Nick Clegg – 2014 Speech to the Scottish Chamber of Commerce


Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, to the Scottish Chamber of Commerce on 19th May 2014.

I want to thank the Scottish Chambers of Commerce for hosting today’s event. As businesses, you rely on the Chambers’ advice and expertise to help you succeed. And you’re relying on that same support as you sort fact from fiction in the current Scottish Independence debate.

So I want to reassure you that I’m not here to drown you in further statistics or reel off a long list of statistical claims and counter claims about the independence debate.

But I am here as someone who is proudly British, as well as English, and leads a party with strong Scottish roots and a clear positive vision for Scotland’s future in the UK.

And today I want to set out why I believe that our nations will always be stronger together than apart in an increasingly uncertain, fluid and interconnected world

This is an argument of the head and the heart – a positive case built on a great shared past, and the potential of a great shared future.

Firstly, it recognises that the UK’s success isn’t just some lucky accident, but a direct result of the close political, economic and social ties that bind us – pulling us together as families, workmates, colleagues and partners.

And, secondly, it argues for what more we could achieve in the future.

Over the last three centuries, we’ve worked together, lived together and faced the world together.

We’ve created some of the most respected and enduring institutions in the world – our welfare state, the Royal Society and the Edinburgh Festival.

And whether it’s Adam Smith laying the foundations of our modern economy…

…Our lawyers leading on the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…

…Our scientists working together to discover life-saving drugs like penicillin…

…Or even Sir Chris Hoy racing around the velodrome at London 2012.

…again and again, we’ve blazed a trail.

We’ve extended our nations’ reach and influence far beyond our borders and shores.

As part of a single domestic market with its view fixed resolutely outward, British products – Scottish products – have unparalleled market access, with an embassy and consular network that can promote them around the world.

But Britain abroad is not just about selling things.

It’s about using our size and scale as a force for good – as a strong voice in the EU, UN Security Council, NATO and G7.

That includes the UK taking a lead in global development, doing what we can as a country to help others – peacekeeping in Bosnia, humanitarian help in the Philippines and working in Nigeria, to help them bring back the kidnapped school girls.

Today’s UK offers Scots a platform from which to achieve success and export the best of our common values around the world.

And the reality is that our ability to do that isn’t undermined by our differences, but strengthened by them.

It gives us a richness and diversity that, down the years, has fed into our culture, language, history, sport and national traditions.

It’s created an incredibly powerful sense of community across the UK that means when we’re in trouble or face big challenges we stand together.

So whether that’s caring for our ageing population or stepping in to help those struggling to get back on their feet again, we have the resources to support them.

Organised Crime. Terrorism. None of us are insulated against these problems now. And together, we can better protect our citizens – with cross-border police operations and the work of our intelligence services

And, as part of the UK, when we’re hit with a once-in-a generation shock to our economy, with our financial sector in freefall, we know that our shoulders are broad enough.

We saw that six years ago. And, together, we’ve rebuilt the UK economy on the foundations of our strong, stable currency union, shared regulatory and fiscal systems and collective financial clout to boost the UK’s competiveness.

Above all else, this is a shared recovery driven by our shared strengths – in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

That includes helping our financial sector to recover and grow. In the last four years, we’ve made the UK one of the most competitive places for asset management in the world, an industry in which Scottish firms lead.

We’ve invested in the UK’s energy sector, whether that’s basing our UK Green Investment Bank here in Edinburgh, supporting major renewable projects in the Outer Moray Firth or Grimsby; or securing a strong future for our oil and gas industries.

And we’re helping the UK’s other major industries, like the Scotch whisky industry access new markets and drive growth – with targeted measures such as the spirit duty freeze in this year’s budget.

In all of this, we’re doing what we can to back businesses large and small – helping smaller employers meet the costs of employment by introducing a £2,000 NI tax cut, or access the finance they need by setting up the British Business Bank.

And together our economy is turning a corner.

We’re growing faster than any other G7 country – with seven straight quarters of growth in Scotland.

We’ve cut the deficit by a third, with it forecast to be reduced by a half by 2014-15

There are now more people in work than ever before. And last year, the UK was the top destination for foreign direct investment in Europe – with Scotland attracting its highest level of foreign investment for 15 years.

And in the coming days and months, you have two big decisions to make about whether Scotland builds on that recovery or goes it alone.

The first is your vote in the Euro-elections. For which our standard bearer is your MEP George Lyon. The second is, of course, a Yes or No to Scottish Independence.

Some would argue that these two events are incomparable. The Euros happen every five years, while the vote to decide Scotland’s constitutional future is a once-in-a-generation decision.

But both come down to choosing the kinds of nations we want to live in.

On the one side you have those whose first impulse is to talk up difference, create division, pretending we live in a world where states can still thrive when they stand alone.

On the other, you have those of us who believe that the challenges of a global world are best met by removing barriers, embracing diversity and seeking common solutions.

The reality is we live in a world where our greatest challenges have little respect for borders: climate change, terrorism, organised crime…

…where power is shifting from West to East.

… where our fates are increasingly tied – and decisions taken in Washington, Beijing, Moscow and indeed Kiev all impact us here at home…

…and where your biggest competitors are just as likely to be found half way across the globe as in the next town.

No one knows that more than you.

Every year, Scottish businesses export £11.6 billion of goods and services to the EU and nearly £14 billion to the rest of the world – selling £750 million worth of whisky to the US, more than £7.5 billion of manufactured goods to EU countries and nearly £8 billion of services globally.

In the UK, Scotland is part of the one of the largest, most influential member states in the EU, whose weight has been deployed to the benefit of our financial services industry, our oil and gas interests and our fisheries fleet.

And your MEP George Lyon has been an outstandingly powerful advocate for Scotland – leading reforms on the budget and farming, making the case for Scotland in Britain and Britain in Europe.

Of course the EU is not perfect. Which system of government ever is?

But, as a progressive and a reformer, I believe that, where a system is flawed, our best and only response must be to come together and fix it, not cry foul, say it’s all too difficult, or worse still use it as an alibi to get out.

And where there are common problems, we should search for common solutions – in the UK and in the EU.

Because, whatever way you look at it, for our jobs, influence, safety and the environment, the UK is infinitely better off IN the EU than OUT.

Over 3 million British jobs are linked to the EU. It’s the world’s biggest borderless market place, made up of more than 500 million people with a combined GDP of nearly £10 trillion. And just under half of all the UK’s trade is with the rest of EU.

If we’re IN, together we can build on that – securing new EU Free Trade Deals with the US and Japan.

If we’re IN, we can deliver the reforms we want – making the EU more streamlined, more accountable and more focused on competition and growth.

And, whatever their obvious differences, both the SNP and UKIP share a willingness to put Scotland’s position in the EU at risk.

The SNP denies it, while UKIP campaigns on it.

Both are making a gamble that people throughout the UK cannot afford.

So you should know – all of Scotland should know – that saying no to leaving the UK and the EU does not mean no to more change.

Over the past four years, I’m proud of the contribution that the Liberal Democrats have made to this country.

We’ve cut the income tax bill for over two million low and middle-income Scots.

We’ve taken the lowest paid out of income tax altogether.

We’ve re-established the link between pensions and earnings so that older people get the support they deserve.

But one of our proudest achievements is Scotland specific.

The 2012 Scotland Act constitutes the single largest transfer of financial powers from London to Scotland since the UK’s creation.

Many of those powers have already gone live, with borrowing powers to be introduced in 2015. And a Scottish income tax rate set by the Scottish Parliament from 2016.

Liberal Democrats were clear in the coalition negotiations that this Act was necessary to strengthen the devolution settlement – giving people in Scotland more say over domestic affairs while remaining part of a strong and successful UK.

But the story of devolution – the journey to home rule – is not yet complete.

We believe we can empower the Scottish Parliament and strengthen its accountability even further.

In the event of a No vote this September, all three pro-UK parties have pledged to deliver more powers.

The Prime Minister has started to talk about the Conservatives’ proposals.

Labour published theirs some months back.

And the Liberal Democrats put our plan out there more than eighteen months ago.

All three parties are clear in their commitment.

More powers will come.

But it is no surprise that my party was first out the blocks or that we will act as the guarantors for a far-reaching deal.

Devolution is in our instincts – just as it is in the interests of the people in Scotland.

Liberal Democrats worked with Labour and those outside politics in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, where we pushed for greater powers than many wanted to give.

And we won the argument.

We worked again with Labour plus the Conservatives and others on the Calman Commission, again with the most radical proposals of the Scottish parties, reaching an agreement that we enacted in government.

And so, for the next real transfer of powers, it is natural that our ideas should come first, that we should be bold, and that we will play a central role in delivering for Scotland.

The proposals published by Ming Campbell’s Home Rule Commission are radical and far-reaching.

And when the next phase of devolution is shaped after September’s vote they will form the basis of our contribution to that discussion.

We want to see a more powerful Scottish Parliament, whose actions are more accountable to the people who elect it.

That means raising more of the money it spends on the priorities that it has chosen.

The 2012 Scotland Act will mean that from 2016 the Scottish Parliament will raise about 30% of the money it spends.

Under our proposals we raise that level up to over 50%.

Income tax paid on earnings by Scottish taxpayers should be the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.

With the rates and bands determined here in Scotland.

So should capital gains tax.

And inheritance tax too.

Why should these be the reserve of the UK Parliament only?

If people in Scotland want to further cut the income tax burden on middle-income earners that should be a choice for them.

If they want to raise it in order to take less from lower earners, again they should be free to do so.

If they elect a Parliament whose wish is to cut or increase capital gains tax, inheritance tax, or spending on schools and hospitals – well, so be it.

Let these debates come out of the shadows.

That is what democracy is about.

Taking decisions and the responsibility that goes with them.

Scotland should be able to innovate and change within the UK in line with its own opportunities and challenges, and that is what our proposals allow.

And let me say this to you.

More powers can be good for business – with great fiscal powers comes greater fiscal responsibility.

A Scottish Parliament that raises far more of the money it spends will bear the consequences of the decisions it takes – for taxpayers and those who use Scotland’s public services.

And a Scottish Parliament with tax and spend powers is a chance for you to make your voice heard and shape decisions that work for Scottish business and jobs.

On corporation tax for example.

It makes little sense to devolve this tax per se and spark a race to the bottom on either side of the border.

Not least when we’re already cutting UK-wide corporation tax to the lowest level in the G7.

But we can devolve the revenue it raises.

So if in future Scotland raises more corporation tax than the rest of the UK, Scotland should benefit from that extra spending.

That doesn’t mean taking any more from current businesses.

It means an incentive for the Scottish Parliament to create a more business-friendly environment.

Set these opportunities against the backdrop of a single UK market with a single regulatory system, and what you have is stronger democracy, increased accountability and incentives for business success.

Of course our proposals are not the final word.

The settlement on further powers will need to be negotiated.

Between the three pro-UK parties of course.

And with the SNP, if – for the first time – they were willing to be part of the devolution conversation too.

Currently, the SNP are unwilling to admit that the nature of this debate has fundamentally changed. Further powers for Scotland HAVE been delivered in this parliament and, if Scotland remains in the UK, they WILL be delivered in the next.

The SNP are pouring scorn over the proposals I and others are making for further devolution, but by doing so they are living in the past.

We’d like them to be part of the changing conversation over Scotland’s future’

And we want those outside politics who also have a major stake in Scotland’s future to be involved too.

Business must be at that table – contributing to this work, influencing its outcome, getting it right.

So, the choice is yours

…Between a Britain that is open or closed…

…A United Kingdom or Independent Scotland…

…Working together or going our separate ways.

Yet, in a world where more and more of our ambitions and issues are bound up together nationally and internationally, I don’t believe it’s in our interest to sever those ties which have served us so well, for so long.

That’s why I hope you vote No in September. It’s the positive choice for our positive future together.

And it’s why I will continue to argue passionately that all our interests are best served by being in the UK, in Europe and working together.