Speech from Willie Rennie MSP at Scottish Liberal Democrat conference:
George is a young man. He lives in the Borders. George works hard but is not rich. He earns £12,000 a year.
Before Liberal Democrats were in Government he used to pay over £1,100 income tax. But this year it will be cut to £200.
George is not alone. Over 2 million Scots have had their income tax cut.
I believe fair tax is necessary for a fair society.
It makes work pay, so people can stand on their own two feet.
It is what liberals are for – giving everyone the opportunity to get on in the world.
Without Liberal Democrats in Government this would not be possible.
The Tories said categorically it could not be done. Now they say it was their idea all along.
The biggest tax cut ever for working people.
Bigger than Labour ever did.
Bigger than the Tories ever wanted.
Bigger because of the Liberal Democrats.
We have brought fairness to Government. We have cut taxes for workers, increased pensions and expanded childcare.
And we have delivered the economic plan too. Jobs are up, growth is back and wages are higher.
The recovery wasn’t automatic; we had to make it happen.
Remember back to 2010 in this country.
Look around Europe today.
You will see plenty of examples of countries that have not made the choices, or achieved the recovery that we are seeing now.
It was in the national interest.
We took the necessary steps to balance the books creating confidence to the markets that Britain is a good place to do business.
And we provided the conditions for business to generate the jobs and taxes to pay for the public services that we all value.
We reshaped that economy to make it sustainable, environmental and innovative.
We have brought the economy back to recovery and we have done it fairly.
Employment is now at a record high - up 187,000 in Scotland since we came to power.
Wages are outstripping inflation.
And the UK is vying with the United States of America for fastest growth in the G7 group of countries.
Anchoring the economy in the centre ground is how we did that.
This economic centre ground argument is not new for Liberals and Liberal Democrats.
Russell Johnston once said, “Liberal positioning in politics is like the nose in relation to the rest of the face: somewhere in the middle and out in front”
David Steel wrote in his book A House Divided on the 1978 Lib-Lab pact: “Each swing of the political pendulum threatens to take the country on yet more violently diverse directions to left and right…The political see-saw crashes up and down ever more violently to our discomfort.”
And as Russell Johnston’s metaphor implies, by building a strong economy anchored in the centre ground we can set out in front an inspiring future for a fairer society, where there is opportunity for everyone.
The Liberal centre ground prevents the see-saw crashing up and down.
And there are forces in British politics today that want a return to the crashing see-saw economics of the past.
The Tories are hell bent on some ideological drive to reduce the size of the state, cutting so far that our schools, hospitals and colleges are under real threat.
Labour have not learnt the lessons of the last time they were in government. They want to borrow billions more even though debt levels are at a record high.
That is the threat Britain faces. It’s a serious threat.
The return to the see saw economic that has damaged our country in the past.
David Cameron and George Osborne at one end and Ed Miliband and Ed Balls at the other.
One cutting recklessly the other borrowing recklessly.
And all four damaging the steady, fair economic recovery that our party alone can promise.
It is that combination of fairness and economic progress that Liberal Democrats bring to Government.
Liberal Democrats bring fairness where the Conservatives won’t.
Liberal Democrats bring economic competence where the Labour Party can’t.
We hold the others back when they go too far.
We hold government in the liberal centre ground where people want it to be.
I don’t think it is liberal or progressive to leave an ever growing mountain of debt for future generations to pay.
We will not spend today what our children should have tomorrow.
Nor will we cut today beyond what is necessary to balance the books.
We will invest today to build that stronger economy and that fairer society so there is opportunity for everyone.
And the SNP, they are climbing on with Labour. They want to borrow even more than them.
Like Labour, the SNP argued for lighter regulation for the banks - just before they went bust.
Like Labour, the SNP said that the UK Government's economic plan would fail - just before the economy started to grow again.
And now, just like Labour they think the answer to high levels of debt is even more debt.
The SNP were wrong on the banks, wrong on the economy, wrong on jobs.
And just like Labour they have the audacity to say that’s all in the past and they are definitely right this time.
Their plan will put the economy at risk all over again.
The same mistakes and we should not let them do it.
A constituent told me recently about her teenage daughter’s mental health problems.
She had started to harm herself so they sought help from the NHS. Their family GP referred them to the consultant for specialist support.
But it took twelve months – a whole year – to see that consultant. Waiting twelve months is too long for anyone, but for a teenager it will feel like a lifetime.
The longer the wait, the greater the potential long term damage.
You’ll remember the powerful, emotional debate we had at this conference two years ago.
Following that debate Jim Hume put mental health right up the agenda in Holyrood.
He has led the charge to get the law changed so that it is treated on an equal footing with physical illness.
And I am so proud of Liberal Democrats across the UK, led by Nick Clegg, for uniting to tackle the stigma of mental illness and to make the commitment to stand by our fellow citizens, men and women, young and old who need our help.
We know that during the referendum the SNP government took their eye off the ball on day to day services.
Their focus was independence alone.
As a result the NHS went into crisis.
Cancer waiting times were missed.
Accident and emergency waiting times were missed.
Patients were stuck in hospital when they should be cared for at home.
Thousands of patients have been waiting.
It is clear SNP ministers still have their eye off the ball.
NHS staff are doing their best to manage the crisis in our A&E units but this kind of pressure requires leadership from the top of Government.
We need fewer grand speeches from them in London, and more attention on the issues at home.
It’s time the SNP Government got a grip.
We all know that the NHS is under pressure and we know it’s partly because the population is ageing. But we’ve seen the problems coming for years.
If the SNP had focused more on our NHS and less on the referendum we might be closer to solving these problems.
So, once again, the leadership and the drive will come from Liberal Democrats.
We are the only party with a fully costed plan to increase NHS spend across the UK.
The leaders of the health service in England have identified that the NHS there needs £8bn funding above inflation by 2020 to meet the need.
The Liberal Democrats are the only party with a plan to make this investment.
And conference, I can tell you that the Liberal Democrat plan will mean £800m a year above inflation for the Scottish NHS.
It means we can tackle the crisis in Accident and Emergency departments.
We can provide more beds to improve treatment and help staff do their job so brilliantly.
And we can make a transformational change in the way we tackle mental health.
Fast access to the support people need.
Proper support for young people who need help, not a hundred mile journey in an emergency.
And an end to twelve month delays for teenagers who are damaged by every day they wait.
We have put investment in the health service on the front page of our manifesto.
We are the only party with a fully costed plan to fund the NHS across the UK to bring £800 million extra to Scotland.
People in Scotland, patients in Scotland, nurses and doctors in Scotland are front page priority for the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
I want to thank Michael Moore and Tavish Scott for their first class effort with the Smith Commission.
They led the discussions.
They shaped the package. They forged the agreement.
This is a Liberal Democrat agreement.
When nationalists wanted to go too far we held the back.
When Tories did not want to go far at all we pulled them along.
And when the Labour Party were divided we showed them the way ahead.
Without the Liberal Democrats none of that would have been possible.
And now the package is big and it respects the result of the referendum.
It is delivering votes at 16, £20billion of tax power and a brand new £3billion Scottish welfare system.
It gives our Parliament the flexibility and agility to do things differently if we choose.
Smith is a substantial package of powers that creates a home rule Parliament, built on the back of the referendum with the unique endorsement of all five parties.
The Scottish Parliament will soon be the third most powerful devolved parliament in the whole world.
A powerful parliament forged by liberals in our century-long campaign from Gladstone to Campbell.
Driven by our passionate belief that power is best exercised when it is shared and local.
That is why we are putting it on the front page of our manifesto. It will be in the first Queen’s speech in the next parliament.
Liberal Democrats standing up for home rule. We made it happen. And we will deliver it.
It is right, absolutely right, to bring more powers to Scotland.
But unlike the Nationalists I don’t believe that transferring any individual power guarantees that power will be used wisely.
Just look today at some of the things that this Scottish Government is doing.
There has rarely been a time when Scotland needs a strong liberal voice more than today.
Armed police on the streets of the Highlands
Stop and search many times higher than England
A centralised, all powerful police force – now in chaos
The erosion of our freedom of information rights
The abolition of corroboration
And now the creation of a super ID database – one step away from ID cards.
Alison McInnes has been our great liberal champion.
A newspaper said she is “deceptively ferocious”. I know exactly what they mean.
Thanks to Alison our country is more open, freer and liberal. She is protecting our traditional Scottish freedoms.
With a dark, illiberal cloud drenching Scotland, the SNP have a nerve and a half to claim they are a home for liberals.
Nationalism is not liberalism – and by their actions, we can see it.
The SNP cannot be trusted with our civil liberties and they know it.
The election starts next week. The Liberal Democrat message for this campaign is simple. It's ten words.
I am sure everyone in this room has blocked out their diary for the next six weeks to secure a win for the Liberal Democrats.
There are thousands of doors waiting to be knocked on by you.
I want to hear the echo of those ten words reverberate across the country over the next six weeks.
When our opponents run us down you will know what to say.
When people say they don’t know what we have done in Government you will know what to say.
When someone is undecided you will know what to say.
I have been knocking on doors across the country.
For Danny in Inverness where he is berated by his opponents for daring to secure a good deal for his constituency.
For Charles who we all love, respect and admire with a talent to settle down a Portree heckler with a charm only he has.
Robert Smith who made the case to government for a new tax regime for the oil industry and won. It was so cold canvassing with him I had to wear my pyjamas under my suit.
For Michael Moore in the Borders where he is recognised as a local champion with a national reputation attracting support from Conservatives and nationalists alike. I am so proud that he piloted a law through Parliament to guarantee that we will always spend 0.7% of our national income on international aid.
For John Thurso who is such a good MP - and his support for local business and jobs is so strong - they named the constituency after him.
For Alistair Carmichael - our Secretary of State for Scotland - keeping our country together and delivering the powers that will make the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful in the world. Supported in Orkney by Liam McArthur who has done so much to advance our campaign on education and childcare.
For Mike Crockart in Edinburgh securing the Green Investment Bank for the city.
For Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire where her SNP opponent has castigated her for standing up for her local NHS.
For Alan Reid in Argyll and Bute who argued for lower fuel duty and won.
For Tim Brett - a man of great integrity and experience - the natural successor to Ming Campbell.
And Christine Jardine, the best choice for Gordon.
Tomorrow I will be canvassing for Christine and Bob. And I want you to join me on the doorsteps too. Don’t go straight home. Stay a bit longer. Help get Bob and Christine to Westminster.
We have to work to win. But I can tell you from our research and from our feedback we can win.
So tomorrow you will get a chance to use those ten words:
More jobs. Better healthcare. Stronger Scotland.
And to all our candidates on all those doorsteps thank you for all you do.
But let me return to George from the Borders. I don’t think he should pay any income tax at all.
And if returned to Government that’s what we will do.
For those on minimum wage there will be no income tax.
That’s why only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted with both a strong economy and a fair society so that there is opportunity for everyone.
You'll know that I like to run up hills.
Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it's painful.
Sometimes you think the summit will never come.
But after years of climbing I know Liberal Democrats are about to reach the top.
And I can tell you the view is stunning.
We have had fine achievements in the history of our party.
By elections like Hillhead, Kincardine and Deeside and of course Dunfermline.
We are the second largest Scottish Party at Westminster.
We ran the Scottish Government for eight years.
These are all fine victories.
But I can tell you that after the five years we've had.
After putting country before party.
This would be our finest victory.
I know how to win. And win we can.
Against the odds, despite our critics.
We owe it to the great liberals of the past.
We owe it to those liberals who will come next.
We owe it to ourselves.
For people in Scotland, their jobs, their incomes, their mortgages, their opportunities.
Putting an end to see-saw economics.
No more lurches left or right.
Bringing fairness to government.
Standing up for traditional Scottish freedoms.
Supporting our NHS.
Delivering a stronger Scotland.
Standing for the liberal centre ground.
A fairer society and a stronger economy so that there is opportunity for everyone.