Category Archives: Op-eds

Opinion: Devolved Power and the Problem of Accountability

In my recent article on devolution policy, I highlighted the problem with accountability in the context of devolved power. This is an issue which needs to be pursued further, particularly because our ‘devolution on demand’ policy (F14 on pp.54-56; lines 70-76) appears to have been drafted without considering the necessary conditions for effective scrutiny.

LibDems often take it for granted that devolving power to the most local level will automatically make politics more relevant, and more democratic. But why should this be? Democracy is at its most effective if voters are able to hold politicians to account, and increased …

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Welfare reform: enough of the stick, time for the carrot

This coalition has bravely attempted to tackle welfare reform. It’s been controversial, unpopular, but essential – the fact that unemployment has remained surprisingly low throughout this parliament is partly due to the welfare and labour market reforms this government has introduced.

However, there have been far too many losers in the last round of austerity. With the next parliament approaching we must change tact on welfare reform. As Liberal Democrats we believe that politics doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, where one group benefits at the expense of others. That’s why with any future reforms, like a surgeon we …

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Opinion: Devolution and federalism – the missing ingredient

union flag 1606The missing ingredient in Maria Pretzler’s thought-provoking piece (“We urgently need a new policy on devolution and federalism“) is nationalism.

The first politician in whose interest it was to bring the kingdoms of Scotland and England together was the King of Scots James VI. His solution was to reconcile the two nations by proclaiming himself King of Great Britain in 1604, and then in 1606 creating a Union flag, combining St George’s Cross with the saltire. The Scottish king saw Britishness as a supranational idea, and this is well understood in Scotland.

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Opinion: How to tell the SNP?

No yes scotland photo by kyoshi masamuneHow do we point out to SNP supporters that they should vote No next Thursday to save their party, without alarming No voters?

The survival of the SNP depends on a No vote.  The party exists to campaign, lobby and bully for independence achieved through a Yes vote in the referendum.  It has no other purpose.  If it wins the referendum, even by a single vote, it will have achieved its purpose and have no further reason to exist.

The SNP is not a liberation movement like the ANC or SWAPO, whose victory founded democracy in states where the previous oppression and authoritarianism meant there were no alternative democratic political parties and the liberation movements have continued while politics develops.

Scotland is a vibrant democracy.  Scottish Parliament elections change Scottish governments.  The Liberal Democrats – and Labour and the Conservatives and the Greens – have purposes related to improving people’s lives and pursue policies related to doing that in changing circumstances.

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Opinion: We urgently need a new policy on devolution and federalism

While Scotland is engaged in a vigorous discussion about its own future, it is becoming increasingly clear that the referendum, whatever its outcome, is likely to trigger major soul-searching about constitutional arrangements in the rest of the UK as well, and particularly about the devolution of power within England (e.g. see this letter to the Times, 11th September 2014).

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Opinion: Devo-Instant – a recipe for disaster

Union FlagWe are now into headless chicken mode. With a week to “save the Union”, we are contemplating fundamental constitutional reform at breakneck speed, driven by a timetable drafted on the back of a fag packet by Gordon Brown. Decades of unresolved debate about conflicting options will now be sorted out in months.

We all know about the Dangerous Dogs Act, “emergency” legislation which turned out unworkable. This time we’re not just talking about dangerous dogs. We are talking about the dangers of a botched constitutional settlement and national disintegration.

For politicians who don’t understand, this is not just about abstract ideas like regional government or an English Parliament. It is about organisation. It is about making sure there is one authority for each necessary task, not three or zero. It is about the jobs of those who skivvy for you politicians and do these tasks. It cannot be set up in a fortnight.

photo by: mrs.timpers
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Michael Moore MP writes…Scotland’s Future – my personal view

The EildonsA week today we will take the most important political decision of our lives.

Across the Borders, in the privacy of the voting booth we will each face the question: should Scotland be an independent country?

It’s the moment of truth as we weigh up what’s best for our families, our communities and our country.

I am proud to be a Borderer; I am proud to be Scottish; and I am proud to be British. For me the answer is straightforward – I want to continue to be a part of this family of nations which we call the United Kingdom, so I will be voting ‘No’.

Looking around me I see families whose stories tell the tale of these great British Isles –  parents and children from all corners of the country; life stories of careers down south, up north and all parts in between; shared experiences with others across the UK in our armed forces, on the sports field or in the culture of Coronation Street and the Olympics.

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Kirsty Williams says Carwyn Jones’ devolution comments will confuse Welsh voters

Carwyn Jones and Alistair DarlingYesterday, I saw Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones speak at  a Better Together event in Edinburgh. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that much. Most of what I’ve heard about him comes from the Welsh Liberal Democrats who aren’t, shall we say, completely enamoured at his record in office.

Having said that, he did have some useful things to say. He was very clear that he as Wales’ leader wanted Scotland to stay in the UK:

We want you to stay to work with you to build socially just

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Opinion: Suicide is preventable: we need a coordinated approach to reduce needless deaths

The reporting of suicide in the national media usually only occurs when the deceased is rich, famous, or infamous. Yet it is approximated that one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds.  A report from the World Health Organisation,  Preventing Suicide – A Global Imperative,  examines the need for urgent action to reduce suicide rates by 10% within 6 years. A tall task: made difficult as worldwide the stigma attached to mental health and suicide itself, pushes the subject into the background: an ever-growing elephant in the room. In my case an ever growing Black Dog. That according to WHO is 800 000 people a year and an estimated 20 per person who has died has attempted suicide.

In the United Kingdom, it is evident that more males than females commit suicide: in 2012, there were 4360 reported suicides of which 3400 were male, approximately 3 ½ times that of females. There is a strong reluctance with men to discuss their problems whether they be concerned with mental health or other situational circumstances. The highest rates are with men over 30 years old.

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Opinion: I’ve changed my mind on Scottish independence

I’ve changed my mind over Scottish independence and so on which way I would vote in the referendum on 18 September.

Although a Liberal and Liberal Democrat, I welcomed the SNP’s election progress from the 1967 Hamilton by-election to their first administration in the Scottish Government.  As a school and college student, trying to be different, I would talk to girls about Scottish independence.  As a chat up technique it was a total failure!  Only a few years ago, I wrote in an email about wanting to be on the northern side of the border when Scotland became independent.

I displayed a sham certainty that melted several years ago before the prospect of a referendum after the SNP’s election victories.

In fact all along I was arguing for federalism with a passion that persists.

Why when, Liberal Democrats are jostling to explain why they are voting Yes, have I abandoned my flirtation and do I passionately want a No vote?

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Opinion: Turn the clock back to 1602?

Union FlagWhat would happen to people living outside Scotland if Alex Salmond succeeds in turning the clock back to 1602?

The origin of our current state as a successful multi-ethnic, multi-cultural entity owes much to the Union.

Following James VI succeeding to the English (and Welsh and Irish) crown people born in Scotland were no longer aliens before an English court and people born in England, Wales and Ireland were no longer aliens before a Scottish court. James recognised the multi-ethnic nature of his state by joining the Scottish Saltire with the Cross of St George to form the Union Jack.

photo by: mrs.timpers
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Opinion: Scotland voting Yes, surely not!

st Andrews flag saltire scotland Some rights reserved by Fulla TWas Scotland only to be offered a referendum to which the answer would be No? From the press today one would think this was the case. Did the Westminster bubble think Scotland would not dare to cut the apron strings?

Political commentators from south seem not to have recognised that the Yes campaign is not a vote for Eck Salmond and the SNP, nor even for nationalism. It is a positive decision for Scotland and its future. Scotland has substantial natural resources and independence will be our coming-of-age, although some of the commentariat suggest apocalypse will be the only outcome. It’s bound to be a bumpy ride but change also provides new opportunities to embrace. Economists and bankers warn of the currency and economic risks but one can have little faith in powers of prediction so comprehensively undermined by the crash of 2008.

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Opinion: Patience, not paranoia is needed if the UK is to solve the productivity puzzle

Workers bankers london bridge - some rights reserved by zoonabarEconomist’ brows furrow when they note that midst the generally positive economic data emerging in the UK and the US, wage growth continues to be absent.

On the surface the answer is simple –  the participation rate in both economies has fallen. For some, particularly those anxious to play Cassandra to the next crisis, this is a sign that economic growth is a mirage.

In the UK context, wild and dangerous theories are granted fertile ground by some determined that coalition economic policy can’t possibly have achieved growth; suggestions that benefit sanctions are forcing the number claiming jobseekers down, but not wages up, has much traction, but scandalously little merit.

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Opinion: Five ways we can focus on winning

Lib Dems winning hereWhen I announced my candidacy for Lib Dem Party President, I said that my number one priority was for us to ‘focus on winning’. I said that we must use May 2015 as an opportunity for every member to experience winning, gain confidence to campaign on our messages, and develop their campaign skills. That’s how I believe we’ll motivate members to go out and win. A number of people have asked me how we might do this in practice so here are my ideas.

  • We must first re-assert our commitment to local government in its own right, not just as a stepping-stone for winning Parliamentary seats. We must agree to re-build our local government activist base following the damage of recent years, and we must resolve to start the fight now.
  • Liberal Youth, Lib Dem Women, LibDem LGBT+ and Ethnic Minority Lib Dems (EMLD) should be recruiting grounds for 2015 Council candidates, and non-target seat PPCs should understand the role they can play to identify new candidates and re-elect existing Councillors. I’ve already suggested that ALDC work with these various groups in order to recruit younger and more diverse council candidates across the country. I’ve also suggested that ALDC work more closely with the Parliamentary Candidates Association. I’m delighted that both of these ideas are being pursued.
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The Independent View: Will Liberal Democrats remain the greenest party?

Since 2010 it has been clear that energy and the environment are policy areas where the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have distinct views and voices within the coalition. The recent reshuffle of blue ministers, removing one of the Tories’ few true renewable energy supporters in Greg Barker, gave further evidence of this differentiation.

Now, as we look to the next five years, it is time for the parties to be clear on their commitment to a greener economy. The major renewable energy trade associations – representing wind, solar, biogas, hydropower and more – have launched a series of manifesto tests which will determine whether the parties are committed to decarbonising our energy system.

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Opinion: A new constitution won’t deliver the social change people think they’ll get with a yes vote

As a Scottish Liberal and a lawyer, I have been inclined at times to get too involved in the minutiae of constitutional issues.  I can explain how to count several forms of PR and I have firm and detailed views on written constitutions.  Enduring two years of referendum campaigning in Scotland, however, has woken me up to the dangers of over-emphasising constitutional issues.

When you read much of what comes from the Yes campaign, you are lefd to believe that every social problem – real and perceived – that has ever occurred in Scotland will be solved by changing the constitutional settlement.  Scotland will become a land of milk and honey where all social problems melt away (or, at the very least, are showered with unending supplies of healing money) and a raft of social services will be presented as being “free”.

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The Independent View: Liberal Democrats back industrial action by midwives

Midwives in England are in dispute right now with their employers after the rejection of a 1 per cent pay rise, recommended by the independent NHS pay review body. It is the first time in our 133-year history that the Royal College of Midwives has balloted members over whether or not to take industrial action.

Eighty per cent of the British public would support giving NHS staff the 1 per cent rise, according to a ComRes poll we commissioned to gauge public opinion. Opposition stands at just 9 per cent (11 per cent answered “don’t know”). Despite this, the recommendation has so far been rejected by NHS employers. Full details of the poll’s findings, including data tables, are available at the ComRes website.

Regardless of how one divides up those who took part in the poll – by gender, age group, whether they work in the public or private sector, which party they support, or which region they live in – there is an absolute majority in favour of the recommended 1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff being implemented.

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Liberal Youth Elections 2014… Policy Officer: Ryan Mercer

liberalyouthLiberal Youth policy matters. It’s how we, as young Liberal Democrats, can make a clear and credible case for change on the issues we care about. The disengagement from politics by so many young people has made it easy for the views of our generation to be overlooked. Despite this, the Liberal Democrats have long been the strongest advocates in both tackling the challenges young people face and building the future society in which we want to live. The unique perspective Liberal Youth provides can help to ensure the party will continue to listen to young people and be that advocate for our generation.

In May, I stood as the Liberal Democrat candidate in a Norwich City Council Ward formerly held by Norman Lamb MP. The ward has a young population and standing gave me a real insight into how big a challenge we face showing other young people what we stand for and that we’re on their side.

I’m standing as a candidate for Liberal Youth Policy Officer partly because I believe in the essential role that Liberal Youth policy needs to play, but also because I believe more has to be done to engage our members in our policy making. With more young members adding their voices our policies will be better informed and have the support behind them to be taken seriously.

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Liberal Youth Elections 2014… Membership Development Officer: Naomi Farhi

liberalyouthVoter apathy has never been higher  among students and young people.

Liberal Youth should be a clear voice in a political wilderness.

To the disillusioned youth, politics appears to be a static and increasingly wearisome battlefield, with each side wasting a lot of time and gaining very little ground. Many cannot see the progress that is being made by groups just like Liberal Youth.

It is my vision to make this progress clear.

I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2013 because I was fed up of entrusting the way my country is run to ‘people who knew better than me.’ Young people are the future and Liberal Youth is the voice of a future where equality and fair treatment is achievable for all. I am willing to invest my time and energy in ensuring this will happen – but we need others to do this too.

That is why I am running for Membership Development Officer. As a previously politically apathetic young person, I understand why so many are feeling left out of the picture and I believe I know how to make them feel included. I am now Press and Publicity Officer for the Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats and currently organising our representation at the Freshers’ Fair, which means appealing to over 15,000 students. As such, I am accustomed to dealing with a wide pool of potential members.

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Farron name checks Liberal Democrat PPCs Julie Pörksen and Vikki Slade in Commons Bedroom Tax speech

"Frozen Poetry" - Houses of Parliament, LondonDuring the debate on Andrew George’s Affordable Homes Bill yesterday, Tim Farron name-checked the two Liberal Democrat candidates whose motion on the Bedroom Tax was passed with just one vote against at Party Conference last year.  Julie Pörksen, PPC for Berwick and Vikki Slade, PPC for Mid Poole and Dorset North, argued strongly for the sort of reform to the policy that has now appeared in Andrew’s Bill.

Here’s what Tim had to say:

I am proud of my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives for bringing this Bill forward, and I am proud of my party for pushing us all collectively to reflect on the proposals before us today. I would like to mention Vikki Slade and Julie Pörksen, who proposed at our conference a year ago that we look again at this policy. Frankly, Members of all parties would do well to admit that, on reflection, things could have been done better. Given that we were put in this economic crisis in the first place, it would be lovely to see from Opposition Members a change of heart and an admission that things did not go as well as they could have done.

He then looked at the practical reasons why the Bill should be passed. It should be noted that it’s not all about the Bedroom Tax. It’s also about the wider issue of the lack of housing which drives rents and consequently Housing Benefit up.

photo by: Gaurav Pradhan
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Opinion: Why I’m voting “Yes Scotland” on September 18

September 14th "Welcome to Scotland"I have recently returned to Scotland after 27 years working for the European Commission in Brussels. After 18 September, I plan to campaign hard for the Scottish Lib Dems, irrespective of the outcome of the independence vote.

At the moment, though, I am in something of a limbo, finding myself on the “wrong” side of the referendum debate vis-a-vis my own party. As I am half-English and half-Scots, with family in Devon, I might be expected to vote “No”, but after a lot of soul-searching, I realise that it has to be a “Yes”. There are three key reasons for this.

photo by: amandabhslater
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Opinion: The Lib Dems should make open primaries a coalition demand

82813332_89f5e4ceb0_zThe Liberal Democrats are likely to make proportional representation for local government elections a red line in 2015 coalition negotiations. Needless to say, for any liberal this is a thoroughly good and idea that will transform local government. Given neither party is likely to budge on national PR, it is a good way to implement radical reforms which might actually be accepted by either of the other main parties.

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Opinion: Our seaside towns and the challenge of UKIP

Clacton beach huts photo by Nick PageIt now looks set that Duncan Carswell will win the forthcoming by-election in Clacton and become the first UKIP MP. Whilst enjoying the Tory discomfort, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we need to do to counter UKIP and their simplistic appeal.

In a poll last weekend, immigration was identified as the top concern by 57% of people who intend to vote for UKIP in Clacton. As with many of UKIP’s other target seats the number of immigrants living in Clacton is actually very low – just 4%. What there is in Clacton though is a struggling local economy, high unemployment, low pay, former B & Bs being used by the Council for temporary accommodation and poor educational achievement.

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Opinion: Time to consider all-women shortlists?

I find myself changing my mind on the subject of all-women shortlists. I’ve always been somewhere between agnostic and sceptical on the basis that it’s fairer to have open candidacies in which the best person gets chosen. If the playing ground needs to be levelled, it is best to do it in training and support rather than fixing the rules for appointments. I based this partly on my now shaken belief that, whatever happens in the other parties, the Lib Dems are nice, our hearts are in the right place, so self evidently good choices will be made.

But three things have shaken that belief. Firstly the Rennard affair, and not just the issue itself but the number of people vigorously defending the status quo; secondly, the endemic sexism still visible in society at large, catalogued in visceral detail at Everyday Sexism; and thirdly, the two separate reports published recently on the shape of the elite in our society – still overwhelmingly male. Patriarchy remains alive and in rude good health, in the party as well as in society at large. The playing field remains permanently tilted against women (as well as against BAME people), and the only way in which we can be fair about that situation is to tilt it back. And niceness won’t cut it. All women shortlisting seems a crude tool but I know of no better one at the moment.

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Former Clacton UKIP candidate ousted by Douglas Carswell resigns and backs local Liberal Democrat Councillor

This time last week, Roger Lord was looking forward to facing Conservative MP Douglas Carswell in the General Election next May. He might not have expected to trouble his majority too much but he was secure in his position.

That didn’t turn out so well for him when he heard that he was being ousted as candidate in the same way that we all did.

He’s not very happy about it and has quit his Council seat. He has given his rather unexpected backing for the ensuing by-election to Liberal Democrat District Councillor Gary Scott whom he described as a “genuine person”. Gary is not putting himself forward for the by-election.

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Opinion: Charles Kennedy asks “What should we tell the Scots?”

September 14th "Welcome to Scotland"On Monday I received an e-mail from Charles Kennedy and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. It asked Lib Dems across the UK to help the No campaign by completing a brief survey entitled,”What do you think we should be telling voters in Scotland?” The survey was indeed brief (3 questions), and the answers were pre-loaded, so I thought that I would compose my own response to my fellow Scots.

The preamble to the Liberal Democrat Federal Constitution states that ‘we look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely.’

photo by: amandabhslater
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Opinion: Cherish the independence of elected members

House of Commons. Crown Copyright applies to this photo - http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/4642915654/I was alarmed initially by the title of Mark Pack´s piece “Lessons from Rennard #4: who gets the party whip is a matter for the whole party”. As it turns out I find myself in agreement with much of it.

Rightly he points out that the smaller the group the more disproportionate influence one person will have. I like his suggestion of referring decisions of removal of the whip to the Federal Appeals Panel. Some scrutiny of the decision from outside parliament will be beneficial to Party and the individual. If adopted, I hope this would apply only to cases of personal misconduct.

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Opinion: If an NHS Tax is a step too far, let taxpayers make an optional “NHS Donation”

nhs sign lrgLiberal Democrats have committed to protecting the NHS Budget in the next Parliament. But over the next 6 years, we will need to fill a £30 billion deficit to maintain the level of quality we expect from our NHS. Social care faces a £7 billion shortfall.

There have been recent reports that senior party figures are looking at a hypothecated “NHS Tax”.

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An email on counter-terrorism measures from a Liberal Democrat should not make me despair…

Nick Clegg has sent the following email to party members this evening about the new counter terrorism measures taken by the Government. There is no doubt that had he not been constrained by Liberal Democrats, David Cameron would have gone much, much further and what has emerged is as liberal as it is likely to get. But I don’t have to like it. Here is what Nick said:

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Opinion: Why I rejoined the Liberal Democrats

I sit here having just rejoined the Liberal Democrats. I was previously a member and considered getting active in my local area. I left because I felt dismayed by the type of politics that I was seeing happening around the country. UKIP were making gains in the European elections, every politician I hear or representative blamed other parties for the failures of the past. In 2010 I was very active within my personal capacity to do so. I delivered campaign material on the doors in all weathers. I had conversations with lifelong Conservative voters in an attempt to highlight the reasons why more Liberal Democrats in Parliament would be good for society. However, since then it seemed that even 4 years on everyone blames someone else for things not getting better.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarClive Sneddon 16th Sep - 1:30am
    Reading through the comments so far leaves me with the feeling my core idea has been missed – perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. I want...
  • User AvatarT-J 16th Sep - 12:42am
    I'm not going to vote No, because that would send the minute signal that I am satisfied with the status quo. However anodyne the Yes...
  • User AvatarStephen Donnelly 16th Sep - 12:34am
    Good questions, but we have to live with the world as it is, and I don't think there is any practical possibility of the media...
  • User AvatarJohnTilley 16th Sep - 12:33am
    @Mary Reid: “We’ll try to create an exception but in the meantime, perhaps you could refer to it as Wessx!!!” :-) Thanks Mary, I laughed...
  • User AvatarMaria Pretzler 16th Sep - 12:31am
    David Allen, The fact that there are various other problems we have isn't a reason not to tackle this. I am not a believer in...
  • User AvatarJohnTilley 16th Sep - 12:25am
    paul barker 15th Sep '14 - 11:35pm You make a fair point about the time to arrange although that does make the event sound like...