In full: Tim Farron’s speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference

Here is Tim Farron’s speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference in full. The official version obviously doesn’t include his “stuff the convention” departure on tax credits or the bit where he got Aird and Loch Ness by-election winner Jean Davis’s name wrong. He called her June and quickly corrected himself, reminding us that he knows how it feels after the Sun got his name wrong this week.


Thank you, it’s a massive pleasure to be here – not least because it only took me half the time to get here as it did to get to federal conference in Bournemouth!

But federal conference was the biggest ever, with three times as many members as last year attending for the first time. 500 of them were new members – so thing is, they turned up to everything, even the Federal Executive report. When I was President you were lucky if six people turned up – poor Sal had to cope with a room full of engaged people, keen to ask searching questions. And the constitutional geeks had to cope with the concept of actually having some company for this event!

The new members are younger on the whole than the average, and here’s the alarming thing… they’re not jaded! We need to let them take the lead so their enthusiasm and energy rubs off on us. So from now on, I issue this edict… the words ‘we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work’ are banned.

In Bournemouth I sought to point out 3 things:

One Britain needs a party that is both socially just and economically credible

Two, Britain is teeming with liberals and only the Liberal Democrats share and will promote their values; and

Three, with liberal values under attack here and abroad, never has it been important for those liberals to come home.

These 3 things mean that for Liberal Democrats, we have never had more space, never been more necessary, never had such opportunity.

So our federal conference was a success. But it’s fair to say that none of the Tory, Labour or Nationalist conferences were a disaster.

They can all feel pleased with themselves on the surface. Despite all the predictions of meltdown, Jeremy Corbyn had a peaceful conference. But you see, that’s because he was amongst friends.

A week ago he came back to parliament, where he isn’t. But you will not catch me joining in with the petty personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, he’s always struck me as a gent. We’ll leave the personal attacks on Jeremy to Tory MPs… and Labour MPs…

Is Jeremy Corbyn a dangerous threat to Britain because he doesn’t sing the national anthem, or because he was busy the night the Queen wanted him to join the privy council, or even because he wears a string vest. Of course not. All of that is his own business.

But, is it a threat to Britain’s security, prosperity and relevance if Jeremy Corbyn sits on the fence over whether we remain in the European Union? Well yes it is. A massive one. But I will play the ball, not the man. Which means that Corbyn is about as dangerous to Britain… as David Cameron.

Who also had a decent conference. Good conference speech. It reminded me of Ed Miliband… Ed made some good conference speeches, the ones he remembered! But he’d make a convincing pitch for being ‘one nation labour’ and then spend the next few months attacking businesses, trashing his own economic credibility.

It’s the same with Dave, you can make a good speech pitching for the centre ground, but if your next act is to attack the hardest working, poorest people in Britain by slashing tax credits while giving away tax cuts to millionaires; you are in no ones centre ground, you are punishing people who are doing their best to get by. So I say “judge David Cameron not by what he says but what he does”.

In Scotland, almost 250,000 hard working families will lose an average of £1,000 a year that’s more than 300,000 children who are being made to bear the brunt of the Chancellor’s blind ideological obsession.

This is a policy that every independent organisation – from the Institute for Fiscal Studies to the Government’s own social security advisory panel – has said is ill-thought through, inexplicably punitive and deeply divisive.

In the House of Commons, MPs described the policy – and I quote – as a message ‘to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society that we do not care’ and called on the chancellor for, I quote, “something – anything – that might mitigate its harshest effects.” – and that’s just the Tory MPs.

So be in no doubt: this cruel, heartless, mean-spirited and misjudged policy is George Osborne’s Poll tax and we will fight it as we fought the Poll Tax – it will not stand – not on my watch.

That is why this week Liberal Democrat Peers have taken the lead and put down a fatal motion in the Lords to kill it.

David Cameron has reacted with fury. How dare we use the unelected Lords to defeat the government’s will! If only he’d had the chance to reform the House of Lords in the last parliament…. So, Dave, I will take great pleasure in hoisting you by your own petard.

Immigration has made Britain £20 billion better off since the turn of the century; immigration has made us a more diverse and prosperous country; immigration has underpinned our National Health Service and it is why this small island is home to a quarter of the top universities on planet earth. Is immigration damaging to Britain? No. Is the home secretary demonising millions of British people and setting community against community damaging to Britain, absolutely it is.

You see when the Liberal Democrats went into government in 2010 we put the country before our party. But every day I see David Cameron put his party, and himself, before his country. We saw it clearest of all after the referendum here a year ago. After a hard contest but a decisive result, the right thing for our prime minister to do would be to do what Liberal Democrats did. Be magnanimous in victory, celebrate a great campaign on both sides, extend the hand of friendship to those who voted for separation, congratulate them for a fight well fought, for a point well made and apply balm to those wounds, to help reunite our communities.

Who knows, maybe that was what Cameron had intended to do. But then he rushed onto the airwaves to get there first, and he made the speech of an English chauvinist and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. He put short term before the long term, his party before his country and himself before the people. Shame on him. Shame on him.

And now we see David Cameron put his party before his country on Europe. The offer of the referendum was not made out of any desire for democracy or reform, but because his party is split between the realists and the little Englanders. A referendum was the sticking plaster over that deep wound. Now our country risks irrelevance, insecurity, instability as we fight a referendum that we must win.

And of course we have the fiscal charter – which we Liberal Democrats voted against – a plan to force governments to always have a budget surplus, which means never having room to invest. A charter now set in law, done for no reason other than to provide a big trap for labour to jump into, which they did, and then they jumped out again, and then back in… anyhow, it’s a charter for political point scoring which will damage our economy. Fix the roof when the sun is shining says George. I agree. But when you’ve got 0% interest rates, it’s the best time to fix the roof so now is the time to invest in our economy to build the transport links, the homes, the green energy schemes that we need to underpin a lasting recovery.

Short term political stunts that damage our country…all from the hubris of a party that believes itself to be unassailable, invulnerable…

Talking of which, the Nats had their conference last week. Which was an outstanding success… at least that’s what it said in the National.

What the National doesn’t tell you is that the Tories and the SNP have loads in common – two parties flush from electoral success and so pleased with themselves that they seem to think they have no one to answer to. Pride comes before a fall…

The First Minister told the SNP conference that she was happy to fight on their record in government – well we are happy to fight on their record too.

On health – a GP recruitment crisis, a real terms fall in spending, waiting time targets missed and missed again for thousands and thousands of patients, preventable deaths 20% higher in Scotland than in England and chronic underfunding of mental health.

On education – class sizes up, college places slashed, literacy for the least well off down, and ever decreasing student grants.

And across the board, from climate change targets missed to the ongoing fiasco of Police Scotland, the SNP have let Scotland down.

Well, Liberal Democrats are not going to let them get away with it.

Democracies become failed democracies when they go unchallenged.

Willie challenges them.

And let me tell you, his leadership, and Scottish liberalism, has never been more important.

With the SNP, Scotland has a party that claims to be centre left, is terrifyingly authoritarian, and happily welcomes into its fold many who hold a range of right wing views .

Well that covers a lot of the market. Authoritarian, supposedly centre left? That’s Labour – so no need for them any more in Scotland! Right wing, nationalist? That’s Tories – so no need for them either! Wrapped in the flag? Goodbye Mr Farage!

But that still leaves a massive gap – the SNP are many things to many people, but the one thing they are not is liberal. And Scotland has never needed a liberal party more than it does today. I need you to win here next May, but Scotland needs you to win even more.

We are the party who will speak up for refugees and make the case for the enormous benefits of immigration when the Tories launch a gung ho mission to stigmatise and divide and are more interested in playing petty politics than responding to one of the biggest moral and political challenges in a generation.

We are the party who will continue to stand up and fight for civil liberties while the Tories look to bring back every scheme we blocked in coalition – from a reheated snoopers’ charter to attempts to do away with the Human Rights Act – and the SNP become more authoritarian by the day.

Putting armed police on duty on Scotland’s streets, bringing in a super ID database and using stop and search powers so excessively – including against hundreds of Scottish children and thousands of Scottish teenagers – that it has drawn the condemnation of UN human rights experts.

We are the party who will call them to account every step of the way and fight for people’s rights in every country and every Parliament across the UK.

Whether it is Alistair in Westminster, or Willie in Holyrood, it will always be Liberal Democrats leading the charge and holding the government’s feet to the fire.

And we are the party that is proudly, unconditionally, unashamedly pro-Europe – even if we don’t always love everything that comes out of the European Commission.

The referendum is going to be one of the biggest challenges that we face and it is absolutely vital that we win.

Because it’s about the kind of country we want to be in, what kind of country we want our children to grow up in. Outward looking, decent, generous or inward looking, insular and pointless?

It’s about staying part of the most successful peace process in history.

And, it is absolutely vital for Scotland.

Vital for the 300,000 plus Scottish jobs that rely on exports to the EU – worth almost £13bn a year.

Vital for the Scottish farmers who are set to benefit from 3.5bn euros through direct payments.

Vital for Scottish universities who have been awarded over 500million Euros research funding in the last 7 years.

But we have our work cut out for us because we have Labour sitting on the fence, the Tories pretending to sit on the fence, and the SNP on both sides of the fence.

The Lib Dems are united – and we will be leading the fight across the UK to keep Britain in Europe.

We are the party that will put national interests – Scotland’s and the UK’s – ahead of narrow self-interest.

The stakes are too high to stand by. But still that is what the SNP are doing. They are just like the Tories, gleefully playing politics with our future, refusing to work with anyone else. Apparently pro EU but secretly hoping for defeat because they think it might hand them an excuse for another referendum.

Playing politics at the expense of our people.

So here’s my message to Nicola Sturgeon. If the SNP genuinely want to fight for Scotland to stay in Europe, if you really believe we are better together, if you want to make a difference then stop playing daft games, come and join us.

To those in Scotland who know that nothing matters more at this time than keeping Britain in the European Union, you must also know that if you want to win that case, then you need to join the only people who completely agree with you. The Liberal Democrats will be at the forefront, making the case for Britain to lead, not leave, and showing the world that Liberals will always stand up for the community we believe in – one that’s outward looking, decent and generous.

And here more than anywhere you know the truth of that, because, let me tell you, Liberalism has a beating Scottish heart.

Throughout history some of the best and boldest liberals we’ve ever had have been Scots.

From Jo Grimond to David Steel, and more recently the many, many brilliant colleagues who got results they absolutely didn’t deserve in May, from Mike Moore who played such a vital role in the referendum to Jo Swinson who as Business Minister helped finally put gender pay equality on the agenda.

And then, of course, there’s Charles Kennedy – Charles who inspired me to pick up my first wodge of focus leaflets when I was a kid, who gave politics a good name and gave Scotland and liberalism its most decent voice.

And we have seen time and again the huge difference Scottish Liberals make and we have absolutely seen it in the fantastic work of colleagues in the Scottish Parliament.

With Jim Hume holding the SNP to account for their failure to support the NHS –in particular, their shameful failure to match the progress made by Lib Dems in government on mental health –

and pushing through legislation that will give Scottish children the same protection from smoking in cars that Liberal Democrat colleagues championed in Westminster.

With Alison McInnes who has tirelessly challenged the SNP on its disastrous decision to centralise Scotland’s police forces.

At every stage, with each new controversy, the SNP have failed to take responsibility for the damaging impact that their reforms have had.

And at every stage I am proud to say Lib Dems have been there holding the SNP to account and refusing to let them hide.

With Liam McArthur challenging the SNP on college cuts which have seen 140,000 places vanish on the SNP’s watch.

With Tavish Scott whose work on the cross-party Smith Commission helped deliver new powers for Scotland and who has been an amazing champion for people living in Scotland’s island communities.

Where we have the power, the impact we make is huge.

And that is why the 2016 elections are absolutely vital.

And it won’t come as a surprise that there is a huge amount of work to do.

We will be fighting to hold our seats, and I need each and every one of you to get involved, get out there, canvass, campaign and help us get our message out to as many people as we possibly can.

We have a fantastic record of achievement in Scotland, of making a difference and punching well above our weight, but we need to make sure everyone knows it.

At federal conference I made a pitch for Liberals across the country to join us.

I’m going to keep working hard to reach out to people across the country, but I’m going to ask for your help too to make that happen.

We need to get our message out, we need to grow our membership, and we need to win again and rebuild.

I know lots of you are already out there, doing it.

Alan Reid who is setting an amazing example and leading the fightback in Argyll and Bute.

Alex Cole-Hamilton who is campaigning tirelessly in Edinburgh West. If there is any justice, Alex will win in 2016 and you know what, its time we got a bit of justice!

Since May, we have had the best results in local by-elections of any party with 12 gains Including our most recent win here in Scotland in the seat of Aird and Loch Ness on Highland Council from the SNP. Huge congratulations Jean Davis, thank you, you’ve given all of us a massive boost.

What is clear to me right across Britain is that people have unblocked their ears – they are now prepared to listen to our message so we need to get out and deliver that message.

A message that says to folks out there, if you are the kind of person who wants Scotland to be greener, free-er, more successful, for Scotland to remain in Britain and for Scotland to remain in the European union, for poverty to be beaten by more equality and by economic competence, for refugees to be welcomed not demonised, for Scottish people not to be taken for granted by the hubris of Tories or nationalists. If you are that kind of person, if you have those kind of values, then you need this kind of party. Then you need Willie Rennie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats to win. You need us, we need you. Go online now and join the Scottish Liberal Democrats today.

So help us get the word out.

Knock on doors, deliver leaflets and make an impact in whatever way you can because the fightback is building every day.

At this time of year I really enjoy giving awards evening speeches at local schools. I tell the successful students in front of me that it’s traditional at the end of an awards evening for the speaker to give ill informed, patronising, boring advice to the students… and I’m a great believer in tradition. I often tell those successful students, well done, but you’re only as good as the last great thing you did! Bad news guys, I say, your successes are only temporary… but the good news is, so are your failures. Just temporary.

You see, May’s election defeat is an historic fact. But it is not a permanent state of affairs.

Is our survival inevitable, no. Is our recovery sure to be overnight, no. But is it essential – yes it absolutely is. Scotland needs a liberal movement to survive, to thrive, to win again. The circumstances have contrived to create the widest ever space for our party to fill, we will fill it! History calls, we will answer.

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  • Dave Orbison 25th Oct '15 - 8:21pm

    Farron yet again misrepresents Corbyn’s position on Europe. Corbyn has expressed some concerns over some aspects of the EU, who hasn’t, but has made it clear he supports staying in Europe. I raise this not so much concerned to fight Corbyn’s battles with the LibDems but to point out that if Farron continues with this message he may persuade undecided Labour-leaning voters to vote ‘Out’. A case of shotting oneself in the foot. I’d prefer an honest message that says Farron and Corbyn are for staying in and the Tories are split.

  • Allan Brame 25th Oct '15 - 9:29pm

    Given that Corbyn said in hustings that did not rule out campaigning for a no vote, it is understandable that there is some confusion about his pro-European credentials.
    He does seem prone to changing policies on a regular basis, so if he is genuinely committed to arguing for European case, that is obviously to be welcomed.

  • Dave Orbison 26th Oct '15 - 7:24am

    Allan he gave a BBC interview on the Friday before LibDem conference fully explaining his position, why he had reservations about the EU and why he would support the ‘staying in’ campaign. Not that it stopped Farron once more misrepresenting Corbyn’s position. Corbyn has been happy to distinguish between his personal views and the collective decision of the party where it differs and is willing to accept this. I see this as a strength rather than a dictatorial style of leadership. But the point is Farron can only risk losing ProEU voters by perpetuating the lie re Corbyn. He should avoid this and focus on the big prize, the EU, and postpone party hostilities as indeed should all pro EU parties. Division could end in defeat.

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