Willie Rennie: We need a new Claim of Right to deliver a powerful Scotland in the UK

Willie Rennie has consistently talked about the need to develop a blueprint for a new constitutional settlement for Scotland within the United Kingdom. The Scottish Liberal Democrats have their own proposals, enshrined in Federalism: the best future for Scotland. Since its publication, both Labour and the Conservatives, (yes, you read that right, the Conservatives) have announced that they will b developing their own plans.

In a speech in Glasgow today, Willie takes this a step further, saying that he wants to see definite action on this so that any changes can be voted on at the 2015 general election, just 8 months after the referendum.

But I invite party leaders to take this to the next level;

To work together to show we will deliver what most people want: a powerful Scotland within the United Kingdom.

If I think back to the giant constitutional leaps of the past, they needed parties to work together.

The 1989 Claim of Right and the cross-party Constitutional Convention took time but laid a strong foundation for our Parliament.

And think, too, back to Calman.

After the Calman Commission report was published there was an agreement to implementation from every party, followed by agreed wording in each party’s manifesto for 2010. That’s how it happened. That’s how the greatest transfer of fiscal power for 300 years was agreed.

These two things delivered the goods. I am now seeking a third agreement to send a clear signal that we will deliver a third stage of powerful democratic reform.

And this is how we should do it:

We need a joint leaders’ statement before the referendum; a “declaration of right” or a “new claim of right”, committing parties to deliver reforms to bring a stronger, more accountable parliament.

It will send a powerful and clear message to those who want a better Britain.

And give confidence to any who doubt it will happen. We can show that reform will happen with the support of the people, secured at the 2015 General Election.

He outlines what he saw as 3 major advantages of Scotland remaining in the UK, economic strength, social equity and global clout. He looks back on what the UK has delivered:

A country that is so caring for the sick that it invents the National Health Service is a country I want to remain part of.

A country that has such financial strength that it can bail out the banks in a crisis is a country I want to remain part of.

A country that is so compassionate that it has the second largest international aid budget in the world is a country I want to remain part of.

If we opt for independence it does not mean that we stop producing people who achieve and thrive but I believe that it is easier to reach your potential working together as part of the United Kingdom.

He emphasises that this constitutional stuff isn’t just there for the sake of it. It’s there to help deliver social change:

But we do not believe that constitutional change with Home Rule is an end in its own right.  It is the means to the end.  It’s because we want to transform society for the better.

I want to give every child the best start in life to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty.  Not only will it enrich their life but also enable them to contribute to the common good of the nation.

I want to tackle the challenges that our environment faces with global warming and energy.

I want to enable our society to endure with the ageing population.

Willie’s speech injects some much needed positive focus and motivation into the debate. It’s imperative that Labour and the Conservatives rise to this challenge.

Both Yes Scotland and Better Together have so far failed to engage many more than their usual suspects. There are signs that Better Together is starting to get it, with much more positive language from Alistair Darling, but they aren’t quite there yet. The Summer has been characterised by unedifying spats over payments to an academic (independence sympathiser gets paid a small amount by Yes campaign, who cares?) and Alex Salmond waving a saltire when Andy Murray won Wimbledon (honestly, what else was he going to do?). We need something nourishing to think about  and Willie’s suggested a way of moving the debate in a constructive direction.

If you want to read Willie’s speech in full, you can do so here.

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

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  • If the Scottish independence bid fails, as I am certain it will, the time will have come for negotiating a new constitutional settlement on the relations between all the constituent parts of the UK — perhaps resulting in a Union of British Kingdoms rather than a United Kingdom of Great Britain. There is no particular reason that Scotland cannot be fully free of Westminster control as regards her own affairs, but also take part in a union with a common external border, common currency, and common defence. However, this settlement should not just be a bilateral pact between Scotland and the remaining UK, but should settle the status of Northern Ireland and Wales (and perhaps Man and the Channel Islands) as well.

  • Yorkshire Guidon 31st Aug '13 - 3:05pm

    We should also be looking at the way power is to be devolved to the English regions. Is it to be city regions, LEPs, regional assemblies, more power to local authorities, the staus quo or something different entirely?

  • Robin Bennett 31st Aug '13 - 3:07pm

    Willie’s suggestion is a refreshing contrast with the usual barrage of negativity. However, the pro Union parties will only make an impression when they promise to stop taking away 9/10ths of the benefit of North Sea OIl.

  • Michael Parsons 1st Sep '13 - 3:09pm

    But why should Scotland or anywhere want the mismanaged and increasingly privatised Health Service resulting from the Coalition’s attacks on our NHS? And as to robbing savers and taxpayers and wrecking our economy to save the apparently criminal, self-destructive and bankrupt zombie banks , I would have thought that was a very good reason for leaving UK Ripoff Inc. And what eveidence is there that State (not privat) Aid has brought prosperity to Africa, for example? A continent thathas received $billions and ended up with mass poverty anyway!
    Time to stick to our guns: Liberal Policy throughout the Comoinwealth including making Ireland no longer part of the UK: Home Rule.

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