Willie Rennie: Join us to stand for fairness, justice and equality of opportunity

Yesterday, Willie Rennie gave his keynote speech to Scottish Conference.

In it he made clear that Liberal Democrat MSPs would not back the SNP’s budget this year unless they took a second independence referendum off the table.

He highlighted the party’s support for a boycott of the SNP Government’s national tests for 5 year olds and said that Scotland should follow other countries where formal education does not start till 6 or 7.

He praised Nicola Sturgeon for the way she handled allegations of sexual harassment against Alex Salmond and criticised the former first minister for running his defence like an election campaign, asking what message that sent to any women who had experienced sexual harassment.

In his final paragraph he invited people to join the Liberal Democrats to make a stand for justice, fairness and equality of opportunity

Our country is on the wrong track.

People who play their part often get left behind.

The rules are stacked in favour of big corporations and the most powerful.

Liberal Democrats stand up to power and privilege to bring fairness and opportunity for everyone.

It’s why we stood up to Amazon and demanded they paid fair wages and paid fair taxes too.

It’s why we stood up for human rights and integrity when the SNP put a grubby Chinese deal first.

It’s why we stood for early education, put mental health at the top of the agenda, and got funding for our colleges;

It’s why we stood against big, hungry central government that grabbed control of our police, our fire and our NHS.

It’s why we put our shoulder to the wheel for Scotland to remain in the UK.

It’s why we are standing up for a final say on Brexit.

This is what we do.

Once a small team, now a growing team we have achieved all this.

With more of us we can do so much more.

This is why I joined the party.

And why more people should join our party.

Vince Cable is opening the door across the whole of Britain.

People who share our values should join our movement.

To challenge.

To stand for the weak against the strong.

For the fishermen, the farmers and the crofters.

Against big government and huge corporations.

For better mental health, better education so that everyone can be all they can be.

To change the world in which we live.

To stand for fairness, for justice, for equality of opportunity.

Liberal Democrats Demand Better.

The full text is below:

I’ve been on my travels this summer.

I went to Dalgety Bay and Inverkeithing where I helped our candidate Callum Hawthorne in his by-election on Thursday.

Congratulations to Callum, to James Calder and the teams of helpers from all across Scotland who helped us double our vote share and put us in a strong position to gain the seat next time.

Thank you Callum for your work on our behalf.

I’ve travelled across Scotland this summer.

Meeting people doing their real jobs.

Meeting people to hear what they think.

Meeting people whether they agree with me or not.

From a jam maker in Galloway to Crofters in the west Highlands to farmers in Aberdeenshire

I also ventured out to the North Sea from Pittenweem on the prawn boat, the Sanela.

Here’s a tip, when a skipper tells you to turn back because the seas are up. Believe him. He knows what he’s talking about.

And when someone in the street tells you a couple of ginger biscuits will see you alright just ignore them.

But my mother always described me as a wilful child. So out to sea I went.

For the next sixteen hours my stomach somersaulted in tune with the waves.

These fishermen are grafters. Force nine or flat calm they have a job to do.

The skipper and his two crew just want to make a living.

They don’t ask much.

They don’t expect government to do their job for them.

They just want rules and laws that make sense.

When government fails to listen is when they kick back.

So when they say the big energy companies might destroy their fishing grounds because they can’t get together to reduce the impact of the massive cables from offshore wind farms, they want government to listen.

When they say the harbour needs dredged because it’s adding four hours to their working day, they want government to listen.

And when they say they want a smooth path to market for their goods, they want government to listen.

The Sanela catch is the best quality.

The langoustine and prawns go straight to the plates of diners across the continent.

It’s a high value export.

But fresh seafood has no value if it’s stuck in a lorry park in Kent.

You can just picture the chaos of lorries tussling to make meagre progress on choked up motorways heading for the channel because a distant, foolish UK government has let it go this far.

So if we want to turn the tide.

Against the easy populist slogans from the extremes on the left and right.

We need to listen.

I’m listening.

The Sanela crew backed Brexit. They kicked back.

I disagreed with them on Brexit but I want to listen to them.

Because whatever happens on Brexit we won’t go back to the way the country was.

People who play their part in their community should have the opportunity to get a decent job, afford their own home and rely on good public services, with a government on their side.

That’s not the reality for millions of people in our country today.

We must listen.

We must act.

The fishermen deserve better.

People deserve better.

Liberal Democrats demand better.

Theresa May’s best option for Brexit will throw away the gains from cooperation with our neighbours that we have worked hard to deliver over forty years.

Economic growth.

Freedom to travel.

Security and peace.

All of that under threat.

And her Chequers plan will create a democratic vacuum too.

After forty years of setting the rules the common rule book will be written by European countries, not Britain.

And when they make a new rule that’s not in our economic interests we will just have to suck it up.

We’ll be a rule taker, not a rule maker.

Rules set by Europe and implemented by the UK Government.

Democracy ripped out of Britain.

Remember the big promise – “take back control”. Remember the battle cry – Britain’s “independence day”.

But we won’t be independent, we won’t have control, we’ll need to do as we are told.

If we do not turn back this will be the biggest surrender of power this country has probably ever seen.

What a betrayal that would be.

The Government are engaged in a softening up exercise. They are trying to manage public expectation.

The Chequers plan is so damaging to our country they have to threaten a no deal Brexit to make the British people like it.

They must think we are daft.

Threatening food shortages to make chlorine chicken more appealing.

So what do we do?

How do we respond?

Liberal Democrats want to put democracy back at the heart of our relationship with Europe.

The big question is: when Theresa May finally cobbles together a deal who approves it?

Is it the divided cabinet that has taken two whole years to come up with a proposal they don’t even agree with?

Is it the Rees Moggs, the Johnsons, the Goves and the Foxes who are determined to get what they want no matter what the cost?

Is it the compliant Labour Party, taking remainers for a ride?

Surely it must be the British people that signs off the deal.

This Brexit process started with democracy, it should not end in a stitch up.

Trust in democracy – give the people the final say.

Our country deserves better, Liberal Democrats demand better.

The case for a Brexit deal referendum is growing.

More people are backing it across the United Kingdom.

They know the country is on the wrong track.

So here we are, at this at this moment, when we are persuading people in England to support a final say.

So I say this is not the time for Scotland to shrug its shoulders and ignore that big chance to turn back.

The SNP say they are open-minded on a final say.

But they have been open-minded for two years now.

There’s only two hundred days left.

They aren’t open-minded; they are paralysed by indecision.

They have appointed a Minister for Brexit in the Scottish Government.

But he has spent so long sitting on the fence on a people’s vote that he has transformed into the Minister for Splinters.

Who’d have thought it. The SNP turning into Little Britain.

“Yeah, but no, but yeah, but no.”

So my request, my plea to the SNP is simple.

I know you are divided on Brexit.

I know you can’t make up your mind.

I know you are split on the fundamentals on independence: on the currency, on the timing and on the entire economic underpinning.

But, while you are working on how to get out of your hellish mess, will you do something positive for the rest of us?

Scotland deserves better than this. Scotland demands better.

Get off the fence.

Stand up for Britain’s place in Europe.

Put your voice behind a public vote on the deal.

I accept they do have troubles of their own to worry about.

Grumbling voices on the back benches.

Protests at their own conference.

Supporters speaking out.

All because of the SNP’s Growth Commission.

The trouble is nothing in it commissions growth.

In fact, it confesses that everything we said in 2014 was right.

They were angry at the time when we warned about the falling oil revenues, about the volatility of small countries, about the control of the pound, about the cuts to the NHS.

But now they say we were right.

From referendum to Growth Commission.

It was one big denial, now it’s one big confession.

All the things that I want to achieve for Scotland:

a country in which we invest in people through education and mental health services;

to champion science, innovation and research;

to take seriously our obligations to future generations and the environment;

and treasure individuals’ freedoms and liberties.

All of that can be better achieved by rejecting the dark, negative nationalist case and the cuts it imposes on our country.

Liberal Democrats are opposed to independence, and always have been.

The commission confirms why we were right to oppose it in 2014 and why we are determined to stop it now.

Next week we’ll start budget negotiations with the SNP Government.

Liberal Democrats are a constructive, pragmatic party that will reach agreement where we can.

When we secured funding for free school meals we backed the budget.

When we persuaded ministers to fund nursery education we backed the budget.

When we won the case for more funds for colleges we backed the budget.

And this year we will hunt for agreement once more.

But let me be clear about this.

We simply are not going to vote for an SNP Budget that keeps an independence referendum on the table.

The Brexit chaos and the confession of the Growth Commission obliterates the case for independence.

Everything good we want to do in Scotland will be harder with the big cuts that independence brings.

The SNP have a way out of this. Just drop your independence referendum.

Their options are limited. The Greens are threatening to stand up to them this year.

Liberal Democrats have worked together with others where we can.

We hunt for partnership when it’s in the interests of the country.

But independence is against the interests of the country.

So the message to Derek Mackay is clear.

For Liberal Democrats to be in, independence has to be out.

I need, at this point, to speak seriously about sexual harassment.

We have had our own issues.

That it happens anywhere is appalling.

When it happens it is important how we handle it.

Because victims and survivors are watching.

They want to know that allegations and evidence will be treated with dignity and respect.

That they will get a fair hearing.

That they won’t be used by warring factions for a proxy battle.

Whether that is between nationalists and unionists, or struggles inside one party.

The First Minister and the Permanent Secretary deserve credit for standing firm despite the pressure.

Of course people have the right to defend themselves. I would always defend that.

But conducting that defence like a full blown election campaign is just wrong.

Daily press statements, crowdfunding campaigns, taking the government to court.

It lacks dignity and respect for the fair and just system we all seek.

What does it say to women who are considering standing up to powerful men?

How do they get treated fairly?

So I am ashamed. Ashamed that after all the fine rhetoric and noble ambitions following the #metoo movement that politicians have failed.

After the circus of the last two weeks the #metoo movement has had a major setback.

And my plea to everyone. Yes or no. Within and outwith the independence movement. And especially former First Ministers.

My plea is stop.

Stop before more people are deterred from stepping up and speaking up.

The United Kingdom is on the wrong track. Scotland is on the wrong track.

People who play their part should have the opportunity to get a decent job, afford their own home and rely on good public services.

That is not the reality for millions of people in our country.

Take public services.

You know that Liberal Democrats regard education as the route out of poverty, as the means to grow our economy, a way of making a life for yourself.

It is a great liberal cause – to allow every individual to achieve their potential.

That’s why we promoted the roll-out of nursery education, the pupil premium in schools and support for colleges and universities.

We will always be the party of education. It’s why we will always work to get the best for education in Scotland.

International evidence shows that the under-sevens need a play-based approach to learning with plenty of opportunities for active, outdoor, social, self-directed play.

National Testing especially for 5-year-old Primary Ones pulls Scottish education in exactly the opposite direction.

Parent groups.

The teachers’ union the EIS.

And the educational charity Upstart.

All of them oppose the tests.

And there is a tidal wave of concern from teachers.

We revealed that over the summer.

Two hundred pages of searing criticism.

Disrupting learning.

Taking staff away from teaching.

One teacher in Aberdeen said she had never seen such “cruel nonsense” in all of her life, branding the tests “a shambles”.

Another said “This is a massive use of staff resources that could be put into supporting children instead.”

And to cap it all an East Ayrshire teacher said the information gathered was “completely useless.”

The Scottish Government said: “We will continue to listen to the views of teachers”.

They waited a month then carried on regardless.

Today the EIS are warning that the tests are a slippery path to league tables. High stakes.

This is a major development.

We warned that this would happen.

We warned about the return to Thatcherite national testing.

So Parliament will vote against the tests. The SNP will probably ignore that too.

At that point if the pupils, parents and teachers boycott these tests we will stand with them.

These tests are damaging and they’ve got to go.

All this puts Scotland on the wrong track.

In 1870, the House of Commons chose an early school starting age so that children’s mothers could provide cheap labour in factories.

It wasn’t for the benefit of the children but for the profits of the bosses.

Almost 9 out of 10 countries in the world start formal education at the age of six or seven.

Only a tiny fraction join Britain at such an early age.

That’s why I want Scotland to join the majority of countries around the world.

I want schools to be able to change the way we teach children aged four and five and bring in a play-based, social approach.

We should start formal schooling at six or even seven.

I want children in Scotland to get the long-term educational benefits.

Because education is on the wrong track.

So today I am committing to work with the education charity Upstart to develop a full programme for change.

This shows our commitment to make real change for children in Scotland.

This is because Liberal Democrats demand better for our children.

Scotland is on the wrong track on mental health too.

Over the summer I met a farmer who told me about the mental health problems he was experiencing and the time he had to wait to get treatment and support.

We all know that he is not alone. In fact, there are too many like him who don’t get the help they need on time.

The First Minister has told me for three years that it’s a priority for her government. But each year the waits get longer.

A quarter of adults don’t get treatment in the target time.

And it is worse for children.

Take the figures this week – the worst waits for young people on record.

Just 67.8% of children met the 18-week target.

That’s down and down from last year.

It’s even worse in Forth Valley, Grampian and the Borders.

And in Tayside only a third of young people get treated on time.

This is having a devastating impact. It’s got to change.

I’ve seen the benefits of good mental health treatment.

I’ve met the people whose lives have taken a turn for the better.

I’ve seen the potential and the opportunity.

Liberal Democrats have laid out clear plans to end the scandal of long waits and long journeys for treatment:

doubling the CAMHS budget;

establishing mental health beds north of Dundee;

and putting mental health practitioners capable of treating people in every GP surgery and A&E in the country.

That’s how we do more.

That’s how we speak up.

We need to do more.

For too many they suffer in silence.

The Government’s record on mental health is nothing short of a silent scandal.

Scotland is on the wrong track on policing.

It’s been five years since the formation of Police Scotland.

As the new Chief Constable Ian Livingstone – the third in just five years – admitted: it’s not gone well.

The targets, the control rooms, the stop and search, the Police Authority clashes, four chairs, three chief constables. The list goes on.

From the beginning first Alison McInnes and now Liam McArthur have stood up for policing in Scotland.

We’ve held the Government to account.

We’ve made some progress.

It looks like the forced merger of the British Transport Police is off.

And not before time.

But there is so much more to be done.

Because the government forced out lots of civilian staff, police officers are now stuck in offices covering those jobs.

It means police cover on the streets is down. The thin blue line is thinner than ever before.

It’s a warning to the new Justice Secretary.

Our police officers do a great job – how about giving them some support?

And victims of the police centralisation deserve justice too.

It’s three years since the M9 crash where Lamara Bell and John Yuill died at the side of the motorway.

You’ll remember they were left there for days despite a report to the Bilston Glen call centre.

But still – three years later – we don’t know why.

This is too long.

We need the Fatal Accident Inquiry and we need it now.

On the police, on justice, on mental health, on education the country is on the wrong track.

People deserve better, Liberal Democrats demand better.

Liberal Democrats always demand better.

Our country is on the wrong track.

People who play their part often get left behind.

The rules are stacked in favour of big corporations and the most powerful.

Liberal Democrats stand up to power and privilege to bring fairness and opportunity for everyone.

It’s why we stood up to Amazon and demanded they paid fair wages and paid fair taxes too.

It’s why we stood up for human rights and integrity when the SNP put a grubby Chinese deal first.

It’s why we stood for early education, put mental health at the top of the agenda, and got funding for our colleges;

It’s why we stood against big, hungry central government that grabbed control of our police, our fire and our NHS.

It’s why we put our shoulder to the wheel for Scotland to remain in the UK.

It’s why we are standing up for a final say on Brexit.

This is what we do.

Once a small team, now a growing team we have achieved all this.

With more of us we can do so much more.

This is why I joined the party.

And why more people should join our party.

Vince Cable is opening the door across the whole of Britain.

People who share our values should join our movement.

To challenge.

To stand for the weak against the strong.

For the fishermen, the farmers and the crofters.

Against big government and huge corporations.

For better mental health, better education so that everyone can be all they can be.

To change the world in which we live.

To stand for fairness, for justice, for equality of opportunity.

Liberal Democrats Demand Better.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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8 Comments

  • Sue Sutherland 9th Sep '18 - 2:31pm

    This is a moving speech. “.Liberal Democrats stand up to power and privilege to bring fairness and opportunity for everyone.” This seems to be the reason for being a Lib Dem, not a Tory or a Labour supporter.
    Sadly a lot of members are feeling that we don’t practise what we preach in our own party. They do not feel heard. We must change our ways of working so that members are actively involved in change even before the word go. I think those who have power and privilege within the party should start valuing members rather than seeing them as useful leafletters and envelope stuffers who don’t understand things as well as they do.

  • Steve Trevthan 9th Sep '18 - 3:11pm

    Well said Sue Sutherland!
    What happened to these excellent aspirations during the coalition?
    How does our country and our party get out of and/or beyond “Austerity”?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Sep '18 - 3:32pm

    @Andrew I feel just as strongly about the EU, but I think that the arguments for staying in the EU are exactly the same as the arguments for staying in the EU. The figures just don’t add up and splitting up this island into separate nation states would help help nobody.

  • “The figures just don’t add up and splitting up this island into separate nation states would help help nobody”

    I disagree. It would get Scotland out from the frankly awful Westminster government and allow it to be a more equal society, without danger of leaving the EU, which actively invited immigration, had a proportionally elected government and avoided such things as the Hostile Environment.

    Those things definitely, for me, override a drop in GDP of the predicted size. And they would help a lot of people.

  • David Evershed 10th Sep '18 - 11:28am

    Willie Rennie says we should be against huge corporations.

    I disagree. Corporations should be judged on their merits.

    Corporations become huge because they are able to meet customer needs and generate a profitable return for their investors (including our pension funds).

    Having a set view because something is large is be bigotted.

  • Robin Bennett 10th Sep '18 - 6:02pm

    The Scottish budget should be considered on its merits. To deny support outright unless “independence is off the table” does nothing to recover the support of voters who deserted us in droves for the SNP in the 2011 Holyrood and 2015 Westminster elections.

    Regrettably, the Party in now dominated by those who refuse to believe that there be a new spirit in the land once Scotland ceases to be a branch economy. It’s encouraging to hear from David Raw that there are still some in the party who favour a more independent Holyrood parliament.

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