William Hague – 2001 Speech in Perth


Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the then Leader of the Opposition, in Perth, Scotland on 4 June 2001.

In just four years the Scottish Conservatives have been has been refreshed, revived and reinvigorated.

It has been transformed by the inspired leadership of people like Malcolm Rifkind, by Raymond Robertson and by David McLetchie.

And it has been turned around because of the hours of dedication and commitment put in by people like you.

You have ensured that our party is now firmly back on the political map of Scotland.

You have re-established our Party as a Party of Scotland, speaking with a genuine Scottish voice, with distinctively Scottish policies.

Scottish Conservatives understand what devolution means. It doesn’t just mean taking your orders from London. It means standing up and fighting for what’s right for Scotland. And at the same time it means making sure that Scotland’s voice within the Union remains strong.

In three days time we can take our revival in Scotland a stage further.

We can do it by helping to give Tony Blair his marching orders from Downing Street.

We can do it by putting Scottish Conservatives back in Westminster.

And we can do it by helping to elect a Conservative Government that will govern for all the people of the United Kingdom.

Scottish Conservatives have never been as hungry for victory as we are in this General Election.

And don’t let anyone tell you that this election doesn’t matter. Don’t let anyone tell you that all parties are the same.

In three days’ time, we will decide whether we want to live in an independent Britain.

In three days’ time, we will decide whether we want to carry on determining our own destiny at future general elections.

In three days’ time, we will decide whether to hand on intact to future generations the freedoms that we inherited from our parents.

And don’t let anyone tell you this election doesn’t matter in Scotland. Don’t let them tell you that because Scotland now has a Parliament of its own, that elections to Westminster are irrelevant.

This election matters as much to Scotland as it does to every other part of the United Kingdom.

Of course the Scottish Parliament controls many areas that are of crucial importance to the people of Scotland.

But taxes, pensions, the amount of money the Scottish Parliament has to spend on things like hospitals, schools and the police, defence, relations with Europe, whether we keep the pound; all of these things are not decided in Edinburgh, but in Westminster.

The decisions taken in Westminster will continue to affect every single person who lives in Scotland.

So I say to the people of Scotland. Don’t allow taxes to be raised even higher; don’t allow Scotland’s voice within the Union to be weakened even further; don’t allow more of the independence of the United Kingdom to be given away; and don’t allow the pound to be abolished.

Don’t allow any of these things to happen just because you were told that this Election didn’t matter.

Say whatever else you like about this election. But don’t say it doesn’t matter. Don’t say that all parties are the same.

This election is about values. Our values as a party, and our values as a country. The values that make up the British character: tolerance and freedom and indignation at injustice; civic pride, patriotism and respect for the law.

These are not, as some politicians seem to think, just words to be dropped into speeches during election campaigns. They ought to be reflected in public policy. And how this is done is what defines us as a nation. That is what is at stake on Thursday.

I say this to the government. It’s no good talking about personal responsibility when more and more of our people are being driven into means-tested dependency.

It’s no good talking about the importance of family when the last recognition of marriage has been removed from th e tax system.

It’s no good talking about law and order when we have a criminal justice system that is more frightening for victims than for criminals.

And it’s no good talking about patriotism when you are handing away in peace-time the independence which previous generations defended in war.

I want to talk tonight about our Conservative values. I want to talk about how our principles will guide our practice. And I want to talk about what it is we are asking you to vote for.

Let’s start with the question of honesty. I don’t just mean the integrity of individual politicians. I mean something much bigger. I’m talking about whether parties as a whole keep faith with the country. Whether spin is more important to them than substance. Whether they are elected in order to govern, or whether they govern in order to be elected.

Four years ago, Tony Blair won office with a big majority and even bigger promises. All of you here will know people who voted Labour: people who wanted to give them a fair crack of the whip. Yet after four years in which Labour have dominated public life in Scotland many of those people are feeling let down and conned.

They voted for a party that had ‘no plans to increase taxes at all’. But they’ve been taxed for marrying, taxed for driving, taxed for wanting to own their own home, taxed for putting a little aside each month, taxed for growing old.

They voted for a party that promised to be tough on crime, but they’ve seen violent crime in Scotland rise and nearly 800 criminals turned on to the street while police are taken off the street.

They voted for a party that said it would ‘save the NHS’ and that promised to make ‘education, education, education’ its top three priorities. But morale in our public services is at rock bottom.

They voted for a party that tried to portray itself as the ‘political wing of the British people’. But they’ve seen how they arrogantly dismiss the views of anyone who disagrees with them like Britain’s farmers or the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland who wanted to keep Section 2A or 28 as it’s usually known.

They believed Tony Blair when he said he loved the pound. But now they know he intends to scrap the pound at the first opportunity.

They were promised a Government that would be ‘purer than pure’. But they’ve had Lord Simon and his shares, Lord Irvine and his wallpaper, Formula One and tobacco advertising, Robin Cook and Sierra Leone, Geoffrey Robinson and his offshore trust, Stephen Byers and his non-existent writ, Peter Mandelson and his undeclared loan, and, of course, Keith Vaz and everything you’ve ever heard about him.

They’ve seen Labour break its word again and again, whether it’s with a huge majority in London or in Coalition with the Liberals in Edinburgh. And now they can only watch in astonishment as Labour comes back and says: give us another chance. This time we’ll keep our promises. This time we really mean it.

More than that, Tony Blair has already decided to claim victory. He talks arrogantly about having a mandate for change. I see no mandate. I see no change.

Instead I see a Government which has squandered a massive Commons majority, plenty of public goodwill and the best economy ever bequeathed by a predecessor. “The epitaph on this past four years of New Labour will be: Never has a Party had so much and achieved so little.

So you don’t need a crystal ball to see what Labour would do with a landslide, you can read the book. It is a litany of false promises, higher taxes, more spin and the triumph of style over substance.

Labour doesn’t deserve another chance. Scotland and Britain deserve another Government.

I am not going to stand here tonight and offer you the Earth. I’m not going to wave fancy pledge cards around. I am only going to promise what I know I can deliver.

So to everyone who has had enough of spin; to everyone who is sick of politicians who ta lk big and then don’t deliver, I say: come with us. If you value honesty in politics, vote for what you value.

And I say the same to people who believe in personal freedom. If freedom means anything at all, it means being able to live with dignity, without having to depend on the state. It means being able to provide for a secure retirement. And it means being allowed to spend your own money, rather than having it confiscated from you and spent on your behalf by Gordon Brown.

There is nothing inevitable about rising tax. Tax levels are up to you. You can vote Labour, Liberal or SNP for higher taxes, or you can vote Conservative for lower taxes.

Everyone accepts that decent public services need to be properly funded. People don’t object to paying for roads or schools or hospitals. But they do object when the money going into the NHS is spent, not on improving patient care, but on preparing hospital accounting systems for the euro. They object when hundreds of millions of pounds of their taxes are squandered on keeping the Millennium Dome open, or on the ever spiralling costs of the new Parliament building at Holyrood. They object when Labour is spending over £100 million a year on Government advertising.

I say that if the Government has got enough of your money left over to spend £100 million a year on telling you what a good job it’s doing, then it’s taxing you too much.

That’s why the next Conservative Government will give you a refund.

We will cut taxes for small businesses and married couples and savers and pensioners and people with children.

We will abolish taxes on savings and dividends. People who try to put a little aside each month are doing the right thing. They’ve already been taxed for earning the money; they shouldn’t be taxed again for wanting to save it.

We will cut tax for pensioners. The men and women of my parents’ generation, who have spent a lifetime supporting and helping others, have the right to dignity, comfort and independence in retirement. So we will raise pensioners’ tax allowances, lifting a million pensioners out of tax altogether and cutting the tax paid by millions more. Pensioners have already paid tax throughout their working lives; they shouldn’t have to go on paying in retirement.

And we will tackle the problem of the state confiscating the life savings and homes of those who have put money aside for their long term care. We will look to protect the assets of people who have tried to make reasonable provision for themselves. It cannot be right that those who have spent their lives building up something to pass on to their children and grandchildren risk losing nearly everything they have, while those who haven’t saved a penny are paid for by the state.

With the Conservatives it will pay to do the right thing.

And we will cut taxes for drivers. Just because John Prescott treats his two Jags as a luxury, that doesn’t mean the rest of us can afford to. For many people, especially here in Scotland, there is simply no alternative to driving. For disabled people, for elderly people, for parents needing to ferry their children to school and back, for women who don’t like to walk home from the station after dark, for people who live in rural Scotland, the car is not a luxury but a necessity.

John Prescott may regard petrol duty as an ethical tax. But I don’t see anything ethical about a tax on disabled people, on elderly people, on young families, on women and on the countryside. That’s why the next Conservative Government, in its first budget, will cut petrol tax by 6 pence a litre, 27 pence a gallon.

So to everyone who believes that taxes are too high; to families trying to stretch their budget just that little further; to pensioners who want independence in retirement; to people who need to drive; to everyone who thinks they can spend their own money more wisely than Gordon Brown, I say: come with us. If you value self-reliance, vote for what you value.

And I say the same to all those who believe in law and order.

Did you see the response that Jack Straw got when he tried to address the Police Federation of England and Wales just over two weeks ago? He was jeered and slow handclapped.

Over the past four years, police officers in Scotland have seen nearly 800 serious criminals let out of prison early. Under the English scheme, that Labour and the Liberals want to introduce here, 35,000 criminals – some of them convicted for assaults on the police – have been set free before completing even half their sentences. Many of those criminals have gone on to commit monstrous crimes while out on early release: burglaries, muggings, even rapes.

In Scotland under Labour, many officers, fed up with being pushed around and blamed, are taking early retirement.

We cannot fight the war against crime if police officers have one hand handcuffed to their desks.

I fully appreciate the fact that criminal justice is a devolved issue in Scotland. But I know I speak for the whole of our Party when I say that the next Conservative Government will lead a war on crime and allow the young men and women who join the police to get on with protecting the public.

That means offering the police political backing instead of political correctness so that they can become the strongest, most professional and best-respected force in the world.

It means scrapping Labour’s early release scheme, and taking back the get-out-of-jail-early cards.

It means, as an immediate step, reversing Labour’s cuts in police numbers.

It means winning back the trust of the public in the forces of law and order, not trying to silence their anger.

So to everyone who feels that the balance has again swung too far towards the offender; to everyone who wants to see a police patrol on their street again; to everyone who feels that their city centre is closed to them on a Saturday night, I say: come with us. If you value law and order, vote for what you value.

And I say the same to people who are worried about the abuse of our asylum system.

Throughout the United Kingdom there are many people who had the courage and the spirit to leave their homes and begin again in a new country. People who have brought that courage and that enterprise to Britain, contributed to our national life, and enriched our sense of what it means to be British.

Many of these people have told me that they are especially worried about the break-down of our asylum system. They have played by the rules. They have often had to wait patiently to be joined by a spouse or a fiancée. And they can see that something is going wrong when tens of thousands of people are now evading our immigration rules altogether.

The British people are not ungenerous; but they do not see why we should have an asylum system that is unfair. Unfair particularly to genuine refugees who are elbowed aside in the mismanagement and chaos we see at present.

So we will introduce secure reception centres where asylum applications are dealt with quickly. Those with genuine claims will be given help and support to stay in our country, but the current trade in human beings will not be allowed to pay.

And so to everyone who wants to see the rules obeyed; to everyone who wants to distinguish between genuine refugees and illegal migrants, I say: come with us. If you want Britain to be a safe haven, not a soft touch, vote for what you value.

And I say the same to everyone who believes in the British countryside.

Labour Ministers in London and the Lib-Lab Coalition in Edinburgh seem to have no grasp of how serious things have become in rural Britain. The foot and mouth crisis, which has been particularly devastating in areas like Dumfries, has come in the middle of the worst agricultural depression in generations. Families who have managed their land for generations are being forced to se ll up.

The epidemic has driven many people living in rural Britain over the edge. Coming after so much hardship, even strong men and women have given in to despair. I do not choose my words lightly when I say that under Labour the British countryside faces at best a bleak and uncertain future and at worst a slow and painful death.

The next Conservative Government will move immediately to implement our Strategy for Recovery, containing steps to stamp out Foot and Mouth once and for all, to help struggling rural businesses and firm action to prevent this terrible disease entering Britain again.

We are going to give British farmers a fair chance to compete by applying to imported food more of the food hygiene and animal welfare standards we expect of our farmers here at home.

Our farmers are among the most dedicated and innovative in the world. On a level playing field, they’d acquit themselves against all comers. But they cannot compete properly as long as they are confined by the current Common Agricultural Policy. Just as our fishing industry, especially in Scotland, cannot compete properly under the disgraceful Common Fisheries Policy.

The next Conservative Government will re-negotiate the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy so that many decisions currently taken at EU level would be taken by at national level.

To everyone who wants to see the rural economy thriving and prosperous. To everyone who wants a fair deal for our farmers and our fishermen I say: come with us. If you value the liberty and livelihood of the countryside, vote for what you value.

That is my message for everyone who is registered to vote on Thursday. Vote for the things you believe in. Make your voice heard.

If you value a responsible society, vote for what you value.

If you value the family, vote for what you value.

If you believe that individuals and communities can achieve more than politicians, vote for what you value.

If you value rural Britain vote for what you value.

It is your choice; and it is your responsibility.

Above all, I carry that message to everyone who believes in Britain. To everyone who believes that we have achieved things that are worth preserving. To everyone who believes in strengthening the United Kingdom.

Our opponents often give out the impression that they are embarrassed about the United Kingdom, ashamed of its past and indifferent about its future.

The SNP wants to separate Scotland from the rest of the Union. The Liberals see the relationship between England and Scotland as a kind of conditional alliance within a federal Europe. And Labour, with their determination to put party before country, have created constitutional imbalances that risk breaking the Union apart.

When Scotland voted clearly and decisively in the referendum for devolution we accepted that democratic verdict as the settled will of the Scottish people. It is now the settled will of Scottish Conservatives that the Parliament must be made to work.

Scottish Conservatives are a party of devolution. But we are also a Unionist Party. The Conservative and Unionist Party. And we always will be a Unionist Party.

So, while supporting devolution, we will also ensure that Scotland’s voice in the Union remains strong. That is why I have pledged to retain the position of Secretary of State for Scotland, with an enhanced United Kingdom role.

We are proud of the United Kingdom, its values and of what our four great nations have achieved together. We opened the world to free trade. We brought law and freedom to new continents. Twice we fought for the cause of all nations against tyranny. We are confident about what the United Kingdom can go on achieving in the future.

At this Election only the Conservative and Unionist Party offers a government that will unashamedly and full heartedly make the case for the United Kingdom.

Only we are w ill make the case for a United Kingdom in which our distinctive identities can flourish but which at the same time enables us to come together under one flag as British.

Only we will make the case for a United Kingdom that together is able to pack a punch in the world that far outweighs that of its constituent parts.

And only we will make the case for a United Kingdom that values and includes Northern Ireland.

So to everyone who believes in the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to everyone who wants to strengthen the United Kingdom, I say: come with us. Vote for what you value. And I say the same to everyone who believes that Britain should be in Europe, not run by Europe.

Last week, Tony Blair called for an honest debate about European integration. This week, he got one.

Last Monday, Lionel Jospin, the prime Minister of France, spoke with exemplary honesty. He wants an operational EU police force; a common criminal justice system; uniform asylum and immigration policies; a European foreign policy conducted by an EU diplomatic corps; and full economic union, including a mechanism for fiscal transfers.

On Tuesday, the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, was no less candid. He called for the EU to be allowed to levy its own taxes.

Well I’m going to be equally honest tonight. The next Conservative Government will reject that agenda lock, stock and barrel.

We will not accept a European Army or a European police force or a European criminal justice system. We will renegotiate the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy, so that many of the decisions now taken at EU level can instead be taken by the nations. And we will pass a Reserved Powers Act, to ensure that our Parliament cannot be over-ruled by activist European judges.

Be in no doubt as to the importance of the choice we will face in three days’ time.

This election is not just about who will form the next Government. It’s also about whether we continue to have a Government that is sovereign in this country. It’s about whether we carry on deciding our own affairs at future general elections.

Tony Blair has made his intentions clear. If he is re-elected, he will speed up the process of European integration. He plans to scrap the pound within two years.

In order to meet his timetable, Mr Blair would have to launch the transition process right away. Businesses would have to prepare for the changeover, throwing out their tills, changing their software, retraining their staff, adopting new accounting methods. The public and private sectors would need to find £36 billion for the conversion.

£36 billion. The equivalent of £55 million in this and every other constituency. The equivalent of £1,500 for every household in the United Kingdom. The equivalent of building a whole new Millennium Dome every month for the next three years.

And it’s not just a question of the money that would be wasted on scrapping the Pound. It is also the fact that our interest rates would be set at a level that was almost always wrong for Britain. This would put economic stability and British jobs at risk. It would threaten our schools and hospitals every bit as much as it would threaten homeowners, businesses and pensioners.

Think about it; a recession in other European countries squeezing government income and forcing a cutback in investment in our public services.

We could not spend the money to improve our schools and hospitals if our economy was not earning the money in the first place. So we now have a Prime Minister who says he wants to put our public services first, when in fact his obsession with scrapping the Pound would put them last behind the whims of bankers in Frankfurt.

And the process would have to begin right away. It’s not a question of waiting until the referendum – even if you believe that the referendum would be free and fair. A Labour Government elect ed on June 7 would begin to scrap the pound on June 8.

Tony Blair wants us to believe that Labour can now be trusted on the economy. But why should anyone else trust him when he so obviously does not trust himself? This must be the first time that a party has sought office by promising to give up the right to govern. If re-elected, Labour would contract out the management of our economy: our interest rates would be set in Frankfurt and our taxes in Brussels.

Here in Scotland I find it extraordinary that Labour, Liberals and the SNP who spent years campaigning for powers to be transferred to a Scottish Parliament now want to scrap the pound and hand ever more powers over to Brussels.

So I am not choosing my words lightly when I say that this could be the last general election of its kind. The last time that the people of the United Kingdom are able to elect a Parliament which is supreme in this country.

This is an issue that ought to transcend party politics. I know that there are many decent, patriotic people, who are not natural Conservatives, but who are just as concerned as we are about preserving our self-government. People who may be lifelong Labour or Liberal voters, but who want to keep the pound.

I am appealing to those people this evening. Lend us your vote. Lend us your vote this time, so that your vote will still mean something next time, and the time after, and the time after that. Vote Conservative this one time, so that we can carry on having meaningful general elections in an independent Britain.

This is a question, ultimately, of self-confidence. Do we have faith in our capacity to thrive as an independent country? Or do we feel that we must go along with every new Brussels initiative for fear of being left out?

Labour and their Liberal allies seem to have no confidence in Britain. They evidently believe that we are too small to survive on our own.

Too small? We’re the fourth largest economy in the world. We’re the fourth greatest military power on Earth. We’re one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and one of the Group of Eight industrialised nations. We have unparalleled links with the United States, the Commonwealth and the rest of the English-speaking world. How much bigger do we have to be before we can run our own affairs in our own interest?

I believe in Britain. I don’t believe that we have to be part of a single currency to prosper. That’s why I will keep the pound.

Three days to save the pound. Three days to secure our independence. Three days to decide whether our children and grandchildren will inherit the same freedoms that we inherited in our turn.

And so to everyone who believes in keeping the pound, to everyone who wants to preserve our democracy I say: come with us. If you value Britain’s independence, vote for what you value.

The Conservative Party is ready to govern for all the people. For people in the countryside, who have almost given up on ministers ever understanding them. For people in our inner cities, struggling to bring up families on crime-ridden estates with failing schools

We will govern for taxpayers wanting to see some return on their taxes. For public servants not be snowed under with paperwork. For people who believe that the countries of the United Kingdom have achieved more together than they would separately, and who refuse to feel ashamed about our history.

And so I say to the people of Britain: vote for what you value on Thursday.

If you believe in a country where your taxes are wisely and carefully spent.

If you believe in a country where pensioners who have built up an income for retirement are rewarded, not penalised.

If you believe in a country whose criminal justice system is frightening to the criminal, not to the victim.

If you believe in working hard, saving hard and trying to be independent of the state.

If you believe in the unity of the Uni ted Kingdom.

And if you believe in an independent Britain.

Come with me, and I will give you back your country.