Tag Archives: Scotland

Willie Rennie: Lib Dems are for aspirational Scots with a social conscience

In a speech to the Scottish Council for Development and Industry in Aberdeen yesterday, Willie Rennie claimed the radical centre ground for the Liberal Democrats, talking about Labour and the SNP fighting it out on the left, while the Conservatives move further to the right. He outlined a position that championed social justice while making sure that we lived within our means.

Willie now finds himself as the oldest political leader in Scotland at just 47 years old. Nicola Sturgeon is 46, Ruth Davidson 36, Patrick Harvie 42 and Kezia Dugdale 33. It’s certainly different from when I was growing up when most political leaders were in their 50s and 60s and the President of the USA was in his 70s.

The challenges for the Scottish Liberal Democrats are obvious. Standing firm in our own space and talking in a unique way about our issues is very important in post-coalition Scotland. I say standing firm, and not finding our own space as we have always been a radical centre ground party which champions individual freedom. Willie looks back to Gladstone, Asquith, Lloyd George, Russell Johnston, David Steel and Charles Kennedy as liberal inspiration.

There’s an interesting turn of phrase about our years in government:

There are some things I would soon forget about our time in government but our decision to put country before party for economic recovery is not one of them.

He then goes on to talk about the good things we did in Government and indeed the changes in SNP policy that his own parliamentary group of just 5 MSPs have driven.

Here is Willie’s speech in full:

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Christine Jardine selected to fight Aberdeenshire East for Holyrood election

Christine jardineChristine Jardine put up one hell of a fight against Alex Salmond in the Gordon constituency this year. She got 1500 more votes than Malcolm Bruce had 5 years earlier and is in a very clear second place to challenge the SNP in the future.

She has now been selected to fight the Aberdeenshire East constituency in May next year for the Scottish Parliament.

The Ellon Times has the story:

A delighted Christine said: “Its very humbling to know that people are prepared to put their faith in you. I had a lot of support in the general election – 19,030 votes – and, while it’s clear we have a lot of work to do, I know those people, and the many others who have joined the party, are looking to us to repair the health service, improve education and protect jobs.

I am determined that the next Scottish Government will give us here in the North East a better deal on health, education, housing and more.

I’m a Liberal. I believe politics is not about nations or states it’s about people, about individuals and should always put them first.

Nobody should have to travel to another town to find a GP, or to the central belt for an operation or wonder if their child will have a teacher when the term resumes.

Those are the things I want to change. That I will work to change and I will ask the electorate to help by making me their next MSP.

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Willie Rennie backs all women shortlists

Willie Rennie has announced that he supports the use of all women shortlists and quotas to improve the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ appalling record on gender balance. He is to lead a group which will draw up specific proposals for the 2019 European, 2020 Westminster and 2021 Holyrood elections.

The Scottish Party looked on in shock when members in the North East did not place highly effective Justice Spokesperson at the top of the list when it was selected at the end of last year. Since then, and particularly following the General Election, there have been strong calls for much stronger action on gender balance. Willie has consulted widely within the party and he announced his plans at the Scottish Party’s and Scottish Liberal Democrat Women’s Everyday Sexism Open Mic event in Edinburgh yesterday.

The Working Group to be led by Willie will consider all options including:

•         All women shortlists

•         Making gender a part of the party’s electoral strategy

•         Quota systems

Willie said:

I have lost patience with the current system and its inability to ensure proper representation of women.  It is now time to take the necessary action to deliver change.

A fresh start for the Liberal Democrats requires us to change.  We need to be more reflective of the people we seek to represent and to perform at our best we need to deploy our best people to make the case for our cause.

Despite an abundance of talented women the party has been unable to put enough in positions to get elected.   It is difficult to make the case for opportunity for everyone when only one of our parliamentarians is a woman.

Twenty years ago my party agreed in the Constitutional Convention to work towards a gender balance in our Scottish Parliamentary representation. Yet since the Scottish Parliament was created we have elected no more than two women at the four elections to Holyrood.   I determined to finally deliver the commitment made to the Constitutional Convention.

Encouragement and organisational support is simply insufficient to overcome the barriers to electing women.

That is why I will lead a working group to finalise proposals to put to the Spring Conference of the Scottish Liberal Democrats that will break down those barriers and increase the representation of women Liberal Democrats in Parliament.

It is my intention that the new arrangements will be in place for the European Election in 2019 and will also apply to the 2020 General Election and 2021 Scottish Parliamentary Election.

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LibLink: Jim Hume MSP: Out of sight, out of mind? Why the SNP need to get serious on mental health

Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume has been writing on the Scottish Liberal Democrat website about the crisis in mental health care in Scotland, where they haven’t had a Norman Lamb in power transforming mental health provision.

In Scotland during the last 5 years, over 4000 people were treated outside their own health board. Jim says that’s not good enough:

Despite the number of patients being discharged from psychiatric hospitals in Scotland falling dramatically in the past decade, hundreds of patients are still facing being treated away from their families and communities.

There will always be some patients who need to be sent to specialist clinics outside of their health board for treatment. But it is clear that mental health units across the country are struggling to cope with demand on their services.

We know that sending patients out of area can isolate them from their support networks, including friends, families and their community care team.

The life-changing nature of such a move means it could also have implications for the civil liberties of an indidividual – which must be considered under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (ScotlandAct 2003.

It can be detrimental to a persons recovery.

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How to Beat the SNP

 

I don’t know when the SNP will be toppled, but I am confident it will happen eventually. I also seriously doubt people will flock en masse back to Labour, a party that took Scotland for granted for years and, in my opinion, doesn’t deserve the return of unwavering support. There will be a gap that we could perceivably fill, but we have to earn the right of that space, not make Labour’s mistake of taking it as a given.

Here are some things I have been trying to keep in mind over the past few months talking to SNP voters:

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Jim Hume MSP: Scottish mental health units ‘struggling to cope’

From the Scotsman today:

More than 4,000 patients have been sent for mental health treatment outside their health board area in the past five years, according to latest figures.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats, who obtained the figures through parliamentary questions, have warned that mental health units across Scotland are struggling to cope with demand.

The figures show that, in 2013-14, a total of 799 patients were discharged from a psychiatric hospital in a different area from where they live. This compares with 793 in 2012-13 and 855 the year before that.

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“Opportunity, community, sustainability and an open mind.” Willie Rennie’s liberal values for today’s Scotland

On Sunday night, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie made a speech in St John’s Church in Edinburgh. He talked about his vision of liberalism and what it means for today’s world. He looked at the consistency of liberal values in practice through the ages and quoted Charles Kennedy on finding the way forward from the history books.

There’s nothing particularly new in there, and I’m not sure about this “militant for the reasonable person” phrase. Reasonable, is, after all, a very subjective phrase. I’m sure Nigel Farage thinks he’s being reasonable, but generally liberals find what he says deeply unpleasant. Nor am I sure about militant. Maybe that’s because I remember the Labour lefties in the 1980s. We liberals are passionate, certainly, but militant? I’m not so sure. I prefer his summary of liberal values – opportunity, community, sustainability and an open mind. Those are very consistent themes for him and he’s been talking about them ever since he became leader. What he now needs to do is show how these values underpin all our policy ideas.

I also liked the bit where he praised the Church’s strong support for equal marriage, saying that they had shown that tolerance, faith and love were “comfortable allies.”

He also talks about how he and Tim Farron come from similar backgrounds and have similar perspectives on liberalism. He ended with a list of things that his small team had done. What he needs to add when he does that is to say how these have actually persuaded or provoked changes in SNP government policy. It’s not a bad record for a small team of 5 MSPs out of 129.

Here’s his speech in full. What do you think?

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Rennie tackles Justice Secretary on allegations that Police Scotland spied illegally on journalists

Today’s Sunday Herald reports that Police Scotland has illegally spied on journalists to try to identify their sources, citing the Interception of Communication Commissioner’s Office:

However, IOCCO last month revealed that two unnamed forces had breached the revised Code since March 25.

It said: “Two police forces have acquired communications data to identify the interactions between journalists and their sources in two investigations without obtaining judicial approval.

“These breaches were identified during our inspections. In these cases the normal RIPA process was used and the data was approved by a designated person.”

In one of the cases, a force acquired the data of a newspaper’s suspected source and of a former police employee believed to be acting as an intermediary.

Willie Rennie has been quick to seek answers from the Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson. He wrote:

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Opinion: My problem with Scotland’s “Named Person” plan

The other day I commented on a Facebook post about areas we share with the SNP, mentioning my concerns about the SNPs plans for every child in Scotland to have a “named person” who is their point of contact with the social services. Caron Lindsay mentioned that Euan Davidson had written for this site in support of the measures, and invited me to post a response. I made sure I had the facts right (some of which I had to be corrected on but didn’t change my overall view) and got started. To the best of my understanding, the named person would be someone the child could contact if they had a problem that they needed confidential help from. It could also be to obtain information on subjects that may be either too sensitive or too awkward to discuss with parents. I agree with what is trying to be achieved here, but I don’t think this is the way to do it. Here is why.

On May 15th 2015, I finished my final secondary school exam. I was finished school. I was an adult? I would never have a teacher again. Lecturers, sure, but I would never again be in the situation where I would have to ask someone if I was allowed to go to the bathroom. Some of my teachers I would miss more than others because I had grown to trust them enough to act in the same way around them as I would around my friends. Some teachers I still showed restraint around, as if I was an employee of theirs. You would think that my guidance teacher, whom I was supposed to approach with any problems, would belong to the first category. This was far from the case.
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LIbLink: Willie Rennie: We need the facts on the M9 tragedy

Ten days ago, a small blue car crashed just off the M9 near Stirling. A call was made to the Police reporting the incident. Nothing was done for three days. The driver of the car, John Yuill, was already dead. His partner, Lamara Bell was still alive but, sadly, she too died on Sunday.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie is one of the MSPs for the area. He has called for a comprehensive and wide-ranging enquiry to which all police staff should be free to contribute without fear of repercussions. He is concerned at attempts by the Chief Constable to pre-judge the existing smaller scale enquiry. Sir Stephen House apologised for Police Scotland’s failures but made it sound as though the fault was down to an individual. That seems to me to be grossly unfair to a member of staff. We know that pressure on staff has increased as control rooms have been closed and we need to look properly at the impact that these measures have had on staff wellbeing and their ability to provide the service we need from them. 

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Alistair Carmichael wants Orkney and Shetland to control their share of the Crown Estates

st Andrews flag saltire scotland Some rights reserved by Fulla TAlistair Carmichael has tabled an amendment to the Scotland Bill which would devolve control of the Crown Estates revenues to local level for Orkney and Shetland and, interestingly, the Western Isles. The Independent has the story:

Mr Carmichael said that the SNP administration is “in practice and instinct a highly centralised government” and did not want “devolution downwards”. Under his plan, the islands would have their own commissioners deciding how Crown Estate land is run.

He added that the Crown Estate owns and manages the seabed, which is of great importance to islands that rely heavily on the fishing industry, with salmon and trout farms. Mr Carmichael said these farms have to pay a percentage of their turnover to lease these areas, which is “a tax by any other name”.

This should present a challenge to Angus Brendan McNeil, the SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar which includes the Outer Hebrides, because he should support the extra revenue for his local community. He won’t, of course, because the SNP likes to keep everything nice and centralised in Holyrood. Even if he violently disagreed with their policy, he would be forbidden from criticising it in public thanks to particularly draconian standing orders by which nationalist MPs have to abide.

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Opinion: In defence of the Scottish Government’s plan for named persons for every child

I am writing this article after becoming increasingly frustrated at the tone and level of debate with which many people in our party are subjecting the Scottish Children and Young People’s bill and in particular the provision for a “named person” for every child.

Many of you will be asking what a “named person” is. If you choose to listen to the Daily Mail, the Christian institute and an assortment of other hysterical social conservatives this represents the introduction of state sponsored guardians whose mission in life is to spy on families and enforce political correctness. However I choose not to listen to these groups. I choose to listen to the countless social workers, teachers, child protections professionals, youth workers and other professionals who are backing this legislation.

What this legislation actually does is provide for a single point of contact for every young person from the ages of zero to eighteen so if ever that young person requires support from services or a welfare issue is raised by professionals, these organisations are operating in tandem rather than working in isolation. This will operate in a similar manner as health visitors supporting mothers and infants. For the vast majority of young people the named person will be a midwife then a health visitor followed by their primary school headteacher and finally their secondary guidance teacher.

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Willie Rennie and Greens’ Patrick Harvie support launch of Open Rights Group Scotland

WR  at ORG Scotland LaunchScottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie and Greens’ co-convener Patrick Harvie both attended the launch of Open Rights Group Scotland yesterday. Immediately after First Minister’s Questions, they gathered in a smoke-filled Garden lobby (the cafe was having an indoor barbecue to celebrate the start of the Summer holidays) to talk to journalists and pose for photographs.

As the SNP Government ramps up its plans for a National ID database that’s more powerful and intrusive than anything Labour ever came up with, and as Edinburgh plans to integrate all its CCTV systems, there is a lot for the digital rights organisation to do.

Willie Rennie said:

The way in which we work, socialise, buy products and use services has changed dramatically since the digital revolution.

But government and politicians have responded at a snail’s pace and have failed to ensure the rights of citizens, consumers, journalists, businesses and children are protected online.

I am delighted to be part of the launch of Open Rights Group Scotland. It will help drive digital rights up the agenda in Scotland so that we can build a fairer society which enshrines civil liberties in every part of our lives.

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A row with a Labour MP and a wonky crystal ball

Facebook is now giving you more reason to waste time on it by reminding you what you posted on this day in previous years. I’m mostly enjoying it. A random bit of cheek from the much missed Andrew Reeves made me laugh and cry yesterday. Today I was reminded about a post on my own blog from five years ago.

Tom Harris, then MP for Glasgow South had been whinging something chronic about the (then) new IPSA, the body which administers parliamentary expenses, set up in the wake of the scandal. I wrote a post in response which said, basically: Tom, you have a point, but this is how public services generally treat ordinary, often vulnerable people. I then went off on one giving many examples of such horrors.

There might be some who take a bit of perverse pleasure in seeing MPs being treated like that. I’m not one of them, although I have no objection to them having to provide documentary evidence of things. You try claiming benefits or tax credits without providing supporting documents and see how far you get. Most MPs, as I have repeatedly said, are good people – but then so are most people who deal with the Department of Work and Pensions, the UK Border Agency and HM Revenue and Customs – and nobody should have to put up with poor systems and bad service.

One thing IPSA hasn’t done yet is lost any confidential data, unlike HMRC under Labour where the details of Child Benefit claimants went missing.

I do have a slight concern about the way in which one MP spoke to the IPSA officials (apparently interns, who have no power in the organisation) when asked to file his children’s birth certificates:

It is not yet known whether the IPSA official in question is even physically capable of performing the act the MP then requested of him, or even if it is legal within the United Kingdom.

.I wonder if this is a bit of poetic licence on Tom’s part but if a benefit or tax credit claimant had spoken to a Government official like that, they would have suffered some fairly severe consequences and perhaps been denied service, however understandable the grievance. I also think Tom would be the first to stand up and defend the relevant Government agency in that instance.

Tom was none too pleased and took me to task in the comments:

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Opinion: Fighting for sex workers’ rights in Scotland

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 11.01.01So, here we go again! Another bid to introduce the Nordic Model of criminalising the clients of sex workers has been launched this week in Scotland. This time it comes from a group called End Prostitution Now; a campaigning organisation made up of some very familiar faces and backed by Rhoda Grant MSP whose last attempt to introduce this legislation failed in 2012. Advocating for sex workers’ rights in Scotland can sometimes feel like playing Whack-a-Mole; every time we successfully argue against one campaign to make sex work more dangerous, another pops up almost immediately – perhaps having undergone a slight rebrand, but always essentially the same as the last.

On Monday, End Prostitution Now’s spokesperson Jan Macleod (whose widely-discredited research on the matter has been described by academics as “violating fundamental principles of human research ethics”) appeared on Scotland Tonight to defend the proposals. When challenged on the dangers caused by the Nordic Model in practice, she claimed that Googling brought up mixed evidence and stated that it was difficult to know which sources to believe.

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Opinion: An off-hand economic miracle, courtesy of new SNP Parliamentarian Tommy Sheppard

Last Sunday on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour the subject turned to the Scotland bill and the SNPs abandonment of their call for full fiscal autonomy.

About 05:20 minutes into this clip you can hear this exchange:

Carolyn Quinn – ‘Well Tommy isn’t it the case that the IFS say that if full fiscal autonomy is implemented now it would deprive Scotland of £8billion in revenue’

Tommy Sheppard MP – ‘That’s an academic estimate based on doing absolutely nothing to change the way the economy is run in Scotland.’

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Opinion: ‘Scotland – where now?

 

The referendum is over and has settled nothing. The election has raised more questions than answers. And the Conservative Government’s first Queen’s Speech has set the direction of travel, while leaving the specifics nicely vague. What we do know is that plans for ‘English Votes for English Laws’, barring Scottish MPs from voting on whatever the executive decides are England-only matters, will see Scottish Votes for British Laws made increasingly irrelevant. We also know that further devolution to Scotland is going to happen, but not if the offer can satisfy the SNP’s short term ambitions.

So where are Liberal Democrats in all this? Our historical commitment is of course to Federalism, which differs from devolution in that the members of a federation usually cannot be abolished by their federal government, and that such members are usually equals – each state has the same amount of control over its own affairs, and the same relationship with the federal government. Not so with devolution, which has led to the creation of several assemblies in the UK, each with differing powers and responsibilities.

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Daily Mail: on how Charles Kennedy was “hounded” by the SNP in run-up to the election

You’ll not often find me linking to the Daily Mail. It’s even less likely that you’ll find me praising anything on its pages. However, I have to make an exception for one article today.

Guy Adams outlines in some detail the sort of abuse Charles Kennedy and his team were subjected to from supporters of the SNP, both online and in the street.

He quotes Charles’ campaign manager, Conn O’Neill at length. He described returning back to Charles’ cottage the morning after the election:

It was a Friday morning, when the rubbish gets taken out in and around Fort William,’ recalls Kennedy’s campaign manager, Conn O’Neill.

‘When Charles got back to the cottage, he discovered his bins upturned and left at the end of his driveway. It seemed as if someone had gone through them and spread the contents everywhere.

‘There was litter all over the place. Most of it ended up strewn over the field across the road.

He also quotes Candy Piercy, but she didn’t actually talk to them. It may be that he took that quote from our article on the day the SNP candidate took a posse to Charles’ office in Fort Williams and shouted at the staff because he didn’t like something from Charles’ Facebook.

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Opinion: Ending mental health inequality

I joined the Liberal Democrats partially due to the importance that has constantly been put on mental health issues by the party. I have suffered from extreme depression and have ended up in A&E due to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. A couple of weeks ago I was officially discharged from psychiatry and I’m using my voice – as it’s a loud one – for those who are suffering and have lost their voice due to mental health concerns.

Over a month ago I wrote to the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, about her apparent lack of understanding when it comes to mental health concerns. On a radio show involving young voters she claimed that Scotland did not have the same issues as England when it came to mental health parity because in Scotland they already had the same legal status. She even went as far to say to one voter on the panel:

If you don’t think we’re doing enough then I have to convince you we are doing enough.

This could not be further from the truth. That’s why I wrote to her. I wrote that the CAMHS targets are not being met. They say that no child should wait longer than 18 weeks for a referral. Only 78.9% are being seen within that time frame. If you up the limit to 26 weeks only 7% more are being seen. That means that of those who are needing referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services 14% are not being seen within half a year! I’ve included the link to these statistics at the end of the post for those interested. I’ll just copy and paste the response I was given:

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MSPs reject Assisted Suicide Bill – read two compelling speeches from Lib Dems McArthur and McInnes

I was sad that Holyrood rejected the Assisted Suicide Bill yesterday, but I was heartened by the fact that support for such a measure is growing and I think the debate will continue.

It was also good to see that it was conducted in such a respectful and sensitive fashion.

I thought you might like to see the two speeches our MSPs made, one on each side of the argument from Alison McInnes and Liam McArthur. Both were brilliant, thoughtful and liberal. If I had been persuadable, Alison’s speech might have done it.

Alison McInnes:

I come to this debate as a liberal and

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Last chance to convince MSPs on Assisted Suicide Bill

From the Facebook page of my friend Anne, reproduced with her permission:

My mother was riddled with cancer, according to the Coroner, when she planned her successful suicide in 1972 at the age of 54. She waited for her first grandchild to be safely born, chose a day my brother and doctor wife were visiting so that my father wouldn’t find her, left notes around the house re unfinished business (including knitting for her grandson), went to a spare bedroom and took sleeping tablets writing a note as she fell asleep. It was the only way she could make sure the family didn’t watch her die a slow and painful death.

Under the new legislation, she could have met her grandson and we could have said our goodbyes. I have waited over forty years for this – please don’t make me wait any more.

Tomorrow the Scottish Parliament debates the Assisted Suicide Bill. This Bill would give terminally ill people the right to receive assistance in ending their lives within a very tightly regulated procedure as set out (from the My Life, My Death, My Choice” website) below:

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Alison McInnes finds yet another Police Scotland civil liberties infringement

Police Scotland have been caught uploading custody shots of people who may not ever even be convicted or have even been charged to the national police database and then searching it using facial recognition technology. Over 600,000 photos of almost 335,000 people are involved.

The facial recognition technology can be used to cross-reference images of suspects from crime scenes with images of individuals kept on the database. However, experts have also raised concerns the system could be abused.

There is currently no framework to stipulate the circumstances in which the technology should be used – meaning it could be used to identify people from football matches or political protests. Fishing expeditions such as these could lead to potential wrongful accusations.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Alison McInnes found this out through Freedom of Information requests. She said:

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Rennie: Scottish Liberal Democrats are listening

It’s 4 years since Willie Rennie became Scottish Liberal Democrat leader this week. He was elected in the wake of a crushing electoral defeat and he celebrates this anniversary in the wake of another one. That is despite him regularly being credited with landing some real blows on the SNP administration at Holyrood with not even 5% of MSPs. Let’s just look at some of the accolades he and his small team have received.

Within weeks of him becoming leader the journalists were full of praise:

A doughty campaigner, with an unpatronising down-to-earth style, Mr Rennie may grow into an impressive leader, building a level of credibility… The Herald

Amid what was… a general air of gloom, there was one bright spark.  This was the performance of Willie Rennie, the new leader of the much depleted Liberal Democrats, whose brief sojourn in the Commons seems to have at least taught him how to frame decent questions, on this occasion about Mr MacAskill’s outrageous behaviour.”  Alan Cochrane, Daily Telegraph (not a known fan of the Liberal Democrats, to put it mildly)

“The former Scottish Lib Dem chief executive has made a decent start and showed he wasn’t afraid to throw a punch”  Andrew Whitaker, Scotsman

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In which I seriously contemplate voting Labour

You might find this hard to believe. I was a little bit shocked by it myself. You have to understand the situation I am in. I live in a seat which is, to all intents and purposes, a battle between the SNP and Labour. With a poll this week suggesting that the SNP could win every single seat in Scotland, the unthinkable had to be thought. Should I, could I vote Labour tactically  to try to stop that happening? A large group of SNP MPs primarily motivated by narrow nationalist interests is not something that I think would be healthy for our democracy.

I have voted either SDP or Liberal Democrat in every election since I turned 18 bar two. The first was in the 90s when there was no Lib Dem candidate in my council ward. There wasn’t even an independent. My choice was Tory or Labour. There was no way I could ever in a million years vote Tory, so I had to click my heels three times, cross my fingers behind my back and put my cross next to the Labour candidate. The second was the 1997 election when I didn’t vote at all. When I had headed over to Chesterfield on the Friday before polling day, I rather suspected I might get home before 10pm on polling day. It wasn’t to be. I don’t think Mrs Pankhurst would have minded too much, though, because I was working my backside of in one of the most fantastic campaigns I have ever worked on.

The thought of Scotland sending a contingent of 100% of nationalist MPs elected on barely half the vote was something that deeply disturbed me. they would then claim that they spoke for Scotland, dismissing those who didn’t support them. Don’t get me wrong, there are some issues where I have a lot of common ground with them. However, their nationalism and quest for independence aside, they have a strong authoritarian, illiberal streak which goes against all my instincts. If Labour were the only ones likely to be able to beat them, shouldn’t I hold my nose and just vote Labour?

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Opinion: We shouldn’t demonise the Scots or the SNP

I’m increasingly concerned at the way in which the prospect of SNP MPs at Westminster is being treated in the English media.

My fear is that the SNP is being demonised in a way that undermines the future of the United Kingdom by bracketing the SNP and the Scots together and demonising both.

I’ve heard many stories from people in Scotland of the bitter taste left by the Thatcher years, when the Tories foisted the poll tax first on the Scots, smashed industry and caused mass unemployment. All this led to a Tory wipeout in 1997 and they still have only 1 MP in Scotland, although they do have a sizeable contingent at Holyrood due to PR.

Both the SNP and Plaid Cymru pushed an anti-austerity agenda in the television debates. This chimes in with resentment at austerity across the UK but doesn’t make economic sense: cutting too much chokes (as the Tories propose) off growth, but letting the deficit grow undermines financial stability in a way that is just as dangerous. They both have a purchase on Labour because they chime in with Labour’s left wing.

The sociology seems complex, both within and between the countries of the UK, but short circuiting with cheap shots such as adverts showing Ed Milliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket, can only fuel resentment.

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Opinion: Why do I still care?

It is difficult to stop caring coming, as I do, from generations of politically active Liberals and having taken up the baton myself back in 1983. In 1997, I was handed the reins of the Scottish Lib Dem website which meant I was in sole charge of the content and design of the site. I ran it until 2008 when I resigned in disgust at the changes, and censorship, mooted by a newly-formed website committee. Since then, I have allowed my membership to lapse but, until now, have always voted Lib Dem.

Being in a coalition took Westminster Lib Dems by surprise in 2010 but it need not have done. They have, of course, done wonders as a brake on Tory policies but they will never have any credit for what they have done. What is particularly frustrating for me is that I had pointed out how to advertise their role in a paper I circulated in January 2005 because, by that time, there had already been Lib Dem Government Ministers for five years.

How easy it would have been, back then, to have had permanent footers on every London press release pointing out that the person in charge, in Scotland, was a Lib Dem.  How easy it would have been to have our Education spokesperson MP stop waffling on about what he would do and start saying this is what our Minister is doing, in Scotland.  No-one else was going to do so, no Westminster Minister was ever going to admit to covering only part of the UK, the only people who could blow the Lib Dem trumpet were the Lib Dems themselves and they failed, miserably.

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Willie Rennie accuses Conservatives of trying to pull the UK apart

For the third time in ten days, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has hit out at the Conservatives, accusing them of putting party before country and risking the future of the United Kingdom they say they want to keep together.

Their actions are very different, though. Last week, Michael Fallon talked up the entirely ridiculous suggestion of a deal between Labour and the SNP on Trident with the aim of persuading swing voters in middle England to vote Conservative. They also sent their Scottish leader campaigning in North East Fife, a seat they know that they can’t win. Willie Rennie said at the time:

Just the other day the Scottish Conservative Leader was visiting North East Fife claiming they can win.  It’s a seat the bookies say is a close race between the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.  The Tories are also rans.  The only result of their reckless actions would be to divide the non-SNP vote and let the SNP win.

Yesterday, Willie described the Conservative plans for English votes for English Laws as “unstable and reckless.”

We agree that there does need to be a stronger voice for England in parliament.

But we will not entertain a Conservative attempt to gerrymander those votes in order to give the Conservatives a majority say on these important matters when they don’t command a majority of peoples’ votes in England.

Like all other forms of devolution in the United Kingdom any change must be based on fairer proportional voting, not Tory plans to create a majority by the back door. The Conservatives unstable and reckless reforms threaten to undermine the future of the UK.

And, finally, today, he condemned a Conservative poster being shown in England, saying that the Tories have joined the SNP in trying to pull the country apart.

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Willie Rennie takes his son to work

Willie Rennie’s campaign theme today was all about the support Lib Dems offer families. Note the impressive absence of the awful phrase “hard-working families” from any of his utterances.

He also had his son, 11 year old Stephen, with him as he and Alan Reid visited a nursery in Argyll and Bute as part of a Take your child to work day.

Here are the pair setting off from home:

And once there, Stephen really got into the swing of things and was totally undaunted by all the attention:

Willie outlined all the things Liberal Democrats would do to help families:

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Sir John Major certainly knows about parliamentary mayhem

If I was doing one of these word association games, the first word that comes into my mind when I think of Sir John Major is “b******ds”. This Guardian report from 1993 reminds us of the frustration he felt as a Prime Minister who was frequently embroiled in parliamentary mayhem, not knowing whether he was going to be able to win crucial Commons votes. Except it wasn’t nationalists, pesky or otherwise, who caused him the problems. It was his own party.

Mr Major: “Just think it through from my perspective. You are the prime minister, with a majority of 18, a party that is still harking back to a golden age that never was, and is now invented (clearly a reference to the time of Mrs Thatcher’s leadership). You have three rightwing members of the Cabinet who actually resign. What happens in the parliamentary party?”

Mr Brunson observes that Tory MPs would create a lot of fuss, but that Mr Major is prime minister. He could easily find three new cabinet members.

Mr Major then bares his soul. “I could bring in other people. But where do you think most of this poison is coming from? From the dispossessed and the never-possessed. You can think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble.

“We don’t want another three more of the bastards out there. What’s Lyndon Johnson’s maxim?…”

Major’s words might be aimed at scaring Middle England into voting Tory while annoying Scottish voters into voting SNP to give the Conservatives more chance of winning that increasing elusive parliamentary majority, but what it actually does is remind us how dangerous the right wing of the Conservative Party, especially if combined with UKIP and the likes of the DUP, could be. A tiny Tory majority would give the likes of Nadine Dorries and Peter Bone the run of the place, a point well made by Nick Clegg last week with the launch of the Blukip site. Frankly, the Blu on its own is bad enough. The Kip would only be the sour on top of the bitter.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , and | 34 Comments

Willie Rennie launches Scottish Liberal Democrats manifesto for a “Decade of Opportunity”

Edinburgh West is clearly the place to launch your election manifesto these days. However, when Willie Rennie, Mike Crockart and Jo Swinson launch the Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto it won’t be in a massive venue surrounded by an audience of cheering party supporters, it’ll be in the heart of the community, in a small business, in South Queensferry.

Ironically, it’ll be almost exactly opposite the spot across the Firth of Forth in North Queensferry where he gave his first interview as Scottish leader in May 2011.

Last year, Willie talked about a “sunshine strategy” and it looks like he’ll be getting plenty sunshine and 15 degree temperatures for the launch.

Willie said:

Liberal Democrats are driven by our ambition of creating opportunity for all.

Our prospectus to the people of Scotland is proudly Liberal Democrat. Standing on the record of progress in government and vision of the future.

In just five years we have got the economy back on track and done so fairly.  We are now closer to our ambition of creating opportunity for everyone.  But with wins for the Liberal Democrat in this election we can make it a decade of opportunity.

With Liberal Democrats we can create opportunity for children by investing in education especially in the early years.

With Liberal Democrats we can create opportunity for everyone by investing £800million in our NHS and bring mental health care to the fore.

With Liberal Democrats we can create opportunity for workers by creating even more jobs and cutting their taxes too.

With Liberal Democrats we can create opportunity for Scotland by delivering more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

These are Liberal Democrat ambitions because they build a stronger economy and a fairer society, in a stronger Scotland.

It is a positive offer to create a decade of opportunity for everyone in our country.

The manifesto can be read here.

Posted in News | Also tagged , and | 5 Comments
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