Speech from Alistair Carmichael MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, at Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow:
Good morning conference and welcome back to Glasgow.
It has been quite a year since we last met here.
Last November this was a city united in grief when Police Scotland's helicopter fell from the sky and crashed into the Clutha Vaults pub at the other end of Argyle Street, killing ten people. The response from the people of Glasgow at that time was remarkable. They showed the truth of the slogan that is on the lanyards most of you are wearing today – People Make Glasgow.
In July we hosted the best Commonwealth Games ever. We saw some truly memorable world class performances.
No sooner was that over than we led the nation and the Commonwealth in commemorating the outbreak of World War One in 1914. And then we had a referendum. I confess I am speaking from a text this morning but I think that even without it I might have managed not to do a Miliband and forget to mention it.
Let me first of all deal with some of the positives from it. The turnout was magnificent.
85% of the record number of people registered to vote turned out to do so.The participation of sixteen and seventeen year olds in the referendum was a huge success and the extension of the franchise across the whole of the UK after the next election will be difficult even for the most ardent of conservatives - whichever party they are in - to resist.
We achieved all the objectives that we set ourselves in the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012. We settled the independence question in a way that was legal, fair and decisive. And we won.
But now the campaign is over and now we need to move on - the 45% who voted yes and the 55% who voted no. I understand the disappointment of those who voted Yes and lost – especially here in Glasgow, a city where the Yes Campaign finished ahead.
But to people on both sides of the argument the message is clear. If this referendum sparked your imagination; If it spurred you into action; If it got you out, agitating for change, then that is good. Keep at it.
But the people of Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom and that democratic decision must be respected. So now is the time to use that energy and imagination, and to take action that really will deliver change for Scotland. And more than that, change that will benefit all of our United Kingdom. We can all wave flags, join protests and march if we want to. But wouldn’t it be better to set those things aside, to accept the will of the Scottish people, and to put your shoulder to the wheel in our common endeavour?
To grow our economy, to make our society fairer, to shape a stronger Scottish Parliament for the good of one and all. To move the argument on from a debate about what powers our parliament should have to using these powers for the good of our people. To build a stronger economy and a fairer society here in Scotland and across the United Kingdom.
For the SNP leadership – for Nicola Sturgeon – this is of course a big test. It is disappointing that she has declined to rule out pushing for a second referendum in less than three years from now. There is still time for her to clarify that she will push for no such thing. And I hope that she will take that opportunity. Not just because it is in her own interests to begin as First Minister by keeping her word and not breaking it – But because it is in the broader interests of Scotland to cast off the uncertainty and be clear about the future.
The threat of a second referendum would not only distort Scottish politics but undermine the position of business and jobs here too. They know all about this in Canada. On my visit to Quebec earlier this year, expert after expert brought up the issue. Jobs seeped out of Montreal and flowed elsewhere because the issue of Quebec’s future remained in doubt.
Montreal used to be the home to Canada's Financial Services Sector - just as Edinburgh is here. But eventually the constitutional uncertainty drove them out of Montreal. I do not want to see the same thing happen here.
At a time of economic turmoil, when the recovery for which we have fought so hard is now underway, I don’t want the pall of uncertainty to descend once again, obscuring our view to the future. The Scottish Government should join us in doing everything possible to create certainty and protect jobs, not cast doubt and to scare employers away.
We need a stronger economy in a fairer society with opportunity for everyone. So, Nicola, take this moment to keep your word, uphold the Edinburgh Agreement and rule out your support for another referendum.
We know that the Nationalists will always be on the lookout to reopen this issue. To be honest they don’t need much encouragement. So, I say this to the other parties with whom we have just campaigned to preserve the UK - let’s not give them the excuse. We all of us promised more powers for the Scottish Parliament. We made these promises in good faith. We promised them on a timetable. So let me be quite clear - We shall deliver these promises. We shall deliver them on that timetable. And nothing, but nothing, will stop us.
I address my remarks today in particular to the Conservatives. With the referendum receding behind them, and as they see Nigel Farage in their rear view mirror with every day that passes the Tories veer further off towards the right. Being in coalition with the Tories is a bit like sharing your house with a cat. You might think you have a domesticated pet but the second it suits the cat, the claws will come out and off it goes, back to the wild.
Remember how David Cameron responded to the news that 45% of the people of Scotland had just voted to be independent. He used the moment to seize the initiative on English Votes for English Laws and to embarrass the Labour Party. It is just what you expect from the Leader of the Conservative Party although I expected a little more from the Prime Minister.
And for the likes of Michael Gove then to suggest that the all-party pledge on more powers was contingent on getting a deal on English votes was an act of political and constitutional recklessness. In my day it would have earned you a meeting with the Chief Whip. As if that was not enough, we then have Chris Grayling announce that a future Conservative government would take away universal human rights from every man, woman and child. A thoroughly stupid idea on any view but patently no thought had been given to the fact that the Human Rights Act is integral to the Act setting up the Scottish Parliament.
That is grist to the mill for Nationalists who argue that Scotland’s values are different and that is why independence is necessary. The referendum may be over but the task of securing the union will not be completed until we have made good on our promises to deliver extra powers to the Scottish Parliament.
The vision of Jo Grimond or Russell Johnston was home rule for Scotland within a federal United Kingdom - a stable and sustainable constitutional settlement. It excites and inspires me that the referendum result takes us closer to that than we have ever been before. Ming Campbell’s commission put flesh on the bones of our beliefs. Defining our vision of home rule in the twenty first century context.
A vision of a Scotland that raises the majority of its own revenues, that can borrow, tax and spend to meet Scotland’s priorities, and have the freedom to innovate and reform as never before. That vision is our contribution to Lord Smith’s Commission. And in Mike Moore and Tavish Scott we have two committed Liberal Democrats with a track record in delivering more powers and using them to Scotland’s advantage.
They will fight for the forward-leaning home rule powers that will determine Scotland’s future. But the Smith Commission is of course about bringing our ideas together with others so that consensus and agreement deliver change. And it is right that we bring together as much of Scotland as we can in the short time we have available.
The design of Scotland's constitutional settlement has never been owned by any single political party. The work of the three political parties that made the promise of more powers in the campaign can now be the starting point for others. We need to hear and soon from the Nationalists and the Greens.
We need to hear the voice of business, trades unions, churches, voluntary groups.Anyone who has ever looked at how Scotland is governed and thought it could be done better - this is the time for you to have your say. And, conference, this is an exciting moment not just for us here in Scotland.
My vision is the same as that of Jo Grimond and Russell Johnston - home rule for Scotland - but my ambition does not stop at the border. Change here will bring change all round. Our federal vision of a modern United Kingdom a country at ease with diversity and difference;a country where the differences between us should be a cause for celebration not a source of fear or suspicion.
Conference, you cannot own the future if your eyes are fixed on the past. Malcolm X once said that the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.
We have done the work.We are ready. Ready to deliver the constitutional change that is so long overdue - not just in Scotland but across the whole of our still United Kingdom. Ready to offer opportunity to the young and security to the old.
Ready to stand tall on the world stage and to defend the rights and liberties that no right thinking person should challenge, wherever they are challenged. Ready to take our values into government again, to build a nation that is liberal and democratic.
We are ready for the challenge. Now let’s get to it.