And we saw the dramatic abolition of tuition fees for Scottish students. Introduced so shamefully by Labour after hiding it from their manifesto. Remember Tony Blair in April 1997 saying “we have no plans to introduce tuition fees”? Fees were scrapped by Nicol Stephen, as a Scottish Minister; turning Liberal Democrat policy into action.
We all remember from the 2001 election what a great platform this gave us for campaigning in every part of the United Kingdom. Liberal Democrat success north of the border was a clear bonus for our campaigns south of the border.
And in Scotland itself, last year we saw the Liberal Democrat share of the vote rocket, up 6%. We gained seats from Labour. My own constituency of East Dunbartonshire, and Danny Alexander gained Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey.
The second four year term of the Scottish Parliament has been even more successful. Another mix of legislation and ministerial power.
In the Parliament Chamber, the passage of the Local Governance Act 2003 brings PR by Single Transferable Vote to Scotland’s councils. Fair votes for councils in Scotland starting in May.
And the Smoking, Health and Social Care Act of 2005 gave a boost to health promotion in Scotland. Leading the way for the UK, we banned smoking in all public places from April of this year, reducing the impact of Scotland’s biggest avoidable killer – tobacco.
That same Act brought in free eye and dental checks for all, a promise in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. A policy that is estimated to save more than £33.5million every year in urgent, unplanned admissions to acute hospitals. We have done what we said.
NHS treatment is getting better as well. We committed ourselves to maximum waits for treatment of 6 months. Remember that people waited for 18 months under the Conservatives. When we made the commitment there were 60,000 people waiting more than 6 months. The SNP decided that was too tough a target. They asked our ministers eagerly to put their “jobs on the line” and resign if they didn’t make it.
Well figures two weeks ago confirm – for the third time – that we have made it and continue to make it. We have hit our targets. With the Scottish Executive long waits are down from 60,000 people to zero. It’s because we put the investment in. More frontline staff. 4000 more nurses, 1600 more doctors. It gets results. A great tribute to the commitment of our NHS staff.
On education, the results are the same. The Scottish Executive, when Nicol Stephen was an education minister, planned for the long term. They set up the McCrone Committee to make sure the Scottish children had the high quality teachers they needed. We have a target for 53,000 teachers in Scottish schools by next year.
That is a growth of thousands at a time when the drop in pupil numbers meant that teacher numbers would have dropped by thousands. That shows the scale of our commitment. Teacher recruitment is up. Applications for teacher training are up. In Primary and Secondary applications are up. Intakes up more than 100% in many subjects. The brightest and the best are queuing up to be teachers. Of course the SNP objected to McCrone from the very start. They accused the committee of “going nowhere fast”. As ever, the SNP got it wrong.
So wrong, in fact, that Nicola Sturgeon had to go to the Scottish parliament Chamber in June 2000 and admit *”I have waited to be proved wrong. The report of the McCrone Committee provides us with that opportunity”.*
Liberal Democrats have a unique position in Scotland. We are in government delivering. A clear contrast to Labour governing on their own in London. The SNP and Tories are falling flat.