Charles Kennedy: Speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference
Charles Kennedy's speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference, Dunfermline, 16th October 1999
It’s good to be home.
Coming home as the Scottish leader of a British party.
It’s a thought-provoking position to be in.
Thoughts of the great Scots who have led us and our predecessors over the century.
Men who made a decisive impact on the politics of their times.
It’s a privilege to follow in their footsteps.
But there’s another reason why it is thought-provoking to be a Scot leading a British party.
And that is that the relationships between the nations of the Union have changed in a revolutionary way since 1997.
Scotland has a Parliament.
Wales an Assembly.
Northern Ireland, soon I hope, a working Assembly too.
In England, regionalism is growing as never before.
Calling into question, as it happens, the idea of England itself.
In the process of devolution, we are creating throughout Britain, a new way of doing things.
Just look at what I can’t talk to you about today.
In the past, a Federal leader could come to Scottish conference and wax lyrical about all the dreadful things that were being done to our education system in Westminster.
MSPs, in a Scottish government, in a Scottish Parliament, answerable only to the people of Scotland, decide our education policy.
So you’ll not hear anything from me today on that subject.
And that’s as it should be.
Instead, what I want to talk about are federal matters.
And there are exciting changes that we are living through.
British politics is now based on a new set of diverse relationships.
Gone are the days of the man in Whitehall knowing best.
And with that, we have a new rationale for Britain as an idea.
A new set of reasons for being together in the Union at all.
In the past, Unionism was a term that conjured images of monarchy, Empire, tradition.
That’s all changing.
Those of us who recognise the value in Scotland playing a full part in Britain are creating a new Unionism.
A Unionism based on diversity not uniformity.
Based on a belief that we have more to learn from each other together, whatever our differences,
than we have to gain by pulling up a drawbridge and mingling only among ourselves.
The new Unionism in Britain should not be about treaties between capitals and crowns.
The Liberal tradition is a proud one,
and a philosophical one in terms of its analysis of individuals being more important than the sate.
Communities being more important than the nation state.
So the new Unionism should be about relations between the regions of England, and the other nations of the UK.
In which the North-East of England works with Scotland, and the South-West works with the Welsh.
After all, Bristol is nearer Cardiff than London.
Newcastle is nearer Edinburgh.
And of course, all parts of England need to work with Europe, as well as being allied to London.
The new Council of Isles to be established as part of the Good Friday Agreement already offers exciting opportunities for liaison between the various UK capitals and Dublin.
The English Regions should be added to this equation.
Fluid, challenging, and exciting times indeed.
So I stand before you today as a Scot.
But also as a Highlander.
And a Briton too.
There’s no contradiction in being all three.
So I’ll be supporting the British team when our athletes next compete in the Olympics.
But before that, we have another sports fixture coming up.
I know who I’ll be supporting there too.
We’re all looking forward to that.
Won’t it be great?
let me say something about that match.
When Scotland beat England, and we earn our place in Euro 2000, we’ll have an almighty celebration.
It will go on for days.
But let’s be gracious in victory.
Scotland is a proud nation, proud of its own strengths.
Not for us the vitriolic anti-Englishness that we see from some of our opponents here.
That’s not an adult approach to life.
It’s certainly not the way forward as we try to build a Britain based on respect for diversity.
And it’s personally important for my leadership of our party that there is a healthy and constructive dialogue between all parts of the UK.
I want our achievements in Scotland to be a lesson for the rest of Britain about what devolution can mean.
When I was elected as the federal leader, I said that I wanted our party to be become a serious party of government throughout the whole of Britain.
The best guide to that is here and now, in Scotland.
We are in government, making a difference.
Showing that we’re winners.
Changing the lives of people in Scotland for the better.
Acting on the principles we came into politics to advance.
If we carry on as we’re doing, a successful Liberal Democrat presence in the Scottish government is the first step towards taking our party into government throughout Britain.
There’s one particular message I want to take into England and Wales from Scotland.
It’s a message about one of our long-held goals in politics.
Fair votes in every election throughout the land.
And the message I want to take from Scotland is this.
Not only do fair votes deliver representative government on a national scale.
But fair votes work in local government too.
We’ve got that concession from Labour.
It’s going to happen in Scotland.
We’ve had it for many years in Northern Ireland.
And when it’s implemented in Scotland, I believe that Labour will have to concede the logic of having it in England and Wales.
It used to be said that the Tories used Scotland as a test-bed for their most unsavoury policies.
To see just how much they could get away with.
Remember the Poll Tax.
Well it’s going to be different this time round.
Changes will be made in Scotland that work so well, and are so popular, that the rest of Britain will be crying out for them.
Of course, our mission to be a serious party of government,
making a difference,
doesn’t end in these islands.
If I’m a Highlander, a Scot, and a Briton, I’m also a European.
That’s why I was delighted to give our party’s support to the launch of the Britain in Europe campaign on Wednesday.
That was quite a gathering.
The Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary, Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine.
All on one platform.
Representing the mainstream of British politics.
What a contrast to the rag-tag bunch of yesterday’s men and women the eurosceptics will gather when we have a referendum on the euro.
Margaret Thatcher, Tony Benn, Ian Paisley, Norman Tebbit,
Just William – yesterday’s man before his time.
Those of there on the Britain in Europe platform,
Together with business people, trade unionists, and voluntary organisations across Britain,
Have begun an unstoppable campaign.
A campaign that will once and for all change the way that Britain thinks about Europe.
You know, for me, the name Britain in Europe says it all.
Britain can’t be anywhere else.
Britain is in Europe.
We are part of its rich culture and heritage.
We are part of its history.
The eurosceptics like to talk about 800 years of Britain’s independent history.
But we have an equally long and proud history of constructive engagement in Europe.
Go back even to the Middle Ages.
When the east coast had far closer links with the Low Countries by sea, than it did with the rest of Britain.
Those trading contacts began an 800 year long story of Britain in Europe.
Of cultural dialogue.
Of shared values.
Of common struggles.
It’s a story of music, and art, and literature.
Of blood spilt by Britain and France on Flanders fields to save the continent from tyranny.
A story of a fifty year mission, through the European Union, to ensure that Europe is never again ravaged by poverty, unemployment and war.
For the future, we have a new mission.
To explain why Britain is in Europe.
To explain that it is good for British business.
Good for British jobs.
Good for British people.
People need to know that thanks to Europe, we've got progress on paternity leave
Thanks to Europe we've got progress on equal pay for men and women,
It was thanks to Europe that the invalid care allowance was eventually given to married women.
So it is patriotic to be pro-European.
With colleagues in other parties, and people in none,
It will be a personal priority to take this message to the country.
At the same time, I want all of us here to hit the eurosceptics hard,
To put them under the spotlight.
We all know how destructive withdrawal from Europe would be for Britain.
That is why we must ensure that the British people reject the views of anti-Europeans.
There’s a clear question to put.
When you talk about renegotiating treaties, will you admit that you are advocating either British withdrawal from Europe, or at least disengagement by 90%?
That’s the reality of the case.
And it needs to be shown up for what it is.
The penalties for staying on the sidelines are too great to risk.
Not only will we lose out in Europe, but we will risk losing influence throughout the world.
On this case, I am always struck by the comment made by the former US Ambassador to Britain, Raymond Seitz:
"If Britain’s voice is less influential in Paris or Bonn, it is likely to be less influential in Washington."
To hear some eurosceptics speak you’d think that America was waiting to welcome us as an equal partner if only we would leave the EU.
That’s utter nonsense – 51st state stuff.
If we can point out the problems in the Conservative case.
we will be doing much to show the country that we are a serious party of government.
And why the Conservatives are not.
They have lost touch with the people.
They have lost touch, when we are reconnecting with the people of Britain.
We are doing that by starting to involve more of our members in decision-making.
I began my first conference speech as leader by praising the way we did that – one member, one vote.
Well I would, wouldn’t I?
I was very happy with how it worked out.
But it wasn’t just me.
All the candidates thought it worked well.
And that’s why I announced that the federal party would be looking at ways of spreading one member one vote.
More democracy for our members.
So that they can have a bigger say in the way the party is managed.
You will all be hearing more of that during the year to come.
Because I am determined that the federal party takes more notice of what you are want.
That’s the way to persuade the public that we hear their concerns.
That we will empower communities.
That we trust people to decide their own futures.
That Liberal Democrats want to win power so that we can give it away to the people.
That is what we are doing in Scotland.
Liberal Democrat MSPs.
Liberal Democrat ministers.
A Liberal Democrat Deputy First Minister.
All making a difference.
All showing what a Liberal Democrat government is like.
What it can do.
Scotland stands today as a shining example of the new politics.
Government close to the people.
Parties working together.
Recognising that people from different traditions can learn from each other.
That they can sometimes be greater than the sum of their parts.
This conference is a first for me.
My first as leader.
But it is also the first time that a federal leader has addressed the party in government.
As I lead the Liberal Democrats in Britain as a whole, I will have one eye always on Scotland.
Because you are doing so well,
and because you offer an example to our colleagues throughout Britain.
Scotland has waited long for the chance it now has.
Our party has waited too.
Now the wait is over.
Do your best for Scotland.
And show the rest of Britain how it’s done.
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