It is a special pleasure to speak to Conference in the city where I had my political baptism of fire. Glasgow is a great city and Glaswegians are warm, hospitable and humorous.
But Glasgow has experienced one party, Labour, rule for decades. And I was part of the Labour political machine here in the 1970s. On one level it worked. Insanitary slums were razed to the ground. We built 30,000 new social homes for rent in a decade – 5,000 in one year, a scale unimaginable today.
There was also an unhealthy tribalism and a Tammany Hall political machine in which union bosses had excessive influence in picking candidates and deciding policy. Judging by Falkirk, and other Labour fiefdoms, nothing very much has changed.
That is one major reason why we must not concede to Labour the mantle of radical progressive politics. We must assert our party’s ownership of that tradition, which in Scotland runs for over a century: from Asquith, Gladstone and Campbell-Bannerman through to Jo Grimond, David Steel, Charles Kennedy, Bob McLennan, Ming Campbell, Jim Wallace and many others.
The challenge today is to reinforce that Liberal tradition which is at risk of being compromised by working with what, on Clydeside, are called ‘the hated Tories’. And that’s when people are being polite.
Like you, I’ve spent most of my political life fighting against those ‘hated Tories’. But despite that I believe that it was both brave and absolutely right for the party, under Nick Clegg’s leadership, to work with the Tories in an economic emergency, in the UK national interest.
Theresa May once described the Tories, a decade ago, as the Nasty Party.