Willie Rennie’s speech – Lib Dems are a Third Way for Scotland

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Willie Rennie’s speech to Conference was broadcast on his birthday on Sunday. It had been recorded in North Queensferry a few days before.

They filmed the speech twice, the first time outside, but there were interruptions from a flypast, a potato lorry and runners from his local club – no amorous pigs or other assorted livestock, though as has happened in the past.

Watch here. The text is below:


On the shores of the Forth Estuary with the Queensferry Crossing behind me.

It sits alongside the 20th century Forth Road Bridge and the 19th century rail bridge.

Even though I see this every day it still inspires that such great engineering feats have been undertaken in the heart of Scotland.

It shows what people can achieve when they work together and are empowered with knowledge and expertise.

I believe in that innate power of people to do great things when power is put in their hands.

It is why I am a liberal.

We saw it through the pandemic, in communities working together and helping each other, and it will be essential to build a fair and green recovery.

In the Scottish Parliament, when faced with the prospect of a terrifying disease we put aside differences and worked with our opponents

to save lives and livelihoods.

It was what people expected of us and it was also the right thing to do.

We put forward suggestions, positive, constructive ideas.

We made the case for front line workers – nurses and carers – to get a daily bonus just like soldiers in combat.

We won testing for residents in care homes.

We won support for artists, fishermen, the self-employed, tourism businesses.

We made the case for a universal basic income to fill the gaps in financial support.

We worked in the spirit of cooperation.

We were the voice of reason.

It showed the vast mass of work that can get done when we put aside the fundamental difference and divide on the constitution.

Scottish politics would benefit a lot from putting aside those differences for a bit longer still.

And that’s the choice people in Scotland can make.

A choice whether we wish to return to the bad old days of dividing communities, families and workplaces over the constitution.

Or coming together in partnership.

Earlier this year the virus led to the SNP suspending their campaign for independence.

I commended them for that. It was the right decision.

Next May voters have an opportunity to suspend the independence campaign for even longer.

It would be the reasonable thing to do.

Because we just have enough going on right now.

A vote for the Liberal Democrats will do just that.

It is a positive vote for a new start, rejecting the divisions, focussing on the recovery, building a new Scotland.

I make this personal commitment to you.

I and my team of Liberal Democrat MSPs will work in partnership to build a fairer, greener society.

We will work in partnership to build a new care service, learning the lessons of the pandemic, investing in those who care for elderly and vulnerable people, giving them a proper pay rise and the respect they deserve.

Liberal Democrats will work in partnership to deliver a public inquiry on the pandemic so we can learn lessons from the thousands of people who have tragically lost their lives.

We will work in partnership to build a green economy, boosting renewables, bringing those jobs to Scotland not shipping them off to the other side of the planet.

I will work in partnership to build a mental health service that will be the best in the world, cutting waits for treatment from over 12 months to just weeks.

Building a flexible, early learning and childcare service to fit the needs of children and their parents. There is no economic recovery without a childcare recovery.

Giving Scotland a bigger voice by changing our country to a federal united kingdom. If it is to survive, the out of date, undemocratic, overly powerful Westminster has got to change.

And make education the top priority. Give schools, colleges and universities the resources they need to make Scottish education the best in the world again.

This is what we can do now.

We can work in partnership to make this change for the better – now.

The alternative is that this change will need to wait behind the arguments on independence – and that will take years.

Every one of these things would need to wait in the long queue behind a long constitutional debate.

Reasonable people will say that these changes cannot wait any longer.

People are exhausted too.

Exhausted from the decade of division and turmoil on independence, on Brexit, on Boris Johnson and now on the pandemic.

It will be even more exhausting with independence with the SNP advocating a decade of austerity and breaking friendships and families apart with all the arguments.

The choice is not between the catastrophe of Boris Johnson or the chaos and exhaustion that would be caused by the SNP with independence.

There is a third way.

I say it is time to make progress with partnership, not turmoil with more division.

This is the third way for a new Scotland.

A third way that delivers on partnership.

That delivers now, not a longer wait.

That ends the division, so we can make progress.

Progress to a country where people are free to live they lives they want, supported by good public services and a job with fair pay.

I want to speak directly to people who opposed Brexit.

I stand with you – heart-broken that we have left.

Liberal Democrats led the campaign to stop our exit from the European Union because we are committed Europeans.

We believe that partnership with our neighbours is essential if progress is to be made in the increasingly interconnected world.

That now means working with our neighbours in Europe every step of the way, whenever we can.

And there is a big lesson from Brexit.

We know breaking up the European Union has been chaotic and painful and it has only been around for 40 years.

The United Kingdom has been around for 300 years. Just imagine how difficult breaking it up would be.

So let us not repeat the mistakes of Brexit with independence.

Let’s work with our neighbours – in Europe and the UK.

Let’s unite for progress. That’s the third way.

And we need more liberals.

Look at what is happening in the world.

Chaos – where a UK Prime Minister blithely flouts international law, bends lockdown laws for his friends and illegally shuts down parliament to silence his critics.

Frightening – where the leader of the free world denies climate change and stokes up racial divisions for his short term political gain.

Depressing – where online abuse is used as a political tool by the far left, far right and nationalists to bully those who have genuine disagreements about the future of our country.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Liberals will always stand up for the rule of law, for reason, for freedom.

That is why we need more liberals in parliament.

Let me tell you what I will not stand by and watch.

I feel uncomfortable with the growing anti-English sentiment in Scotland.

There are some who are using the virus to spread their hate.

I mean the people who jumped on the virus to stand at the border, and on the approach roads to airports, with their “go back to England banner.”

I am calling this out.

We reject the bogus use of science to spread hate.

I will stand up for decency and respect for everyone who lives in the United Kingdom, whether in Scotland or across the country.

I will stand up for the right of people who have moved to Scotland from England not to be made to feel like strangers in their own home.

I will stand with them. It’s what liberals do.

I will stand up for them just like I have stood up for the people over my fifteen years in parliament.

Tens of thousands of people have sought my support.

I have stood up for people from all parts.

I have stood up for former miners to win the compensation they deserve.

lobbied for a young family to get a home that was not riddled with damp.

battled the Department of Work and Pensions to get people the benefits they need.

challenged the Scottish Government to get mental health treatment for young people.

I have helped thousands of people but I want to do so much more now. I am desperate to help millions across the country.

With me you get what you see.

I am driven by a desire to serve.

Just like my grandfather as the local church minister in Maryhill and the Raploch.

Just like my mother who served for decades as the secretary of the local community association.

Just like my father who was the local shop-keeper and endless local volunteer.

My roots are in public service. To help people.

It gets me when I see a young child who, with a bit of help and education, could go on to be a nurse or a doctor.

A bright teenager who has gone astray but, with some time at college and support for his low self esteem, could build homes.

A mother who has lost her job could be retrained to work again.

This is what makes me tick. I believe in the power of good education and health to enable people to do great things.

I believe in the power of government to help people help themselves.

We need the whole of Scotland to work in partnership so people can be who they want to be.

We will focus on partnership, not yet more division.

This is my word.

Look at what Liberal Democrats do.

Liberal Democrats from around Scotland have been working in their communities to help and support local people.

Alex Cole-Hamilton delivering hot meals to the elderly.

Perth’s Liz Barrett setting up a foodbank

Jamie Stone standing up for the millions who received not a single penny from government

Fraser MacPherson bringing safe streets to Dundee.

Fiona Dryburgh spoke out against domestic violence in East Kilbride.

It is what Liberal Democrats do.

A good local service.

Standing up for local people.

Getting things done.

And we need more Liberal Democrats like that in Parliament to get things done across the country.

We need more liberals in parliament to stand up for those left behind.

We need more liberals in parliament to be the voice of reason.

To stand up for fact, science and rational debate.

We need liberals to stand up against those who abuse the rule of law.

We need liberals to stand up for the millions of reasonable people who are just exhausted with the chaos and turmoil.

We need liberals to work for a green and fair recovery.

This is my personal commitment to you.

Getting things done, a third way, compassion, partnership.

To use our votes in the parliament to end the chaos.

To be the voice of reason.

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