My Speech to Lib Dem Conference


This morning I had the chance to address delegates at Lib Dem conference down in Bournemouth. This is what I had to say:

What on earth is going on in Scotland?

That's the new greeting for all Scots in Bournemouth this week.

Well, I'm here to help.

I'll tell you what's happening. The unvarnished truth.

I want to tell you about the challenges and the threats as well as the opportunities.

And I want to tell you what Scottish Liberal Democrats offer for next year's elections - our positive, liberal, centre ground vision.

Before I start, though, for those of you who are interested in the fortunes of our former First Minister I can bring you unexpected news.

Alex Salmond recently recorded a video for the Church of Scotland and declared at the end of it that he “preferred” people of faith to those of no faith.

That is unexpected. For this reason.

It’s the first time Alex Salmond has ever acknowledged the possibility of the existence of a higher authority than himself.

But what of the Scottish Government he left behind?

This is the story they don’t want to tell you themselves.

They took their eye off the ball to focus all their efforts on their independence referendum one year ago this week.

And they haven’t taken the decision to get back on top of the job they are paid for - to run Scotland’s domestic government.

And as I will show you, the problems are mounting for people in Scotland who rely on anything the Scottish Government is supposed to be doing.

Mental health services neglected. Specialist staff numbers are down. Waiting times for young people are horrific.

GP services under threat. The Royal College says Scotland will be 700 short in just four years’ time.

On civil liberties, we still haven’t heard the SNP abandon their super-ID database, which threatens to lock the personal details of all our citizens into a secretive system.

On schools, a once proud education system, has since been slipping with falling literacy and numeracy standards.

Children at school today have only ever had the SNP running their schools. But SNP ministers behave as if it’s their first day in charge.

It isn’t. Their eye has been off the ball for years.

And there can be no more potent and tragic example of the failure of the SNP Government than their new national, centralised Police Scotland.

You will have seen the news from earlier this summer.

That young couple that were left by the police at side of the motorway for three whole days.

The horrific event epitomised a police service in crisis, it repulsed a nation and tore apart a family.

We must never forget the SNP forced through the centralisation of the police, at a break-neck speed, with no costed business plan, imposing a top down, target driven culture on a police service that had served Scotland well for decades.

They were warned of the consequences, not just by us but, by rank and file officers - repeatedly.

It is shameful that it took the deaths of John Yuill and Lamara Bell to force them to act.

This shows more than any other single issue that there is something wrong at the heart of the SNP Government.

They were warned.

They should have known.

They should be ashamed.

There is no hyperbole in what I now say.

If it were not for the small team of determined Liberal Democrats in Holyrood the SNP would go unchallenged on the police, on justice and on the protection of our civil liberties.

The SNP are an illiberal, centralising, arrogant and increasingly incompetent government who have put their party before my country for far too long.

So there is no doubt we are punching above our weight.

We may only have five MSPs today but the work we do shows why we so desperately need more.

Liberal Democrats stood against the creation of the single Scottish Police force.

And we have shone a light on it ever since.

We exposed the scandals on armed police on our streets, industrial-scale stop and search rates five times higher than England, and a lack of accountability that have harmed staff in the police and the communities they serve.

Liberal Democrats campaigned on childcare for two-year-olds and shamed the Scottish Government to take the first, small steps to provide more.

Thousands of two year old children now skip through the doors of their local nurseries thanks only – only - to the intervention and doggedness of the Liberal Democrats.

We led the way in discovering the Scottish Government’s plans for the ID database that intrudes on privacy and lays the foundations for an ID card system in Scotland.

For all of the reasons I have just outlined, 2016 should be an election about domestic policy.

Liberal Democrats have shone the light and led the way:

For the health service;

For education;

For liberties.

They must not be ignored.

We must make sure they cannot be ignored.

And, for those very same reasons of failure, the SNP will try to distract people and get them to talk about absolutely anything else.

They will talk about councils.

They will talk about their opponents.

They will talk about international affairs.

They are experts on everyone else’s things.

There is scarcely a country in the world to which SNP members have not offered detailed policy advice through motions tabled in the Scottish Parliament.

They have even been known to strike up a debate on space travel to prevent scrutiny of their record at home.

They will talk about their next referendum.

It is only a year since the last.

You will remember the SNP standing beside banners and posters proclaiming “One Opportunity” and promising that it was a once-in-a-generation vote.

Well SNP ministers, MPs and MSPs are now moving as quickly as they can away from that promise and commitment.

They have a list of excuses for a second referendum which now encompasses Trident, the EU, UK Labour poll ratings, the legislative timetable for the new devolved powers and, of course, the opinion of Sean Connery.

It is hard to keep up to date with the latest manoeuvres.

But each one is deliberately meant to distract from their domestic record.

And when all else fails they will distract everyone with an attack on the BBC.

The nationalists have declared an unofficial war on the BBC.

Like Mrs Thatcher before them, they have been seduced by the billionaire media tycoons who want the BBC brought down.

And they spy unionist plotters in every recess of the BBC Scotland studios in Glasgow.

So that is the warning I give you today about what the SNP will try to do.

The election next May should be about the way they are running things in our country, in Scotland.

But by jumping into international affairs, extra referendums and the BBC the SNP will try to take the focus off the NHS, education and policing.

The SNP want the lights to be turned off on scrutiny of their domestic record. We must not let them get away with it.

So I need you to help me by making sure that SNP politicians, when they pop up in TV and radio studios, are always asked about their record in government.

They need to be asked about the shortage of GPs;

Why they’ve cut the number of mental health professionals;

Why Scotland lags the UK on childcare for two-year-olds;

Why the Pupil Premium is not on the table in Scotland;

And why their single police force is in chaos,

And the election next year should be about sorting out the mess.

Scotland deserves better.

Liberal Democrats have an alternative vision for Scotland that embraces hope and opportunity.

Unlike those who are veering to the left or right we are sticking to the radical, liberal, centre ground.

We offer a combination of economic discipline with social justice so that there is opportunity for everyone, no matter what their background.

And how we do our politics is important too.

I am inspired by people like David Steel - 50 years in Parliament this year.

The title of his biography is “Militant for the reasonable man”. It sums up his mission, style and manner.

On apartheid, abortion, breaking the political establishment, home rule and so much more David Steel was a radical, even a militant, not threatening but reasonable.

It was the style that Charles Kennedy nurtured too.

Almost everyone seems to have a special, personal story about Charles.

This is mine.

On his first public appearance, after he stood down as Leader, he was mobbed in the streets of Dunfermline, campaigning for me in my by-election.

Supporters, journalists and camera crews made progress slow. As we passed a shop doorway, a lady of some years called out, “We love you Charles.”

Quick as flash, he replied, “Thanks, but keep it quiet. The party’s in enough bother as it is.”

Charles had a unique combination of political talent and public affection.

With that cheeky smile, Highland lilt and a few simple words, Charles Kennedy captured the political hearts of the nation.

The best tribute we can pay to Charles is to carry on his manner, his style and his approach to politics.

Opportunity, community, sustainability and an open mind.

These values have been central to my political being.

Opportunity: helping people to get up and get on in the world to achieve their potential.

Community: where local people know best, not remote officials and bureaucrats;

Sustainability: long term solutions not quick fixes.

Open mind: prepared to help our neighbours, if they are round the corner or across the world.

I have always felt frustrated that people can be burdened by the circumstances of their birth.

I have always been frustrated that power is too often arrogantly hoarded. Power is safer shared.

I have always been frustrated that when the chips are down we are often blind to the needs of future generations.

And I have always been frustrated by the idea there is something to fear about the foreigner when they have so much to share.

As a liberal my core belief is in the power of the individual. I trust in the innate ability of individuals to do great things when they have power in their hands.

In short we are for the aspirational with a social conscience.

Our election campaign will be about liberal values.

At our heart we want every individual to achieve their potential.

So we will bring in childcare and the pupil premium for children who need it, wherever they live in Scotland. Giving opportunity to every child to get up and get on - no matter the circumstances of their birth.

We stand with the powerless against the strong. Mental health will be taken seriously. No more six month waits. Professionals on standby in every A&E.

We say power is safer when it is shared and will trust communities and individuals with the power to control their own lives - putting an end to the Holyrood-knows-best mentality.

So we will put democracy back into the police and return to traditional Scottish policing by consent.

We will empower public sector workers - teachers, doctors, nurses, police and more;

Stripping back top-down targets, controls, league tables and testing to give them the freedom to do their job.

And we will share power across the whole UK to give a stable constitutional future for Scotland;

A federal system is a positive, unifying future for Scotland and the rest of the UK.

This is our positive vision;

This is our creative plan;

Our liberal, radical offer to create real freedom for people in Scotland.

We have six months to make that positive case.

I am ready for it.

With your help we can do great things.


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