David Cameron: Stronger Together, Weaker Apart
David Cameron's Speech to Scottish Conservative Party Conference, Friday May 23, 2008
"It's great to be here in Ayr. This is a town with a special place in the hearts of Conservatives. Ayr was ably represented for so many years by that great Scottish Tory, George Younger. It is also the home base of one of our Party's most redoubtable fighters, Phil Gallie. And it was the scene of a famous by-election victory in 2000 when John Scott won the Scottish Parliamentary seat from Labour.
"Down south it's taken us a bit longer to get the hang of by-elections. But I think you'll agree that in a seat that was labour for 30 years, in the north of England where they said we couldn't win, with a Labour campaign that threw every bit of dirt, class war and scare tactics at us, after the Prime Minister brought forward his entire legislative programme and a mini budget to spend 3 billion of your money to try and save his own skin.
"After all that, when we ended our by election drought - as we did last night in Crewe and Nantwich - we did it in some style.
"I've been keeping a close eye on what's been going on in Scotland. There's certainly a fight going on. And here's the tale of tape as I see it.
"In the blue corner, there's Annabel Goldie. The best performer in Holyrood, unwavering and unstinting, leading a strong and united team, dedicated to standing up for the best interests of Scotland and Scottish people.
"They got extra police, cuts in business rates and more drug rehabilitation. That's the Conservative Party - and Conservative principles - in action.
"And then, in the red corner, there's Wendy Alexander, not exactly steady on her feet …. quite liable to knock herself out.
"First she opposed a referendum on independence. Then she did a u-turn and said "bring it on." Then Gordon Brown u-turned on that u-turn. Then Wendy Alexander u-turned on Gordon Brown's u-turn on the first u-turn.
"You still with this? I'm not. You don't know whether to laugh - or cry. Knowing Wendy, she's doing both.
"So that's it. That's the bout. It's Solid Goldie versus Bendy Wendy. If I was the referee, I'd stop the fight right now.
"This would be funny if it wasn't so serious. Labour think they're being clever. What they've actually done is put the Union under greater threat.
"To play games by calling for a referendum right at the moment when people would take any opportunity to give the most unpopular Government in living memory a good kicking, isn't clever, isn't good politics, isn't defending the Union. It's absolutely reckless - and we should have no part of it.
"And that's what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the future of the Union. And I want to talk about the future of the Conservative Party. And I want to show how these two things are inextricably linked.
"We - the Conservative Party - are a party of the Union and a part of the Union - and we've got to play a leading role in defending the Union - because, heaven knows, Labour won't. And I want to explain what playing our part means. It means continuing what we've started - changing our Party so we can change our country. It means setting our minds to the great challenges both England and Scotland face. Above all, it means recognising that the Conservative Party is at its best when it's talking about - and acting upon - our country's future prosperity and future progress.
"But to start, we've got to be completely frank. The simple truth is that the Union between England and Scotland is under attack as never before. Whether we like it or not, the ugly stain of separatism is seeping through the Union flag. And it's up to serious politicians to put their cards on the table.
"Let me make it one hundred percent clear: I am passionate about the Union. I don't want to be the Prime Minister of England. I want to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom - all of it, including Scotland.
"I absolutely believe we are stronger together, and weaker apart, and I will do anything and everything to keep our two countries as one. And that means addressing one-by-one the deeper questions that are fuelling separatism.
"Now, there are some would simply blame constitutional and economic arrangements between England and Scotland. 'Sort out West Lothian, renegotiate Barnett, and everything will be fine' they say. Sorry, I don't think that's an adequate explanation for the separatism we're seeing today.
"The West Lothian question and Barnett Formula have been around and been debated for decades - don't tell me it's only now that they've lit the separatist touchpaper. Of course, that doesn't mean we should ignore them. It's essential that we find answers to any unfairness in the Union - and to questions of accountability, justice and democracy. And unlike Labour - who sweep it under the carpet and hope it goes away - we will take those questions seriously. I am confident it will be possible to develop an arrangement whereby, when the House of Commons considers matters that affect only English constituencies, it is English MPs who have the decisive say.
"But let me say this: if it should ever come to a choice between constitutional perfection and the preservation of our nation, I know my choice. Better an imperfect union than a broken one. Better an imperfect union than a perfect divorce. My answer is simple: I choose the United Kingdom.
"The Union is in danger for other reasons too. There is, of course, the question of identity. The number of people who think themselves British - ahead of Scottish or English - is in decline. People no longer look to the Union flag for their sense of belonging - they look to the cross of St.George or the Saltire … if anything at all.
"It doesn't have to be like this. Being British is one of the most successful examples of inclusive civic nationalism in the world. We can be a shining example of what a multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multi-national society can and should be. And the challenge now is to renew that sense of belonging.
"It's vital we get this right. As so often, Gordon Brown gets it wrong. He approaches the question of national identity like an advertising exec. So we have citizen's juries - focus groups - to decide what it means to be British. We have a competition to come up with a motto for Britain. And we have the attempt to replace the National Anthem.
"It all goes to show: Gordon Brown's view of Britishness is mechanical, not organic, it's something to be redesigned, repackaged and relaunched by Whitehall, not something which lives in our hearts.
"He talks about British values - liberty, fair play, openness. He's right, but these are general, unspecific, almost universal. What the Prime Minister's response lacks is the emotional connection with the institutions that define Britishness. These institutions are the vital part of what it means to be British.
Our armed forces.
"I have to say to the Prime Minister, you don't stand up for Britishness when you weaken our Army by destroying the Scottish regiments. And you don't stand up for Britishness when you undermine our Houses of Parliament by passing more and more power to Brussels without giving people the referendum you promised. Britishness is a matter of instinct, not calculation, and the sooner we have a Government that is willing to stand up for, and take pride in, that instinct then the sooner we can fight the forces of separation.
"But let us also acknowledge this truth. We will serve neither our Party's interest - nor the Union's interests - if we think this is enough. The Conservative Party is, and always has been, a party of the Union. Its fortunes are wrapped in ours. When we succeed - the Union succeeds. In the 1950s, when the Conservative Party was at its strongest in Scotland, the Union was at its strongest.
"But when we fail - we weaken the Union. You know what I mean. I don't want to stand here and talk about the mistakes that were made in the 1980s - I've said it before and that's all in the past. But let's recognise - for the strength of our Union - that it's vital that we succeed again now. And I'm one hundred percent clear about how our Party has always succeeded - and will succeed.
"Yes, we're a party of the centre-right - of enterprise, of families, of self-reliance, common sense and practicality. But that's not enough. We really succeed when we're the party of everyone - rich, poor, young, old, urban, and rural. And most of all, we really succeed when we're the party of the future - the party of progress.
"Just think about it: when has our Party served Britain best? It's when we have relentlessly pursued progressive ideals. We're the party of Wilberforce, who brought down slavery. We're the party of Peel, who took on vested interests, repealed the corn laws and brought cheap food to everyone. We're the party of Disraeli, who spoke of One Nation, stood up for the poor and cleared the slums. We're the party of Churchill, Macmillan and Eden who took on fascism across the continent, and built and sold homes to create a property-owning democracy. And we're the party of Margaret Thatcher, who rejected decline, refused to live in the past and who freed up our economy and stood up for aspiration for all.
"And that spirit, that determination, that drive to be on the side of progress, on the side of freedom, on the side of giving everyone the opportunity to make the most of their lives is what should fire us in the 21st century too. Not only because it will make our Union stronger - by joining everyone into a shared purpose of fighting our social ills. Not only because it is the right thing to do - because a country where someone's life story is written before they are even born is a tragedy for us all. But because history - because social, technological and economic change - is on our side.
"We have both the will - and the means. In the twenty-first century - the century of opportunity, of the information revolution, where people have and want more power and control over their lives - progressive ends will best be met through conservative means.
"Let me explain what I mean. Take fighting poverty. No one can deny Labour's sincerity when it comes to erasing poverty from our land. And it would be churlish to say they haven't achieved anything. Giving low paid people more money through tax credits has helped lift many out of poverty. But for too many it's been about taking people from just below the poverty line to just above it - and when there's 600,000 more people in severe poverty now than there were in 1997, it's clear Labour's methods have run their course.
"What we've got to do now is get to grips with the persistent causes of poverty - not just the symptoms. We've got to tackle head on the family breakdown, the drug addiction and the debt which traps people into a life of deprivation. And how can we do that? Through Conservative means.
"Using our tax system to help make Britain the most family-friendly place on Earth, so young kids get the best and most loving start in life. Reforming our welfare system so people out of work really get the help they need to get off benefits - and yes, some pretty tough sanctions so that anyone swinging the lead can't live a life on welfare if they're able to work. Tackling the causes of poverty means sorting out our prisons so we focus not just on sentencing but also rehabilitation, giving people the chance to move away from a life of addiction, poverty and crime to one of hope and opportunity. And it means recognising that in all these areas; voluntary bodies, charities, social enterprises - they aren't the third sector - they are often the first and best sector….
"See what I mean? Progressive ends. Conservative means.
"What about the key progressive aim of protecting our environment? As Conservatives, this comes naturally to us. Passing on an inheritance to future generations is what we're about. So how are we going to do it? Of course, there's a role for government to set the framework, establish the targets for carbon reduction and lead by example - especially internationally. But leave this to Labour, and you'd think this was it. The truth is, real environmental transformation will only come when we harness the Conservative means to that progressive end. Setting a price for carbon in our economy. Creating a market so our best businesses and best minds come up with the products and services that will transform our environment and our economy. Creating incentives and profits for innovation and research - so we lead the green revolution like we did the industrial one a century and a half ago. When Conservatives look out from Aberdeen, we don't see depleted North Sea oil fields we see the ideal location for Carbon Capture and Storage, so we secure our energy supplies, protect our planet and lead the world in the new technology.
"See what I mean? Progressive ends. Conservative means.
"And what about the most fundamental progressive ideal of all? Equal opportunity and real social mobility. The idea that no one should be imprisoned by the circumstances of their birth. The idea that you can go from the very bottom to the very top. We all know that outside the home the real engine of social mobility are schools.
"And again, let's not dismiss Labour's record. Our schools needed investment and they gave it. But the approach that says - it's just money plus endless central direction has run its course. The Chief Inspector of Schools told us this much in plain terms, education standards have stalled.
"So what's the answer? It's time to open up the state monopoly to new providers, to new ideas and new pioneers - so that people with a passion for giving children the best opportunities can set up new schools. It's time to recognise that every child is different so they should be taught according to their ability, with setting in every school. It's time to make every Headteacher the captain of their ship, so they can really create disciplined and ordered learning environments.
"See what I mean? Progressive ends. Conservative means.
"This is why it's so exciting to be a Conservative right now. Not because we're doing well in the polls - though, of course, that's good. Not because we've got the strongest team in Parliament - though, of course, we have. But because we're coming up with the plans to help with the cost of living, to take up the fight against crime, and to really reform and improve our public services. Because we're leading the intellectual agenda. Because we're winning the battle of ideas.
"And it's absolutely vital that we lead that agenda and win this battle in every corner of the United Kingdom - including right here, in Scotland. At the moment, Scottish people have no choice.
"On the one side is the establishment Labour Party, offering big state solutions and endless interference into peoples' lives. And on the other side is the disestablishment SNP, making up for rhetoric on the dismemberment of the Union what they lack in intellectual coherence on any other subject.
"What Scotland is crying out for is a strong, sensible and moderate centre-right party. A Party that says yes, we're for the Union - for England and Scotland together as one. A Party that says yes, we back families, we'll take the fight to crime and we'll always remember that it's your money, not ours, that we're spending. But also a Party that stands up for progressive ideals, like tackling poverty, unlocking social mobility and protecting our planet. We can be that party. For the sake of the Union - we must be that party.
"So, to Alex Salmond, I say this. I know you've got a plan. I know you think a Conservative government at Westminster will ignore what Scotland wants and needs, and that you will use such claims to promote your separatist agenda.
"Well, think again. We've got the vision. We've got the ideas And we've got the ambition. And to the people of Scotland, I make this guarantee. Whatever the outcome in Scotland of the next General Election, a Conservative Government will govern the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, with respect. Whoever is Scotland's First Minister, I would be a Prime Minister who acts on the voice of the Scottish people, and will work tirelessly for consent and consensus so we strengthen the Union.
"As we already are with the Calman Commission, we will work to see how the devolved settlement can be improved upon so it builds on what we have, takes it forward and continues to deliver for the people of Scotland.
"So after we've just won our first by-election victory in a quarter of a century. In a constituency which had been Labour for sixty years and in which no one gave us a hope. At a time when people said that the Conservatives couldn't do the North.
"Now is the time for us - the Conservative Party - to stand up and say there really are no no-go areas for us anymore. Right here, in Scotland, we can be the force that defends the Union. We can be the force that delivers on progressive ideals. We can be the force that makes Scotland - makes the United Kingdom - stronger, richer and fairer. We can be. We must be. And, together, renewed, rejuvenated, reinvigorated by our great success this year, we will be.
Trackback URL for this post:
I thought that Alex Salmond's victory speech was very good, it showed humility and avoided triumphalism, by which method he managed to make Cameron's Unionist grandstanding seem rather shallow:
I believe the SNP won this election because Scotland wants t