Staying with UK will help Scotland achieve our ambitions

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP today gave a speech in Glenrothes setting out the opportunities that remaining in the UK offers Scotland and how the UK family serves as the best platform for achieving our ambitions:

I was brought up not far from here in a little village called Strathmiglo. Characterised by Knights Templar, lands of Falkland Palace, agriculture, linen factories and Hogg’s shoes. It’s a fine community with a long, if simple, past.

My parents still live there and I’m delighted they are here today even though I have a sneaking suspicion they are just checking if my laces are tied. In fact I can see my mother now looking to check that my shirt is tucked in.

I am proud of where I come from. Not with some sort of romantic misty eyed recall of my past but because it is what shaped me and made me who I am.

I am not perfect, Strathmiglo is not perfect, Fife likewise is not without criticism. It’s perhaps brave to declare but Scotland has its faults too.

Some nationalists would like you to think that Britain is why we are not perfect – the root of all our ills. Of course Britain has made mistakes. Some I bitterly regret.

But we have made those mistakes together – Scotland, together with the rest of the United Kingdom family of nations.

After all the Scottish Parliament voted for the Iraq war.

The slave trade was here too.

But just because I recognise those mistakes and our imperfect nature, does not make me any less Scottish or British or even any less a Fifer.

And just because we have made some mistakes together does not mean I want to reject all the achievements we have forged together.

The UK is seen as a force for good around the world.

We hold tremendous soft power

as a family of nations we are using that to tackle gender based violence;

to campaign against the death penalty;

to fight for religious and sexual freedom;

and to champion the rule of law.

Together we have the second largest aid budget in the world - 0.7% of GDP goes to international development. For a relatively small country it’s a great achievement.

These are things which we can all be proud of.

From penicillin to the latest advances in medical science.

From creating the welfare state to establishing the BBC.

From fighting and falling together in two world wars to the founding of the NHS.

Whilst the narrow ambition of the Nationalists seeks to dismiss shared achievements I will always cherish our joint accomplishments.

And across the UK, few things unite people like our belief in the NHS.
Founded on the principles that it should meet the needs of everyone, that it should be free at the point of delivery, and that it should be based on clinical need not the ability to pay, it remains a source of pride in which each and every one of us has a stake.

These principles are unique and they are enduring.

For the Nationalists to claim that they are under threat is dishonest, desperate and disgraceful.

It is also factually wrong.

Despite the financial pressure of the global financial crisis, the NHS budget has been protected and NHS funding in England is now £12.7 billion higher than it was in 2010.

Private sector involvement in England’s NHS is paid for with public money, meaning that the cash equivalent is protected for Scotland – and the Scottish Government can spend it however they see fit.

The publicly-funded NHS was this year ranked best healthcare system across the 11 richest countries in the world – and we are determined to keep it that way.

But five weeks out from the independence referendum, and the SNP has suddenly started to pretend that funding is in doubt.

Standing on street corners, dripping poison about the NHS into the ears of passers bye is a sign of just how desperate they are becoming.
But it’s no surprise.

People are worried about the impact independence would have on their public services – the Nationalists know this and they are trying to distract attention with bluster and lies.

People across Scotland know that public services are better funded because we are part of the UK.

Public spending per head is higher, and Scots will be better off to the tune of £1400 a year each by staying in the UK family.

That means that an independent Scotland would be faced with a mix of tax hikes and public spending cuts - and NHS funding would be in the firing line.

Today, when it comes to the National Health Service, we have the best of both worlds.

We have a Scottish Parliament that ensures that the NHS meets Scotland’s specific health needs.

But we remain part of a UK family that also ensures seamless access to services across the border and finances higher levels of public spending too.

“The pride we feel in our NHS is not just about the local services from which we benefit – it’s about the excellence that we have achieved together.

Since the NHS was established in 1948, it has been a source of unity, not division.

We must not let the Nationalists change that.

Selective history lessons from the nationalists only help to sow division rather than create unity.

Every time I question the practical problems with separation I am accused of failing to believe in the ability of the Scottish people.

Every time I praise the benefits of the UK family of nations my loyalty to Scotland is questioned.

My message to Alex Salmond is this:

Don’t question my loyalty to my nation just because I don’t agree with your policy.

As a liberal I believe in the outstanding power of the individual to do great things.

Human nature is innately good, generous and open.

I want to set individuals free to achieve all they can be.

When I shout freedom it’s not a cry for national freedom but a cry for individual freedom.

As my great liberal forefathers would have said: It’s freedom from ignorance, poverty and conformity that is our vision.

It’s why I support education from the early years and throughout life.

It’s why I support the building of a strong economy and spreading that wealth.

It’s why personal freedom is important too - to live life as you wish as long as it does not impinge on someone else’s freedom.

September 18th should not be some macho test for the proudest Scot. We could all compete for that title. For me it is about determining whether creating a separate country advances personal freedom and ambition or whether it hinders it.

So how can it be that sowing division, erecting a border and dividing a people could ever be seen as liberal.

It’s not ambitious, it’s not liberal, it’s not my kind of freedom. That’s why I’m voting NO.

Let’s look at what we have achieved together in the past and what we are achieving together today.

Take science and innovation.

Science investment is very important for Scotland, and the whole of Europe as the emerging economies of South America and the Pacific take hold of traditional sectors.

We know universities will be hugely important. We know that first hand with the world class St. Andrews, Dundee, Heriot Watt and Edinburgh on our doorstep.

The Grow Export Attract Support report last year from Universities Scotland showed upfront their contribution of well over £6 billion to the Scottish economy and support for 140,000 jobs.

And they report that Scottish universities engage in nearly a third of the work on innovation with small companies in the UK– even though they only form one tenth of the UK university base.

We know that Scottish universities get 13% of UK funding against a population of 8%. 50% more than elsewhere in the UK. Our ambition is to keep and grow that funding.

Take renewable energy and the great development work taking place around the shores of Scotland on marine energy, tidal, wave and offshore wind. The work at Methil today is industry-leading.

But to meet our ambitions for Scottish renewable energy it makes sense to share the UK consumer base during development. It makes sense to share the rewards which will come as we innovate and research our way from our reliance on fossil fuels.

And the strength of the UK will make investment in a North Sea electricity grid easier to achieve, so that Scottish renewable energy can help the whole of Europe meet the challenge on climate change and keep the lights on.

And in other areas of business, the UK gives great Scottish businesses the opportunity to thrive and grow.

Take food and drink. Scotland and Scottish businesses have been able to take good advantage of our natural food and drink products. And businesses have been able to innovate and add value to Scottish produce.

The global network of 200 UK embassies, consulates and trade missions support those businesses.

UK exports to Brazil have risen in the last four years by 28 per cent, to India by 55% and to China by 115%.

Our ambition should be that those 200 embassies step up their work for us, to open doors in new markets not close their doors to Scotland.

These are the things we have achieved together, by pooling our resources and our talent. As a family of nations we are stronger than the sum of our parts.

Alex Salmond says Scotland gets little out of the UK. This evidence shows he is wrong.
Within our UK family of nations Scottish business has flourished.

Within the UK Scotland is respected.

In the United Kingdom, Scotland stands proud.

And here’s more evidence of the strength of that relationship.

New businesses normally start close to home.

A small company looking to expand will usually choose first to develop within its jurisdiction.

If you have just spent years building your business and getting to grips with the red tape, the last thing you need is a whole new tangled web of red tape, even if it’s written in the same language.

We know that tens of thousands of Scottish jobs depend on the single UK market.

Today I can report new figures, developed by the Treasury from leading research by Professor Brian Ashcroft of the Strathclyde Business School.

Professor Ashcroft has looked at the £46 billion of trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

This work shows that 267,000 Scottish jobs depend on trade with the rest of the United Kingdom.

They are in every sector. But financial services, manufacturing and agriculture are the biggest.

That represents fully ten per cent of the jobs in Scotland.

More than 100,000 of those jobs are held by women.

And almost 100,000 are held by young people.

These jobs wouldn’t go on day one of independence. But the sheer numbers show how connected we are as a family of nations and how much we support each other to grow.

The combination of the ability of people in Scotland and the opportunity that the United Kingdom presents means we can record such progress then hope and believe we can achieve more.

We’re not going to put over a quarter of a million jobs at risk;

Bring investment in renewables shuddering to a halt;

See our universities’ research stall.

If Alex Salmond thinks we’re going to lie down whilst he puts all of these things on the line then he can think again.

I admire the nationalists’ passion for their cause of national independence. What I regret is that their passion drives them to rarely question the consequences of their plans.

Take the pound.

Alex Salmond is right when he says he does not want second best for Scotland. I agree. I also agree that we should keep the pound.

Of course Scots would be able to use the pound after independence. But then everyone in the world can use the pound now. What no-one can do is force another country to form a currency union against their will.

Britain has already rejected one currency union which failed why would it accept another?

So we are right to ask questions. And I am not alone in asking the Nationalists what their currency Plan B is.

John Swinney was interviewed by Gary Robertson of the BBC. Gary is proving a bit of a problem for John.

John proudly declared there were many credible currency options...then ruled out every single one.

Sterlingsation was out because we don’t control the levers of the currency.

The Euro was out for obvious reasons.

Our own currency was out because it would increase costs to business trading with the UK.

But John pretended they were all back in again as credible alternatives when quizzed.

They were all ruled in. All ruled out. In out in out shake them all about. It was like a high stakes game of the hokey cokey.

But the clock is ticking.
This currency debacle needs a full answer in the next 35 days.
The rest of the UK has said quite clearly that it doesn't want the currency it uses to be destabilised by a potentially temporary currency union;

Destabilised by a nationalist government saying it is going for big new borrowing;

Destabilised by a nationalist government taking aggressive steps on corporation tax to undercut the economy of the rest of the UK.

Given that the political leaders in the rest of the UK have ruled out Plan A… a clue about Plan B would be helpful.

I know he gets irritated when asked about his alternative but as the United Kingdom has ruled out Alex Salmond’s Plan A and Alex Salmond has ruled out all the others it is no surprise that the voters want some answers.

But people in Scotland don't get another chance to answer the question they are being asked in the referendum on 18th September.

If they vote yes, and Alex Salmond is wrong there is no way back. Independence is irreversible. It’s for ever.

They are being asked to take the blind faith of the First Minister that the rest of the world will do exactly as he asks.

Alex Salmond is simply not being fair to people in Scotland.

Fairness is what we deserve and fairness is what we must have.

The Nationalists want you to choose – be Scottish or be British. We say there is no choice to make. You can have both.

You can stay within the UK family of nations, where we have the best things that come with being Scottish and the best things that come with being British too.

There is no need for Alex Salmond’s false choice because you can have the best of both worlds.

We are ambitious for people in Scotland.

We are ambitious for young Scots to be able to build new businesses that are truly excellent, world-class and enduring.

We are ambitious that Scots can lead the UK in science, in civic life, at the head of charities working to solve problems that don't know any borders.

We are committed to an NHS free at the point of need and to a welfare state which supports our most vulnerable.

Those straightforward commitments and ambitions are good for Scotland.

They are good for our young people who when away from home have the support of our embassies around the world;

they are good for our older people who enjoy better pensions by being part of the UK;

And they are good for businesses which enjoy the strength of the pound.

That is ambitious – and we are ambitious for people in Scotland.

Two weeks ago the UK Government published a list of potential UK locations for a space port.

The reaction for the Scottish Government was simple. "The opportunities for space travel will best be secured through independence."

They say that about everything.

Someone they met has obviously told them they want to be an astronaut and they’ve made up a promise just for them.

If you haven't heard them make a specific, personalised promise to you that, whatever you want, it will best be secured through independence then ring them up and let them know.
They will make that banal promise to you on the spot, over the phone, no questions asked.

I know we often think they’re on a different planet, but now you may be able to choose which one.

Our ambition is to build on the 270,000 jobs that depend on trade with the rest of the UK, not risk that number by putting burdens and barriers in front of companies that want to work across the border.

Our ambition is to use 200 embassies and trade missions to promote Scottish exports, not shrink the number to 50.

Our ambition is to use 13% of UK research funding to help Scottish universities lead the world and help tackle the great problems that face our planet, not see that cut to a population share of 8%.

Our ambition is that Scots can lead great UK institutions.

I don’t believe that it is automatic that creating national independence creates personal independence. At best it is a distraction.

I am a proud Scot and I am a proud Brit.

My praise for the UK family is not the price for my Scottish identity.

My questioning of the practical problems with creating a separate country is not symptomatic of a lack of belief in the ability of the Scottish people.

It is the Nationalists, not me, who conflate national identity with national independence and their policy of independence with the ability of the Scottish people.

I simply do not accept that the maximum potential of the people of Scotland can only be achieved if we create a separate nation.

Of course we can all achieve more. There is no doubt about that. But being part of something bigger, with global reach, of 60 million people, with an economic base with broad shoulders, with a compassionate outlook on life, with tremendous soft power.

That is the best possible platform from which we can fly.

A no vote is a vote of confidence in the ability of Scots, comfortable in our own skin, confident of our own identity; proud to stand with the rest of our family in our United Kingdom.

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