Willie Rennie: Independence would be like Brexit on a rocket to Mars

Willie Rennie compared the SNP’s plans for Scottish independence as like “Brexit on a rocket to Mars” – ie

It would take a lot of energy, the journey is very long and there is no way back.

In his keynote speech to Liberal Democrat Conference, Willie set out the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ plan to deprive the independence supporting parties of a majority with our plan to put recovery first by investing in mental health, jobs and education.

He also highlighted our idea for a Commission to look at ways of preventing violence against women and girls in all its forms.  We hope that other parties will back it.

Watch here. The text is below:

Liberal Democrats are going to grow in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections on Thursday May 6th.

We are going to gain more MSPs because we have a powerful message: Put Recovery First.

We have a strong team of candidates, including more women in winnable positions than ever before.

We have a record of action – making a difference in parliament and beyond.

But there is a “but”.  We will need to work for these wins.

We need you to spread the message, campaign hard, spend every moment of the next seven weeks making the case to put recovery first.

We put education recovery first when we won £60 million in additional support in the recent Scottish budget for education bounce back.

We put mental health recovery first when we won £120 million of support for mental health.

We put jobs recovery first when we won the case for more grants for business, including the 100% rates relief.

We put climate recovery first when we won Just Transition support for workers in the oil and gas sector in the north east.

And when we won extra support for farming environmental schemes.

On education, mental health, jobs and climate – the priority of the Liberal Democrats for the next five years is to Put Recovery First.

The priority for the SNP for the next five years is to put another independence referendum first.

Reasonable people would agree, no matter what they think about independence, that this is not the moment for another referendum.

But they see in the news that the SNP want a vote by this Christmas.

In the middle of a pandemic, when thousands have lost their lives, thousands more have lost their job and our normal freedoms have been taken from us.

Now is not the moment for that long, divisive, argumentative, exhausting, all consuming event.

An event that would suffocate our country, snuff out debate on other important matters and split our country asunder.

We don’t have to guess what it would be like. We’ve had an independence campaign before.  Families were split, friendships were broken, business was lost.

And we had Brexit. The scars are deep.

Independence would be Brexit Mark 2

Independence would be like Brexit on a rocket to Mars.

It would take a lot of energy, the journey is very long and there is no way back.

That is why I want people in Scotland to put aside our differences on independence and focus on the recovery.

We’ve had enough of bust ups about flags, the name of our country and the relationship with our good neighbours.

We must put recovery first.

Liberal Democrats will put recovery first.

You’ll have seen our First Minister is good on TV.  She talks a good game.  She is good at announcements. That’s all true.

But that’s as far as it goes. Delivery is not so good. After 14 years in power, it’s all wearing a bit thin.

Look at her record.

The First Minister personally sponsored a waiting times guarantee for the NHS. It has been breached 300,000 times since.

She demanded control of social security from Westminster before handing it back to the Conservative run Department of Work and Pensions.

Get this, she declined the chance to take social security from the Conservatives.

The SNP promised Scotland would be the Saudi Arabia of renewables and they pledged 2000 jobs in the Highlands. But after spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money have failed to secure the work and the jobs.

An astonishing level of incompetence that fails to match the rhetoric, squanders public funds and betrays workers.

And the First Minister said, “judge me on education”.

Then she deliberately delayed the OECD report on the state of Scottish education until after the election.

Before the SNP took charge Scottish education was one of the best in the world.

Now it is just average.

If talk was all it took, then Scotland would be a world leader in every field.

If rhetoric created jobs we’d have full employment.

If it was down to promises we’d have no waits on our NHS.

People are fed up with the talk, but that is all the SNP have been good at.

I want to make Scotland a world leader on mental health.

It is a big ambition for the country for the next five years.

But it is more than talk. I have a plan. A plan that will work.

More than 1500 children have been waiting a year or more for specialist help with mental health problems. The number is going up.

We are letting down young people every day of the week.

Our world leading plans will:

•​Create more training places for psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.

•​Provide new bursaries to train counsellors.

•​Establish new community services to give easy access for young people.

•​Restart, and ramp up, mental health first aid training so every workplace can benefit.

Within the last few weeks we got the parliament to vote to declare a mental health crisis, against the wishes of the government.

It’s time for Scotland to put the recovery first and fix our overwhelmed mental health services for good.

Our plan for mental health shows what the Liberal Democrats in Scotland are for.

We put recovery first.

A needle-sharp focus on what makes a difference to people in their daily lives.

Investment in people because they are our greatest asset.

With good people, with healthy minds, we can achieve great things.


I want to say something about the abuse of women.

I take it for granted that I can go anywhere, everywhere and at any time.

Through dark streets, up hills and in the countryside.

I will canvass alone for hours on end.

I rarely fear for my safety.

That should be the experience for women.  It’s a woman’s world as much as a man’s.

My wife told me recently she never goes out in the dark.

Women should not have to cower at home to be safe.

I am ashamed that men have created such a culture of fear.

The fear of attack.

The fear of abuse.

The fear of intimidation.

And it is our job to change it.

To give everyone the confidence to go wherever they want whenever they want.

The freedom they deserve.

That is why I was delighted that our Equalities spokesperson Caron Lindsay proposed a commission to look into violence against women and girls, to consider ways to make society more hospitable.

She invited all major parties to commit to it, to examine the issues and make recommendations within the first year of the new parliament.

The Justice Secretary has already agreed to talk.

It’s a great idea and this party is right with her.

We know we can do this.


Look at the impact of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland under my leadership.

The investment in mental health.

The expansion of early learning and childcare.

Winning the case for better freedom of information laws.

Stopping the government giving grants to companies like Amazon with no strings.

Speeding up the vaccination programme.

Expanding testing.

Winning financial support for businesses like fishermen, tourism and the self-employed.

Our MSPs have punched above their weight.

With more MSPs we can achieve so much more.

Look at what we have planned next.

Plans to get our education system back up to the best in the world again.

To tackle the climate emergency, bringing green jobs to the country.

Create jobs with a youth guarantee.

Work in partnership with others to build a case for progressive change in Scotland.

Make the case with the new Labour leader Anas Sarwar on issues like reform of the UK.

Because in this time of crisis we must work together with like minds to attract votes back from the SNP and the cause of Independence.

We must build the momentum for change to be attractive to the moderate, progressive people in Scotland who are appalled by Boris Johnson but don’t want to spend the next five years arguing about independence.

I am saying directly to people who have voted SNP that there is another way.

If you are fed up with the divisions in the SNP.

Disturbed by the arguments.

Upset that so many women were let down.

Concerned about whether the First Minister told the truth.

And want a party that has a needle sharp focus on the recovery from this dreadful pandemic.

My appeal is to look at our record on mental, health, education, the police.

The quality of our people, with more women than ever before.

And the hope in our vision.

With the Liberal Democrats under my leadership we can make change.

So with the election only weeks away Scotland is at a crossroads.

With the trauma of the last year our thoughts, our efforts, our attention must be for the recovery.

To bring hope and opportunity for our country.

To work together with progressive forces to change our politics.

To build something better.

For the next five years we must be resolute in our determination to turn this country around.

Liberal Democrats will put recovery first.


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  • Brad Barrows 21st Mar '21 - 5:52pm

    It is possible that a Unionist coalition – Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dem – could take power after the elections in May, but a pro-independence majority remains the most likely outcome even if the SNP were to lose ground. Is Willie Rennie willing to back Douglas Ross for First Minister and support Conservatives policies in government? The truth is, starting with just 5 MSPs, the chances of Willie Rennie becoming a First Minister are precisely zero.

  • The latest polling puts Labour ahead of the Tories under Anas Sarwar, and now that Labour have ditched the ineffectual Richard Leonard are likely to improve their poll ratings between now and the election. However, I don’t think anyone expects him to lead a coalition.

    Realistically, it’s likely the SNP will remain the largest party, and if they don’t get a majority, they’ll form another minority administration or attempt a coalition with the Greens.

    But the last few months have shown the benefits of the administration not having a majority. The SNP have been forced to change approach on all manner of things, and to listen to opposition parties. They still seem to be getting away with acting against the will of the Scottish Parliament by refusing to publish the Education Report, and are still hiding some of the legal advice and so on.

    The point being that every extra LibDem MSP in the Scottish Parliament will make a majority government more difficult and help us to pressurise the government to pursue liberal values and be accountable.

    It’s hard to tell how things will go, as the restrictions on grass roots campaigning gives the incumbents an in-built advantage. So long as Nicola Sturgeon can make, or even just announce, an important lock-down related announcement within the same news cycle as any awkward stories about the SNP, or as any rival parties make campaign announcements, they can control the narrative.

    Willie’s message is great, and I hope is heard far and wide. I really admire how hard he and our other MSPs have worked, especially in the last year, to be a constructive and effective opposition. Unfortunately, quiet persuasion doesn’t always get that much attention in the press or tv news, but it does make a difference to people’s lives.

  • Beside ourselves who knows about all this

  • “Concerned about whether the First Minister told the truth.”

    Maybe we can get back to normal politics now, …… and maybe certain MSP’s will exercise more respect and care by avoiding swearing at women Ministers.

  • Laurence Cox 22nd Mar '21 - 7:25pm

    @David Raw
    “Concerned about whether the First Minister told the truth.”

    The BBC report https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-56482878 on the independent inquiry says:

    ‘His report said Ms Sturgeon had given an “incomplete narrative of events” to MSPs.

    But he said this was a “genuine failure of recollection” and not deliberate.’

    This looks more like your Scottish verdict of “not proven” than “not guilty”. Only Sturgeon herself could know if it was a “genuine failure of recollection”. Had this not occurred immediately before the beginning of an election campaign the judgement might have been different, but one could hardly expect him to censure the First Minister at a time when the Party could not elect a replacement.

  • @ Lawrence Cox, “one could hardly expect him to censure the First Minister at a time when the Party could not elect a replacement”.

    I’m very sorry, Mr Cox, but innuendo that James Hamilton QC was in any way obliged to the SNP or to Ms Sturgeon does you no credit whatsoever. I suspect you don’t even know who Mr Hamilton is, or what his standing may be.

    He is an Irish barrister (not a Scot) and an independent administrator who served as the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) at the Republic of Ireland’s Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions from 1999 to 2011. In September 2010, he was elected President of the International Association of Prosecutors – a position of great honour, distinction and respect.

    Before he became Director of Public Prosecutions in the Irish Republic, he was a practising barrister and later head of the office of the Attorney General of Ireland.

    He was appointed as an independent advisor to the Scottish Government on the ministerial code back in 2013 by no less than Alex Salmond. He holds a similar role with the Welsh Government.

    Do you seriously suggest he would attempt to compromise his respected international reputation by going easy on the present First Minister because his report is “published at a time when the Party could not elect a replacement”.

  • @ Laurence Cox You might find it quite enlightening to discover who leaked the Holyrood Harassment Committee Minutes, Mr. Cox.

    “THE convener of Holyrood’s harassment committee, Linda Fabiani, has attacked “damaging” and “selective” leaks of her inquiry to the media – but did not say they were inaccurate”.

    Guess who ?

  • The same might have been said, Mr Rennie, of the LDs entering coalition with the Tories. Anyway, as I’ve said before, I get that you have to be as unionist as the Tories to keep the few seats left in Scotland. You must feel that the ends justify the means.

    Mr Cox – and I would hint gently that you think about this before replying – why, in your view, would there be cause to question whether the former DPP of the Irish Republic (and who is also engaged to conduct similar independent investigations in Wales) might feel unable to judge an outcome freely?

  • Laurence Cox 23rd Mar '21 - 5:53pm

    @David Raw

    If you read today’s Guardian, it is clear that there has been the mother of all cover-ups going on:


    Linda Fabiani, is -surprise – a SNP politician, so it is hardly surprising that she would attack the leaks.

    Retrospective legislation is usually a bad idea, because it opens up the possibility that it has been introduced to target a specific individual or individuals.

    Why wasn’t Ms A’s original complaint dealt with under the existing Fairness at Work policy? Could it be that it happened just before the Independence Referendum, and had it come out then it could have seriously damaged the SNP’s chances of winning?

    Hamilton said in his report that he believed Aberdein’s verson of events, not the aide’s.

    “It later emerges that senior counsel warned Evans and Sturgeon in late 2018 the extent of Mackinnon’s prior dealings with both complainers was fatal to the government’s case, and said the government should concede.”

    This is clear proof of misuse of public funds by the SNP administration, that they carried on the case despite being told they were going to lose.

    “The committee agrees not to consider any evidence from the criminal trial, which means it cannot investigate what civil servants did or knew in Ms A’s case in December 2013, or discover more about claims of an unwritten policy not to allow women to work alone with Salmond at Bute House. ”

    ’15 March 2021

    Ms A and Ms B give evidence in private to a special Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish government’s botched internal inquiry into their complaints. They tell MSPs that while Salmond was first minister there was a culture of complacency and inaction inside the government about ministers’ conduct, saying: “There were not clear boundaries for what was appropriate behaviour, or leadership in the organisation to challenge behaviours.” ‘

    This is almost unbelievable and shows how corrupt government in Scotland has become under the SNP.

    You and your nationalist friends have a great deal to answer for, Mr Raw.

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