|This is an historic
election. For the first time we are fighting an election to Westminster
with an effective and functioning Scottish Parliament in place. The
benefits of a devolved Parliament and of Liberal Democrat involvement in
that Government are already clear to see. In education we have
delivered the abolition of tuition fees, a clear result of which is the
increase in applications to Scottish Universities, in contrast with
England where student applications are not only falling but where students
are obliged to drop out through lack of funds. We also promised to do more
for teachers and our full support for the McCrone Report is a clear signal
of our commitment in this regard.
However this is an election to Westminster and it is important to remember the many key issues which remain the responsibility of the Westminster Parliament, the economy, foreign policy, defence, social security and one I feel particularly strongly about - pensions. It is clear that the proper funding of pensions in the future will require a different formula from that which we have today. Liberal Democrat policies deal with this radically and effectively. For those of us in work and able to provide for the future this is not a problem. However for today's pensioners, who believed in the contract they made with the State during their working lives and who believed that when they paid their stamp it would entitle them to a proper and secure future, it is too late and we must therefore redress the balance of disadvantage which successive Governments have thrust upon our pensioners. Our campaign over the last two years to highlight pensioner poverty certainly forced Gordon Brown to retreat from his ridiculous 75p, but our policies go much further towards redressing the balance. Our proposals not only include an immediate increase of 5 for every pensioner but also a progressively increasing increase in pensions to restore the incomes of today's pensioners to a decent level.
At a time when the Conservatives feel compelled
to retreat into the cul-de-sac of right wing dogma and have produced a
Manifesto that can only be described as a Manifesto for Opposition,
Liberal Democrats can put before the Country progressive and radical
proposals, well thought through, soundly costed and honestly dealing with
the balance between spending and taxation.
>Bank of England, which has done so much to secure a stable economy. But like so many I have been hugely disappointed by the timid and parsimonious approach of Labour in government. They have, quite frankly, been disappointing. At a time when the Chancellor sits on a surplus of 44billion, it is just plain wrong that those entitled to benefit find them harder to get and that investment in quality services has been so slow.
Contrast this with the growing influence of
Liberal Democrats in Parliament. Not only have our 47 MP's offered an
opposition to Labour that is both effective and constructive but since the
reform of the House of Lords which I welcomed, our Peers have held the
balance of power. Not least in the area of Social Security but also in
many other areas we have been able to drag the Government further than
they would have wished to go to produce a better result for our citizens.
Our record shows that wherever we have influence, whether in Government in
Wales and Scotland or whether in opposition at Westminster, we have used
it wisely. The message is clear, a Liberal Democrat vote makes a
difference. At this election we have a real opportunity to achieve real
That is why I will always argue that we have just as much right to quality healthcare or quality education as any other part of the United Kingdom.In this regard I do not believe we are supplicant at the Government's table, we merely ask for correct treatment. Creating a sustainable economic model is however another matter. In this area we have indeed needed help to redress the problems of the past. The mechanics for delivering economic sustainability are in place. Since the inception of the Highlands and Islands Development Board in 1965, to the creation of the local enterprise companies, economic partnerships and forums of today, the infrastructure to deliver economic prosperity exists.
This is now a time of both great challenges and great opportunities. Our traditional industries are vital to maintaining a viable population in remote rural areas and we must work to support them. To these can also be added newer industries such as tourism, which are capable of delivering even more. But the real opportunity comes with the many developments in technology which allows so many businesses to be conducted irrespective of location. Modern business works to a dynamic model which favours smaller units which can favour us. Distance need no longer be a barrier. I want to help bring these businesses to the North, to improve our economy and to achieve self sustainability.
I have a clear vision for the North. It is of a
community proud of its past and confident of its future. A community where
traditional industries and skills flourish alongside modern enterprise. A
community where quality services are provided notwithstanding distance. A
community whose economy is self sustaining and whose livelihoods are
secure. A community that nurtures and profits from our priceless
environment. This vision is achievable, for some parts of the constituency
it is very near. For other >parts the challenge is much greater but it
can be done. Moreover it can be done by Liberal Democrats and by Liberal