“Winning the argument, making the change and delivering for Scotland” – Willie Rennie’s speech to Spring Conference

By Willie Rennie Apr 24, 2018 4


The Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference was held in Aviemore last weekend. There were vigorous debates on police, banking, cancer screenings and candidates at 16, which attracted some cracking young speakers.

Our fringe meetings on social care, Brexit and housing were bustling with ideas.

Vince Cable made the case for the SNP to back a Brexit deal referendum.

I called for Shona Robison to resign because of her failures on health. I also highlighted our positive impact on government policy on mental health, education and tax.


If you couldn't make it and didn't hear my speech you can find it below!


Spring Conference Speech

Ben is a bit of a hero of mine.

In an area never won by a Liberal Democrat before, winning his council ward in Monifieth. Councillor Ben Lawrie.

He’s made an early impression on the council at such a young age.

And has been speaking up about his mental health.

If you haven’t watched his short film on YouTube please do.

In it, he talks candidly about his attempt to take his own life, and how he got through those tough times. 

That film is both uplifting and optimistic and will help others.

Ben, thank you for everything you do for mental health and for the Liberal Democrats.


Last week, this lady, on her doorstep, called me over from the other side of the street.

“You’re Mr Rennie,” she said before thrusting ten pounds in my hand.

Before my friends in the press get too excited this wasn’t for some political favour but for my 117-mile charity run round the coast of Fife in aid of the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

Thank you to everyone who has made a donation. 

The hours of driving rain, sleet, hail and snow was worth it because this week we reached £10,000 for SAMH.

It was the Beast from the East mark 3 that weekend.  And, no, I am not referring to Alex Salmond’s latest appearance on Russia Today.


Anyway, back to this lady, she ushered me into her house desperate to introduce me to her husband.

They’ve had a long and happy marriage but with a secret at the heart of it.  He was diagnosed as Bipolar over 45 years ago. 

They have lived with it, together, all that time.  Still today only very close family and friends know about it.

I feel privileged to have been told their secret. But it is my hope that they told me because the world has changed: more accepting and understanding of the condition.

But so much more needs to change to support the thousands of people who experience poor mental health every day.

That over a quarter of young people have to wait for 18 weeks to be seen, with waiting times now at their worst ever.

That thousands of adults can’t get the support they need.

That perinatal mental health services are so poor. New mothers are not getting the support they need.

This should shame us. 

It should shame our government. 

It should shame our country.


I don’t know about you but I am fed up with the excuses.

I am fed up with being told there are delays because lots more people want help.

I am fed up with people having to wait because the strategy wasn’t ready.

I am fed up that people have to wait because change has not happened yet, despite all the promises.

If you had to wait months to treat a broken leg, or a lung infection or a heart attack there would be outrage on the front pages of all the newspapers.

Emergency action would be taken.  Ministers would be fired. 

But because people with poor mental health don’t have a big voice they get ignored. 

Well that’s just not good enough.

Change must come.

 Mental health demands more. 


It’s not just mental health.  There are problems right across our NHS.

There’s a shortage of GPs – 800 hundred short within the next few years.

Out of hours GPs closed in Fife.

Caithness maternity services stripped back.

A thousand people delayed from discharge from hospital every day because of a lack of home care.

Accident and Emergency waiting targets not met for five years.

I say all of this is a mark of an NHS in distress.

I say it’s got to change.

I say someone should accept responsibility.


The Chairman and Chief Executive of NHS Tayside were removed from their posts.

When the government faced questions about historical financial issues the health secretary went on the hunt for someone to blame.

A clear symptom of a stale government.

A chairman and chief executive used as human shields for the health secretary.

How can it be right for the people brought in after the mistakes to carry the can alone for those mistakes?

So, because of NHS Tayside.

Because of the shortage of GPs.

The failures in social care.

Failures in A&E.

Failures in waiting times.

Failures in mental health.

I am fed up with it.

These failures must mean change must come.

We should not expect things to just carry on.

I don’t often call for resignations.

Shona Robison must accept that she is responsible.

Change will only come when there is change at the top. 

She must resign.

And she must resign now.


But, you know, I don’t think the SNP are interested.

They are looking for a new Deputy Leader.

The campaign isn’t about new ideas for health or education.

The only driving issue is about the timing for the next independence referendum.

You would think with all we have learned about Brexit.

The damage it does to trade.

To the economy.

To our way of life.

You would think that the SNP would accept that erecting borders, any kind of borders, is not in our interest.

They can’t see it but every time the SNP speak to point out the flaws of Brexit, they undermine the case for independence too.

But the SNP simply do not get it.

People are fed up with ten years of division, with one half of Scotland pitted against the other.

So I have a bit of advice for the Deputy Leadership candidates.

If you are looking for the timing of another independence referendum….

How about, saying, “once in a generation”?

Or even “once in a lifetime”?

Or better still just say “no, it’s time for our country to move on from the division of independence”.


Conference we need to remember why Europe is so important; why it is so positive for our country.

Scottish business and jobs rely on the European single market to grow.

Agriculture businesses flourish with good workers from across the continent.

Our universities are world class because they are able to attract the best academics and students from the EU and the world.

We enjoy higher standards and safety thanks to our work with Europe.

We can benefit from health insurance thanks to the EHIC card.

We can flex more muscle in the world with our combined economies and diplomacy.

We get more done when we work together.

All of this is at risk.

Within months all of these positive things will disappear.

It is therefore astonishing that we are lumbered with a Labour opposition that will back Theresa May’s Brexit deal no matter what the cost. 

Jeremy Corbyn can barely hide his enthusiasm for Brexit.

When he sacked Owen Smith for honestly setting out his pro-European views Jeremy Corbyn told the world all we needed to know.

He isn’t fighting a hard Brexit, he’s a hard left cheerleader for it.  He gives it top Marx.

There are principled and passionate Europeans in the Labour Party. Sadiq Khan, Kezia Dugdale, David Lammy. There’s also Tony Blair. I know, but, hey, a stopped clock…and all that.

My message to them, and to the many others who think the same, is to join with us in opposing one of the most cataclysmic issues this country has ever faced. 

Join us to stop Brexit before it is too late.


The Conservatives have divided our country on Brexit.

Just like the SNP, they have pitted one half of the country against the other.

It’s a forty year internal Conservative battle that has been imposed on the rest of the country.

We can stop Brexit.

There is another way.

We can turn back.

To protect jobs

Protect the NHS

Protect our country.

We shout it from the rooftops.

Win the argument on the streets, online and on the doorsteps.

Together we can persuade MPs to let the people decide.

We have to stop this damaging Brexit.

And we have to stop it now.


The Conservatives in London see Ruth Davidson as the big hope for the future.

So the spotlight is on Ruth. 

She has a big responsibility. 

So I have a question for Ruth.

You didn’t support Brexit.

You stood up against it.

You accused Boris Johnson of lying in that Wembley debate.

Now you say you want to make the best of a bad situation.

But just how bad does it have to get before you stand up for what you believe?

How many jobs do we have to lose?

How many billions does it have to cost?

How many vegetables will be left rotting in the fields?

How many patients facing even longer waits?

How many universities will lose research grants?

How bad does it have to get before you say enough is enough?

If you are that influential in the Conservatives make that change, make it now, make it before it is too late.

Your loyalty to your party impresses some people but when are you going to be loyal to your country?


And whilst I’m on Ruth Davidson:

If you are that influential on the Government:

Why did the UK Government ignore you on fishing rights?

Why did you let the Windrush scandal drag on for so long?

Why didn’t you step in to stop the Conservatives seeking to deport British citizens of fifty years standing?

Why haven’t you put an end to the £4bn benefit and disability cuts?

Why haven’t you stopped the rape clause?

Ruth Davidson: you may bake a cake, tell a tale, stand on a tank but will you lift a finger to help people in need? 


It looks like the UK and Scottish Government might finally be on the verge of agreeing a way forward on the devolved powers returning with Brexit.

After months of unnecessary and avoidable arguments over Clause 11 of the EU Withdrawal Bill the two governments will settle.

Our party made the case for a Scottish Parliament for decades.  It is in our DNA.

And federalism is in our DNA too.

That means constituent parts of the UK coming together to agree on areas of common interest.

Most countries in the world do it and they can’t understand why the UK seems so incapable of taking up modern, common-sense governance.

It isn’t sustainable for the UK Government to impose its will on everyone else every time there is a genuine disagreement.

The key to federalism is that the different administrations all may have different priorities and nuances within a framework. But they all have an eye and a care for the success of the whole.

The UK is weaker when it fails to promote joint action.

It's time we took common sense steps.

It is in the interests of all, including the UK Government.

And with agreement on Clause 11 the opportunity for federalism is in touching distance.

I made the case for federalism in Wales last week.

I’ve made it in the Scottish Parliament.

And now I want you to make it.

For the sake of the UK.  Let’s get this sorted.

This is a positive proposal.


We have set the agenda in Scotland in so many areas.

Through our persistence we have successfully made the case for a liberal, open, progressive Scotland. 

Just listen to the list.

Free school meals for young children.

Funding for superfast broadband.

The first renewable energy targets.

Fuel duty cuts for rural areas and support for island ferries.

We persuaded the government to reverse some of the most damaging cuts to colleges.

We stood up against the centralisation of the police because of the damage it would do.  And boy have we been proven right.

We agitated on mental health for years and it is now it is at the centre of political debate.

On tax we were the first party to propose a progressive use of new tax powers.  First opposed and now accepted by the SNP.

On early education for 2-year-olds we badgered about this for years. First opposed and now accepted by the SNP.

On education we called for a pupil premium in Scotland. First opposed and now accepted by the SNP.

This is Liberal Democrats winning the argument, making the change, delivering for Scotland.


Colleagues, you know I love to win.

I love to smile when we win.

Last June I smiled the biggest smile.

With the election of more Members of Parliament we showed the doubters that the Liberal Democrats are winning again.

And what a difference our MPs have already made.

Alistair Carmichael leading the charge to protect Scottish fishing interests; and working to turn the tide of plastics in our seas;

Jamie Stone a champion for local health services in the far north; and making the case to the Chancellor to protect rural banking services;

Christine Jardine setting out the cultural and economic risk to Scottish festivals from Brexit; as well as actively organising and campaigning for the women who have lost pension rights through the incompetence of government.

We’ve heard a lot in the news recently about the gender pay gap in big companies.

Let’s not forget that we’re hearing about it because of Jo Swinson.

She brought in the law that forced them to report, a lasting change - as well as an opportunity to make John Humphrys squirm.

Four brilliant and powerful voices in Scotland.

And equal numbers of men and women thanks to the decisions of this conference.

I am determined that we support and encourage diversity in our candidates.

It is great news that so many of our young women candidates are taking up the chance for training and support. I look forward to campaigning with them in seats across Scotland.

Our clear, positive stand on immigration and our belief in an equal society means we should work to make sure that potential candidates from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are supported to become great parliamentarians and councillors for our party.

I want to smile even more. I want to win more.

But you know we need to work to win.

So after this conference you all have a job to do.

Your first job is to help our colleagues in England win in the local council elections. 

You’ll be getting your instructions soon.

But once we have won there I want you to run our big campaigns in your community.

On boosting mental health.

On better social care.

And on stopping Brexit.

We know we can do it.

We can win across Scotland.

Just two weeks ago I smiled a big smile - we gained yet another councillor. 

We won Caol & Mallaig from the SNP with a stonking swing.

Well done Councillor Denis Rixson.

All of us should take that inspiration.

Get out there.  Get campaigning.  Get winning.


I want to make a direct appeal to those who are hunting for new hope for our country.

People who are hunting for a better way.

If want to move on from the division of Brexit.

If you want to move on from the division of independence.

Because you want to keep us in the United Kingdom and a united Europe.

Then try the Liberal Democrats.

If you believe that people with poor mental health deserve better treatment.

If you believe that young people deserve the best start in life with a quality nursery education.

Because you believe that everyone deserves a chance to succeed.

Then try the Liberal Democrats.

If you think the Scottish Government was wrong to centralise the Police Scotland because of the chaos it has imposed on the police.

If you think the Shona Robison should resign because of her failures on NHS Tayside, mental health, GPs and more.

Because you want government that supports our police, nurses and doctors.

Then try the Liberal Democrats.

If you oppose the Conservatives’ callous disability and benefit cuts.

If you oppose the Conservatives’ callous rape clause.

Because you want a caring government.

Then try the Liberal Democrats.

If you look around Britain today and cry at what our country is becoming.

Try the Liberal Democrats.

We are a party that is prepared to stand up for common humanity whether people are around the corner, across the world or in the future.

We are the progressive alternative.

Generous, optimistic, outward looking.

Pro UK, Pro EU and Progressive.

We are winning again.

Try the Liberal Democrats.

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