Speech from Tim Farron MP to Scottish Liberal Democrat spring conference:
It is only a couple of weeks since I was out on the doorstep with Alex Cole Hamilton in Edinburgh West. I have to tell you, Alex has got some serious staying power. Not even his trip to A+E after he was attacked by the Hound of the Baskervilles, well a dog in Corstorphine, could stop him getting out on the stump that same evening with me.
We returned to the office after a night out on the doorsteps, for a pizza and politics event… which was great, although whilst I was doing the politics, everyone else ate all the pizza. So, I’m not staying over this time, I’m getting the last train home. I’m not risking falling victim to a repeat of the Edinburgh vegetarian pizza crisis. Those SNP cuts are hitting hard!
But our team in Edinburgh West had earned their pizzas… because they are making an incredible effort and Alex embodies the Liberal spirit for which we are the only standard bearers in Scotland. And it is clearly paying dividends.
That night was my most encouraging nights canvassing since the general election, and there have been plenty of nights. Many people who have been voting for others in recent years are not just returning to the Liberal Democrats but doing so with enthusiasm. Returning with enthusiasm but not by accident. Those voters will not choose the Liberal alternative unless we work as hard as we possibly can and meet every single one of them.
For five years if felt that the old adage that ‘where you work you win’ had ceased to apply. Can I tell you, from my own experience, from the results on the ground from Launceston, to Brecon; York to Inverness, and most recently in Stratford upon Avon – congratulations to Hazel Wright for taking a seat off the Tories just on Thursday – those Liberal Democrats who put their community politics into energetic practice are winning huge swings. ‘Where you work you win’ is delivering results again. It’s not rocket science, but it is a science. It’s like that scene in Independence Day when the Americans suss out how to defeat the aliens… the President turns to the guy on the Morse code machine and says ‘We’ve worked out how to beat them, now tell the rest of the world..’ Well the same applies here.
We need to give confidence to our campaigners that we can win again. We need them to know that people want to hear from us, that they want an alternative to the centralisation of public services, the control freakery and the nationalism.
Nicola Sturgeon: you may have taken Scotland for granted for the last nine years, but we are growing in confidence and we know how to take you down. Scottish Liberal Democrats will fight you for every vote and every seat, at every election, because. Scotland deserves better than it has got from the SNP.
But we should take stock for a moment. Plenty has happened since I addressed Scottish Conference last October.
We have seen the Tories forced to abandon their cuts to working tax credits because of the votes of Liberal Democrat peers.
We have seen parts of Britain hit by the most devastating floods, with the highest levels of rainfall ever recorded in the UK.
We have seen the refugee crisis worsen, with our fellow human beings being forced to live in the most appalling of conditions as politicians in Britain and France stand by, wringing their hands and explaining how difficult it all is. (It really isn’t.)
We have seen the Prime Minister return from his negotiations in Europe, eager to begin a charm offensive to persuade us of what we knew already: that we are better off in Europe than out of it.
Boris Johnson’s cynical manoeuvring is not a threat to David Cameron who has already said he is going – it is a threat to a secure and prosperous future for the United Kingdom.
When you look at each of those things, you realise that our Liberal values are more important in tackling the challenges confronting Britain than ever before.
You know, we are an awkward bunch. We ask difficult questions. We don’t like concentrations of power, so we challenge them. Whether it’s in huge corporations that don’t think they have to pay their way. Or remote government departments that haven’t a clue how their decisions affect people in their communities.
We get angry about those concentrations of power – and take them on. Speaking truth to power isn’t a cliché, it is the essence of our community politics.
And when you are a Liberal you believe people matter. You believe that people matter more than their label. You prove that by demanding that people should be in charge of their own lives – with government helping where help is needed, but stepping back where its bureaucracy, intrusion and regulation interferes and obstructs.
These are Liberal values, and they are British values, no matter how much UKIP and the tory right wish that they weren’t.
And our Liberal values are as important abroad as they are at home.
It was our very own Michael Moore who fought the Tories tooth and nail to deliver the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid.
That was us, as Liberal Democrats, putting our values into practise in a way that today is transforming the lives of millions around the world for the better.
And today, you only need to look at the news on any night to see two issues where David Cameron’s abject failure of international leadership demonstrates so clearly the need for a resurgent Liberal force in British politics: Europe and the refugee crisis.
On Europe, David Cameron returned from the European Council and stood at the Despatch Box this week like an emperor breathlessly proclaiming his new clothes. Tory HQ tell us they are fine clothes. The Tory backbenchers and the Tory press say they are terrible clothes. Liberal Democrats say: ‘What clothes?’
The renegotiation is all well and good, and we very much want reform. But Dave’s Deal is about appealing to careerist Tory MPs, who were selected by Europhobic party members, to persuade them to vote to remain.
And it’s not going too well.
Gove, Villiers, Grayling, IDS, Whittingdale and Priti Patel. They’re only one lurid blazer away from John Redwood’s fantasy cabinet. I mentioned Independence Day earlier, well these guys are the ones from the mothership! But the thing is, so far as the Leave side is concerned, they are the sensible wing! Because I turned on my telly the other day to see Nigel Farage and George Galloway sharing a platform, sharing a joke and sharing prejudices…telling us that we should turn our backs on Europe. …. And if that doesn’t persuade you to vote remain… well, I salute your indefatigability.
The decision to remain or to leave is the biggest in generations for our country.
And while the renegotiation was successful. It wasn’t central. It’s not central in the minds of most people. People across Scotland, across all of Britain will make up their mind on much bigger issues.
Given that Europe is the world’s biggest market, will we be more prosperous if we remain or leave?
Given that this is a dangerous and uncertain world, are we safer and more secure by staying alongside our closest friends and neighbours? Or turning our backs on them?
Given the scale of international challenges of a global economy, climate change and the refugee crisis – are we better to face these together or alone?
They are the real questions, not the Westminster village drivel that’s filled the front pages of every newspaper this week.
They are the real questions, not the endless speculation about the future of the Tories. And the answers to each of those questions is a no brainer. If you want a Britain that is prosperous, secure, a Britain that matters then you are voting to keep Britain in Europe.
And the only party that is wholly in favour of a Scotland that is prosperous and secure within Europe and the United Kingdom is the Liberal Democrats.
And guess what? If you want those things, you are almost certainly a Liberal and you need to vote for us for the Scottish Parliament, too.
Nowhere is David Cameron’s failure of leadership more apparent than in the current refugee crisis.
He talks about the huge financial contribution Britain is making to tackle the problem in Syria. It is true. Britain is doubling its contribution to £2.3 billion. But that is all money destined far from our shores – and, more crucially, far from the shores of Calais or Dunkirk. Lesbos or Lampedusa.
His aim is to keep the refugee problem away from us, out of sight and out of mind. To stop more people coming. But the truth is more people are coming. A post war record of 190,000 refugees in Europe in 2014. A record broken five times over in 2015, as over a million desperate people fled to our continent. And in 2016 we predict three million men, women and children fleeing war and persecution to a continent where Britain is a leading power, a dominant culture, a political giant. Led by a man who is letting them down.
Britain is a fair, compassionate and tolerant country. Scotland is a fair, compassionate and tolerant country.
By failing to act to support the weakest, most vulnerable people on the planet, David Cameron is letting us all down – and in the process he is betraying British values at the most fundamental level.
Just think. Terrified, destitute, broken people, making harrowing, life-threatening journeys that none of us can imagine. On the beach at Lesbos
I met a couple, a carpenter and a nursery teacher and their two little girls of three and five. They’d sung songs to the girls and told them stories for hours and hours to distract them from the terror of the journey over the sea to Europe. They love their children as much as I love mine yet they risked their daughters’ lives…because the bigger risk was to stay and not to flee. And 94% of those entering Europe this way are refugees by any objective standard, they flee war, persecution and death and they seek peace, security and life. How dare we look for excuses when we could provide solutions?
I repeat my call to the Prime Minister.
Show some leadership. Show some backbone.
For a start, accept the three thousand children that I and Save the Children have been pressing for. Take our fair share of the desperate who are looking to us for help.
And Conference, I am not going to let go of this issue just because the media fades or because other politicians have had their pictures taken and moved on to other things.
I raised it with the seven Liberal heads of government in Brussels a week ago, ahead of the European Council.
I went on to Cologne and saw how the German government is managing refugees with humanity and with hard headed understanding about their potential to contribute to the future of Germany.
Next week I am going to Kent to see how local services are coping with providing for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
There are huge practical challenges, even risks, that come from seeking to engage with the refugee crisis. Cologne is a place where that has been apparent.
As the tragedy of the refugee crisis continues to grow, the one thing for sure is that the biggest risk is to turn your back on it and pretend it isn’t happening.
So I will keep raising this issue again and again, in different and varied ways. As Mr Cameron shamelessly banks on the British people losing interest, getting compassion fatigue, outrage fatigue, I will pursue Mr Cameron until he gets Farron fatigue, and gives in and does the right thing, the British thing, to take our fair share of refugees to provide sanctuary for those children alone in the camps.
The Prime Minister’s lack of leadership on Europe and the refugee crisis is just another demonstration of how the Tories are out of touch with the challenges facing Britain.
And if Calais is a long way from London in the Prime Minister’s mind, Edinburgh is even further – except when he is cooking up deals with the First Minister. And you could be forgiven for thinking that their love-in over the Fiscal Framework has caused Nicola Sturgeon to follow Dave’s example in other things.
The recent flooding has been a shocking lesson to all of us in how out of touch central governments in Edinburgh and Westminster are with the realities of people’s lives.
I experienced the fear and terror of those floods first hand in December. You never think it will happen to you and then it does. Abandoning my car as the river burst across the fields and on to the road, grabbing the kids and wading through the water to get to safety, all brought home to me how devastating and dangerous these floods can be. But we were luckier than many, losing your car is nothing compared to losing your home or your business.
Unless you have seen it first hand, I think it is hard for people to understand the scale of the devastation.
The cost of the impact of the floods this winter is likely to be almost £6 billion. Just think about it for a moment. That is more than three times the annual budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Yet what has been the Prime Minister’s reaction?
First of all, he and his spin doctors had to settle the big question: should he appear in his own Hunter wellies or buy a pair from ASDA so he looked like a man of the people?
Seriously, they had a lengthy debate in Number 10 about this… We still have our sources!
And yes, along with lots of other ministers, he has visited and said all the right things. But what have the government actually done?
They have refused to provide the funding for over 90% of the damage. They have cut the environment department budget by 15%. They have dragged their feet over re-opening key roads.
And it’s not just in the north of England that flooding matters. I know here in Scotland you also had very serious flooding issues. Aberdeen, Tayside and the south of Scotland all very badly hit, at tremendous cost to the Scottish economy. Villages, towns and communities cut off from each other. Road and railways impassable.
And just as in Westminster, ministers in Holyrood show little sense of urgency and come forward with only a fraction of the cash necessary to help families and business rebuild their lives.
Willie Rennie has been clear – Scotland needs an urgent review of the SNP Government’s emergency Bellwin Scheme for flooding to ensure that those affected get the financial assistance they need now. People can't afford to wait months for help. And they can't afford to miss out altogether as other places hit by flooding have done in the past because of the narrow application criteria.
Of course, the Tories are out of touch in other ways too.
They are slashing support for low-income families, encouraging the selling off of social housing and making it even harder for young people to get on in life by restricting housing benefit for anyone under twenty-one.
David Cameron and his government have no idea how hard it is for people who don’t enjoy the sorts of income they do. They simply don’t realise that people in Britain today really are choosing between meals for themselves and meals for their kids. That they are choosing between heating and clothes for the kids for school.
I said earlier our Liberal Democrat votes in Parliament had stopped the cuts to Working Tax Credits. But George Osborne is now sneaking those cuts in through Universal Credit. That’s up to 181,000 low income hard working people in Scotland that could find themselves with £1,000 a year less money than they have now.
Oh and if you are too ill to work, they are going to cut your Employment and Support Allowance by thirty pounds a week. That might buy you one hunter wellie – certainly not a pair! But for some people it is the difference between living and just about existing.
With all this money they are saving, you think the Tories might be investing it in Britain’s future. You might think they’d be looking at the flooding that has occurred, listening to the scientists that have said that it is highly likely that this has been caused by El Nino and man-made climate change, and be doing something about it.
Well they are certainly doing something, they have decided to cut out all the green crap… You know, the stuff that gives our kids the chance of a safe, clean future?
We fought to place green values at the heart of government. Chris Huhne and then Ed Davey led a quiet revolution inside Whitehall and showed it was possible to be economically literate and green at the same time.
In five years we tripled renewable energy, we set up the Green Deal, helping people to insulate their homes and lower their energy costs.
We planted over a million trees and blocked plans to sell of our forests.
We made a £500 million pound investment in low emission vehicles.
And we finally got a 5p tax on plastic bags in England – something you managed to introduce here in Scotland a year before us.
But since the General Election much of what we achieved has been undone by the Tories. Listen to this – and realise just how little they care about our future.
Cuts to subsidies for solar have seen our solar industry halve in size, with up to 19,000 job losses.
They have cut subsidies for onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of renewable energy
They have abolished the rules on Zero Carbon Homes.
They have announced the privatisation of the Green Investment Bank, with Lib Dems having to fight to ensure its environmental purpose will be maintained.
They have scrapped the Green Deal.
They have cut the Renewable Heat Incentive by £700 million.
They have scrapped the £1 billion Carbon Capture and Storage projects.
They have reduced tax breaks for electric cars.
And they have removed the Climate Change Levy exemption for renewable energy businesses, increasing their costs.
Climate change is the biggest earthly threat facing humanity. But there are no headlines to be won for doing the right thing.
Tackling that threat for our children’s sake, where are the votes in that?
Why worry about the long term when you can concern yourself with shallow, cynical politics?
For five years we fought sceptical Tories to ensure the Coalition was the greenest Government ever.
In the last six months this progress has been unravelled at an alarming pace.
It is shameful that the work we began in Coalition to deliver this is being unpicked. Britain should be leading the world in the green economy and setting an example to other nations after the UN talks in Paris.
So. The Tories at Westminster got just 37% of the vote with a tiny majority of 12. 63% of the country didn’t want them in power. As a result they are under immense pressure, surely? They should act with some humility?
Well, that should be the case. Instead, they act with a swaggering sense of invulnerability. And we have Labour to blame for that – in fact Labour make me genuinely angry.
Not because they’ve been taken over by the kind of people who used to try to sell me tedious newspapers outside the students union, not because they’ve got a socialist leader… But because they are the most useless opposition in the history of British politics,
The Tories are getting away with cutting Universal Credit for the hardest working poorest paid people, scrapping the Green Deal, dehumanising the refugees we should be helping because there is no one to hold them to account. What an outrage. Labour have left the field of play, so Liberal Democrats now fill that space. Labour seem only to want to talk about themselves to themselves, I want to speak to the people about the people, to Britain about Britain, about building a better Britain.
But whilst Labour may be a joke at Westminster, and here in Scotland. The SNP’s rise is no joke – on a personal level it is hard to see them sitting on our benches in the commons. The seats that once were sat in by the liberal spirit of Ray Michie, Charles Kennedy and Russell Johnston, now filled by the nationalist hive mind.
And while we may smile at the irony that the MPs of the party of independence don’t seem to have the capacity for independent thought. There is sadly an ugliness to some elements of Scottish Nationalism which many of us in the rest of the United Kingdom simply don’t see. We saw it during the referendum – with SNP candidates and campaigners alike seemingly determined that no other views than their own should receive a hearing. Ordinary folk, getting involved in politics, sticking up for their communities, were made to feel that they have no place in Scotland unless they supported Sturgeon and her crew.
Meanwhile, Alex Salmond turned the SNP grievance dial up to 11. Conference, if you offered Eck a cup of tea and a biscuit he would reject this as a fundamental betrayal of the people of Scotland.
That is not the Liberal, tolerant Scotland I know.
Our message to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP is clear: Let’s put grievance and division behind us and focus on the things that really matter for Scotland.
When we look at record of the SNP in government you can see why this is so important.
Look at the Health Service. To govern is to choose. And Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues chose to let the health budget slip. The effects have been devastating.
Dozens of children have been forced to wait more than a year to receive specialist mental health care. A&E waiting time targets have been missed and missed again. Meanwhile, more and more has been wasted on sticking plaster solutions and so-called action plans that have not given our doctors and nurses the support they need.
The SNP’s response? To fail to take responsibility.
And what about education?
SNP promises on early years care? Broken. College places? Vanished. And despite the First Minister telling us that education is her priority, her SNP government pushed through £500m of cuts that will hammer local education budgets next year.
You can’t just wrap yourself in the flag and hope no one notices that you have failed the Scottish people.
At every stage the SNP have failed to take responsibility for their choices.
That is why I am so proud that Willie Rennie is leading the Scottish Liberal Democrats into May’s elections.
His talent, vision and capacity to energise our activists is exactly what we need to challenge the stale status quo.
You know, some leaders, like David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon, are all talk and no action. That certainly isn’t the case with Willie.
When I first read about his proposals to use the Scottish tax raising powers to put a penny on income tax to fund education, I thought that maybe he was going to step into the shoes of Michael J Fox’s (if not those of Paddy Ashdown).
But this isn’t Back to the Future.
A penny for education is about changing the future for Scottish kids and attempting to give them the world-class education they deserve. It is about delivering real money for real change after the SNP have failed Scotland’s children year after year.
And during Coalition, Willie Rennie was a constant advocate for Scotland’s interests, calling for Home Rule within a federal United Kingdom, a position he and we have advocated consistently. He is one of the reasons we won the referendum – and why the House of Lords is now considering the Scotland Bill to give Scotland even more freedom to make its own decisions. And thankfully, Jim Wallace, with all his experience and knowledge from his time in government, is there to keep the Tories’ feet to the fire.
Real action, not just words. Willie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats delivering for the people of Scotland.
Now, as much of a fan as I am of Willie, he couldn’t achieve all that alone.
So let me say now –
Thank you to Jim Hume, Liam McArthur, Alison McInnes and Tavish Scott for all you are doing for Scotland and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Together, you have been a beacon of hope and optimism in some of our most challenging times. Yours is an example for all of us.
Willie has also set the pace on another issue I care passionately about. He realises that if we are to challenge the SNP and drive them from Holyrood, if we are to challenge the Tories and drive them from Westminster, we must look like the country we want to represent.
It is the lesson of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in Canada – that the party has to make drastic changes to itself if it is to be relevant and representative of a country that is increasingly diverse.
I am proud that the Scottish Liberal Democrats have passed their diversity motion today. You are an inspiration to the rest of the party. Willie, you showed real leadership and I’m proud of you.
These are challenging times for us and for British politics. We have a proud tradition of Liberalism in Scotland, standing up for Scotland and our communities in Scotland for over a hundred years. We need to give voice to those communities in 2016.
And we need to give voice to those who believe that we are better inside the United Kingdom – and better in Europe.
Almost 137 years ago, William Ewart Gladstone made his speech in West Calder in which he set out his principles of foreign policy. He concluded by observing that our foreign policy “should always be inspired by the love of freedom. There should be a sympathy with freedom, a desire to give it scope, founded not upon visionary ideas, but upon the long experience of many generations”.
We Liberal Democrats, the heirs to Gladstone’s great Liberal tradition, are inspired by the love of freedom. And the experience of generations is that Britain has enjoyed peace, security and prosperity inside the European Union.
We must not throw that away in order to satisfy the narrow, nasty prejudices of those who would see us isolated and vainglorious in the world, harking back to Empire, or looking for some mythical fifty-first state status across the Atlantic.
Instead we must celebrate the positive future that is a European Union prepared to work together to tackle the great challenges facing the world – from climate change and changing global markets, to the mass migration of people who are displaced by war and instability.
And friends, we must challenge the SNP’s arrogant sense of entitlement to rule. They act like you have no right to vote any other way. We will not have that. We need to remind the SNP that theirs is not the only voice in Scottish politics, that they do not have all the answers.
Many will stand for the Scottish Parliament in May so that they can hold office and bear titles, but Liberals stand to make a difference. We want to challenge the concentration of power in Holyrood that is so detrimental to our schools and our hospitals.
Between now and May 5th I need you to get out on the doorstep across this nation and take advantage of the fact that people are desperate for something authentic and true to challenge those who presume to rule us but who fail us.
In Willie you have the stand-out leader in Scottish politics. And I am looking at the stand-out team, punching above your weight. You deserve victory but you will not get it by accident, only by fighting with passion, belief, discipline and energy. Get out there, get on the doorstep, rain, wind maybe even shine, victory is there to be won. I need you to win, Scotland needs you to win.