New Year reflections from Charles Kennedy: 2014 is not for the politically timid

Locally and nationally 2014 is going to be a decisive one – not just for us Liberal Democrats but for Scotland, the UK and the European Union as a whole.

It is going to be the most overwhelmingly political calendar year in the experience of most political participants. I believe that we are about to live through a period quite without precedent since 1974 – the year which saw two general elections. And its impact will be even more far reaching.

Both the European elections and the Scottish independence referendum offer us Liberal Democrats two pivotal platforms upon which to convey what, I believe, to be the uniquely optimistic political mindset in which we approach the twin priorities of the two great evolving political unions which shape our times.

As such, in conveying that political optimism, we must be bold to the point of fearlessness. 2014 is not one for the politically timid; as such it should be our natural territory and should enable us to regain that sense of self-belief and momentum vital to these challenges and to the longer haul onto the 2015 UK general election itself.

The pro-European voice, passionate yet pragmatic, needs to be heard as never before in UK politics. As a member state we face increasing marginalisation if the current European erosion in our domestic politics is not halted. It is vital for millions of people that we speak up unambiguously for a European Union which continues to evolve in the interests of its citizens.

That same challenge presents itself where the future of the United Kingdom generally is concerned. In winning the argument for a UK which continues to develop in a more decentralised and increasingly federal fashion we must use the Scottish referendum opportunity to paint out a more positive, bold picture of our future.

For Liberal Democrats the Scottish referendum campaign is a real chance to reconnect with voters generally. For us it has to be about much more than the short-term defeat of nationalism; instead it is about giving voice to a Scottish future – within both prevailing political Unions – which is positive and leapfrogs the current campaign negativity.

I believe that as a party we are more than capable of meeting both challenges. For ourselves and the good of our body politic it is a political imperative that we do so.

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18 Comments

  • Helen Dudden 1st Jan '14 - 12:43pm

    Hello Charles, and a Happy New Year to you.

    I have been writing this morning on the cuts to the contact centers for children, here in Bath. These help with those who are in relationship breakdowns, I believe them to be important. My interests are with the subject on an international basis too. It causes many problems.

    You councilors are wishing to cut the services to children who are vulnerable.

    Again, I am not being political, I am asking are things that serious?

  • Paul Pettinger 1st Jan '14 - 1:28pm

    Am delighted to read Charles’s contribution – really hope this is the start of more to come

  • Jayne Mansfield 1st Jan '14 - 1:43pm

    Happy New Year, Charles. You have already brightened up mine.

  • Stuart Mitchell 1st Jan '14 - 2:52pm

    I too welcome Charles’ contribution here. I cannot think of any other current politician I admire more – for his intelligence, reason and civility amongst many other qualities. He is a giant compared to today’s three main party leaders.

  • William Nigel Jones 1st Jan '14 - 3:25pm

    Thank you Charles for a good message. I remember your contribution from the platform at the Autumn party conference, which was similarly stirring. While I agree we need to move forward with a positive attitude, showing people how we Lib-Dems believe we can improve the nation, I must pick up on two points you make.
    First the one about not being timid; that means we must be clear about where we stand, with the courage to include saying things that contradict coalition decisions and do not associate us with economic policies that the Conservatives are seeking to tie us into beyond 2015.
    Second, the one about UK being run in a more decentralised fashion; this means stopping the way the Conservatives are squeezing local government; the lack of resourcing and continued government interference makes a mockery of the so-called localism agenda. Likewise our belief in decisions being made at the lowest possible and sensible level covers also the EU.
    CLlr. Nigel Jones

  • paul barker 1st Jan '14 - 4:02pm

    I really welcome the shift in Party policy to actually campaigning for Europe & Our Values in the European Elections.
    Actually I beleive the article underestimates the scale of the changes 2014 will bring to our Politics. This is the year that will see Labour begin to die. We will have to take their place as main alternative to the Tories, with a fraction of their membership & finances. Its a prospect I find terrifying & exhilarating in equal measure.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Jan '14 - 10:33pm

    Thanks Mr Kennedy. Our energies should be engaged debating articles like this, but unfortunately they are dissipated with articles that have the same pro EU message, but make the mistake of making out that those who disagree are stupid or nasty.

    My problem with the Liberal Democrat Pro EU message is that I don’t think it is a philosophy. Individuals can argue for the EU as passionately as they like, but I think it is wrong to say that “we are the party of in” and basically tell Eurosceptics to go elsewhere.

    Regards

  • Happy new year mr kennedy, you have been much missed. please, keep talking to us!

  • Mr Kennedy – “As a member state we face increasing marginalisation if the current European erosion in our domestic politics is not halted.”

    It is hard to see how the UK can face anymore ” increasing marginalisation” when our (UK) politicians have ALREADY completely marginalised the UK within the EU.

    When many senior politicians when speaking on EU matters increasingly sound like they are contestants in a ” Bigot of the Year” contest at the BNP party conference it is clear they have no interest in promoting the UK’s interests within the EU, much less the UK’s membership thereof.

    How could any sane person expect Ministers and MEPs from other EU member states support “the British position” at EU level given the abuse our domestic politicians are routinely heaping upon their citizens?

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Jan '14 - 12:38pm

    Sing me a song
    Of a lad that is gone. . . . . :-)

    Happy New Year to the king across the water!

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Jan '14 - 1:19pm

    “I really welcome the shift in Party policy to actually campaigning for Europe & Our Values in the European Elections.”

    But I see little evidence of us campaigning for our specifically liberal vision of the EU. That is the whole point of the European Parliament: it debates and votes on specific law and policy for the EU. We need to talk about how we as liberals want the EU to look, if only to challenge the false dichotomy that is the basis of the debate on the EU in this country, that the only two possible positions are uncritical support or withdrawal. Anyway MEPs don’t even decide whether any particular country stays in the EU.

    How could any sane person expect Ministers and MEPs from other EU member states support “the British position” at EU level

    Note that there is no “British position” in the European Parliament: MEPs sit and vote by party group, not nationality. [Otherwise there wouldn't be much point in electing MEPs.] I hope that our (Lib Dem) MEPs support the liberal position on things at the EU level. The European Parliament acts as the vox populi in the EU, and often takes a position against that of the member states, whose positions tend to be made by civil servants without reference to public opinion.

  • andJohn Innes 2nd Jan '14 - 3:34pm

    Dear Charles … I never give a standing ovation unless merited … your mini speech at the Glasgow conference truly merited!

    You are absolutely correct on the importance of 2014. We can survive an EU election drubbing … but bad for the EU and our party … but the referendum … no way bsck !!!! I really want us to stay together. God bless you and my beloved Scotland. John Innes.

  • The subject of independence is upon us, there are five possible combinations:

    1. As at present, Scotland remains part of the UK, UK remains in the EU.
    2. Scotland separates from the UK, and is admitted into the EU, RUK (remainder of UK) is admitted into the EU.
    3. Scotland separates and is NOT admitted into the EU, RUK is admitted.
    4. Scotland separates and is not admitted into the EU, RUK is not admitted.
    5. Scotland remains part of the UK, UK exits the EU.

    The arguments for Scotland remaining as part of the UK are not being as strenuously put as the SNP arguments. It may be a 50:50 chance that Scotland splits. Spain has stated that they would block Scotland from joining the EU, because otherwise their own country may split up. It seems likely therefore that case 2 is less likely than cases 3 and 4.
    What I am trying to find out, not successfully so far, is the answer to the question: Would the RUK automatically remain part of the EU if Scotland splits away, or does RUK have to apply as if a new country? Thankyou for your reply.

  • Joe King: you have missed out 6. Scotland separates and is admitted into the EU; RUK is not admitted or leaves the EU.

    In reality, if Scotland wants to be in the EU, it will be. Anyone who knows anything about the EU knows this, however much Spain wants to huff and puff: any refusal to recognise self determination of that sort would precipitate an EU crisis that would eclipse anything we have seen to date. It would never happen but that doesn’t stop us having fun idly speculating: it would be quite funny seeing the Scots taking a case against the EU to the ECHR for example.

    A more possible conjecture would be an EU in/out referendum after Scotland has said No in which an overall majority vote to quit, but a majority in Scotland vote to stay in the EU. What happens then?

  • Martin, oops, you are right about possibility number 6.
    On reflection this may well be a fairly high probability. Labour will be significantly at a disadvantage in RUK, and the Conservatives will then no longer feel the need to pretend to be in favour of EU membership, or will try to out-UKIP UKIP. Under those circumstances they will organise an in/out referendum on EU membership. Scotland already having split from the UK, the genie meme of splitting will be in the aether, and RUK is likely then to exit the EU. Tell me I am wrong?

  • Joe King: you have spelled out why the EU would act immediately to facilitate a seamless acceptance of Scotland in the EU fold. The EU will be much more concerned not to provide ammunition for Ukippers and their ilk.

    My guess is on a fairly lukewarm, hardly decisive NO, but if a YES/NO UK referendum does take place, it would be taken in Scotland as a second go at the independence question. Whatever happens in England, I expect Scotland (along with NI and Wales) to be overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU. I did write “if”, as my second guess is that there will be no EU referendum in 2017, or any time in the next parliament, irrespective of the 2015 (or 2014) result.

  • At least we are consistent in supporting UK membership of the EU and Scottish membership of the UK.
    Unlike the SNP, who want Scotland to remain in the EU but leave the UK.
    And UKIP/Tories, who are urging Scots to leave the EU but remain in the UK (although secretly many of them may want the Scots to leave the UK).
    As for Labour, they clearly want Scotland to remain in the UK, but are keeping very quiet about the EU.

  • What a marvellous leader you were, far better than the others at the time and people easily foget that under your leadership Charles the party was moving forwards and not backwards. When we were forced to vote for a new leader I spoilt the ballot paper and put your name on it. Your term in leadership garnered more MPs than any other and I hope you will come back and lead the party forward again, if not you then Tim Farron.

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