Tag Archives: Scotland

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.

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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.

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That’s not how we used to do politics in the Highlands: SNP candidate takes supporters on aggressive visit to Charles Kennedy’s office

The very first election I was ever involved in was in 1983 in Caithness & Sutherland. It was the first election since Bob Maclennan had left the Labour Party and was standing for the SDP/Liberal Alliance. It’s fair to say that there was a bit of bad blood from his former Labour colleagues. Not once, though, do I remember them coming round mob-handed and shouting at the people in our office. Their aggression was limited to filthy looks at hustings.

What on earth has happened to the peaceable Highlands?  I’ve just been speaking to members of Charles Kennedy’s team in his office in Fort William. They told me how the SNP candidate for the area, Ian Blackford, stormed in this morning with 4 supporters and shouted at everyone, wagging his finger at a member of staff. If he’d tried to do that at the doctor’s surgery or to a member of Scotrail staff, for example, he’d have found himself in big trouble. Why, then, did he think it was acceptable to treat young people in that way?

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Willie Rennie loses patience with the Conservatives, saying they put party before country

Let me take you back to 7 am on 19th September last year. In Scotland, we’re emotionally drained after a brutal 2 year referendum campaign. After some real fears that the result might go the other way, No campaigners were relieved rather than triumphant.

Then David Cameron comes out of Downing Street and starts picking a fight with Labour, trying to paint the opposition as anti-English and talking about English votes for English Laws. That was the moment that you needed a Prime Minister to bring the country together, not exacerbate divisions.

Since then, the Tories and the SNP have been doing this strange harmonious dance. Alex Salmond has been trolling Middle England talking about various demands he’d make in the event of a hung Parliament. The Tories have fed that fear with their posters showing a pathetic looking Ed Miliband in a smug looking Alex Salmond’s pocket. That, of course, suggests to me, as I wrote at the time, that David Cameron thinks he’s been in Nick Clegg’s pocket these past five years. Michael Fallon’s insinuation that Ed Miliband would do a deal with Nicola Sturgeon to get rid of Trident is fanciful in the extreme, but it all seeks to scare swing Tory voters. You just wonder what “secret Ed/Nicola pact” the Tories will come up with next. Compulsory Gaelic lessons? Installing Alex Salmond as News Editor of the BBC?  Making a deal with the Loch Ness Monster to crash the Stock Exchange (as a friend of mine suggested on Facebook)? The list is endless.

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Opinion: The regret of voting Yes

I voted Yes in the Scottish Referendum. As a card carrying member of the Liberal Democrats this was not the same choice as most of my peers. It would be easy for me to say that I got caught up in the moment and temporarily lost my mind, but I try to never make excuses for my actions. My five years of studying international relations have taught me that small nations can be successful and happy places, but also that there are alternative modes of governing. Voting yes for me was an opportunity to break down the current government structures and build fresh ones, from the ground up, to make new political structures that are inclusive and do not lock out women and minorities from participating. It was idealistic and hopeful and heavily influenced by my Masters thesis on Women’s Political Participation and a heavy dose of critical international relations theory. It was a glorious time, a time where I could transform my abstract learning into something tangible. I was hopeful. I thought we could have a society where all could participate, where all views could be accepted and valued and where we did not exclude those on the margins.

And then I came to stark realisation that underneath all the hopeful rhetoric was a large dose of Nationalism. (I probably should have realised this earlier, my bad.)  Nationalism is nasty, as I’m sure anyone who has picked up a history book will have come to realise. Nationalism is an ideology that requires the people who live within the country to attach their own identities to that of the nation, to form what could be called a homogenous national identity. For those who happily identify themselves as Scottish, this isn’t really an issue. But nationalism scorns those who do not subscribe with gusto – creating division and closing down spaces for conversation and criticism. 

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The two most talked about things from last night’s Scottish Leaders’ debate and two things the press got wrong about Willie Rennie

At Wimbledon, you generally, if you’re lucky and it hasn’t been raining, get a day between matches. This isn’t the case for Scotland’s political leaders. After a two hour marathon on STV in Edinburgh last night, Nicola Sturgeon, Jim Murphy, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie head to Aberdeen where they will face another hour of debate, joined by the Greens’ Patrick Harvie and UKIP’s David Coburn. The moderator will be BBC Scotland’s James Cook, who took a bit of a pasting from cybernats for daring to suggest that he’s had SNP sources tell him that a Tory Government would be the best option for their independence cause.

Last night’s debate took place in the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh. The format was a bit weird. There was a 20 minute session at the start where the moderator, Bernard Ponsonby, had a chat with some people in the audience and then put some questions to the leaders. Then they each had a 10 minute session on their own, giving a statement and taking 8 minutes of audience questions. That dragged a bit, to be honest. Then there was a 45 minute Question Time style free for all. It wasn’t as relaxed and well-behaved as the one at Glasgow University last month, but there were a few noteworthy moments. The most talked about on social media was the man in the crowd wearing a false moustache. Who could it be?

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The Herald: “All power to the Lib Dems for standing up for our liberties”

Willie Rennie - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsHerald columnist Ian Macwhirter is not known for writing nice things about Liberal Democrats. In fact, I think it actually causes him pain to do so. It is always welcome when someone who is not your biggest fan says nice things about you. He was very complimentary about Willie Rennie the other day. As someone pointed out on my Facebook when I posted this originally, “All Power to…. is not the most civil-liberties friendly headline, but it’s appreciated nonetheless.

As James Baker wrote a few weeks ago, the Scottish Government were trying to sneak in plans for what is effectively a massive ID database capable of even more surveillance than that set up by Labour. Once Willie got to hear about it, he set about questioning it and used a rare Liberal Democrat opposition day debate in Parliament to highlight the issue. He called for the creation of such a database to be the subject of primary legislation. He was never going to win, because, you know, SNP overall majority and all that – and they don’t take kindly to rebellion or even criticism from their parliamentarians – but he inflicted a bloody nose on the Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

Macwhirter wrote:

I think now we have an answer to what the LibDems are for: they’re the only major party, Greens aside, that really takes issues of civil liberties seriously, as we saw yesterday with their debate on the Scottish Government’s plans effectively to create a national identity database.Leader Willie Rennie’s motion to stop the measure being rushed through without proper parliamentary scrutiny succeeded by 65 votes to 60 in the Scottish Parliament after an intelligent and thoughtful debate; a rare occasion on which Deputy First Minister John Swinney was sent back to think again

We need parties that keep a vigilant eye on government. Labour has never quite got this privacy thing having been, for most of its existence, a party very much of and for the big state. The Tories are supposed to be the party of the individual but their law’n’order populism, hostility to immigration and preoccupation with state security have made them suckers for any agency – police, spooks, tax authorities and so on – that wants to snoop into our affairs.

The Tories seem to recognise threats to civil liberties when in opposition. Their spokeswoman Liz Smith MSP is opposing the latest plans from the Scottish Government as “identity cards by the back door”.

The SNP are similarly schizophrenic. They opposed the introduction of a national identity database in 2005 when it was proposed by Tony Blair’s Labour government. But once the Nationalists got into government they started succumbing to the same pressures to tighten up all round and, of course, to praise our wonderful police, as Nicola Sturgeon did last week.

That would be the same wonderful police, by the way, whose senior management are, for the second time, being hauled back before a parliamentary committee for failing to deliver what they said they would. On both stop and search and armed police they have not kept their word and their chief constable has not shown an acceptable attitude towards scrutiny.

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Ashcroft polls predict SNP gains – including Bob Smith and Charles Kennedy’s seats – but don’t panic yet

If tonight’s Ashcroft polls are worrying for Liberal Democrats, they will be petrifying for the Labour Party – and not just in Scotland where their new leader Jim Murphy’s seat is on a knife edge. Of the eight Scottish seats polled, six are predicted at this stage to go to the SNP. These include the seats of Liberal Democrats Bob Smith and Charles Kennedy. The loss of these  north east and highland heartlands would be a massive blow to the party.  You can see the figures in this table:

Ashcroft polls 4 March 2015

The race in Charles’ seat is pretty close, with just 5 points between Charles and the SNP with 22% of a squeezable Labour and Tory vote. It is very clear that this is a two horse race. Labour and Tory voters will have to think about who they want in Parliament to represent them. Do they want the independent minded, popular Charles or an SNP MP who will have to sign up to do exactly what his political masters tell them without criticism.

The situation in West Aberdeenshire is, in this poll, more complex with support apparently split between Liberal Democrat and Conservative. However that rather flies in the face of the Conservative retreat from this constituency. You would think that they would have some reason for making that decision. The Tories know that they can’t win. I suspect that Bob Smith will be making sure that everyone knows there is simply no point in voting Tory and he will pick up enough of their vote to hang on.

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Opinion: Scottish Lib Dems should abandon their suicidal complacency and promise to devolve oil and gas

It seems now clear, after months of polling, that nothing will disengage the Scottish electorate from its preoccupation with its place in the Union.   The latest TNS poll shows the SNP on 46%. Even a fall to below 40% will win the SNP most constituencies under FPTP.

We have heard much about Scottish Labour’s slump in the polls (from 42% in 2010 to 30% now), but the poll shows that their Lib Dem counterparts have collapsed from 19% to an appalling 3%. Lib Dems MPs look like being down from 11 to between 1 and 3.

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Things to do in your lunch hour: Last chance to respond to Scottish Government’s ID Database consultation

A couple of weeks ago, James Baker told us why the proposals in Scotland to use the NHS identity database and use it effectively as a surveillance tool was wrong and dangerous:

One of the stated aims of the changes proposed is that it would make it easier to ‘trace people’, the examples given are tracing missing children or ‘health tourists’. This is a giveaway as to the increased surveillance capabilities the scheme would create. If it’s able to trace children through civic transactions recorded on the system then it will be able to trace political campaigners, people’s whose library books are overdue, potentially anyone who comes to the attention of the authorities.

The consultation is alarmingly lacking in detail as to how the new database system would work, and what safeguards would be put in place.  If implemented as suggested it would almost certainly raise the possibility of a legal challenge over the breach of people’s right to privacy, and additional  compliance issues with data protection laws. At the very least such a major change in people’s relationship to the state  should be the subject of a public debate, not rushed through by officials using changes in obscure regulations. If these changes are to occur they need to be done through the use of primary legislation not a change in regulations. This seems a request it would seem hard for any reasonable Scottish Parliamentarian to deny.

The Scottish Government is consulting on this and today is your last chance to make your views known. You can do so here. It is worth a few minutes of your time to ask the Scottish Government to think twice before introducing such a step.

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