Conference 2009 Speech by Leader of Scottish Liberal Democrats

Tavish Scott, 20/09/2009

Category: Devolution, Liberal Democrat Conference (General Speeches)

This morning our conference celebrated the success of 10 years of Home Rule.

It was good to mark ten years. But we cannot rest.

Because we have shown that change for Scotland and Wales strengthens the whole of the United Kingdom.

It“s change that can build a stronger, more liberal, democratic country.

Never has that change been needed so much.

Today, millions of people face the gravest economic crisis in a generation.

For many of them it has changed their lives forever.

And they wonder why so many politicians are acting as if everything has stayed just the same.

People are weary of a Prime Minister who has apparently forgotten how to tell the hard truth; and sceptical of a Conservative Leader who seems never to have learnt how to.

This is the Liberal Democrat opportunity.

That poll on Tuesday showed we have two of the top four most trusted leaders in Britain in Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

It“s no surprise.

Nick is leading the only party telling the truth about the tough choices that are required to tackle the recession and turn the tide against unemployment “
“ to create a fairer society
“ to protect our environment
“ and to a build a long term future for our children.
“ But this Party will also show in everything we do that our country will be stronger when governments stop trying to centralise and control every part of people“s lives;

When government shows that it trusts people with their own lives and their own communities, perhaps people will start to trust their government again.

It“s time for government to give people their lives back.

But it won“t be this government for sure.

We can all see where they have let us down.

Labour has squandered its chance.

That temporary VAT cut could have been used in Scotland to create 9,000 new jobs.
“ We could have insulated every school and hospital.
“ We could have made sure that no-one is forced to live in a cold home this winter. And every winter after that.
“ We could have built public transport not cancelled public transport.
“ We would have had something to show for all the money that has been spent in our name.
“ But Labour“s blown it “ on this choice as with so much else.

In Scotland they joined with the SNP to water down our Climate Change Bill.

They lost the chance to lead the world at the Copenhagen summit.

And missed the opportunity with President Obama to set the global agenda alight.

And on jobs;

Labour“s bank crisis has been felt so badly in Scotland.

It still hurts.

We see job losses every month from Lloyds and RBS.

Branches will close.

And we lost the Bank of Scotland from Scotland.

Snatched away by Labour in a deal with Lloyds that has cost the taxpayer billions of pounds.

But a deal that doesn“t get cash to Scottish business to get the economy moving.

Think back a year.

The Caped Crusader of Kirkcaldy was out to save the world.

And nothing and no-one would be allowed to stand in his way.

The take-over of HBOS was agreed at a city cocktail party.

You could smell the money, the bonuses, the excess.

But the financial hang-over is still being felt in every small business and high street in Scotland.

A huge, centralised bank, not serving its customers or our country.

They“ve had 6,947 official complaints already this year.

You can count this speech as another one, on behalf of the businesses I have met.

The one in Galashiels told by its bank that its interest rate is going up as the base rate goes down;

The building firm in Inverness that can“t get the bank on its side to keep people in work;

In Kelso an engineering business for the off-shore industry now gets charged for not having an overdraft.

Well, business can“t take much more.

I want people to have the choice of smaller banks, reliable and secure.

And in Scotland that bank should be the Bank of Scotland, back home, free to lend to local business.

I want giant, centralised banks broken down.

Working for us.

Making every decision in the centre doesn“t work for government either.

There“s not enough room on Peter Mandelson“s desk for any more levers of power.

But Government from the centre “ where Ministers claim to know best- is not just Labour.

It“s the reality in Scotland too.

We got a Budget last week. A Budget not helped by Labour“s £500m cut.

But a Budget that should have concentrated on work for young people, on tackling the recession and on building warm homes.

What happened?

Scotland got a Budget that sucks yet more power to the centre “ to Edinburgh.

On jobs, the SNP have destroyed the Local Enterprise Networks, emasculated Highlands and Islands Enterprise and butchered Scottish Enterprise.

All so Alex Salmond can grandstand.

Let me be fair -there“s no one better. He has the gold medal, the World Cup, the X Factor in grandstanding.

But he didn“t save one job at Diageo in Kilmarnock by the speeches he aimed, not at the decision makers, but the interview takers.

With the SNP it“s always publicity before responsibility.

But no job will be saved in this recession by SNP grandstanding.

Scotland faces a lost generation of school leavers, college and university graduates who cannot find work.

There are more 18 year olds leaving school now than for a generation.

But they face unemployment in Scotland that is up by 75,000 in a year.

A Scottish Budget should push resources at these young Scots.;

The ones who could be failed by this recession and left out of the economy;

We must, just must, avoid a lost generation, like those who were cast to the scrap heap in the 1980s.

That will be our Liberal Democrat task in this Scottish Budget. I challenge others to be with us on that. Work with us. Win a future for young people, together.

The desire of Government to control from the centre is now so stark for our local councils.

Last week“s SNP Budget abolishes any local financial responsibility.

Councils in Scotland will no longer take any real financial decision;

Or be responsible to those who elected them.

So decent hardworking people of all parties become no more than SNP pen pushers, forced to administer the cuts.

I thought the Tories had done their best to destroy local government.

But what“s now happening may be even worse

This Budget means that the SNP have nationalised the policy and localised the blame.

That pull to the centre is downright dangerous on policing.

The SNP want just one Scottish Police force.

We know how wrong this is “ because it“s what Labour want too!

A single centralised police force for Scotland will give all the power to one man:

Alex Salmond“s Justice Secretary.

He will pay the bills and he will call the shots.

We want local people to have more say over the way their communities are policed.

People in Grampian should keep the police force that has led Scotland on recruiting extra police.

People in the far north want strong community roots for their police and they should have it.

People in Glasgow want strong action to tackle gangs and they should have it.

And you don“t do any of that from a single centralised force.

Centralised government “ Edinburgh knows best “ that“s the SNP“s approach.

It won“t wash, it won“t work and we will oppose it.

Because there“s a better way “ a Liberal way “ that trusts people, gives decisions back, puts local people in charge.

So the SNP“s choices must be challenged.

Some argue they“ve sought to bribe middle Scotland;

Some argue they“ve sought to put money into target constituencies;

Some even say that every SNP decision is about political positioning.

Far from me to give such suggestions the oxygen of publicity.

But this matters -

Research I am publishing today shows that - over four years - the SNP will have spent £950m on a set of distorted priorities and hand-outs that give more to the rich than to the poor.

Because this is what you find:

If you have two children and earn £100,000 then you will have gained £802 per year from the SNP.

But if you have two children and you earn £15,000 then you will have gained just six pounds and seven pence.

So that“s enough champagne and lobster every night for the rich.

A fish supper for the poor.

So I mean it when I say that, in Scotland, the only party at the General Election for a fairer society will be the Liberal Democrats.

Money is tight. We can only promise what we know we can afford.

And Liberal Democrats promise something different.

Our proposal - right across Britain - is to cut the loopholes used by the rich to avoid their fair share of tax.

And we will use that to cut the tax for everybody else.

Under the Liberal Democrats that family on £15,000 will be better off by £700.

Millions of others will pay no income tax at all.

That“s our commitment to a fairer society where people get their fair share.

That“s the difference we will make.

But people know that tough times are ahead of us.

So, I want a Scottish Budget where every single line is focussed on people“s jobs and homes to get through the recession.

We can do that if we:

Give Scottish Water the freedom to raise its investment from a bond not from tax.

Scrap the Futures Trust quango that costs millions yet builds nothing.

Get a grip of the highest paid people in the public sector, who cost hundreds of thousands of pounds each with their pop star salaries.

And instead, let“s use those precious resources for young people “ to avoid that lost generation;

That“s the difference we can make in Scotland if people work together.

So let“s not hear the SNP tell us “We don“t need your help to get it right“? because we have found someone to blame for getting it wrong“.

Pointing the finger at London or whoever is not good enough.

I guess they might think they can rely on the Conservatives.

Just like every other year.

At Budget Time in Scotland the Conservatives have voted SNP nine times out of nine.

And they are copying them on jobs, as well.

Jobs for themselves, that is.

The SNP leader Alex Salmond has two jobs.

As an MP and an MSP.

As a result he has the worst attendance record in the House of Commons.

David Cameron came to Scotland in May. He said: “one politician should not try to serve two they should only sit in one legislature.“

If you want to know why people in Scotland don“t think David Cameron talks straight consider this.

Just 60 days after that very clear speech, the Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament for Berwickshire announced that he is also intending to be the MP for Berwickshire.

Two jobs, in two parliaments, 500 miles apart.

So, if he won, people in the Borders will lose.

They can expect to have the worst attending MP in Scotland, the least representation.

But someone equipped with £334,000 of taxpayers“ money in pay and allowances to tell them that he is doing a good job.

The exact opposite of what David Cameron promised.

And for the first time in my life I say listen to the Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.

He says to have “two jobs when many people in Scotland don't have a single job at all. That is quite wrong“.

The Borders don“t need a part-time Tory.

They already have a full-time MP standing up for them.

He is listened to with respect when he speaks for his communities: on transport, on health, on the textiles industry and on post offices.

He“s Michael Moore and he still will be the MP after that General Election.

And Mike needs to be joined by new full-time Scottish MPs.

Katy Gordon in Glasgow North;

Kevin Lang in Edinburgh North & Leith;

John Sleigh in Aberdeen South.

Fred Mackintosh in Edinburgh South.

They will win against Labour in Scotland because we offer a fair approach, a different approach, a fresh start in these tough times.

On the big issues: on war in Iraq, on climate change, on Trident, on Northern Rock;

Liberal Democrats were there first, talking straight, speaking out, even when others were silent.

Now, when people are losing their jobs, we are there for them with practical plans to create new ones;

As the world faces climate change, Liberal Democrats are ready to do things differently, to turn the tide;

And now we are the only party - -North and South - for a fair society where the poorest get their fair share.

Millions of people want things to be different.

If you want things to be different, really different, you have to choose the party that is different.

Change for real. Change for good.

That difference will be the Liberal Democrats.