Rennie delivers annual Charles Kennedy lecture

15 Nov 2023
Willie Rennie MSP

Former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP has delivered the annual Charles Kennedy Lecture at the Ben Nevis Hotel in Lochaber.

The lecture is an annual event set up in memory of the former Liberal Democrat leader and long-serving local MP. It has previously been delivered by figures from the world of politics including Nicola Sturgeon, Brian Taylor and Alistair Campbell.

The topic for Mr Rennie’s speech was “Listening in a noisy world”. A copy of the full speech is attached in the notes to editors.

Mr Rennie said:

“Listening is difficult in a world of instant news, tweets, or whatever they are called now, posts, threads, instant reaction, fake news.  

It seems everyone has a view, everywhere, all at once so taking time to listen and think can leave you behind.  But working out what people really mean is essential for progress.

In that noisy, instant world, nuance and reason can get lost. But they are all the more important in that world.

As I have discussed, Charles managed it.  He was often caveated and qualified.  He was soft not siren.  

Persuading people of change with measure and reason.

Presenting challenging issues is a way that people can trust.

It’s a fine liberal tradition.  

A book about David Steel was entitled Militant for the Reasonable Man.  

David Steel’s pedigree on anti-apartheid and abortion were difficult for people to accept 50/60 years ago, especially in the rugby loving Borders, but David persuaded people in a way that didn’t insult but carried people with him.

Russell Johnston – MP for Inverness - used to say the Liberal Party was a conversation. Listening makes a conversation not a monologue. He persuaded for the benefits of economic development in the Highlands.

Jo Grimond before had that mix of challenge and reassurance on Suez and the European Community.

Paddy Ashdown on the passports for Hong Kong.

As our first liberal minister in a generation Jim Wallace delivered liberal reforms on freedom of information and section 28 with empathy and trust.

And now I would make the case for my Westminster colleague in Fife, and former police officer, Wendy Chamberlain and my newish boss Alex Cole-Hamilton. Voices who speak with compassion and reason.

How we do our politics as Liberals is equal to what our politics is for.

Politicians have a responsibility not to add to the noise unnecessarily, or to exploit it to their own ends.

I am afraid that too many of the current crop of Conservative politicians like our, now former, Home Secretary Suella Braverman see a division as something worth exploiting rather than something we must heal.

Her stoking of division on protest, the police, homelessness, Israel and Gaza was as ugly as it was self-serving, and it had consequences on Saturday.”


Notes to editors:

A copy of the speech can be downloaded here.

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