READ: Willie Rennie's speech to Autumn Conference 2017

Never has the Con in Conservative been bigger. The Royal College of GPs says Conservative Brexit plans will cost 300 GP posts, but the Scottish Conservatives ignore that and stand on high streets saying they care about GPs. The London School of Economics say Scotland could lose billions because of Brexit yet the Scottish Conservatives claim to be the party of the economy.

By Willie Rennie Nov 11, 2017 3

Good afternoon conference.

Or dobryj dyen to Mr Salmond.

Actually, conference, I don’t want to joke about it.

Russia is undermining western democracy.

They undermined the campaign of President Macron.

Attacked Chancellor Merkel.

We first heard about them when we found out they had undermined Hillary Clinton.

When we met here a year ago people were grief-stricken that the first woman to run for President was defeated in the way that she was.

So it is a disgrace that Alex Salmond has decided to supplement his First Minister’s pension by legitimising a Russian organisation whose mission is to undermine western democracy. It’s a disgrace.

Hillary Clinton carried the hopes of so many women across the world.

And the appalling reports of harassment and abuse of women in this country in the last few days demonstrate why we needed a woman to win.


The comedian Jo Brand put it so well last week. 

I have always enjoyed her comedy but now I admire her commentary.

This is what she said, “I know it’s not high level but it doesn’t have to be high level for women to feel under siege in somewhere like the House of Commons. For women, if you are constantly being harassed in a small way, that builds up.  And it wears you down".

The studio audience went wild but the all-male panel on Have I Got News For You looked at their shoelaces.

Some people ask women – “why did you not mention anything before?”

Let me put this as politely as I can: communication requires listening as well as talking.

Maybe they haven’t been listening.

So instead of all the excuses let’s all make sure we are listening now.

This is not nothing.

This is not the fault of women.

This is our opportunity to listen.

Listen to the decades of frustration and anger.


And if we listen, we will change.

Our country, our government and our party have been poorer for the limits we have put on the freedoms of women.

And that has got to change.


“In Britain nobody's alike, which means everyone fits in.”

Who would have thought a cartoon immigrant from darkest Peru with his marmalade sandwich would sum up a liberal approach to immigration so well?

I saw Paddington last week.

Open, warm hearted, generous. Embracing the world.

It is another challenge of our age and is at the heart of the debate on Brexit.

Whilst leaders bicker about transition periods and single markets and common external tariffs the elephant - or the bear - in the room is immigration.

In the Brexit vote people were promised fewer foreigners in our country.

Yet people were not told the price of that policy.  And it is big.

The price is a hit to almost every sector of our economy and our public services.

The price is a shortage of workers to grow businesses

The price is a shortage of carers, nurses and GPs.

The price is billions of pounds of lost taxes from these jobs.

They are already going home and Brexit has not even happened yet.

Imagine what it feels like to have your mother or your father or your children’s status made so insecure in this country.

Some say that too much immigration is a threat to our way of life.

But the truth is that not enough immigration is the real threat to our way of life.

It’s not the workers from Poland, Romania or Bulgaria who we should fear.

We should fear all those political leaders who are blindly backing Brexit.

These are the people we should send home.


Boris Johnson should explain why world class university research is on the wane because researchers have moved to other parts of the world.

Nigel Farage should tell shoppers why they can’t get home grown fruit, fish and veg in our shops because we don’t have enough people to grow them.

Theresa May should tell you why you can’t have a carer for your elderly mother, or why you have to wait weeks to see your GP because they have all gone back to Europe.

And Jeremy Corbyn should come and tell you why public services are being cut because we have fewer workers paying tax to fund these vital services. 

When all of this happens, you can point to every leader who backed Brexit in the full knowledge of the price of Brexit but didn’t have the courage to stand up and be counted.


There needs to be a proper public debate about the value of immigration.

The Conservatives do not want a debate. 

So we, and the rest of the country, will have it over their heads.

Let me be clear about the dishonest position the Conservatives have got themselves in.

If immigration is not cut with Brexit then Leavers will feel betrayed, because that is what they voted for.

If the Conservatives keep that promise, and immigration is cut, it will damage our economy and public services, and even more people will feel betrayed, because they were not told this would happen.

The Conservatives are about to betray Leave voters or trash the economy.

This is the real political car crash that is heading our way.  And the Government must address it now.

Nobody is alike, so we all fit in. If you are not going to listen to me at least follow the Paddington Bear.

So I am calling on Theresa May not to shy away. 

Don’t be timid. 

Try to salvage something positive for Britain from your failing and destructive administration before it is too late.

Have that debate now.


Many people feel the system is weighted against them.

Just look at the bankers’ bonuses, the tax cuts for the wealthy, the paradise papers just this week.

Those on the extreme offer easy, simplistic solutions.

Brexit was an expression of that anger.

Yet now we discover prominent Leave leaders turn out to be the crown princes of tax avoidance.

People like Nigel Farage who hired a tax advisor to set up the Farage Family Educational Trust 1654 "for inheritance purposes" on the Isle of Man.

People like Leave donor Aaron Banks who owns Rock Services Ltd which had a turnover of £19.7m last year, yet only paid corporation tax of £12,000.

People like US hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer who helped finance Donald Trump's campaign and played a key role in the campaign for Brexit.

Nigel Farage, Aaron Banks and Robert Mercer are not the solution to the problem.

They are the problem.

That is why we must speak up now.

Speak up on Brexit before it is too late.

We haven’t just been sold a mirage on immigration.

It’s not just because they are mired in tax avoidance.

But they have misled us on so much more too.

Boris Johnson promised millions of pounds for the NHS every week.  Now we’ve got a bill for billions.

Liam Fox promised the EU negotiations will “be one of the easiest in human history”.

David Davis told us we’d get trade terms as good as we have just now.

On their own terms Brexit cannot be delivered. 

Their terms, not ours. 

On their terms it is now impossible to deliver on what was promised.

So we have a choice.

We could let them continue the big trick of saying there is no way back – despite what Lord Kerr said yesterday.

The Government and Labour opposition could vote any Brexit through.

They can by-pass the British people.

Ignore their views in one of the most important decisions of our age.

Or they can give the voiceless a say. 

It would only be reasonable for something so big.

The British people gave the government the mandate to negotiate on the terms promised. 

They should have the right to sign off the deal too.

Because a blank cheque Brexit is not good enough.

That is why we say to people, if you don’t like the Brexit you are being offered you should have the chance to reject it.

To make a judgement on whether the promises of the millionaire elites have been broken.

To turn back before it is too late.

There is a better way to tackle injustice and to build a positive future for our country.

Good jobs, a home you can afford, the security of a health service that is there when you need it.

Our party worked hard to deliver tax powers for our Scottish Parliament.

We worked for the tax powers because we wanted the parliament to have the flexibility to chart a different course.

We are not a party of high tax, or low tax, but fair tax based on the balance between the needs of our public services and the wealth of our citizens.

We favour a modest penny on income tax to invest £500million to make our education system the best again.

It is not a tax rise to punish, but to raise the money we need to provide the services we seek on a common front.

And our plan allows us to take forward a positive, long-term vision for a strong Scottish economy with high wages and high skills.

Moderate, progressive taxation can be a force for good.

It is important at this critical time to stand up for that good.

The SNP Government have taken the significant step of publishing a paper to kickstart the debate about tax.

They should have had the courage to put in their election manifesto, but that is for them to explain to those who voted for them.

The Conservatives tend to reject collective action and favour a small state by instinct.

They wish to cut tax and reduce public spending no matter the consequences.

They are blatant that their top priority is a tax cut for the people on the very highest incomes.

Many on the Conservative benches believe taxation is theft. 

Some even describe those who wish to raise tax as pick pockets.

But I ask this…

Is it theft to invest in building the best education system in the world?

Is it pickpocketing to provide the social care for those in need?

Is it a crime to want to create a fairer society?

I tell you that this is no time for narrow, selfish Conservatives.

For care, for education, for a fairer society this is the time for Liberal Democrats to stand up and be counted for the greater good.


I tell you what ought to be a crime: the way this Conservative Government is falling apart and damaging Britain.

The Foreign Secretary bungles, condemning a British woman to a longer jail sentence in Iran.

The International Development Secretary offers aid money for the occupied territories of Israel behind the Prime Minister’s back.

The Chancellor accuses the European Union of being the enemy just before he wants to shake hands on a deal as friends.

And the Prime Minister loses her majority, loses her authority and loses control of her cabinet.

At one of the most important periods in our politics this is not the time for incompetents. 

They have won some seats in Scotland by being firm against independence.

But so are the rest of us.

And it’s wrong that people are expected to swallow the rest of the Conservative rubbish as a price.

Never has the Con in Conservative been bigger.

The Royal College of GPs says Conservative Brexit plans will cost 300 GP posts, but the Scottish Conservatives ignore that and stand on high streets saying they care about GPs.

The London School of Economics say Scotland could lose billions because of Brexit yet the Scottish Conservatives claim to be the party of the economy.

They are a party that thinks it is OK to botch the roll-out of Universal Credit, delay money for six weeks and then charge the poorest people in Britain 55p a minute to phone a help line to try to sort it out.

We have Scottish Conservative councillors posting blatantly racist material on the internet.

A Conservative MSP who owns so much of Scotland his parliamentary staff can’t even register his interests fast enough.

And they think sending their leader onto Celebrity Bake-Off will make us all forget.

Well, we know that the Scottish Conservatives are the Baked Alaska of politics.

Apparently warm, fluffy and attractive on the outside.

But when you cut it open you find an ice cold heart.


The shambles of the Conservatives in London is now so stark it makes John Major’s government of the 1990s look like a beacon of competence, unity and purpose.

The only good thing to remember is that John Major had 12 Scottish Conservative MPs.

And they all lost their seats, every single one of them.

The events of this week show it is time for another clear-out.

Our country deserves better than incompetents in London and pastel-tinted fakes in Scotland.


Liberal Democrats are big hearted, open minded, outward looking, caring and compassionate.

We are for people who aspire to a better life for themselves and others – ambitious for themselves and our country and people.

We care about the people next door, across the world or in the future.

At our heart Liberal Democrats want every individual to achieve their potential.

We stand with the weak against the strong, and will use the power of government to tackle the social and economic injustices that limit freedom.

We say power is safer when it is shared and will trust communities and individuals with the power to control their own lives.

We are trustees of our world, and our society, and must pass on a sustainable legacy which will benefit future generations.

This is why I joined this party thirty years ago. 

There are many in this room who have been loyal supporters for even longer.

There are so many who have joined just in the last few years.

And you know what warms my heart is that it’s like you have always been part of one big family.

So I want to thank you.  Thank you for the work and commitment for our party.

It is that commitment that has made our party start to grow and win again.

Last year remember the victories in North East Fife and Edinburgh West and the massive majorities in Shetland and Orkney. 

They were the early signs of recovery.

Then this year we gained control of councils in the Highlands, Aberdeenshire, Perth and Kinross, and Argyll and Bute.

With Aileen Morton, Alistair Christie, Peter Argyle and Peter Barrett leading for us.  These are the most powerful Liberal Democrats in Scotland and I am grateful for their commitment. 

And in June.  Glorious June. 

Alistair Carmichael – back with a massive majority.

Jamie Stone – Liberal Democrats winning in the Highlands again.

Christine Jardine – winning in our capital.

And Jo Swinson – such a bright, shining light for our party.

Liberal Democrats winning again. And thanks to everyone in this room for making that happen.

And thanks to this conference’s courage we now have a parliamentary group at Westminster that has a higher percentage of women than any other party.

But you have a chance to elect more first class women. 

The superb Ellen Bryson in Rutherglen has knocked over 5000 doors and delivered thousands of leaflets. Her by-election campaign is gaining ground.

Liz Barrett has been such a support to many campaigns across the country – including many of mine.  She can be our next Councillor for Perth South. 

The by-elections are on the 23rd November - less than two weeks away.  So please go and help them win.


You may have noticed I’ve not said much about the SNP. 

So let me put that right as I come to a close.

The SNP Government are failing, they have lost direction and they are on their way out.

There’s no fizz left in their Irn Bru. Or in Alex Salmond’s vodka spritz.

On education – there’s centralisation; the removal of democracy; no support for teachers;

On mental health – big delays in services; the new strategy completely panned; and no details on the workforce plan.

On the Police – the senior staff are in chaos; democracy has been stripped out; and centralisation has not generated the savings that were promised.

On colleges – a humiliating reversal of their policy on part time places.

On the NHS – long waits, cancelled operations and a shortage of GPs, consultants and nurses.

Now that independence is off the table – today anyway - nothing really matters anymore for the SNP.

The SNP are on their way out and they can’t hide it.

It is now for the Liberal Democrats to set a positive, optimistic, outward looking, ambitious plan for our country.

On education, to skill up our people for a thriving economy.

On mental health, so those left behind get the support they need.

On the police, so we can protect our way of life.

On our NHS, so we can get the treatment we need for a healthy life.

Our plan for the future will catch the imagination after years of divisive constitutional politics.

So thank you all for choosing to be part of this great task.

We set out from here to keep on winning.

We will stand up for our place in Europe and the world.

We will tilt the scales in favour of everyone against the tax dodgers.

We will be that open welcoming society for people who want to help us thrive.

We will make the case for collective action to deliver a fairer society.

We will keep on winning, so we can win for people.

Thank you. Good luck and Do Svidaniya.

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