Federal Conference is probably the best fun that you will ever have in your life. You will thoroughly enjoy every exhausting moment. If you’re new, it can be a bit overwhelming until you get used to the sensory overload. I had a long break from going to them and when I returned, two years ago, I spent the first day wandering round like a child in a toy shop.
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d throw together a fairly random list of tips and hints for getting the best out of the annual cornucopia of Liberal Democracy.
1. Plan your days
The Conference day starts with breakfast fringes as early as 7 and goes on until the small hours. There’s a comprehensive training programme alongside the debates in the hall. There are ministerial surgeries. There are 20 or 30 separate fringe meetings in every fringe slot. You can guarantee that you will never be bored and that several things you want to see will be on at the same time. If you want to go to the big events like the New Statesman or Channel 4 events, you are best advised to get there early because they fill up quickly. Be aware as well that you can eat quite well for free by choosing the right fringe meetings, the RSPCA’s beer and curry night on Sunday, for example.
2. The Liberal Democrat Voice Awards
I wouldn’t be abusing my editorial position properly if I didn’t put in an almighty plug for the Liberal Democrat Voice Awards, Castle 2, Crowne Plaza. Dress code imaginative. And we have lots and lots of VIP guests.
3. Make time to do the Exhibition properly
Organisations pay the party a small fortune to have a stall in the exhibition. It’s therefore only polite for us all to take time to visit their stalls. But it’s not just about manners. They are actually really interesting. You have a mix of companies trying to sell you things, voluntary organisations wanting to tell you things and book stalls that are just far too tempting. It’s a good opportunity to sign up for some of the many Party groups – the Humanists and Secularists, or ALDC, or Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform to name but a few. If you’re going to do it properly, it’ll take you a while, probably a good couple of hours, but it’s really worth it. You learn loads, meet lovely people and pick up some good freebies.
A quick tip – the NUT have their annual fish and chip supper on Tuesday night. Tickets are available from their stall, but they are like gold dust. If you want to stand a chance of getting one, get it on Saturday.
4. To Glee or not to Glee?
You either love or hate The Glee Club, the raucous end of Conference singathon. I’m firmly in the love it camp. Singing the traditional, funny or downright rude songs that make up the Liberator Song Book is a great way to end Conference on a high. There are regular guest appearances by the likes of Tim Farron and Paddy Ashdown. The day after the event a couple of years ago, there was a very funny interview with Alistair Carmichael on the World at One where Martha Kearney played a recording of us singing “The 12 days of Coalition. He talked his way out of it admirably. I thoroughly recommend that you give this madness a go. It is unique and nobody laughs at ourselves like we do.
5. Don’t assume you’ll bump into your friends by accident
Last year, some of my best friends were there and I never saw them. Conference is a big place. If you want to make sure you catch up with people, organise in advance.
If you’re there on your own for the first time, we are a pretty friendly bunch, so don’t be shy. Speak to the person next to you in the coffee queue whether it’s a government minister or another activist.
6. Try and get out and see some of Glasgow
It is a fantastic city of greenery and culture. I suggest some things you could do in my guide for AD LIB. And you can get a train from the Exhibition Centre to Bearsden where Jo Swinson’s office will give you some leaflets to deliver in amazing scenery. And remember that Scottish fish and chips is a million times nicer than any fish and chips I’ve ever eaten anywhere else. And if you are in a fish and chip shop, don’t make the mistake of assuming that a white pudding is vegetarian. Talking of vegetarian and vegan cuisine, you might find this list helpful. I love Mono – great atmosphere and what’s not to love about a restaurant that has books in it.
7. The football and the referendum
Glasgow has two amazing football teams, Queen’s Park, who are playing away to Peterhead this Saturday and Partick Thistle, back in the Scottish Premiership, are at home to Aberdeen. You are more likely to have heard of the other two teams, though, Rangers and Celtic. Best to keep out of their scrap. seriously.
Politically, the only game in town seems to be next year’s referendum on independence. In fact, we have a government that seems to have time shifted to March 2016, when they have decided that full independence would take place. Last week, Health Secretary Alex Neil spent 25 minutes summing up a parliamentary debate on the government’s legislative programme without mentioning any measure in it, spending the time talking about independence instead. This week Finance Secretary John Swinney brought forward what he called a Budget for Independence. You are likely to meet representatives from both campaigns. Better Together have a stall inside but Yes Scotland chose not to. I would be very surprised if there were no pro-independence campaigners outside, though.
8. And there’s even a by-election within walking distance
There’s a Council by-election in Glasgow Govan, a short walk across the river. Ewan Hoyle is our candidate.
Have a fantastic conference and enjoy your stay in Glasgow.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings