Liberal Democrats - the party of One Scotland

Speech from leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie MSP, to Liberal Democrat Federal Autumn Conference in Glasgow

For the first time ever the people of Scotland were given the power. 

The democratic power to decide whether to continue our relationship with our friends in the rest of the United Kingdom.  

With ballots not bullets. 

By the people not the Lairds. 

After open debate not behind closed doors. 

I am so proud that people quietly, but with confidence, said no to independence.

And in numbers now rarely seen in democracies they said yes – yes to partnership, yes to sharing, yes to our common endeavour and yes with an open hand;

Comfortable in our own skin, generous in our compassion, proud of who we are.

It was a pleasure to stand with Alistair Carmichael, with Danny Alexander, with Michael Moore and with Charles Kennedy. 

Because in each we have the architects of our win:

Michael outfoxing Alex Salmond on the referendum process; Danny at the heart of Better Together;

Alistair taking the message out to the country;

And Charles – well Charles was Charles at his very best, speaking from the heart to people across Scotland.

Thank you all.

Our campaigns on the ground showed the strength we have locally too. 

With our ‘road to the referendum’ meetings, mass canvassing and street stalls we led the referendum campaigns in North East Fife, the Borders, the Northern Isles, Aberdeenshire, Argyll, the Highlands, West Edinburgh and East Dunbartonshire.   

I am so proud we won the vote in every single one.

We were not alone.

You may have seen Labour’s Jim Murphy on his stump tour of a hundred high streets.

His magnetic personality seemed to attract nationalists from a ten mile radius.

I met him in Cupar.

Before we climbed on his Irn Bru crate he was assessing the crowd for hecklers. 

The nationalists draped in saltires with the biggest Yes badges you can buy. 

“Don’t worry, Willie, I can handle them,” he said to me.

But he was nervous about an unshaven young man in jeans who was lurking at the back. No badges on display.

“Willie,” Jim said, “he’s the one to watch - a potential trouble-maker.” 

I said, “Jim, let me introduce you to Conor – he works for me in the constituency office.” 

I want to be generous. 

Figures like Jim from across the political spectrum and beyond made great contributions. – Johann, Ruth, Murdo, Douglas, Gordon and above all Alistair Darling.

We all put aside party difference for the greater good. 


This was a grand alliance; 

An alliance of which we should all be proud.

But the real winner is change. 

Often with election campaigns it is the discussions and debate that shape the future as much as the actual result. 

People were crying out for change.

And change is what they will get.

You’ll remember that our own Menzies Campbell published our plans for Home Rule in a federal United Kingdom two years ago.  A man ahead of his time.  

Menzies’ work built on our party’s Steel Commission, of nearly a decade ago that established the intellectual case for reform, and hasn't been properly challenged since.  

Our plans have stood the test of time.

From initial intransigence to reluctant fellow travellers, everyone is now on board.

We have built an unstoppable force for change. 

Heck, even Michael Forsyth is predicting federalism. 

We now stand on the verge of the most exciting transformation in the way our country is run. 

Everyone is a federalist now.

Britain will never be the same again.

Menzies Campbell’s commission advanced three principles:

First is local power, so that we are able to seize the energy in communities to build a future that meets their needs rather than directed by the man in ministry;

Second is to entrench the Parliament so that it is a more equal partner in the United Kingdom;

Finally is fiscal power, delivered through the Scottish Parliament raising the majority of the money it spends.

Controlling the purse strings means we can have the flexibility and agility to do things differently if we choose.

And with that brings the power to borrow so that we can make investments now for longer term returns.

With these three principles we can transform the way the country is run. 

Liberals believe that power is best exercised when it is spread and shared across the country. 

Change will not be satisfied if it is restricted to a journey from London to Edinburgh. 

That journey of change must carry on right up to the tip of Shetland, to the foot of Galloway and to the heart of Aberdeen.

Our vision is one that has been chiselled in stone since Gladstone, not lines in the sand to be washed away when it suits. 

Another great liberal Beveridge had his five evils:

Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness, Disease.

The ambition of our change is to empower people and communities to tackle the great challenges of our time. 

Poverty, demographic imbalance and climate change: these are the great challenges we face. 

Giving everyone a chance to get on, build a sustainable economy and protect our planet. 


These are the goals, the wins that are possible.

That is our change.

I want to tell you that, even in the run-up to the referendum, our team in Parliament continued to challenge the nationalists on the way they are running the country.

With Jim Hume on NHS waiting times and mental health;

With Tavish Scott on investing in transport links to the north east and the Highlands;

With Liam MacArthur winning the battle for more childcare;

And, as was all too apparent this week, on armed police Alison McInnes is running rings round Kenny MacAskill.

We may be only five, but the nationalists know we are a mighty handful.


Britain will never be the same again but I can assure you that the Liberal Democrats will never support a nationalist effort to create an unstable form of devolution as a ticking timebomb deliberately designed to deliver independence.

So there is a test for the SNP.

Will they be like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, torn apart by the lust for the ring of independence?

Or will they work constructively with others to create Home Rule that is stable, as well as powerful, inside the United Kingdom?

That is the real test.

If they fail this test, the message to the voters would be clear. 

If you vote a nationalist to your parliament don’t be surprised if they do nationalist things. 

Don’t be surprised if they continue to use every living moment to plot the break-up of the UK. 

Don’t be surprised if they hoover up powers from across the country into their grasp and control. 

Don’t be surprised if they blame London for all our ills even when they have the powers in their hands.

That’s what they have done for eighty years.

Same old. Same old.

So, come on SNP. Give it a rest. It’s time for a change.

We should have a change coming at the head of Holyrood.

Nicola is replacing Alex. And she tells us she is different.

But how different a First Minister is she really going to be? 

She's a fan of Birgitte Nyborg, the liberal prime minister from the TV series Borgen.  

Aren't we all?  

But how liberal is Nicola? 

There are signs of promise.

She piloted equal marriage through parliament.

But then she shared a platform with Brian Soutar.

She proclaims powerful human rights. 

But then she defended our First Minister's refusal to meet the Dalai Lama.

Would Birgitte have supported stop and search of children, police carrying guns on our streets, hoovering up powers from communities?

Is Nicola a Borgen liberal or a Salmond Nationalist?

The moment of truth is here. 

Will the real Nicola Sturgeon please stand up?

I have message for Labour and the Conservatives too.

To the Conservatives: Your partners in Better Together did not appreciate your Prime Minister’s opportunistic attempt to gain party advantage over votes in the House of Commons within minutes of the result of the referendum. 

Putting your party’s interest ahead of the national interest almost wrecked a moment of great national unity.

To Labour: I know you fear the consequences for the rest of the UK from substantial changes here but the message from the voters was clear. 

People want substantial and meaningful change and they will settle for nothing less. 

That change must ripple through the rest of the United Kingdom. 

Now is not the time for timidity here in Scotland or across the UK. 

The response to the cry from the voters is to be bold and ambitious - that is the answer. 

Our party has a unique role in politics.  We can put aside deep differences to work in partnership for the greater good.

Whether it be Better Together.

The Lib-Lab coalition in the first eight years of Holyrood.

The Westminster Coalition.

Working with the SNP on budget investments for childcare and colleges.

In forging a new agreement towards Home Rule and federalism we have a critical role again.


So my final message is to the voters.  If you are fed up of the politics of 'yes' and 'no', of 'us' and 'them' then we are your party.

If you want to move on from the divisiveness, the tribalism, the bitterness and the bickering of the last three years then we are your party.

If you're a committed internationalist, a committed environmentalist and believe we achieve more by working together than separating off then we are your party.

If you want a party that's worked for Home Rule, not for the last 100 days but the last 100 years then we are your party.

If you want to stop the talk of 'the 45' or 'the 55' and talk about 'One Scotland', to take forward a programme of reform to unite the country, then we are your party.

If you want all of these things we are for you.

The Liberal Democrats - the party of one Scotland.

Share this post on social media: