the record on which we stand.


We stand for more than just deficit reduction.

We stand for a positive agenda on growth and job creation here in Scotland.

Earlier this week we were able to confirm record numbers of people in work across the United Kingdom because of the action we have taken.

We were able to announce specific new measures for Scotland in the budget too.

Support for the oil and gas industry.

Support for the Scotch whisky industry and some of the remotest and most fragile communities that depend on it.

City Deals for Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness.

When our most important industries needed support, when our communities needed help, when they came asking we were in a position to respond.

We were able to make a difference because we have a strong and growing economy.

So now, when the NHS needs the extra £8billion that the Kings Fund tells us it needs to meet the challenges of an ageing population and new medicines and treatments.

Our party – and our party alone – has committed to putting an additional £8 billion into the UK’s NHS.

That’s £800 million earmarked for Scotland.

Money that the Scottish Government is not required to spend on health care, but money which this party believes that it should.

Added investment in A&E, on areas of critical importance – on mental health provision.

The difference we have made in government is the difference that we will bring to this campaign.

Only the Liberal Democrats can make that commitment with any credibility.

The Labour Party and the SNP can beat their breasts and emote about the NHS all they like.

But the simple truth is this – if you won’t do what is needed to grow the economy; if your promises of spending depend on borrowing to be paid back by future generations; then your promises are worthless.


Friends, we are just a few days away from the start of the election campaign.

The stakes are very high.

Should we balance the books and then allow public spending to rise with growth?

Or should we go back to the spending splurge and debt hangover with Labour and the SNP?

Should we use the resources we have and the recovery we are experiencing to help those who need it most?

Or should we cut public spending to the bone and help those who already have it all as the Conservatives clearly favour?

Now is not the time to lurch one way or another.

Now is the time to keep our politics anchored in the centre ground.

To keep cool heads.

And to build a stronger economy, a fairer society and opportunity for everyone here in our UK family.

We have a record forged in heat of tough times.

But our mettle is tested and we lack for nothing.

We can hold our heads high, we can stand on our record, and we can deliver for people in Scotland and across the UK.

So let’s stand tall, be proud, and confound our critics one more time.

Let’s go win.


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  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Mar '15 - 1:00am

    As good a speech as I have read from any party political conference.

    A powerful endorsement of Willie Rennie too.

    Best of luck

  • Peter Galton 22nd Mar '15 - 2:14pm

    A very good speech, its not all doom and gloom, but we must get our message over what good we have done over the last 5 years. We have burnt our fingers at times and I hope that we and those up above will lean from this. I will not be making any pledges !!! only to do my best for the residents that I would like to represent.

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