Douglas Alexander – 2012 Speech to Scottish Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, to the 2012 Scottish Labour Party conference on 2nd March 2012.


It is good to be with you here today.

It is customary to begin these speeches with an amusing story. But today I want to begin, instead, with a heartfelt tribute.

Last Saturday, Thomas Watters, a Glasgow Corporation bus driver, passed away at the age of 99.

Thomas was the last Scottish Member of the International Brigade. He worked alongside the 4,000 men of the British Battalion, who in 1936, went from these islands to defend the cause of democracy in Spain.

He didn’t go as a fighter, he went as an ambulance man.

For others – the thread workers in the mills of my own Paisley Constituency – solidarity was expressed through financial and material support given willingly to their brothers and sisters in the factories of Barcelona.

From this platform today, let us pay tribute to Thomas Watters, to his fellow members of the International Brigade, and to those here at home who stood in solidarity against the tide of fascism.

Let us pay tribute because Thomas’ heroism reminds us that our story and the struggles of Scotland’s working people have long been interwoven with the stories of working people from across these islands.

But Thomas’ courage should also remind us that for, our movement, the claims of our shared humanity, and solidarity have always extended furth of Scotland.

Now there’s an old saying that charity begins at home. But that has never been Scottish Labour’s creed.

Think of Labour in the City of Glasgow – embracing Nelson Mandela in the 1980s.

Think of the tireless work of Gordon Brown to write off the debts of the world’s poorest countries in the 1990s.

Think of the Gleneagles Summit in 2005 when a Labour Government led the world by demanding that climate change and global poverty be at the top of the international agenda.

Internationalism – never nationalism – has always been our lodestar.

It’s not just about what we believe. It’s about who we are:

My mother worked as doctor in the Southern General. My father was a Parish Minister in Renfrewshire.

But like millions of their fellow Scots, my parents horizons were never limited to one community or one country.

My mother was born in China – the child of Scottish Medical Missionaries. My father graduated from Glasgow University one week but the next week travelled to New York and worked amidst the poverty of East Harlem.

So when nationalists say to me that being part of Britain cuts Scotland off from the world, I say to them: That’s not my Scotland.

And when they suggest that we’d be better to just ignore the struggle of others and instead look out for ourselves, I say again: That’s just not the Scotland I belong to.

And even if Scotland ever did succumb to such an outlook – the world is heading in the opposite direction.

From the Eurozone Crisis to the Environment, from Export Markets to Mass Migration, interdependence – not independence – is the hallmark of our age.

So, if we can’t escape from that interdependent world we have to ask ourselves: How best we can influence our world in the service of our ideals?

Let us say confidently and clearly:

There is nothing “positive” or “progressive” in retreating from the world.

And if the objective is engaging with the world, then there is nothing ‘anti-Scottish’ in acknowledging these facts:

If we want to advance international cooperation: Britain has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. A separate Scotland would not.

If we want to strengthen our collective security: Britain has a permanent seat on the Council of NATO. A separate Scotland would not.

If we want to engage the emerging economies: Britain has a permanent seat on the G20: A separate Scotland would not.

If we want to tackle disease and poverty: Britain has a permanent seat on the Board of the World Bank. A separate Scotland would not.

If we want to regulate the global financial markets: Britain has a permanent seat on the Board of the IMF. A separate Scotland would not.

As proud Scots, we may feel there’s ‘no where better’.

But we also know that there‘s something bigger.

And in the coming century our influence would be diminished, and our global reach more limited without the British Connection.

And in the months ahead it will be up to Scottish Labour, to every person in this room, and every one of us in our Party to make the case that Scotland stands taller on the world stage as part of Britain.

We are stronger together, and we’d be weaker apart.

Under Johann’s leadership we must challenge narrow nationalist politics and expose the aching gulf between the nationalist’s rhetoric and the reality experienced by the rest of us.

Take my community in Renfrewshire, where 23 unemployed people are today chasing every vacancy in the local job centre.

And here in Dundee, almost 6,000 unemployed people are competing for fewer than 400 jobs.

Every time I do my surgery I listen to the people behind these numbers – people who are crying out for help and support to make the best of who they are.

Conference, we understand that it’s not aspiration that’s lacking in our communities today – it’s opportunity.

It’s work. It’s jobs.

But what is the Nationalists’ response to this jobs crisis?

Are the Nationalists busy providing jobs or skills to the young people in Paisley or young people here in Dundee?

No. They boast about free education, but have slashed the budget of our local FE colleges, like Reid Kerr, by £54 million.

Are they protecting the vital local services that help Scottish families through tough times?

No. They’ve increased charges, sacked staff, and slashed teacher numbers.

That is why May’s elections matter. It’s why this week I’ve been out on the doorsteps in Renfrewshire with our local council candidates.

And it’s why, in the weeks ahead, we must all be urging and asking voters to support Scottish Labour on May 3rd.

Because our communities need Labour Councillors providing not just good value, but good values.

Defending services. Upholding fairness. Protecting the vulnerable.

Just as in the 80s it now falls to Labour councillors to be the last line of defence for our communities.

The last line of defence against a Tory Government with policies tearing our society apart, and a Nationalist Government determined to tear our country apart.

We face a Nationalist Government weak in principle but strong in purpose.

And, as a party, we have to understand how we find ourselves in this position, if we are to break its dynamics and so generate a different outcome.

The origins of our defeat last May were deep, not recent. And they demand an honest and painful reckoning.

Too many saw us as being more Anti-Nationalist than Pro-Scottish.

Too many saw us as a party of tribalists not a party of thinkers.

Too many felt Scotland had changed, and that Scottish Labour had not.

So here, in Dundee, our task, as a Party, is to demonstrate, by our words and deeds, that we are motivated by a sense of pride, passion, and possibility for Scotland.

With Johann’s leadership that task of renewal is now underway.

So, true to our history and alive to contemporary currents, we must be open minded on how we can improve devolution’s powers, including fiscal powers, but be resolute in our rejection of separation.

Working with other parties, with local communities and with civic Scotland – as the authors of Devolution, we must be both the defenders and developers of Devolution.

And let us tell the Nationalists with a quiet confidence that they can bully, they can bluster and they can boast, but on the issue of separation: They do not speak for Scotland.

To the Nationalists I say this: You can try and delay the Scottish people’s choice. But you will not change the Scottish people’s verdict.

At our best, Scottish Labour has been the party of not just constitutional but, also of economic and social renewal.

These are the tasks to which we must dedicate ourselves under Johann’s leadership.

But that renewal requires the contribution of each of us.

One more heave would simply guarantee one more defeat. And then another. And then another.

The threats to Scotland are too great, and the risks too real, for Scottish Labour to settle for a quiet life of decline and defeat.

We need to change and change radically – not to disavow our deepest beliefs, but to become a better expression of them.

We need to change how we identify and select our candidates, how we organise and fund our campaigns, and how we develop and communicate our policies.

We need to change so that people across Scotland who share our values but would not now consider standing as a Labour candidate will change their mind and say: That is where I want to be, and who I want to stand with.

To fail to embrace these changes would be to abdicate our responsibility to the very people and the very communities we came into politics to serve.

Remember this: Scottish Labour’s past success was not inevitable.

And neither is Scottish Labour’s future recovery.

We have to earn it.

And if we need inspiration in that endeavour then let us remind ourselves:

When Keir Hardie and the Trade Unions founded our Party they started without power, without money, and without influence.

And when, in recent times, we selected candidates of the calibre of Alistair Darling, Sam Galbraith, and Brian Wilson, and Helen Liddle they began in opposition, but in time were judged not just worthy of Government, but truly a credit to Scotland.

In their day Smith, Cook, Brown and Dewar did not feel entitled to Govern. They felt called to serve.

They stood up for their beliefs, just as, in a different time, Thomas Watters stood up for his.

So let it be said of this Party, gathered in Dundee:

We had the insight to understand, and the courage to change.

For it is only by embracing change that we can prove ourselves, once more, worthy of our Nation’s trust.

That is our urgent task.

That is our solemn duty.

And, working together, it can be our shared achievement.

Douglas Alexander – 2011 Speech to Nordic Ambassadors


Below is the text of the speech made by Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, made to Nordic ambassadors on 14th November 2011.


It is rare for a Government Minister or an Opposition Spokesman to have the chance to address the representatives of so many countries at one time and I am grateful for the chance to speak to you today.

We gather at a time when the future of the euro in particular, and the future of Europe in general, dominates our headlines.

Britain’s slowdown began at the end of last year, well before the recent eurozone crisis, and is a result of falling domestic demand not events abroad.

But that, the result of George Osborne’s decisions in the early months of this government, only leaves us more exposed to a eurozone slowdown today.

Ed Miliband, the leader of my Party, has been clear in recent days about the urgent and immediate priorities: political clarity in Italy and Greece, an end to the prevarication on the European Central Bank’s role as lender of last resort, and concrete steps to support falling demand.

Today, I would like to look to the longer view and address both how we got here and if we reject withdrawal, what reform agenda for the future we should be pursuing.

The current crises, in part, reflects the fact that Europe’s leaders over recent months have been late to act and only taken action that the market had already priced in.

That has been the short term cause, but in the long term I think something more is at work.

Taking that longer view, it is clear that in the sphere of geo-economics, the global economy has changed fundamentally since the European Union’s architecture was designed in the early 1990s.

It’s equally clear, that in the sphere of geopolitics, Britain’s relationships with the United States and Britain’s membership of the European Union have been the fundamental building blocks of our foreign policy.

Yet today, Britain risks becoming less relevant in both these relationships.

And less relevant in a European Union consumed by the crisis of and consequences of a currency we decided not to join.

Less relevant to a United States weary of ten years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq and now rebalancing its priorities from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The confluence of these dynamics – a changing European architecture, an America looking to Asia rather than Europe and Britain’s separation from the eurozone – mean that the next few years risk seeing a collapse in Britain’s influence abroad.

To prevent that, in Britain we need a new European policy for a new era.

The Conservative Party’s behaviour in the House of Commons in recent weeks will have reminded many of us of the rows over the passage of the Maastricht Treaty that dogged John Major’s Government in the early 1990s.

In those days, European leaders identified a set of problems they wished to see Europe address and, with varying degrees of success, addressing those concerns dominated European thinking until relatively recently.

Passionate anti-Europeanism existed – as was shown by the Tory rebel MPs in 1992 – but it was far more limited than today.

A couple of dozen in 1992, compared to the 81 today.

Then, they were outside the mainstream of the Conservative Party and the country. Today they are the mainstream of the Conservative Party, with over half of the Prime Minister’s backbenchers defying his whip.

To my parents’ generation, the rationale for Europe was establishing peace and stability on the continent after a century scarred by two wars, a cause that had powerful emotional resonance.

For the twenty years after Britain joined the European Community, however, that emotional cause was supplemented by a somewhat drier one: that being part of Europe would help reverse Britain’s post war decline and would help boost our prosperity and productivity.

Jacques Delors’ call in the 1980s for a social Europe aimed at a broader vision, but, despite all the rhetoric, welfare safety nets have to a very large degree remained a part of the national, not the European, debate in each member state.

It is also fair to acknowledge that Britain’s rising prosperity during the long boom that began in the 1990s contributed to a growing sense of national self confidence.

Suddenly: Britain was growing faster while others were accused of being sclerotic.

So in Britain, the foundations of the traditional pro European case where under sustained pressure long before the current crisis.

And Britain was not alone in witnessing rising concerns about Europe. For different reasons, on left and right, the accusation of a democratic deficit was heard across the European Union.

One response to this rising scepticism however, not only failed but, certainly in this country, actually heightened suspicions about the intentions of Europe’s institutions.

The push for anthems, flags and the apparent aping of the symbol of nationhood left the impression of a half built superstate and provided a rallying point for Europe’s opponents.

I want to suggest today that after years of fighting to defend the ideas and institutions of Europe against attacks from the eurosceptic right, it would be familiar but fatal to retreat to the same old arguments and begin the battle anew.

For pro-Europeans, we have to recognise that those of us who see Britain’s national interest as best served within the European Union, a defence of the status quo simply isn’t good enough.

Compare two ICM polls ten years apart.

Today, according to one poll, 49 per cent would vote to get Britain out of Europe, against just 40 per cent who would prefer to stay in.

When ICM asked a slightly differently worded question in May 2001, by 68 per cent to 19 per cent the public indicated Britain should remain a member, a 49 percentage point lead for the pro-Europeans.

Rather like Labour in the 1980s, there is a tendency amongst some pro-Europeans to blame the press, or even blame the voters, for the fact support has been haemorrhaging.

Amongst some, there’s even a tendency – familiar to anyone who witnessed Labour travails in the 1980s – to say, people keep rejecting pro-European propositions, because they aren’t proposed in a pro-European enough way.

But simply shouting louder is not – and will not be – a winning strategy.

In truth, there were a lot of facets to this disenchantment: from the collapse of Tory pro-Europeanism to the wrangling in both Conservative and then Labour Governments over successive treaty changes.

And the question of referenda has come to symbolise it to a great degree.

It is still my view that the Labour Government took the right decision on the Lisbon Treaty, which with the British opt-outs, represented fairly limited changes to Britain’s relationship with the European Union when compared with its predecessors.

The Lib Dems would agree with me, the Tories wouldn’t.

I would also say that some of the red-lines at Lisbon were hard won by British negotiators and that when we have a choice in the future on whether to maintain them, such as our privileged position in deciding whether or not to opt-in to European Justice and Home Affairs decisions, we should defend them.

But leave questions of whether we shouldn’t have held a referendum and look simply at the fact that we didn’t.

The political legacy of that episode, which pro-Europeans must acknowledge, was to heighten the public’s concerns about the European Union.

But even if we never promised another ounce of European integration, being the Party intent simply on defending today’s European status quo would be wrong for Labour and wrong for Britain.

So there is a strong political case for not being simply the defenders of the status-quo.

But I also believe that, returning to those three 1990s concerns, there is a policy case for examining how relevant they appear today?

On economic harmonisation, much of the whole Western world is today in-sync, but in-sync around slow growth or stagnation, with Britain’s recovery slowing to a standstill.

On social protection, the race to the bottom happened not within Europe but across the world – and now it is matched by an equally furious race to the top on everything from hi tech manufacturing to software engineering.

And as Europe and the US have stumbled after the financial crisis, Brazil, India and China have caught up even faster and now look more robust than many countries in the West.

Meanwhile the question of legitimacy isn’t limited to unelected officials in Brussels.

Hostility towards elected politicians today reflects a deeper frustration about the capacity of elected representatives to affect the increasingly global forces that today are shaping our economies and societies.

If President Obama had to fight hard to win the argument on the debt ceiling and still can’t pass a Bill for American jobs, can we really be surprised that Chancellor Merkel struggles to persuade her voters that Germany needs to stand behind other eurozone members?

These are days of danger and risk for both the British and the European economy. It is a time for leadership – indeed statesmanship.

Yet, during this eurozone crisis, much of the Conservative Party has done a good impression of acting like a tribe of entomologists enthusiastically noting the arrival of a plague of locusts into their own neighbourhood.

Just two weeks ago, as Tory backbenchers heckled their own former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, it struck me that the struggles of any sensible voice in the Conservative Party to be heard today looked similar to the struggles of moderates Republicans in the United States to be heard in the over the noisy demands of the Tea Party movement.

But how should we respond to an era of little growth, little public money and little sense of shared purpose across the continent?

In my view, it is not in Britain’s national interest for our national discourse to be dominated by concerns about the reach of Brussels as we enter an era of international economics defined by the rise of Beijing.

So it seems to me there are two dominant arguments that still resonate in terms of Britain’s European Union membership.

The first is on access to the Single Market, and being a powerful voice in shaping the rules by which it is governed To cut ourselves off from a market of 500 million people generating £10 trillion pounds wouldn’t just say we had lost faith in Europe, it would say we had lost faith in the ability of British companies to ever outcompete, out innovate and out-think their European competitors.

Only those who want to compete on low skill, low value added production can argue that having access to the markets without a voice in shaping the rules would be sufficient for Britain.

If you compete in areas like law, business services, financial services, medical technology, education, creative industries – all of these businesses need to be underwritten by laws on common standards, educational property and competition.

Every country, of course, will be pressing for the deal on those laws that best serves their own people.

And if we aren’t in the room we won’t get a set of rules that work for the UK.

But the second argument that I find still works is the idea that, in an era of billion-person countries and trillion dollar economies, we need to find ways to amplify our voice if we are going to be heard.

As the United States shifts its attention to the Pacific, we will need to work even harder with our European allies to preserve security in Europe and its neighbouring regions.

And again, to be able to export, say, British creative industries, we need to have a strong enough voice to be listened to by players as big as the Chinese Government on issues like intellectual property.

And that is most likely to happen when the Chinese are negotiating with a £10 trillion economy rather than a £1.5 trillion economy. It is clear that the only way to change the rules of the game with these large emerging economies is to work with our European partners. Only then will we prise open markets in these countries. With WTO negotiations stalled, the EU continues to be a vital to opening new markets.

So if one of the two core reasons why we’re in the EU is to have access to the Single Market and have a role in its policymaking process, what does that mean for our European policy?

The first point is that, contra to what was thought in the 1990s but evidenced by our thirteen years in government, it is possible to be full member of the Single Market without being a member of the single currency.

In the 1990s, Labour’s policy was that we wanted to be in, but it would depend on the economic reality and a referendum vote.

More than a decade on that economic reality endures – that it is not in Britain’s interest to join a single currency.

There is no need to be dogmatic on these questions, future generations of politicians may find that the circumstances have changed, although there would still need to be a referendum in my view.

But as in the past, in the future, the economics will transcend the politics in Labour’s approach – and that means joining the single currency is not on Labour’s agenda.

In the 1990s, the political argument was advanced, if you don’t join the single currency you won’t have influence in Brussels.

Today, you hear a not dissimilar argument.

Europe will form a club within a club, so the argument runs, that pursues German levels of regulation or French levels of state involvement in the economy to the exclusion of Britain.

Some opponents of Europe in Britain secretly welcome this prospect – in the hope that it puts us on a conveyor belt to withdrawal.

Meanwhile, some proponents of the European dream say, yes, good – that’s what was planned all the way back from the Coal and Steel Community and enlargement was simply a decade long diversion.

I don’t think it has to be that way.

For a start, Germany and France are wrestling with a crisis in their currency that has already prompted a downgrade even in powerful Germany’s growth forecasts.

There is at least a possibility that German and French leadership in Europe will be focussed in the coming years on holding together the single currency, not holding back the single market.

And, in circumstances of low growth across Europe, there is also a scenario that, rather than all unifying around a Franco-German model, Euro and non-Euro members will continue to have a heterogeneous set of views on the single market.

I genuinely believe that British engagement, whether it is committed and sustained or whether it is focussed on the appeasement of domestic hardliners, could tip the scales one way or the other.

But going into those discussions, what should be Britain’s approach on the specifics?

Non-tariff barriers that prevent trade between the UK and the EU keep it at almost half the level it would be according to one study.

Completely removing those obstacles could translate into a 7 per cent increase in incomes per head in the UK according to the UK Business Innovation and Skills department.

Now that may be too big an aspiration, but by focussing on services, especially the digital economy, and energy, I think we can deliver some very big wins for British companies and British consumers and for companies and consumers in your countries.

I do not believe that there needs to be any significant transfer of power from Westminster to Brussels in the next Parliament in order to achieve our single market goals.

If there were to be such a significant transfer, it would now, by law, require a referendum.

I would rather that the coming years were not remembered for inward looking institutional naval gazing, but if – as seems likely – negotiations on European structures are to begin again, we should be clear in how we approach them.

Europe should reformed for the post global financial crisis world and the lodestar on which we should make judgements is what they will mean for jobs and prosperity in the UK.

The Conservatives have stated that repatriation is their overriding priority. They do so with little support from their Liberal partners, and less support from their European partners.

At the same time, they seem worryingly complacent at the prospect of a two speed Europe – an outcome, incidentally, that Conservative and Labour foreign secretaries have spent decades opposing.

Such an outcome would pose fundamental risks – not only to the UK’s financial services industry but more broadly to our interests within the Single Market.

A better way forward would be to engage now with the reality that Germany is seeking treaty change that enforces greater discipline within the eurozone and seize this opportunity to safeguard the rights of non-euro members.

Within that challenging but realisable agenda for reform, of course the issue of the present balance of powers can be considered, but to suggest at this time that repatriation should be Britain’s overriding priority – and to start these negotiations by threatening vetoes – reveals a Government that miss reads profoundly the risks and the realities of the present situation.

Pragmatism, not dogmatism, and a hard headed view of Britain’s national interests should be the hallmark of Britain’s approach to the coming negotiations.

For it is only on that foundation that we have a real opportunity to achieve the fundamental and necessary reforms to, for example, the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, the way that the EU budget is spent.

From the unnecessary second home of the European Parliament downwards, Britain should also have the explicit goal of opposing wasteful spending that particularly undermine Europe’s credibility at time when national governments are taking austerity measures.

It would certainly not be Labour’s goal, in any upcoming negotiations, to get rid of the Social Chapter as the Government have argued.

If this Government were to scrap the social chapter, I think many people would see it as an attempt, not to limit the rights of Brussels but to limit the rights of working people in Britain.

There is, however, also a second argument that I find still works for British membership of the EU: That in an era defined by the emerging powers like India, Brazil and China, Britain needs to find ways of amplifying our voice through cooperation.

In the Libyan crisis, we discovered that although the United States is still our closest ally– and will provide support for our security – they expect us to take the lead in defending the security of our neighbourhood.

As Hilary Clinton recently argued in Foreign Policy Magazine, “As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point…One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will be to lock in a substantially increased investment – diplomatic, economic, strategic – in the Asia-Pacific region”.

The Government’s focus on bilateral mercantilism is not succeeding in its own terms, as criticisms in from bipartisan Select Committee reports show and it is fundamentally undermined by its heroic assumption that British prestige alone will win policy concessions and new business in emerging markets.

A bilateral relationship, however warm, between an economy the size of the UK’s and an economy the size of, for example, China, will never be enough to influence that country’s domestic policy in the way that a UK business needs or quickly bring an emerging power to the table in international negotiations, whether on trade, aid or climate change.

Economically, it would leave the UK trying to compete only on those good and services that aren’t affected by the domestic policy of the countries we wish to export to – chiefly low-value manufactured goods that have not provided the UK with prosperity in recent decades.

That is why the Government should make it a top priority to work with Berlin and Paris on a common strategic approach towards China.

We should also build on the Franco-British defence deal and try to work to ensure that defence spending in other EU member states is directed in ways that does not degrade Europe’s capacity to act in the world.

Of course, that doesn’t mean dropping a distinctive British foreign policy.

For example, over Libya, Germany didn’t agree with the British and French position.

But on Syria, thanks in part to the work of Cathy Ashton, who I worked alongside in the British cabinet, European cooperation on sanctions has been possible and vital.

But it should be a role based on finding consensus and maintaining focus on issues where a European cooperation is vital – such as the E3+3 process regarding Iran and the Quartet process regarding Israel and Palestine.

There is a choice involved in deciding whether to try – whenever we can – to present a united European front.

And where we have shared goals, from climate change negotiations to tacking cross border crime and human trafficking, working together in Europe makes global agreements more likely.

But there is also a choice in what strategies we pursue within Europe to develop those common positions.

Constant talk of vetoes, a tendency to empty chair those meetings that seem to be on the periphery of our interest, only to force ourselves back in – these are strategic choices but they aren’t very good ones.

But we pro-Europeans also need to develop a set of strategies that go beyond a generalised desire for “engagement”.

In finding new partnerships that match Britain’s interests as a global exporter, which may be different from the alliances we need to preserve our single market goals.

For example, while we might disagree with the French on a number of issues of the Single Market, we have the same economic interest in ensuring that Beatles songs aren’t illegally copied in South East Asia as they have in stopping Charles Trenet songs being copied.

In Europe’s broader neighbourhood, as advocates of Turkish accession, we should also be leading efforts to more effectively work with a pre-accession Turkey on diplomatic issues, like Syria, where we have a common cause.

That also means working to strengthen and build formal links with the multilateral institutions such as the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League.

And, outside the European Union, continuing the cooperation between in defence matters between Britain and France – combining hard power strength in a way that provides both countries with soft power advantages.

Faced with backbench pressure, with Coalition disagreements and the very real frustrations that come with multilateral negotiations, I worry that this Government will default to a sidelined role.

Labour need to commit now to say that yes, we know how hard it is to lead in Europe or in any multilateral negotiation – and I say this as a former British representative to the World Trade Organisation Talks and the Copenhagen Climate Talks– but that only wholehearted commitment can achieve what Britain needs.

The challenges of the coming years are real and significant.

If we cling to the assumptions of the past, our influence in Europe will decline along with our credibility with our own people.

Instead, we need to focus on the reasons why, still, Britain’s national interest is served by being an active member of the European Union.

That is a policy which is realistic about what we can achieve alone, but idealistic about what we can achieve together.

Britain has strengths that we should acknowledge, celebrate and deploy.

The only country with a seat at the United Nations Security Council, NATO and the Commonwealth.

A country that is home to the BBC World Service, and a National Health Service that remains a beacon to the world.

And it is by playing a strong and effective role in Europe, we can make the most of those strengths in the years ahead.

Douglas Alexander – 2011 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Douglas Alexander at the Labour Party conference on 26th September 2011.


Thank you for that welcome.


We gather here in Liverpool after a year of extraordinary change across the world.

In the last year, the Arab Spring has seen the downfall of old autocrats and old assumptions.

When Ed Miliband gave me this job in January, an uprising in Tunisia was in the news, but it wasn’t yet on the front pages.

Within days, ordinary people across the Middle East – from Tunis in the West, to Damascus in the East – took to the streets.

When their governments told them to go home they ignored them.

When the batons came out, and then the machine guns, and then the tanks… they refused to retreat.

No one in the West had seen anything like this for a generation.

And so when I later met some of those young people in North Africa, I asked them “why has this wave of change occurred now, after decades of brittle stability?”

And they told me “when you’re looking at satellite TV pictures, or when you see more and more people saying online that they are part of the protests…

“… old friends, even friends in other countries…

“… all refusing to back down… ‘it gives you hope’.”

Ponder those words….”it gives you hope.”

Because that hope has changed history.

Conference, let’s be honest with each other.

Too often in the past, the West has backed stability over democracy in the Middle East.

So I’m so proud that this year, this Party, chose to stand with these young people, and against the old autocrats.

That choice meant I could stand on the street in Tunis a few months ago and look them in the eye.

And it means I can look you in the eye today and say: when there is violence in Syria, in Bahrain, and in Yeman we are on the right side of history.

And so let us say today from this conference to President Assad, we cannot and will not accept your violence against your own people, we will use every diplomatic measure to stop it. You must go, and go now.

But of course the Arab Spring has not changed everything in the Middle East.

So in opposition, as in government, we will continue to stand with and support the cause of negotiated peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

We must stand with the young people in Jericho who want to see an end to illegal settlement building, an end to blockades and, yes, the establishment of an independent viable Palestinian state recognised at the United Nations.

And we must also stand with the young people in Tel Aviv who want to go to a nightclub or get on a bus without fear and want to raise their children in a secure Israel, recognised by its neighbours across the Arab World.

Conference, since accepting this role I have been open in saying that I understand, that the loss of life, and the loss of trust that followed the Iraq war still casts a long shadow.

But in March, when it came to Libya, we debated these issues with another shadow hanging over us: the promise from Colonel Gaddafi to destroy Benghazi – a city larger than Liverpool.

It would have been open to us to say no, this is too hard, it’s not our call, we should leave well alone.

But to allow that to happen would have been wrong: wrong for Libya, wrong for Britain, and wrong for Labour.

With Ed Miliband leading us, we got that judgement right.

So Conference, let us again show our appreciation and respect for the incredible bravery of our British Armed Forces. They risked their lives to save the lives of others.

Their work is, we hope, coming to an end.

So too is the work of Britain’s forces in Afghanistan.

That conflict has been a far longer, far costlier, and far more painful conflict for Britain.

It has been part of an international effort to make Afghanistan more stable and our world more safe.

And after many years of sacrifice Britain’s task now is to manage that transition and ensure that as our forces step back, there are Afghan forces ready to step up.

Conference, our forces have already served in Afghanistan for a decade.

And just this month we remembered the horror of September 11th.

We have witnessed a difficult decade for the world – that began with a terror attack, and that ended with an economic crisis.

So my challenge as your Shadow Foreign Secretary is to set a new course: to develop a new foreign policy for a new decade.

And it is to frame that new approach, when across Europe, parties of the left are losing more elections than we are winning.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the centre left was defeating the right. Now the centre right is defeating the left.

Out of power in Germany. Out of power in France. Out of power in Italy. Out of power in Sweden.

And Labour’s new approach must be built on the understanding that Britain’s strength abroad begins with strength at home.

So we need to set out how Britain can earn its living, and pay its way in the years ahead.

The real question for the new generation isn’t about the reach of Brussels – it’s about the rise of Beijing.

For with power and money moving East, no country has an alternative but to work in partnership with other countries.

Conference, these new challenges are daunting but it is our enduring values that will be our guide.

Our party cards remind us that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.

That means urging decisive action in the eurozone when British exports, British jobs, and British prosperity are all at stake.

That means working to find shared solutions to shared problems from global climate change to global trade.

And that means having a foreign policy that is realistic about what we can achieve alone, but idealistic about what we can achieve together.

Because Conference, I am optimistic about our country’s enduring strengths.

Despite everything, despite the riots, despite the cuts and the deficit and despite the flatlining economy.

Britain today is so much better than its Government.

Britain has strengths that we should acknowledge, celebrate and deploy.

The only country with a seat at the United Nations Security Council, the European Union, NATO and the Commonwealth.

It was Desmond Tutu who said a promise made to the poor is a sacred thing. So I am proud that this is a country, thanks to the path set by Labour, that is on track to meet our aid promise to the world’s poorest people.

A country that is home to the BBC World Service, and a National Health Service that remains a beacon to the world.

Conference, just for a minute pause and consider the history of the great docks in which we stand.

Think of the men and women who worked here and the ships that set sail from here on the Mersey or the Clyde, the Thames or the Tyne.

And then try and tell me we’re a small, inward looking country that should step back from the world.

As a country, we are so much better than that.

In the years ahead it will fall, once again, to our Party to realise that promise.

That is Labour’s responsibility.

That is Labour’s obligation.

And working together, under Ed Miliband’s leadership, that can be Labour’s achievement.


Douglas Alexander – 2009 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Douglas Alexander, the then Secretary of State for International Development, to the 2009 Labour Party conference.


Conference, let me begin my remarks by echoing the words of Bob Ainsworth in paying tribute to the men and women of the British armed forces.

I travelled to Afghanistan, most recently this summer, and I’ve seen for myself their dedication, courage, heroism and yes – their sacrifice.

They do us proud – and conference, they deserve all our thanks.

Now conference, I considered coming to speak to you here today and giving a conventional speech that set out a long list of Labour’s achievements in international development since 1997.

And I am proud of that record.

But instead I decided to do something different – to start with a story:

I met a man in southern Ethiopia at a World Food Programme feeding station. He was waiting for his ration, paid for by the British taxpayer.

I asked him – what was his life like in his village?

He told me, with great sincerity:

“We work hard. We eat little. But we all want a better future for our children.”

Conference, what we have in common with him, are the same values that brought all of us into this party.

Our fundamental belief in the equal worth of every human being.

That we understand that there are values beyond contracts, markets and exchange.

We are a party who hold in the highest esteem the values of solidarity, of mutuality, of co-operation, care and concern.

And as a party we have always understood, that the application of those values cannot and must not stop at our borders.

They in fact call us to show solidarity with those suffering poverty and injustice wherever they may be in the world.

We understand that when markets fail, when injustice persists – we are called upon to act.

Labour will never simply walk by on the other side.

And that is why today, in the face of a tsunami and an earthquake in the Pacific – we stand ready to assist, in whatever way we can.

But conference – I fully understand that we have travelled here from communities across this country – every one of which is being directly affected by the worst global economic downturn in sixty years.

And I know that over the last couple of years in my own constituency, indeed right across Britain – people have seen the cost of buying their weekly shopping, the cost of filling their cars, of heating their homes, of getting a mortgage – go up.

So let us pause, and take a look at each of these crises for a moment.

Food crisis. Fuel crisis. Financial crisis.

What in truth unites them all – is that every one of them represents market failure – and more importantly, that no one government, can adequately address them by acting alone.

They are also, at the deepest level, a stark reminder that our fate and fortunes, here in UK, are now bound together with people in distant lands as never before.

And if the global economic downturn threatens the livelihoods of people here in Britain, I have to tell you conference, we must recognise that it is threatening the very lives of people across the developing world.

In fact, the World Bank is estimating that as a result of the financial crisis as many as 100 million more people across the developing world will be trapped in extreme poverty by the end of next year – enduring an existence on less than .25 a day

So when the threat of global poverty is rising – we will not abandon our efforts to make poverty history.

The Labour Party does not step back – we step up for the fight.

Conference, it was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said that a promise made to the poor is a sacred thing.

And that is why I am so proud, that our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown on Tuesday confirmed that just as we have led the world in legislating for legally binding climate change targets, and have legislated to end child poverty here in the Britain – that we will now legislate to meet the historic 0.7% UN target and meet once and for all our promises to the world’s poorest people.

And conference, why do we do this?

Because each and every day we see the increasing evidence that aid works.

The British people can be immensely proud that our increases in aid, our commitment to debt relief, have in just the last year – ensured that over 100,000 new teachers have been trained, 100,000 have received drugs to tackle HIV/AIDS, almost 7 million anti-malaria bednets have been delivered, and over 3 million children have been vaccinated against measles.

Each one a precious life saved or transformed.

And whatever the cynics say – even they cannot ignore the global progress that has been made.

Before the economic crisis, the number of people living in extreme poverty had fallen from one third of the global population to just a quarter. Real incomes in the developing world have doubled. And in the last decade alone, the number of children in poor countries out of school has dropped by 28 million.

Conference, we can make poverty history.

But conference, I must tell you that the progress we have made is now at serious risk.

For on top of the economic crisis, dangerous climate change threatens to roll back the advances we have made in last decade.

If I have learned one thing over the last couple of years as Development Secretary it is this – that here in the UK we tend to talk about climate change as a future threat.

But in the developing world – in country after country – it’s a contemporary crisis.

Conference, the truth remains that the people with the least responsibility for the present levels of emissions – the poorest people on earth – are being hit first and hit hardest.

Just last month I travelled with my colleague Ed Miliband to Bangladesh to see for ourselves the front line in the battle against climate change.

There we met villagers living on the exposed sandbanks, who told us that rising flood levels from the glaciers melting in the Himalayas now threaten their very existence.

These are people who are showing great tenacity in the face of fundamental changes in their local environment and their way of life – but who without our help could see their livelihoods and their homes – literally swept away.

We must remember those families – and the fact that for them – the seventy days till Copenhagen are not so much a window of opportunity – but literally a window of necessity.

Unless we now tackle dangerous climate change, it will make poverty the future for millions of our fellow citizens on this planet.

So conference, when people tell you there are no great progressive causes left, no great choices – the truth could not be more different.

I want to make absolutely clear to you now – there is no consensus on international development.

There is a world of difference between a party that would simply re-badge the aid budget as climate finance, and a party – our party, the Labour Party – who this year was the first to say that a fair deal on climate change demands additional resources for the world’s poorest people.

There is a world of difference between a party where 96% of its candidates admit that they would not prioritise keeping the aid budget, and a party – our party, the Labour Party –  that would enshrine that promise in the laws of this country.

There is a world of difference between a party who would export privatisation and assisted places to the health and education services of poor countries – and a party, our party, the Labour Party – that has committed to use British aid money to remove user fees and provide strong public services – free at the point of need.

Conference – their party halved the British aid budget – our party is trebling it.

Just a few years ago – I was privileged – along with many of you here today – to hear Nelson Mandela speak in Trafalgar Square – and he challenged the thousands of us who had gathered there that cold February morning.

He said “Sometimes it falls to a generation to be great”

So, what will our generation be remembered for? This is the choice that confronts us.

The fall of the Berlin wall – yes

The rise of the internet – sure.

But why can’t we also be the generation that secures a global deal on carbon?

Why can’t we be the generation that gives every child the chance to go to school?

Why can’t we be the generation that stops children dying from preventable diseases like malaria and diarrhoea – for which we have the cure.

We have the skills. We have the knowledge. We have the technology.

The question is – as it has always been – do we have the political will?

Well conference – I can tell you now – we do.

We are the party who understand this moment in history.

We are the party who have the values and the commitment to deliver.

We are the party who can help make poverty history.

So let us leave this conference strong in our resolve, united in our purpose, and determined to secure a victory.

Not just for the people of this country – but for all of those in need of a just and fairer world.

Douglas Alexander – 2009 Speech to Progress Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Douglas Alexander to the 2009 Progress conference.


Good morning and thank you.

I’m grateful to Progress for organising this conference today. Its often said that politics involves both a battle of ideas and a battle of organisation. Progress as an organisation has been vital to both of those endeavours for the Labour Party over recent years, a nd so let me begin by thankig progress for all of its past work, as well as the organisation of this timely and important conference.

Now this morning – in the finest traditions of webinteractivity, I want to start a discussion with you rather than simply offer a speech. And the three central premises that I want to offer, and which shapes my contribution to our discussion are these…

First, this morning I want to argue that far from being a revolutionary phenomena that has and will change everything I want to suggest that new media is in fact giving fresh impetus to old ideas.

Second, I’m going to argue that we need to use technology not as a means of control but as a tool for empowerment.

And finally, I’m going to argue that the media isn’t the message and that in fact the use of new media is not a substitute for a message that resonates with the public.

But lets start with the political context of today’s conference.

Put bluntly, as we always knew, winning a fourth term for Labour will be difficult but is definitely doable.

As Labour’s General Election co-ordinator, I’m under no illusions about the scale of the challenge we face

The polls at the moment are making for tough reading.

We will have less money to spend on the next campaign than any of the last three.

And after a decade in office, we do not have the numbers of members and activists that we had in the past.

Every election is different. But one thing we can be sure of, is that simply doing more of the same, will not be enough.

And that is a real challenge for us, because most political parties – ourselves included – only manage to innovate effectively in their campaigning after what I call near death experiences.

It’s unlikely we would have managed the scale of change we did between 1992 and 1997 had we not had the spur of repeated defeat.

So our strategy for a fourth term will be a huge test of our will, our appetite, indeed our hunger for the power we need to transform people’s lives. For we need to innovate after success, not defeat.

And here necessity and opportunity meet…for new media is going to be central to in the next election campaign.

And developing new approaches in new circumstances is not new for us – in many watys it has been the hallmark of new labour over the years.

That’s why people like Alistair Campbell, Philip Gould, and politicians like Gordon Brown and Tony Blair almost twenty years ago went over to the States to learn from the Clinton campaign about new ways of campaigning> and they came home with a suitcase full of new tools and techniques that shaped our campaigning for years – the benefits of running a campaign from an open plan war room;

– of using soundbites during media interviews;

– of issuing daily lines to take;

– of rapidly rebutting inaccurate stories, and

– of using pagers to get messages out quickly.

This kind of ‘command and control’ approach to campaigning was a key part of the campaign organisation that Millbank came to embody in 1997.

And to a certain extent we are still victims of our past election success – where too many MPs and candidates have come to rely on the national campaign, led from HQ, to assume the responsibility of securing victory.

So one of our key tasks in the months ahead is to build capacity and to create a culture change across our party and the wider progressive Labour movement.

We need MPs, candidates and local parties – more than ever – to own and feel responsible for the next campaign.

That is surely the essence of ‘Labour 2.0’.

Lets take a moment to understand why this is so possible and so necessary.

New media gives us the chance to reach out to far greater numbers of people, in a far more personalised way.

Ten years ago just one in ten people in the UK used the internet. Today, 75 per cent of people are online – part of a worldwide community of some 1.4 billion.

eMarketer estimates that there are 19.5 million men and 18.6 million women in the UK using the Internet. They project that men will retain their majority for the next five years but as more women aged 55 and older become internet users, the male bias in the UK web population will decrease.

Ofcom says that women aged 25-34 are spending more time online than men.

Men and women alike are increasingly turning away from traditional mass media. Over the last ten years the ratings for the 6 O’clock news have fallen by a third. Newspaper circulation over the same period fell by almost a quarter and the projections are that they will fall further.

In contrast, nine out of 10 graduates have broadband and three-quarters of people under 30 would rather lose their TV than their internet connection.

People aren’t just moving their reading, viewing and listening habits online, they are changing the way they interact with media. Wikipedia would not exist without its 75,000 active contributors, providing articles in more than 260 languages. There is a new blog invented every second.

And at the same time major political parties are seeing traditional forms of membership decline.

Now no doubt like all of us I’m looking forward to hearing what Joe Rospars has to say later… and for me, the Obama campaign, holds powerful lessons in how we could use digital media to campaign.

But amidst all the well earned admiration some have suggested that the Obama campaign has rewritten every rule of political engagement. But I don’t think that’s right.

The Obama campaign’s success was both more partial and more powerful. For when I met a rang of the senior team in Washington last month, they described to me how not everything was different and that in fact they had used emails, text messages and social networking as new channels to pursue old political truths.

Instead of replacing traditional campaigning activities, they used online tools to consciously create a pathway for people to get involved with traditional community activism.

Organising events, knocking on doors, making phone calls.

Because getting people to do these traditional things is still vital to winning the battle of organisation in precincts and wards, in constituencies and countries.

The battle of organisation – new media giving fresh impetus to old ideas

And like in so many other areas of our life, the internet is lowering the barrier to entry in the battle of organisation. Now if you want to organise a local campaign, you don’t need to book the community hall, raise the cash and print the leaflets and then find the caretaker with the key.

New media allows this type of organisation at almost zero cost.

It gives us new tools that help our MPs and candidates to position themselves as the centre of community hubs.

One of our candidates – Stella Creasy in Walthamstow, who is speaking later today – is building her lists of local residents and has managed to collect another couple of hundred this week alone. In all likelihood she couldn’t get 2,000 leaflets delivered each week but she can distribute 2,000 e-newsletters.

The data-capture of those email addresses is what makes cost effective and personalised communication possible. But how we use that data is also crucial.

Every piece of campaign communication needs to show people, not tell people, that our candidates are offering useful resources and helpful information about things that have resonance in the local community.

If our candidates don’t think clearly and carefully about why people would engage with them, either on-line or off-line, it doesn’t matter how stylish their websites are or how open their blogs are to un-moderated comments.

The challenge for progressives is to use the full range of digital tools to advance our causes and build our base. And, perhaps most importantly, to engage with people in a space that they already inhabit.

One of our MPs, in a marginal seat in Kent – Jonathan Shaw, MP for Chatham and Aylesford – has used digital media to support a local campaign to save commuter train services.

He ran passenger surveys and consulted constituents by standing at the train station during rush hour – collecting their comments and email addresses. He then persuaded the Managing Director of the Train Company to agree to come on a train with him and be filmed with Jonathan putting the concerns of his constituents to him.

He then posted the video to YouTube and on his website and emailed everyone who had commented to let them know that the MD had responded to their concerns and that they could watch what he said.

It was a traditional community campaign but it was brought to life by new technology and a great combination of on-line and off-line mediums.

Then there’s Liam Byrne’s ‘Rubbish TV’ – where he uses youtube to highlight the council’s poor refuse collection service. And only the other day, I recorded a film for ‘Derek Wyatt TV’ explaining the Government’s humanitarian response to the crisis in Gaza.

Nationally, we need to learn from this type of local best practice.

For let’s be honest, until the advent of the internet – and particularly social networking – national politics has suffered from a problem of scale. A problem which we met with the blunt instrument of the mass media.

We used interruption communication – forcing our message on people at the time and in the place we felt they would object to it least. Interrupting them on the way to work via a poster, or as they were doing their shopping via a leaflet, or before or after they watched the news via a Party Election Broadcast.

And so one of the many impressive things about the Obama campaign’s social networking site – – was the way it worked as a user friendly tool – providing news of events in members’ local communities. It also provided maps to find local voters and scripts to use in conversation with them. It enabled supporters to organise some 200,000 of their own events – with no central control.

It was a tool that people used to construct their own politics.

It showed that politicians no longer own politics. And I believe that’s a good thing.

By encouraging people with no formal link with the campaign to become advocates, the Obama team lent a power to their message that just can’t be matched by TV ads – word of mouth. And it lent a democratic credence to their candidate.

Trying to buy your way into a social network really does show that they just don’t get it.

Labour’s new media team – led by Sue MacMillan – is currently in the process of overhauling ‘Members-Net’. Once, just a password protected section of our website, it will soon have a full social networking capability that will be compatible with Facebook.

So if activists organise events on Facebook they can seamlessly transfer them to Members-Net and visa versa.

Another new innovation is ‘Labourspace’ – the policy-campaign social networking site which allows people to promote their own campaigns and pitch ideas for our manifesto.

Online phone banking is an innovation that Democrats used to great effect – and its good that Labour has now introduced one of our own. Already, we have hundreds of activists, making thousands of phone calls to voters in the same constituency in which they live. And they’re doing it from the comfort of their own homes.

That’s the future of telephone canvassing. And it’s a long way from my first experience of it in freezing Teamsters hall in North Philadelphia – where I volunteered on the Dukakis campaign back in 1988!

The battle of ideas – new media is not a substitute for a message that resonates with the public.

And my early experience of that losing Dukakis campaign taught me something else as well. Ideas and ideology really matter in politics. Dukakis never really got that. He declared mid campaign that “This campaign is about competence, not ideology…” and he lost.

And the same truth endures today – New media is not a substitute for a message that resonates with the public.

What matters, is the political arguments we make. Not whether we are using Facebook or Twitter but what we are saying both online and offline.

Whether we’re using email or social networking sites…

Whether we’re using surveys, street stalls or surgeries….

It’s about building relationships with voters…

And it’s about showing them how they can get involved in what we’re fighting for.

Because we fight elections not to change Governments but to change lives.

At the start of this Parliament, the Right used single issue campaign groups like the Taxpayers Alliance and the Migration Watch to run down public services and to play on people’s fears. And let’s face it. The Right were the first movers into the online space – using a host of blogs to advance their ideology.

But a lot has changed in recent month not just in the battle of organisation, but also in the battle of ideas… I was struck by how the public conversation was changing last November when I was on the Panel of Question Time in Basildon, and was being shouted at to nationalise the banks!

Since last autumn, fundamental questions have been raised about the right relationship between markets and governments, between economics and politics, between wealth and power. And in this process it is the orthodoxies of the right that have been found wanting.

Across the globe the Right has been disoriented and diminished by both the financial crisis and the global downturn. In the current climate of global economic uncertainty, our progressive ethics of fairness, stewardship and co-operation have returned to the fore.

So I am confident that Britain needs Labour responses today, even more than in 1997. Our Labour values, of solidarity and collectivism are the ones that can ensure that we come through these tough times without leaving behind the most vulnerable in society.

We are still the party of the many, not the few. The right finds itself stranded in the wrong intellectual space. You can’t privatise, deregulate or even nudge your way out of a global financial crisis.

As a response they are now smply echoing public fears but offering no solutions. They have made a tactical political calculation that they can offer a critique without an alternative.

Now the polls at present are certainly reflecting people’s very real anxieties about losing their jobs or their homes during this downturn. But beneath headline voting intentions, polling also reflects that the public can see that without Labour’s action, things would be much, much worse. And they also understand that the right have nothing to offer, other than to oppose our action and let the recession run its course.

These are unprecedented times. None of the political parties have a map for the uncharted waters that lie ahead – but on the centre left, we have a compass

We have done the right thing:

– by protecting people’s savings,

– by giving the economy a shot in the arm,

– by doing all we can to help people keep their jobs and their homes, and

– by working to claw back bonuses from bankers and prevent rewards for failure.

Now we need to keep our values front and centre, as we look to the future.

Because we will get through this recession and we will need a manifesto that builds on our achievements but also sets out a fresh agenda for the next Parliament and the next economic cycle.

Our progressive values must underpin our commitment to a low carbon, technology rich, globally competitive future for our economy

This is a moment of great challenge – domestically and internationally – but one for which the best response are provided by our enduring progressive values

So, in conclusion, lets be clear.

The next election won’t simply be won online.

But new technology is lowering the barriers to entry. It’s making organising cheaper and easier.

And because voting is and will remain a political act, it wont be the communication of the media that can win us the election, but the communication of our message.

Douglas Alexander – 2007 Speech at Chatham House Aviation Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Transport Secretary, Douglas Alexander, at the Chatham House Aviation Conference on 6th March 2007.


Ladies and Gentlemen.

I’m very pleased to be here today alongside such a distinguished international line-up of speakers and delegates – and I’d like to thank the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, for organising such an important event.

I understand that this is the first time that Chatham House has organised a conference focused on international aviation.

Outsiders may well be wondering what aviation has got to do with inter-governmental foreign relations.  And they may be asking why aviation is of more concern to diplomats or foreign ministries than other international businesses?

To answer those questions we need to go back 60 years.

For right or wrong, the system of bilateral air service agreements which sprung up following the signature of the Chicago Convention in 1944 effectively made international aviation a tool of foreign policy.

Traffic rights became a hard-won prize to be gained through diplomatic negotiations between sovereign nations.  For many countries, protecting a weak, often state-owned, national flag carrier from foreign competition became an overriding objective.

Frequencies on a particular route were restricted to the maximum that the weakest carrier could operate.  No-one paid any attention to the needs of the passenger, or the potential of the market.  Too many passengers chased too few seats – at prices that were too high.

And there were other consequences.  As traffic rights became scarce, nations became unwilling to share them with carriers from other countries.

So the whole question of effective ownership and airline control arose.  The only airlines that benefited from a country’s traffic rights were those owned by its citizens.

At least – when most carriers were nationalised – airline ownership was transparent, and easy to understand.

But with global share ownership and the global flow of capital we’re witnessing today, the situation is far more opaque.

Increasingly, control rules have prevented the airline industry from fulfilling its full potential.

And so we continue to pay the penalty for holding on to an outdated system of regulation.

I believe that aviation should be free to operate like any other competitive, globalised business, consistent with high standards of safety and – yes – environmental responsibility.

So I’d like to talk today about the process and politics of the liberalisation of air services, and I hope dispel some of the myths you may have heard about both liberalisation in general, and the British government’s standpoint in particular.

Yesterday I know that you held an interesting and useful session on regulatory open skies.

Open skies – certainly as the United States uses the term – may well help by removing restrictions on routes and frequencies, but we need to go further, because it does nothing to deal with the issue of ownership and control.

The ultimate prize is an open aviation area – such as we have in the European Union today – with all restrictions on operations and investment lifted between participating countries.

And why is this so important?  Well, as IATA’s 2003 policy statement on liberalisation made clear, airlines need the same access to capital and the same flexibility to serve global markets as those enjoyed by corporations in other sectors.

The benefits would be enormous.  For example, as Commissioner Barrot has outlined, it has been estimated that an EU/US open aviation area could be worth up to 12 billion euros in economic benefits.

Airlines – some of the most capital intensive businesses in the world – would be able to access global capital markets, rather than being restricted to those from their home country.  And airline groupings could move beyond the fragile frameworks of today’s alliances to full co-operation and, where justified, consolidation.

I know that many airlines, including those here today, share that view.

But other commentators continue to oppose liberalisation, based on the sort of myths we heard in Europe when we started creating our own common aviation area.

Back then, we were told that liberalisation would lead to the gradual erosion of services to smaller airports.  But in Europe we have seen precisely the opposite.  The development of low-cost airlines and secondary airports has opened up a tremendous number of new routes and opportunities for travel.

Let me deal with another myth – that liberalisation is bad for employees.  In 2004, the UK Civil Aviation Authority studied the effects of liberalisation on airline employment.

They found it had paved the way for a growth in the market which far outweighed any localised job losses caused by the initial restructuring of operators to take advantage of that liberalised market.

Between 1992 and 2001, direct airline employment in Europe rose by 6%.  And there was no evidence to suggest that Europe’s higher-wage economies suffered, with France, the UK and Austria all showing some of the highest rates of growth.

Ironically, where airlines did fail, the ownership and control restrictions on non-EU national carriers probably contributed to the scale of job losses – because it reduced the potential for mergers with, or acquisitions by, other airlines.

Finally, let’s lay to rest two other popular misconceptions– that liberalisation is bad for safety, and detrimental to national security.  Of course airlines need to be regulated to ensure, among other things, their continued safe operation.

They must be registered and regulated in a place where they do a substantial part of their business, to ensure they comply with established international and national standards.  That’s our system in Europe, backed up by common EU rules, audited and checked by the European Aviation Safety Agency.

I’ve also heard some frankly outlandish arguments about the threat to national security if airline ownership or control passes into foreign hands.  Most developed nations have provisions in competition law for placing conditions on mergers or acquisitions to protect their national security interests.

And in a world where governments have been prepared to allow many other strategic assets – such as water, energy, telecommunications and even defence industries – to be owned by foreign nationals, I really don’t see why the airline industry should be any different.

So, how do we get from today’s largely-closed system to one where the benefits of liberalisation can spread beyond the borders of Europe?

I accept that much of the rest of the world does not yet share our vision.  That means – even if airlines can be opened up to foreign investment under the rules of their home state – they still face the loss of traffic rights with third countries if foreign nationals acquire a majority stake in them.

This means that unilateral action – although bravely taken by some, such as New Zealand – is not likely to be effective.  And, of course, it runs the risk of delivering commercial advantages to those who would benefit from liberalisation abroad while failing to deliver it at home.

So we need to move forward together, with concerted action at international level.  And what better example to set the rest of the world than such an agreement between the European Union and the United States?

Which brings me to the current status of EU-US aviation negotiations.  I know others have given you their views in earlier sessions; now let me take this opportunity to give you mine.  As you will appreciate, with over 40% of the EU-US market, the UK has a particular interest in the outcome of these discussions.

Last week in Brussels, EU and US negotiators held their 12th round of formal consultations.  I welcome the efforts of the negotiators on both sides, and I welcome the improvements that have been secured to the draft text agreed back in November 2005.

We’re still looking at the draft text, and yesterday I held discussions with both Commissioner Barrot and, on behalf of the Presidency of the EU, the German Federal Minister of Transport, Wolfgang Tiefensee. Amidst these discussions, I am very aware of the range of views that our stakeholders have – and which have been expressed to this conference by previous speakers.

Like Commissioner Barrot – I do not take lightly the significant economic benefits that would flow from such an agreement. But given past discussions, I also recognise that the deal on the table falls short of providing the kind of access to the US market that a number of EU carriers would like.

What we really need is a level playing field – so both European and US industries are able to compete fairly with each other.  Geographically and economically, the EU and US represent broadly equivalent markets.

And if a US carrier can operate from New York to London and on to Frankfurt, but an EU carrier can’t operate from London to New York and on to – say – San Francisco, then there remains work to be done.

Now, I am fully aware of the political and legal difficulties surrounding cabotage rights in the US.  That’s why – with the encouragement of the US – we looked at the relaxation of ownership and control restrictions.

As you all know, that process failed in the face of political opposition in Washington.  And, as Virgin Group and its US partners are finding out right now, it’s not easy for a foreign national to enter into an agreement with US investors to set up a new, domestic US airline.

Even if that person is a highly successful entrepreneur with a proven track-record in running popular airlines, it seems that certain incumbents will still encourage the Department of Transportation to use all the legal means at their disposal to block him.

The message that response has sent across the Atlantic is an unfortunate one – that many in the US would rather hold on to ownership and control rules passed more than 60 years ago than adapt to the 21st century – and enjoy all the benefits that a more open approach would bring.

The EU has recognised for some time that, with the current political climate in the US, we are not likely to get a full, transatlantic, open aviation area in one step.  That is why we have been prepared to contemplate a phased approach.

But to take forward that phased approach, we have to be satisfied that there is a clear mechanism in place, with real incentives on both sides, to reach the fully open market that we all judge to be the best way forward.

That’s the issue I and my fellow EU transport ministers will discuss in Brussels later this month.

As you will understand, I am not going to pre-empt those discussions here today.  But let me conclude my remarks by restating that the UK has been clear – right from the start – that we are prepared to end the highly restrictive Bermuda II arrangements, as part of the right multilateral deal – to open our skies, and unlock real benefits for our airlines, our passengers and our economies.

Douglas Alexander – 2007 Speech to Chamber of Shipping Annual Dinner


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Transport Secretary, Douglas Alexander, to the Chamber of Shipping Annual Dinner held on 22nd January 2007.


Mr President, Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you Maurice for inviting me to address you and your guests here this evening.

It’s a great pleasure to be here at the Chamber of Shipping Annual Dinner for the first time as Secretary of State for Transport.

This is an event that reflects the breadth and scope of the maritime industry in Britain.

In such a diverse sector, the Chamber is an influential and unifying force with a powerful voice.

You help unite shoreside workers and seafarers; ship owners and unions; passenger and freight operators and the ports sector; industry and Government.

And united, the maritime sector is tremendously influential – a crucial part of our transport heritage, and a crucial part of our transport future.

Vital to our economy, and vital to our prosperity.

Since 1997, this country has enjoyed the longest sustained period of economic growth in its history. During that time, the number of ships on the UK register has more than quadrupled.

Today, your industry directly employs more than a quarter of a million people, and shipping has overtaken air transport as the third largest service sector for export earnings.

That’s a terrific success story – and we want to see you continue to build on that success.

We want shipping to strengthen its position as an integral part of our transport network, and an integral part of our economy.

Growing your market by continuing to improve the service you offer. Effectively competing with rail air and roads for freight and passenger business, but also linking up with these other forms of transport, helping to make the UK logistics and distribution sector one of the most sophisticated in the world.

If we’re to achieve this vision, then we need to deal with two major challenges. These are dealing effectively with the impact of carbon emissions on the environment, as we move towards the low carbon economy outlined so compellingly by Sir Nicholas Stern in his review last year; and the challenge of globalisation.

The publication of the Stern Report recently should have left everyone in no doubt about the environmental battle we face.

It’s more important than ever that shipping becomes more fuel efficient, takes full advantage of greener technologies, and better mitigates the adverse consequences of fuel use, to help us fight climate change.

Even though shipping has been seen as an environmentally-friendly form of transport in the past, accelerating world trade means that maritime emissions are increasing – while other modes are making great technological strides to cut harmful emissions – particularly carbon emissions that increase the threat of climate change.

Of course standards to improve the environmental impact of the maritime sector must continue to be vigorously developed internationally through the IMO.

As with aviation, shipping is a global business, and is best regulated internationally.

We are already playing a leading role in persuading states within the IMO to limit CO2 emissions from ships – and will continue to do so. We worked closely with industry last year to develop a paper to encourage the international maritime community to embrace emissions trading.

Progress, unfortunately, has not been smooth – other countries do not share our ambitions – but we must continue to press home this important message.

The message is clear: global regulation for a global industry. But that brings with it some domestic responsibilities.

Which brings me on to the second great challenge we share – the challenge of globalisation.

Just as shipping is well positioned to improve its environmental credentials, so it’s well positioned to become ever more competitive in the global market.

Competing with the best, on quality and reputation. Adding value – not by undercutting competitors, but by going upmarket, and by being better.

I know that you share my vision of an industry that pushes even harder for safer, cleaner ships; an industry that embraces technological change, and offers peerless customer service; a thoroughly professional industry – that can offer more well-qualified youngsters attractive life-long careers.

In many of these areas, you already set high standards and continue to make excellent progress across the board.

The Merchant Navy Training Board and Sea Vision have done some great work in promoting seafaring careers, and the Foundation Degree has had a very promising start since its launch last year.

But the UK is still facing a long-term decline in employed seafarers, and so the challenge is to stimulate the number of applicants, and ensure training is of a consistently high standard across the sector.

Of course, the Maritime Labour Convention will play a crucial role in making maritime careers more attractive to youngsters.

Many of you here tonight deserve credit for your work developing the Convention – a landmark for seafarers across the world – covering issues like health, safety, minimum age, hours of work and crew accommodation.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done to bring this Convention to life and we will work with you closely with you to ensure that the UK plays its part in making it work for the widest achievable benefit of all.

Although in many areas the UK meets or exceeds Convention standards, there are areas where we need to improve.

Corporate Social Responsibility, for example, is vital to improving social, economic and environmental standards.

That means doing more than the bare minimum needed to comply with legal requirements.

Better crew standards lead to safer ships.

Safer ships lead to fewer accidents.

And fewer accidents mean less cost.

We need to continue working together to engage on matters that have an impact on coastal communities – like protecting marine and coastal environments.

We need to set our sights high. Set the standards to which the rest of the world aspires.

And that means different parts of this great industry must work together…..

Government setting the framework for growth and improvement; for maritime safety and pollution control; and regulating ports…..

Industry implementing changes, raising standards, improving profitability, working towards our shared vision for a world-class maritime sector.

Of course, the Chamber of Shipping has done a great deal to represent your interests – on issues like the Marine Bill and the EU Maritime Green Paper, for example.

I’d like to say thank-you – to the Chamber, and to you, its members – for a job well done over the past few years.

I’ve no doubt that you will rise to the challenges of the future – the ‘greening’ of transport, and global competition – and in doing so, you will play a major role in supporting another decade of economic success in Britain.

Douglas Alexander – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons


Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Douglas Alexander in the House of Commons on 16th December 1997.


I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech in a debate on the national minimum wage, for it is a subject of the greatest importance to many of my constituents.

It is a convention of the House that a new Member should pay tribute to his predecessor. Even if there were no such convention, I would be determined to pay tribute to Gordon McMaster, the Member of Parliament for Paisley, South from 1990. I did not know Gordon well, although it is a matter of pride to me that on the day in 1990 when Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister I was campaigning for his election on the streets of Paisley. Christmas came early for the voters of Paisley that year, but it was to be another seven years before they had a Government who reflected their will and the will of the people of Scotland. During those years, Gordon came to be viewed throughout the constituency with real pride and affection for his concern and commitment to his constituents.

Like his father before him, Gordon was a gardener by trade. Before entering the House, he played a significant role in establishing a highly successful initiative, Growing Concern, which combined his love of gardening with providing opportunities for disabled people to learn about horticulture. When he entered the House, Gordon’s long-standing commitment to disability issues was reflected in his parliamentary life. He served both as Front-Bench spokesman on disabled people’s rights and as secretary to the all-party disablement group. He was a credit to his parents, Willy and Alison, to his constituency and to the House.

In his work in Parliament and the constituency, Gordon upheld the tradition of service of my first Member of Parliament, Norman Buchan—Gordon’s predecessor. During my childhood, Norman was a frequent visitor to my home. His inspirational conversation and his commitment to socialism in part explain my presence in the House today.

My constituency, which both men represented in their day, is in the county of Renfrewshire. Having grown up and lived there for almost 20 years, I was especially honoured to be chosen by the Labour party to contest the seat and to be given so much support by so many.

The constituency that I have the privilege to represent is proud of its industrial heritage and the hard work of its people: the mills of Paisley, the carpet factory at Elderslie, the town of Johnstone, where the first machine tool foundry in the world was established. The people of my constituency embody many of the best qualities of the west of Scotland—a willingness to work hard, a sustaining sense of humour and an instinctive sense of community at all times.

I am proud of those traditions from the past, but I know that it is the future that matters. In this new economy, all that my constituents ask is to be given the chance to contribute their talents and skills to the work of the nation. Certainly, there are already successes. Paisley university faces the new century as a proud and ambitious institution. Renfrewshire continues its success in manufacturing; indeed, the county produces a third of all Scotland’s manufactured exports. This is the pattern for the 21st century, when we shall have to produce the highest quality goods and services and sell them in an ever more competitive global market.

While traditional industries in the constituency have largely gone, many people in the work force are not equipped with the skills to contribute to, and benefit from, these new successes. To attempt to compete from a position of low skills and low wages offers not a route forward but a route back—back to unemployment, poverty and social division. I must report that more than 2,300 people in the constituency are officially unemployed, almost 600 of them under the age of 25. When they look for work at the local jobcentre, they see positions with hourly wages as low as £2.50 an hour for a cleaner, or £2.80 an hour for a kitchen assistant.

That is why the Bill matters urgently to the people of Paisley, South. For my constituents, it is a matter not of wanting a national minimum wage but of needing one. For 18 years, we had a Government who advanced the idea that the price of greater prosperity was greater inequality and who tried to frighten people out of their commitment to fairness. I am therefore impelled to speak my mind, not solely by anger but by a sense of urgency, to end injustice and to give opportunity to people who have had to wait too long for a Government who are on their side.

The new Government’s proposals offer hope to the people of my constituency. Our victory on 1 May offers an historic opportunity to end the centuries old injustice of poverty pay. I was reminded of just how old the struggle to win decency in the workplace is when, on the night of my election, I entered Paisley town hall to await the result. As I entered the building, I passed the statue of Robert Tannahill, the weaver poet of Paisley. Almost two centuries ago, he was forced to leave the town in search of a living wage. My constituents know all too well that the evil of poverty pay is still with us as we approach the 21st century.

When people look back at our time, let the national minimum wage be the monument by which they remember our commitment to dignity and decency in the workplace. The Government’s Low Pay Commission will bring together businesses, large and small, with employees’ representatives to settle the level of the minimum wage. There will, of course, be a debate about that level, but let there be decisiveness about the principle for the national minimum wage is not an exercise in compassion. It is an investment in our future. It forms an essential part of the Government’s strategy to provide opportunity to work, to ensure that work pays, and to allow advancement through the acquisition of skills. It is a strategy based on the understanding that in the new global economy prosperity is not won at the price of social justice. I am reminded that many of the countries with higher per capita incomes have achieved their success on the foundation of a national minimum wage.

At the age of 15, I joined the Labour party in Renfrewshire because I believed in the values and ideals which had for generations taken members of my family into the Labour movement: a commitment to the belief that while we cherish our individuality we are part of a community with shared responsibilities and linked destinies, and the belief that wealth, power and opportunity should be in the hands of the many and not the few. The Bill advances those historic ideals in the modern economy, and that is why I and my constituents will support it.

Danny Alexander – 2014 Speech to UK Oil and Gas Industry


Below is the text of the speech made by Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to the Oil and Gas UK’s annual conference in Aberdeen on 12th June 2014.


Good morning.

Thank you Malcolm for that very kind introduction.

You and your colleagues at Oil & Gas UK are doing a first rate job.

And I want to commend you – for the hard work that you do – representing the oil and gas industry.

Whilst we might not always agree on everything…

… you are an influential voice speaking for the interests of the sector.

So for me it is a great honour to address your first annual conference.

And it’s a great pleasure to be invited to do so in Aberdeen.

This is one of the UK’s greatest cities.

As well as being a beautiful and welcoming city with a long history…

… Aberdeen also feels exciting.

It’s the excitement of being somewhere that is a real global hub of expertise.

It’s a bit like being in Silicon Valley in California or at the Science Park in Cambridge…

… a feeling that you are somewhere where the combination of ingenuity, endeavour, expertise, and entrepreneurship can achieve things previously thought impossible.

Because that is what you do – day in and day out.

Whether you are geologists, chemists or civil engineers.

Working on transportation, retail or professional services.

Upstream, midstream or downstream.

You are all doing something extraordinary.

Working against the elements – in one of the most adverse natural environments in the world.

To extract and deliver energy to millions of people across this planet.

To me that is a victory of human enterprise over natural adversity.

As a schoolboy in Lochaber in the 1980s – I know it is what attracted so many of my classmates to work in your sector.

And it’s why today, I know I speak on behalf of the whole UK government when I say…

… that I have – and we have – deep admiration for what your industry does.

You provide almost half a million jobs.

You supply enough energy to meet almost 40% of our country’s primary needs.

You have a world-class supply chain – renown internationally for its expertise and technical capability – particularly in key sectors like subsea, for example.

Your success is a critical part of the long-term economic plan that is bringing growth and jobs to every part of the UK.

This is precisely why the oil and gas industry is one of the UK’s global success stories…

… and why the coalition government has pulled out all the stops…

… and done everything we can…

… to support you.

The North Sea is a hugely important asset to our country.

Our goal is simple to articulate – but hard to achieve – to maximise the benefits that the North Sea can bring to our economy.

That means getting out every last drop of oil and gas that we can.

And in doing that, two key principles have underpinned our approach towards your industry.

The first has been to help you cope with the rising costs of extraction.

Because we know that in smaller, more remote fields it will cost more.

We have done that by introducing and extending field allowances.

That has included a whole range of initiatives:

– doubling the value of the small field allowance

– introducing a £500 million allowance for large shallow-water gas fields

– £3 billion allowance to support investment in large and deep fields, in particular at West of Shetland

– introducing an allowance for incremental investment in older fields

– a new allowance for onshore oil and gas projects

– creating a new cluster allowance for ultra high-pressure, high-temperature projects – something Oil & Gas UK themselves described as a “game changer” for the North Sea

And the impact of all of that has been significant.

Oil & Gas UK calculate that – last year alone – our field allowances directly supported around £7 billion worth of investment in the North Sea.

They have also supported over 100,000 jobs across the industry…

…. around half of them in Scotland.

And our allowances continue to have a positive impact.

Only today, a substantial new project by Premier Oil has received final approval.

The Catcher Project will see £1.5 billion of new investment and over 1,000 new jobs.

The CEO of Premier, Simon Lockett, is clear that the project “has been facilitated by the government’s small field allowances”.

I am very proud – that it is the policies of the UK government that are allowing and enabling this to happen.

The second principle underpinning our approach has been to provide your industry with greater certainty about the future.

That certainty is crucial to your continued success over the coming decades.

That is why, in 2012, we introduced a new approach…

… we were the first government in history to fully commit to future decommissioning tax relief.

With new contracts to give you certainty about the future costs you will face.

So far 61 deeds have been signed…

… a process we expect to help unlock billions of pounds worth of new investment.

Again, by thinking for the long-term, providing therefore jobs and growth today.

But the future does also holds other risks.

As the basin matures…

… production efficiency has been declining…

… fewer wells are being drilled.. . … and over future years other challenges will arise too.

And yet the opportunities are huge as well.

We are determined to work together with you to help make the UK a hugely attractive and exciting place to invest.

That is why the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, asked Sir Ian Wood to conduct his review into how to increase oil and gas production.

Sir Ian is a titan of your industry, and we should all be enormously grateful for the vision he has set out.

He recommended that a new independent agency should be set up to maximise economic recovery by increasing collaboration across the industry.

And between government and industry.

Today I can announce that the new agency will be called the “Oil and Gas Authority”.

We have been thinking about where it should be based.

It is my view that it should be headquartered at the heart of the UK’s oil and gas industry.

So I can tell you today that it will be based right here – in Aberdeen.

This city and your industry deserve that commitment – and I am very proud to make it.

And next week we will start the recruitment process to appoint their new CEO.

The new Oil and Gas Authority will work with the government on a wholesale review of the ring-fenced tax regime for the oil and gas industry…

… looking at everything from tax rates to tax allowances.

Because the North Sea is an extraordinary economic asset…

It generated almost £5bn worth of corporation tax revenues last year alone.

Impressive as that is, it is considerably lower than in the past.

Tax revenues have been declining for several years…

… and independent forecasters expect them to continue declining.

But just because the North Sea is becoming less of a tax asset…

… it doesn’t mean it can’t remain a top economic asset.

The review will look at how we achieve that transition.

In my mind, it is clear that, in the future, the North Sea will need to face a lighter tax burden than it does now.

Because that is the only way we can continue to attract investment, to extract full economic value, in the face of increasing costs, is to do it that way.

And next month we will launch a call for evidence to make sure you can all have your say as part of that review.

Field allowances.

Decommissioning relief.

A new agency based in Aberdeen.

A review of taxation.

All of that shows – I believe – the strength of the UK government’s commitment to the future of your industry.

The reason we’ve been able to do all of that…

… and the reason why we’ll be able to do more in future…

… is that we have stuck to our long-term economic plan.

It has meant taking some tough decisions to live within our means as a country.

When plenty of people said we should change course…

…. we stood our ground…

And the plan is now working.

In the past year we – the UK – have grown faster than any other major industrialised economy.

Thanks to your efforts, growth is balanced across sectors.

Almost one and a half million jobs have been created across in the private sector.

And our economy is set to continue recovering faster than any other G7 nation this year.

Britain is bouncing back.

We are able to look forward to the future of your industry because we are part of the United Kingdom.

I know how important stability and predictability is to the oil and gas community.

It is clear to me that the way to ensure stability is to be part of a larger and more diverse economy.

Because the UK as a whole can much more easily afford to sustain production and investment in the North Sea.

Let’s look at the numbers.

For the UK, oil and gas is 2% of our total tax receipts…

And decommissioning relief represents around 1% of our GDP.

As a separate country, oil and gas taxes would make up nearly 14% of Scottish tax receipts…

And the cost of decommissioning relief would be about 12% of Scottish GDP.

You don’t have to take my word for it.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies…

… a truly impartial and independent institution…

… set it out in crystal clear detail only last week.

The IFS say – and I quote – “Scotland is likely to face greater fiscal challenges than the UK”.

In other words, by staying in the UK, we would borrow proportionally less than a separate Scotland – from day one.

Scotland’s deficit – as a share of GDP – would be double that of the UK.

And that gap between the two gets bigger and bigger over time.

One of the main drivers of that is – I quote – “the likely long-run decline in revenues from oil and gas production”.

So what is the Nationalists solution to that question?

To make up hugely over-optimistic forecasts for future North Sea tax revenues.

Take, for example, the latest figures the Scottish government published, last month.

They are more optimistic than just about every other projection out there.

More optimistic than the views of most independent experts.

It’s yet another unrealistic prediction in a long list.

Like £1.5 trillion wholesale value figure yesterday – which assumes that gas prices match oil prices – when you all know that gas has sold for little more than half the price of oil.

Or ignoring the fact that this figure doesn’t include the costs of extraction – whether to pay for infrastructure, staff or drilling costs.

That’s not a very cautious approach to take the uncertainty your industry faces.

In this debate, I say, the nationalists’ numbers simply don’t add up.

By staying in the UK, our bigger and more diverse economy can help smooth the volatility in North Sea tax receipts.

This is my view – but it happens to have the backing of the independent IFS – I quote:

The eventual decline of oil revenues would likely prove a much more acute problem for an independent Scotland than it would for the UK.

This means that Scotland would likely need to implement further tax increases and/or spending cut.

For that reason, you should take guarantees of stability under independence with a big pinch of salt.

And be clear also…

As an economy.

As an industry.

There is a UK dividend from staying together.

As a United Kingdom we can ensure a brighter future for you and your sector.

You are the jewel in the crown of British industry.

So if you agree with me…

… I hope you will join me in making the case…

… that the people of Scotland should say “no, thanks” to independence.

We should all be proud of being Scots.

And feel proud about everything that your industry has achieved in Scotland.

But we can have the best of both worlds.

We have already increased powers with the Scotland Act in 2012.

That includes giving Holyrood greater control over a range of taxes – including the power to set a Scottish rate of income tax.

It’s the biggest act of financial devolution in Scotland’s history.

It means that we can find Scottish solutions to Scottish issues…

… while remaining part of a stronger and more stable United Kingdom.

There’s just under 100 days left until the referendum.

It’s the most important vote in the history of the United Kingdom.

Let us not forget that history when we head to the polls.

A history which has seen British ingenuity emerge triumphant time after time.

Over the centuries, our four nations have worked together to change the world.

The UK led the charge exploring oceans and continents across the globe.

We were the centre of the industrial revolution.

During the twentieth century we led innovations in science, culture and finance – to name a few…

… while twice fighting and beating tyranny when it threatened to take over the world.

All of that thanks to the hard work of the British people.

Whether Scottish, English, Welsh or Northern Irish.

We all have separate identities.

But our history leaves no doubt that…

… whatever our differences…

… there’s far more keeping us together than forcing us apart.

And the conquest of the North Sea symbolises the interconnectedness of our identities on these islands.

Scottish engineers, English drillers, Welsh divers and Northern Irish geologists.

All working together.

Showing how the United Kingdom is much greater than the sum of its parts.

I am a Highlander, a Scot, a British citizen and a European.

And one thing I know…

…deep inside me…

…is that together we achieve so much more than on our own.

So let’s stay as one United Kingdom.

Where the oil and gas industry can face the future with confidence and optimism.

Thank you very much.

Danny Alexander – 2014 Speech on Scottish Fiscal Policy


Below is the text of the speech made by Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, at the Apex Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 28th May 2014.


Good morning and welcome.

As you know, today the UK government is publishing the most comprehensive and definitive study of how independence would affect Scotland’s finances over the next 20 years.

I look forward to answering all your questions.

But first I would like to say a few words to set out this analysis.

On the 18th of September we face the most important vote in Scotland’s history.

Whether or not to remain part of the United Kingdom.

It’s a momentous decision.

And in my mind, there is no doubt.

By staying together, the Scottish and the UK economies can continue to grow and prosper.

And as a nation, we can continue to make the choices needed to live within our means and grow our economy.

But I know that many people are still undecided.

And the single biggest question in their minds is…

“Will we be better off together?”

So today…

…I can answer…

…yes, we will be better off.

Because there will be a huge benefit to staying in the United Kingdom…

You could think of it as a “UK Dividend”.

Or 1,400 reasons why we’re better off together.

So what is the UK Dividend?

There is a detailed explanation in the document we are publishing today.

Five key building-blocks underpin our analysis.

There is little dispute about each one of those…

… because they’re all based on reasonable and responsible assumptions…

… and all five are seen by independent organisations as significant factors in Scotland’s future. And together they tell a powerful story.

The first building block is what you might call Scotland’s financial starting point.

Should Scotland become independent, it would start off in life in a worse financial position than the UK.

That is the view of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Centre for Public Policy for Regions, Citigroup and many others.

Even the Scottish government’s own figures show that Scotland would face a shortfall between what the governments gets in tax and what it spends on public services.

So, as a separate country, Scotland would be running a bigger deficit than the UK – from day one.

Indeed, independent forecasters show that, in 2016, Scotland would be borrowing over 5% of national income.

That is double the deficit of the UK.

And the difference equates to around five and a half billion pounds…

…from day one.

But that’s just the starting point.

The second building block covers the direct cost of setting up a new state.

For example, as an independent country, Scotland would need to set up new institutions.

A new passport office.

A new benefits agency.

Or a new tax collection authority…

… that last one alone – as ICAS set out last week – would cost £750 million.

We have taken the best independent estimates, which put the cost of transition at up to 1% of GDP.

For Scotland that figure would be £1.5 billion.

At the same time, as a separate country, Scotland would have to pay higher interest rates to borrow in financial markets.

A whole range of experts, from the National Institute to Deutsche Bank, calculate that, under independence, interest rates are likely to be around 1% higher.

That’s worth £500 million per year in additional debt interest costs.

The third of our five building-blocks is the cost of the Scottish government’s promises.

They’ve set out their policies in the recent White Paper – but not the costs.

So we’ve looked through the fine print.

Put it through the Treasury’s models.

Using tried and tested methods…

… and calculated that the Scottish government’s new policies would cost at least £1.6 billion every year.

The fourth factor is the future of oil and gas production.

It is an indisputable fact that North Sea oil production has been declining for many years.

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility has made an impartial assessment of this.

They estimate that oil and gas revenues will fall by around 95%, as a share of our economy, over the next 20 years.

And the fifth factor affecting the future finances of Scotland is our more rapidly ageing population.

This is the well-established view of the UK Statistics Authority, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the International Longevity Centre, and many others.

As Gordon Brown explained last month, the number of Scottish pensioners will rise from 1 million to 1.3 million over the next 20 years.

It means a shrinking number of working age people would have to pay for a growing number of old age pensioners.

So an independent Scotland would have to spend more to deliver the same services as now.

So where does all that leave us?

A worse starting point.

The cost of setting up a new state.

Unfunded policies.

Declining oil revenues and an ageing population.

All of that…

… easily avoided by staying within the UK…

… is worth fourteen hundred pounds.

For each person in Scotland…

… each year…

…for the next 20 years.

That’s the UK Dividend.

And the further ahead you look the more the pressures build.

That dividend…

… is our share of a more prosperous future.

It is the money that will pay for better public services and a fairer society.

Money for more teachers in better classrooms.

For nurses and midwives.

To put £1,400 per person in context…

On aggregate, it represents 11% of Scotland’s total public expenditure.

That’s equivalent to around two thirds of the total National Health Service budget in Scotland.

It’s almost as much as Scotland’s whole education budget.

So what does £1,400 mean to you and to me?

Well, for example, £1,400 is more than enough to pay for a year of free school meals for three children.

£1,400 pays for 10 weeks of someone’s state pension.

Alternatively, instead of cutting public services to fill the gap, as a separate country, the Scottish government could raise taxes.

For example, today the UK reaches what is known as “tax freedom day”.

That’s the day in the year when, on average, people stop giving their income to the government through tax and instead start keeping the money they’ve earned for the rest of the year.

But, as a separate country, each person in Scotland would have to hand over their income to the state for two more weeks.

Another way an independent Scotland could offset the £1,400 UK Dividend, without cutting public spending…

… is to increase the basic rate of income tax from 20 to 28%, increase VAT from 20 to 26% and increase duties on alcohol, tobacco and fuel by about 40%.

Of course, the nationalists will say that we’re wrong.

They will just continue to peddle myth after myth….

… saying that taxes wouldn’t be higher, that there’s loads of oil left, that public services won’t suffer, that growth will be stronger, that breaking away won’t be hugely expensive, that new institutions can be set up for free…

And all of those myths are refuted by the information we publish today.

And I am very happy to answer questions on all of that.

We are talking about Scotland’s finances over the next 20 years…

…they are talking about what’s happened over the past 5 years.

We are focused on the future – they are stuck in the past.

To conclude.

Today we have shown that, by staying together, Scotland’s future will be safer, with stronger finances and a more progressive society.

Because as a United Kingdom we can pool resources and share risks.

It means a UK Dividend…

… of fourteen hundred pounds a year.

For every man, woman and child in Scotland.

And if our history teaches one lesson, it is this…

… together we achieve so much more than on our own.

So let us look forward to a prosperous and a fair Scotland – thanks to the dividend that comes from staying in the UK.

And that is why…

… if you have your doubts…

… if deep down you feel that we’re better together…

… today we give you fourteen hundred reasons…

… why we’re better off together too.

Thank you very much.