Willie Rennie's Speech to Spring Conference

Speech from Willie Rennie MSP, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, to Scottish Liberal Democrat spring conference:


I want to talk to you about a new member of our party.

Becca Plenderleith.  She is a bright, intelligent and brave young woman.  We are fortunate to call her a fellow Liberal Democrat. She has given me permission to tell you this story.

What she did was something simple.  She told her story.  She wrote about her experience of the health service.

Only a few years ago she was suffering from depression and following a break up from her boyfriend she considered suicide.

What happened next is something that must be condemned to the past.

She was told by a doctor at accident and emergency that she was a drain on the NHS.

No support, no treatment, just a lecture.

But Becca is making a difference.  Making a difference by speaking out.

And the response is encouraging.

Every time I now mention mental health on a public platform the silent nods around the room fill me with hope.

Hope that the stigma is fading, hope that there is a growing demand for change, hope that this will lead to the unstoppable change to our NHS so that mental health is given the equal support it deserves.

But we need more than nods to make change.

We cannot wait any longer for change.

For Becca, for thousands of people who are crying out for help and for the many who cannot be heard anymore because we were simply too late. 

For all their sakes we need change and we need it now.

We want the best for people with mental health problems.

Scotland used to be amongst the best in the world for so many things.

That’s what the next five years have got to be about. To make us the best again.

At our heart Liberal Democrats want every individual to achieve their potential.

To be the best Scotland will need the skills, talents and creativity of everyone-who-lives-here to participate in the economy and society, and to feel they belong.

Diversity and education will be the twin engines that drive invention and creativity to enrich our country and provide a bright, liberal future.

Our economy needs a Scotland where we can draw on the well-educated and trained talents of people from all backgrounds.

Scotland needs to get the benefit of the diverse talents of everyone to be the best.

That means there should be opportunity for everyone whatever their background.

This is the vision for Scotland to which Scottish Liberal Democrats will devote the next five years.

That’s the liberal vision.

Because what we have now is just not good enough for Scotland.

On education – once proud, now slipping down the global rankings according to the OECD.

On climate change – once world beating targets, now failing to meet them year on year.

On policing – once locally accountable with local policing by consent, now a shadow of its former self.

On mental health – once a world leading strategy, now we don’t even have one and people are waiting an age for urgent treatment.

Scotland needs change to be the best but this SNP government is refusing to act.

Scotland can’t wait for a vague promise of change at some point over the horizon.

The SNP are paralysed on tax even when they now have the power in their hands.

They have chosen to cut education rather than use those new powers to invest in it.

They prefer to talk about climate change targets than take the action to exceed them.

They have failed to fund mental health services even though the waiting times grow.

Frozen to the spot, afraid to do anything in case it damages the independence cause.

My message today is that it doesn’t have to be like this.

We can build a country where children from all backgrounds get the best chance to succeed 

Where our civil liberties are valued and celebrated.

Where our police are allowed to do the job they were trained for - to keep us safe.

Where we pass on the environment to our children in a better state than we inherited.

Where power is shared across the country rather than hoarded in Holyrood.

Where people with poor mental health are treated as swiftly as everyone else.

I want to live in a country that has ambition to be the best in the world not just the best in Britain.

We don't have to wait. We can build that country now.

We need to get Scotland fit for the future.

To be the best again.

A Willie Rennie speech would not be complete without a reference to Dunfermline.

But I have a real excuse this time.

Ten years ago this month we won that Dunfermline by-election.

You know that I draw inspiration from that wonderful victory.

And this year we have outstanding candidates who can win too.

Katy Gordon in West of Scotland

Kris Chapman in the South of Scotland

Alex Cole Hamilton and Hannah Bettsworth in Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Peter Barrett in Mid Scotland and Fife.

Christine Jardine and Mike Rumbles in the North East.

Jamie Stone, Carolyn Caddick and Angela McLean in the Highlands.

Robert Brown and Paul McGarry in Glasgow and Central. 

They are all leading vigorous campaigns to win to bolster our brilliant team in Holyrood.

Alison McInnes has had quite remarkable success in justice and human rights and that success was recognized at the Herald Politician of the Year awards.

Liam McArthur led the charge on the universities bill, on nursery education, on national testing and so much more.

And Tavish Scott on the fiscal framework, on the Smith Commission, on farming payments, on flights to the Northern isles is at his feisty best.

Jim Hume has led the way on mental health and GPs and has successfully piloted a new law to ban smoking in cars with children.

Jim, children will have a healthier future thanks to you.

A team that punches well above its weight. 

If you ever needed shining examples of why we need even more Liberal Democrats just observe our team of parliamentarians in Holyrood. 

They have achieved more in the last five years than all of the SNP backbenchers put together.

Thank you our great liberal team.

We have a team in 2016 that punches well above its weight.

And if you need a second opinion, just look at the Conservatives.

The Scottish Conservatives have spent a million pounds writing to people asking for support to be the opposition.

Well, they have wasted their money and your time.

They are no opposition.

The SNP and the Tories are two peas in a pod.

The very idea of two parliaments – at Westminster and Holyrood – dominated by those two is an utterly dismal prospect that won’t help Scotland be the best.

The Tories with their harsh welfare policies, callous treatment of refugees, slashing of renewable energy, and their massive economic gamble on the future of the European Union.

The SNP, who are only interested in getting independence and have let everything else slide while they are distracted with that.

And worst of all, both of them are completely united in wanting to keep the country divided.

They need each other.    They feed off each other.

More Nats in Edinburgh helps the Tories in London with their scare stories.

The Tories in London help the Nats in Edinburgh with their scare stories.

They both want to keep the divisions going.

The only parties you’ll find who want another argument about independence in this campaign are the Tories and the SNP. 

That’s what they want.

And it is onto this dismal scene, onto this rancid prospectus, is where we must come in.

We say “no more!”

We say it is time to move on from the divisions in our country.

We will put the division behind us.

We will put the whole of Scotland first – not just the No people or the Yes people.

We will put perpetual conflict behind us.

We want the best for Scotland.

A united Scotland is the best for Scotland

And they are at it again this week. 

Working together to stop our Penny for Education.

Murdo Fraser told Holyrood he’d formed a taxpayers’ alliance with the SNP.

John Swinney said the Tories were the lobby fodder for the SNP.

This week they laughed and clapped together as they cut £500million from local councils.

The SNP song book used to only have one song in it: “If we only had the power”.

But now they do have the powers and they still won’t use them.

They have picked up the Tory song book.

What have we got in that?

“The First Cut Is The Deepest. But the second, third and fourth aren’t bad either”;

“I fought the Lawson and the Lawson won”;

Same tunes about “taxation is theft”, and “cuts are a price worth paying”, and “colleges - the more we cut the more they do”.

John Swinney might even be singing in the bath like Norman Lamont – Je dinnae regret hee haw.

So the Scottish Conservative Leader is simply making it up about opposition.  This party has not gone soft on independence.  But unlike her we accept the result of the referendum and we are moving on. 

She is determined to open up, for her own benefit, the deep wounds the campaign caused.

The Tories just don’t care.

They should stick that on their postcards and apologise to the people of Scotland.

Tomorrow we have the chance to agree that at every election in the future we will have a team of candidates that looks more like our diverse Scotland than we have ever done before.

We debate what targets we set for ourselves for future parliamentary selections. 

For twenty years I have watched only a handful of women MPs and MSPs get elected under our banner.  It is not good enough for this progressive party.

With the support of people who were previously opposed to the measures in the motion we have a package for change.

If you back my motion tomorrow we will send a powerful signal to liberal minded women across Scotland that we are serious about change and that they are welcome in our party.

I want to win again, to win again we need to be more like the people we seek to represent, to win we need to change. 

I am asking you to come with me and back my motion.

For Scotland to be the best again we need the best education in the world again.

The OECD tells us we are slipping down the international standing on education.

This government has slashed 152,000 places from our colleges

It is cutting school budgets too.

It can’t even get more than 7% of two year olds into nursery classes.

With the investment of one penny on income tax we can secure a £475million return.

You’ll know that our investment - the penny for education - will be spent on expanding nursery education, implementing a pupil premium, stopping cuts to schools and repairing cuts to colleges.

Those are our four priorities for children and young people.

Today I can announce the details of that funding so that people know what they will get for their winning investment.

We will invest £170million in our schools with a pupil premium.

This will be paid directly to schools to raise attainment every year.

The pupil premium will be worth £1,400 for every pupil who needs extra support at primary.

And £900 for every secondary pupil from a disadvantaged background.

Our pupil premium will put money into every classrooms.

Every school gets money for children from poorer backgrounds.

And look at what that might mean.

A primary school like Aboyne could get £43,000 more.

In Dunoon, Woodhill in Bishopbriggs, East Craigs in Edinburgh, Castlehill in Cupar, Dingwall, Papdale in Orkney, Eyemouth. All could get more than £60,000.

That’s enough for more teachers for one-to-one help, for homework clubs or for extra equipment.

Secondary schools will benefit too.

Oban would get another £170,000, Inverurie £45,000, Bell Baxter £124,000, Wick £114,000, Anderson High in Lerwick £38,000, Peebles £94,000.

That is how you close the attainment gap:

By making the investment;

By giving the life chances;

By backing up your words with action.

Imagine the transformational effect this will have.

In fact, you don’t need to imagine, because when the Liberal Democrats brought in the pupil premium in England it closed the attainment gap by 5% in three years and raised attainment for everyone.

Raising attainment.

Raising productivity.

Schools giving every child the best chance in life.

That’s the Liberal Democrat commitment on education.

And I make a direct appeal to people who have supported Labour but are not impressed with the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, you can back our progressive plans in May to make your voice heard with us.

Liberal Democrats are big hearted, open minded, outward looking, caring and compassionate.

We are for the aspirational with a social conscience.

We care about the people next door, across the world or in the future.

At our heart Liberal Democrats want every individual to achieve their potential. 

We stand with the weak against the strong, and will use the power of government to tackle the social and economic injustices that limit freedom. 

We say power is safer when it is shared and will trust communities and individuals with the power to control their own lives, and the right to participate in their democracy. 

We are trustees of our world, and our society, and must pass on a sustainable legacy which will benefit future generations.

To be the best we need the best health care so we need to reverse the decline in the NHS.

We support a step change in mental health services, the recruitment of more GPs and better social care.

To be the best the planet must be protected so we need to meet Scotland’s climate change targets. 

That’s why we support action on climate change including warmer homes, better public transport and stopping opencast coal.

To be the best our civil liberties must be guaranteed whether it be on excessive use of stop and search, armed police or an intrusive super ID database.

To be the best we need to reflect the rich diversity of the country so we must bring an end to stripping power from local communities and hoarding it in Holyrood.

That’s why we support a reform programme that includes power transferred to local communities and empowering police, nurses, doctors and teachers to do their job.

To be the best we need a strong economy, fair tax and good public services. 

That’s why we support continued membership of the European Union, a reformed tax system that makes work pay and investment in good public services.

We will move on from the independence debate to bring unity, healing the divisions of the referendum.

We all need to move on to bring the country together to be the best.

We will use this election campaign to show liberal minded people the true value of liberal minded members of the Scottish Parliament.

We will remind people of where we come from. 

Jo Grimond, David Steel, Charles Kennedy, Ming Campbell, Ray Michie and Jim Wallace. 

Inspirational people of outstanding calibre.

We will tell them what we have done.

Invented the NHS and the welfare state, opposed the Iraq war, fought and won free tuition, free personal care, free dental and eye checks in Scotland, tax cuts for workers and a growing economy.

Of course our opponents will point to the mistakes but we will stand proud on our achievements.

And we will tell people where we are going. 

To be the best again. 

We will lift Scotland up from the divisions of the referendum to start winning again.

Scotland is a country of winners.

So we can have the best healthcare.

So we can enjoy the freedom that comes with our deep rooted civil liberties

So we can celebrate meeting our climate change targets

And so we can once again have the best education in the world

We can be the best again if we are bold, bright, liberal and green.

So if you want change.

If you want things to be better.

If you want to get Scotland fit for the future.

If you want Scotland to be the best again.

Then back the Liberal Democrats.

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