Nick Clegg in Scotland: another opportunity for Scots to get to know him wasted

I am proper livid today. Nick Clegg came to Scotland yesterday. Not that you’d know from the amount of media coverage the visit attracted. There’s not much in today’s papers, although STV covered his visit to a factory in Jedburgh.

What would Scots have learned about our Deputy Prime Minister over the last year? People remember that he had paint thrown at him when he came up last August but his visits since then have largely gone unnoticed. That, I believe, is because we are being far too timid in what we do with him: every time he comes up we send him to yet another business, another factory tour. He’s asked a few questions about the independence referendum and then he disappears. Scots don’t get the chance to see him where he’s most passionate, most comfortable, talking about social mobility or mental health.

I’ve been a supporter of Nick’s since he was first a candidate back in 1998. Even then, he was determined to tackle establishment privilege. I’ve been impressed that he’s won a fair few battles with the Tories in Government: making sure benefits went up in line with inflation; a faster raising of the tax threshold to help people on low incomes sooner; the biggest state pension rise ever; ending child detention for immigration purposes in awful places like Yarl’s Wood and Dungavel; preventing the Tories from introducing draconian web snooping powers this year and promising that we won’t vote for legislation on this we can’t live with to name but a few. It was Nick who’s insisted on a judge led enquiry to tackle the media excesses. There is a lot to be proud of.

I think Nick deserves much more credit than he gets for his record in Government. Part of the reason he doesn’t is because his best work, the pupil premium and mental health strategy, don’t apply in Scotland. This does not mean that he shouldn’t talk about it up here, though.

When Nick next comes north, I don’t want to see yet more blokes in suits round factories shots. They do nothing to improve his standing amongst ordinary Scots. I want to see him doing town hall meetings, interacting with ordinary Scots. He is so good in that environment and they’ve been successful across the rest of the country. I want to see him talking to mental health charities so that they can see how committed he is to improving treatment and tackling stigma. I want him to talk about how the Pupil Premium is enhancing the education of kids from poorer backgrounds to give them better life chances. His record on tax and pensions, which do apply up here, also needs to be pushed far more. We need more in-depth interviews on these subjects with the Scottish media.

Nick Clegg’s current approval ratings are nothing to write home about, especially in Scotland. If we keep wasting opportunities to show off the real Nick, he will continue to be depicted as the bogeyman in London. Scotland has two young, talented, passionate, radical Liberal Democrat leaders. Scots know that Willie Rennie has not been shy in taking on the SNP establishment, supporting equal marriage and highlighting Alex Salmond’s links with Murdoch and how he’s panda-ed to China over human rights. It’s important they have the chance to learn more about Nick’s progressive, liberal, ideas and actions. They will find more common ground than they expect.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • David Allen 29th Aug '12 - 2:32pm

    I’d rather get to know him sober….

  • Paul Pettinger 29th Aug '12 - 3:05pm

    The Scottish Party went into a formal coalition, did not implode and managed to get some very credible achievements out of it, including electoral reform – that wasn’t the media’s doing, but their doing. I think our members in England and parliamentarians at Westminster can gain a lot more from Scotland than Scotland can from having to publically receive our current toxic federal leader.

  • If he meets ordinary Scots in ordinary settings then there may well be more things thrown at him. No point talking about the pupil premium without discussing EMA at the same time, something Nick has been reluctant to do. The Scots don’t need to learn more about Clegg, they’ve learned enough already.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Aug '12 - 3:14pm

    David Allen – that fair made me giggle

    Dave Page – absolutely right, of course – although in Scotland we are going further than in England by allowing religious marriage . Nick’s in favour, but it’s only civil marriage down with you.

    Brian, thanks for that – good to know Nick’s town hall meeting was well received.

    Paul, our coalition in Scotland was at a time when we had stacks of cash, the parliament was in the proportion voted for and therefore more balanced and times were much easier. We’re doing well, and punching above our weight, in a coalition in much tougher times now.

  • Paul Pettinger 29th Aug '12 - 3:43pm

    I really don’t think it is fair to talk down Scotland’s achievements, as they seem all the better with the party’s current predicament. In Scotland the Party made a priority of those things that were most important to those people who voted Liberal Democrat, something that has not happened for the 2010 LD voting cohort.

  • paul barker 29th Aug '12 - 3:45pm

    Can I just point out that Nick Cleggs approval ratings are fine, 28 & 31% in the last 2 surveys I think. Unfortunately those figures arent often used in the media or by us – instead we get the ridiculous “net” figures which are always negative of course.
    Imagine if we did the same thing with voting intention polls, subtracting everyone who wont vote for a party from those who will ? The 2010 election results would have been –
    con -26%
    lab -40%
    libdem –52%
    Amusing but not very useful.

  • Paul Barker

    Can you tell me where they sell thos rose-tinted specs you wear? I could do with a pair

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Aug '12 - 4:17pm

    Paul, the Coalition in Scotland did great things – free tuition, free personal care and STV for local Government in the second term all of them Lib Dem priorities. It was a different world back then, though, and much easier. There was no shortage of money for a start.

    This Westminster Coalition had the odds stacked against it from the start, taking office at a time when the economy was so fragile. Despite lack of money, and the obvious intent of the Tories to protect the rich, we’ve still managed to give the lowest earners a significant tax cut increase the pension, made sure benefits went up – George Osborne was not for giving the 5.2% last year and looked after those with least coming in.

    The hand of cards the party was dealt in 1999 had aces and kings in it. Now, there’s maybe a couple of sixes at best.

    I’m not saying everything we’ve done in Government is perfect. Indeed, some things I totally oppose. However, I am glad we’re there because it would be a whole load worse if the Tories were doing this on their own.

  • The Scottish coalition did do a lot of good. However, the headline achievements, free tuition, free personal care are no longer associated with the party because Nick Clegg has chosen to abandon them. The SNP have successfully made themselves the defenders of these achievements because of Nick Clegg’s record of failure to wholeheartedly support these policies both before and after 2010. The federal party’s spin in favour of £9000 fees in England only enhances this perception in the minds of the electorate. The majority SNP government are showing that these achievements are affordable even in the present economic situation and could be safeguarded by Scottish independence. In contrast, Clegg and Laws could not drop them fast enough.

  • “It was Nick who’s insisted on a judge led enquiry to tackle the medias excesses”

    Errr, I rather think that was Ed Miliband.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Aug '12 - 7:18am

    Kris, who takes any notice of Ed Miliband? Cameron wanted it to be a much lower key enquiry and Nick insisted that it should be led by a judge.

  • Mike Falchikov 30th Aug '12 - 10:42am

    Caron – quite right. It sounds like another opportunity wasted. I recall a very successful “Town Hall” meeting with Nick in Edinburgh soon after he became leader. Why not try the idea again, but with both leaders (i.e.Nick + Willie) on the platform?

  • Caron, as a member I didn’t even know he was coming, so didn’t know to look for press or TV coverage after he’d been! Maybe that’s the problem too? I agree about the town hall meetings – the one last summer, although for members only, was really good and I think that a meeting with him and Willie somewhere other than the central belt – Aberdeenshire, St Andrews, Perth – would be really effective.

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