A longer read for the weekend: Where now for the Lib Dems?

The Liberal Democrats find themselves lost at sea, rudderless, without sail or paddle, and devoid of compass. Famously, Odysseus spent ten years afloat after the Siege of Troy – “long adrift on shipless oceans”, as Tim Buckley sang in Song To The Siren – but there’s every chance that the Lib Dems will spend much longer than a decade wandering the political oceans if they don’t sort themselves out, and quickly.

Of course, the party does realise it’s in trouble post its catastrophic performance in the December 2019 General Election, and Baroness Thornhill’s after action review has addressed some of the perceived problems. To be fair, her review pulled few punches but arguably is a bit light on solutions or suggestions for radical change. I have no intention of going through her paper point for point and leave it to you to read it should you choose to so do, but I would recommend it.

It’s an old army saying that there are no bad regiments, just bad commanding officers, and this adage probably applies to political parties too. Thornhill notes that Jo Swinson’s short period of leadership was pretty disastrous overall, leaving the party with only 11 MPs at Westminster and she losing her seat and resigning shortly thereafter.  Personally, I don’t blame Jo Swinson – I voted for her in the leadership election – but with hindsight she was probably too young, too inexperienced and perhaps too naïve to be leader of a political party. And she was either completely stubborn or very badly advised by those around her, of which more later. Suffice to say that whoever thought “Jo for Prime Minister” was a good idea needs their head examined.

What is completely unforgivable, though, is that the party has yet to elect a replacement leader and will not do so until August at the earliest. I am well aware of the arguments put forward in favour of this timescale but I’m afraid they just don’t wash. A new leader should have been in place within a fortnight, and that the party hierarchy thought, and still thinks, that an eight month hiatus is acceptable beggars belief, interim leaders notwithstanding. No serious, competent organisation in any of the private, public or voluntary sectors would deem this acceptable.

Second only to sound leadership, the Lib Dems desperately need a well understood grand strategy. By that I mean the result of some thought process which follows the generally accepted model for strategic planning, ie the identification and selection of ends, ways and means. If one exists then I don’t know what it is, and neither do any of my fellow party members and activists. I have asked them. Thornhill suggests the strategy for the 2019 General Election was “ … a pure strategy to Stop Brexit. Under this strategy the plan would have been to ensure as many pro-remain MPs in the House of Commons as possible.”

That’s not a strategy; at best it’s a tactical (civilian “operational”) plan, and not a very good one at that. A strategy needs a vision, a statement of where the Party seeks to be, plus the reasons why it wants to be there. Thereafter you can delineate how you plan to get there and the tools and processes you need to facilitate the journey. “More of the same but a bit better” is not a strategy, it’s an admission of lack of aspiration. A better strategic statement of intent might be “to win sufficient seats to be a viable and attractive coalition partner (again)” or something like that. Having lots of MPs in the House of Commons is fine, but to what end?  The SNP has got more MPs at Westminster than the Lib Dems but they are essentially completely powerless, just as powerless as Labour’s infamous “Feeble Fifty” were a generation ago.

A word now on communications and public relations. The party has in fact a pretty good network for communications but its use falls far short of the requirement. A major problem is that communications down the way from party HQ are fine, but up the way not so good. In other words, HQ is on send, not receive. This seems to be particularly so on social media, where responses are virtually non-existent, not unusual it has to be said in larger, traditionally organised institutions.

A more worrying aspect is that many, if not most, messages emanating from party HQ appear amateurish, and they consistently and almost without fail seem unable to capture the zeitgeist. Awareness of the current public mood, or the ability to “read the room” as the younger generation might put it, seems almost non-existent. Many Lib Dem press releases are purely reactive and “call for” some course of action be taken, rather than promoting the party’s ideas pro-actively. I sometimes think that, if World War 3 were to be declared, the Lib Dem press release that day would be a “call for” more cycle lanes or something equally obtuse and irrelevant.

Now, getting closer to home, Scotland. I am no expert on the other devolved administrations within the UK, but I do know a little bit both about Scottish politics and the Scottish Parliament, of which I am a fan, with reservations. Here the Lib Dems have a dilemma.  The party would like, it seems, to have a one size fits all position on policy across the UK, particularly with regard to its stance on the Union. But this flies both in the face of the devolution settlement and the realpolitik of today’s constitutional context. Policies which may be appropriate for the rest of the UK do not necessarily apply north of the Border.

For one thing, in Westminster the opposition is the party of Government, the Conservatives. In Scotland it is the SNP. These parties have different priorities in their respective bailiwicks. For the Lib Dems in general, and the Scottish Lib Dems in particular, the issue of a second Scottish independence referendum is a particularly thorny matter. Being a unionist party the natural inclination would be to oppose a second referendum. But for the Scottish Lib Dems to go into the 2021 Holyrood elections on a stop indyref ticket would be politically suicidal. It would merely be a reiteration of the “Stop Brexit” pledge, and we all know how that panned out.

So I believe the party has to accept that the times have moved on and readdress its attitude to the whole Scottish independence debate. Becoming pro-Scottish independence is probably a step too far at present, but I would suggest the Party needs to move to a position of neutrality on the issue, perhaps on the basis that it is ready and eager to serve the Scottish people to the very best of its ability whether the country chooses to remain part of the UK or otherwise. Some within the Party will regard this as heresy and move Heaven and Earth to ensure it does not become policy, but the alternative is, I firmly believe, political oblivion north of the Border.

The Liberal Democrats are, arguably and sadly, now largely irrelevant at national level. Radical change is urgently required if it is to continue to play its part in UK politics. And yet, as Thornhill points out, the party knows what is has to do to achieve this, it has just ignored past experience in pursuit of goals which were, frankly, just so much wishful thinking. The key lies locally, at local authority level. MPs and MSPs tend to get elected in constituencies where there is a firm base of elected councillors and activists who have learned, often through bitter experience, what works. And it is at the local level where the schwerpunkt of party activity needs to be focused if the Lib Dems are to regain relevancy in modern British politics.

 

* Stuart Crawford is a freelance journalist of several years (and many publications) standing and a party member.

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36 Comments

  • Christopher Love 13th Jun '20 - 10:52am

    We have a duo leadership at the moment, which is fine if they agree on what needs doing. I bet that they do. One can’t underestimate the role of a leader (Jo) and overestimate it (no single leader is unforgivable) simultaneously.
    Likewise, one can’t underestimate the role of values (we’re unionist but will demur on Scotland) and then say there’s no point in having lots of MPs if we don’t know to what end. Unionist is by definition one size fits all, but is flexible enough to allow more devolution.
    Our core value, Equality, in its many forms, is very relevant today. Even more so with the Tories in power, by any ~legal means necessary, for power’s sake.
    We know we are in the sh!t. Stay calm, forget taking bounding strides forwards, figure it out.

  • I often counsel that individual Polls should usually be ignored but there is an exception to that rule , when a Poll breaks new ground. For the past 2 Months every Poll (that I have seen )has had us in the range of 6% to 9% so Yesterdays Poll putting us on 10% may suggest that we are going back up again.
    We wont really know till Politics get back to some sort of normal, The Tories/Government Polling is still a lot higher than we would usually expect given their favourability ratings, clearly there are still a lot of Voters giving “Loyalty” to The Government during the Crisis.

  • If anyone needs a forward agenda to take seriously which is more than an ad hoc policy wish list,I would strongly advise looking at Ian Kearns’ latest piece https://www.socialliberal.net/open_letter_from_the_director

    It is coherent, analytical with scarcely a wasted word or space or time for pointless cliche and hyperbole – profoundly serious , plotting a clear path for the Liberal Democrats within mainstream politics, as opposed to being a marginal purveyor of niche issues. Cheered me up.

  • Douglas beckley 13th Jun '20 - 11:38am

    ..’… the strategy for the 2019 General Election was “ … a pure strategy to Stop Brexit.’…

    2019 was a Brexit election. It would not have taken place had there been no logjam on the matter in Parliament. In a perfectly reasonable sense, pro-EU Parties were under a putative obligation to treat that election as such. Whether the strategy was flawed, or the policy inadvisable or incomplete, even incoherent is arguable of course. But in the core subjective, 2019 was a Brexit Election.

  • Rob Stephenson 13th Jun '20 - 11:39am

    We will always be frustrated unless people can feel that they don’t have to vote tactically to get their voice heard in Westminster. Perhaps a long-term strategy to address this will give us meaning.

  • Peter Martin 13th Jun '20 - 11:44am

    @ Paul Barker,

    Your rule isn’t quite right. Individual polls shouldn’t necessarily be ignored but instead should be regarded as just another point on a scatter diagram.

    There’s nothing to get too excited about at the moment for either Labour or Lib Dems. See the first graph on this link:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_next_United_Kingdom_general_election

  • I despaired when Boris Johnson became leader of the Tory party even more so when the electorate gave him and his right wing supporters such a large majority in the election, but their abysmal handling of the present crisis and subsequent major miscalculations have shown how unprepared they were and are to lead this country in this time of crisis, there just had to be a place for the Liberal Democrats in this country they are needed, along with other like minded politicians, to hold this administration to account and not let things ” move on”

  • neil sandison 13th Jun '20 - 12:29pm

    Agree with John Pugh .Ian Kearns message from the Social Liberal Forum has clarity and direction hope to here that from our leadership contenders at the Green Liberal Democrats Conference and 2 week festival commencing on the 20th June ,but agree with Stuart Crawford article we do need to have some urgency in our communications and messaging we have critically important elections coming up in 2021 which will be sink or swim for the party there is at this time little sense of direction from the national party on what will be the focus for the party post COVID 19 .remember the news moves on and does not remain statue like indefinitely .

  • Laurence Cox 13th Jun '20 - 12:51pm

    A new leader should have been in place within a fortnight

    Er, no, unless you are also arguing to disenfranchise the membership of the Party. The only way that this could have happened is for all of the MPs to agree who should lead the Party. It would not have been unreasonable though to expect a new leader by the end of February even under the present rules, putting him/her in place a whole month before Labour chose their new leader. Instead we had the incredible Federal Board decision to delay the selection until after Labour had completed theirs’, followed by the lunatic decision to delay it for a further year after lockdown commenced. At least electing a new leader by August brings some semblance of normality.

    I consider that virtual hustings for leader and the virtual conference in September is at last dragging the Party out of the 19th Century and into the 21st. We need to remember that the vast majority of Party members never attend a physical husting or Federal Party Conference, so this change is opening up the Party to its membership not closing it down.

  • John Littler 13th Jun '20 - 3:23pm

    Barry, it was right to despair over Bunter’s election at the time, but due to events, he’s been shown as useless a lot more thoroughly and widely accepted than one might expect from this supposed period of political honeymoon.

    Starmer is 32% ahead now, while Bunter was extraordinarily popular only a few weeks ago. The reverse has only two similar turnarounds I can recall. There was Thatcher’s home grown monetarist jobs destroying disaster of 81-2, which made her the most unpopular PM in history. It was reversed by contriving an Argentinian invasion in the southern seas and holding the election on the anniversary of it’s not inevitable liberation.

    The other PM popularity reversal was Major’s, after the Lamont’s ERM debacle and a relatively modest waste (by today’s standards) of Government funds failing to prop up the pound. Major lost to a new moderate Labour leader called Blair. That sounds a more likely outcome than contriving. second triumphal small war although other repeats of history are available

  • Peter Chambers 13th Jun '20 - 4:30pm

    I agree with much of what the original post said. The need for a clear distinction between strategy and tactics is right, but sadly not universally appreciated. In too many places the Means justifies the Ends.
    About Scotland. I had thought that the Party policy was Federalist. So you can do the best for each state, depending on need. Perhaps that changed at some point. Did the Liberal Unionists re-join us?
    HQ have certainly been on Send. Mainly for money. When that changes I might give them some more, but I read that they have £3 million, so no hurry. It was the same story with a friend who wanted to join and help in the election campaign. No real contact.
    However that could change as a new team re-build and develop a strategy. We have seen worse before.

  • “I would suggest the Party needs to move to a position of neutrality on the issue [Scottish independence]”
    Stuart, your article contains so much commonsense, I was nodding all the way through until I got to this bit, which hit me like a brick wall. The Holyrood election next year will be dominated by the issue of independence. You really think we could go into that election saying “Er, we don’t really have a view”?? Particularly after years of being very strongly pro-Union?
    Given that you argue very well about the need for us to have a clear strategy and setting out a positive vision, it is baffling that you think we could just shrug our shoulders on ‘the’ big political issue in Scotland. We’d be a laughing stock; the media and the other parties would have us for breakfast – and rightly so. Such a policy would be a cop-out, and the surest way to the oblivion you talk about.
    Our pro-UK position happens to be the view of the majority of Scottish voters. It is also the overwhelming view of party members, who repeatedly re-affirm it at conference. We should stick with it, and fight hard. We should talk about other issues of course, but we can’t duck the biggest issue of the election.
    The rest of your article is really good!

  • Paul Barker 14th Jun '20 - 1:00pm

    A quick word on The Polls. Last Month we were averaging just under 7%, this Month so far we are averaging just under 8%.
    That might be a blip or the start of an upward trend, we will see.

  • Richard Elliott 14th Jun '20 - 6:42pm

    A few observations. Firstly leadership matters, Kier Starmer’s election has put Labour in with a chance in 2024 and our leadership in 2019 was dismal as laid out in the GE report. There has to be a close alignment between the party’s ethos and leadership messages. I joined because we are an inclusive, pluralist and tolerant party. Revoke (intolerant and not necessary) and slogans like ‘Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats’ (presidential hubris) and one size fits all leaflets (not pluralist allowing for local difference) were all wrong and contrary to our ethos. Attaching Corbyn as a personality was also a tactical error. Secondly re built the community base from the ground up including targeting obvious opportunities as the Brexit mess develops such as pro-business and rural moderate Tories. Thirdly don’t worry too much about national policy until later – sound leadership and a community focus will do for now. Later, our GE strategy would be to built a strong group of PMs to influence the next Government, as we have enough second places to make this credible. In the 90/00s we did well with a moderate Labour leader and positioned ourselves on the centre-left with some distinctive characteristics.

  • One thing I don’t think the election reviews picked up on was the fact that the last leadership contest was too nice for it’s own good.

    Not only did they not disagree on policy but they failed to test each other’s ability to answer difficult questions. It could have been a practice run for the election where effective responses to questions about coalition etc were asked.

    That didn’t happen so when Jo Swinson was asked hostile questions in the election – often unfair questions – she seemed completely unprepared.

  • James Fowler 15th Jun '20 - 8:51am

    Thank you Stuart, I agree with a lot of this. If I may add a thought of my own it’s that the underpinning assumption of this article is that we have agency and control our own direction. While of course that’s true, it’s also true that as quite a small Party we’re very heavily influenced by the choices of the two and half big hitters. A large part of the future of the LDs isn’t really in our hands (annoying as it is to admit that!) but really depends on what they do. We have to hope that they make some mistakes. From this observation I offer these arguments:

    1. The leadership issue needs to be resolved but isn’t as urgent as has been argued.
    2. I’m in favour of a broadly centre-right position for us at the moment. I think that not only is that congruent with a liberal position on social and economic issues, but also because there’s going to be a slow steady flow of middle class conservative refugees fed up with ‘Bonkers Boris’ and his motley Brexit crew and all the more willing to give us a quiet hearing now that ‘Vote LD get Corbyn’ doesn’t play anymore.
    3. The specifics of policy don’t matter too much, it’s more about mood music.

    There’s no point in expending lots of energy at the moment – we won’t be heard. Much of this parliament will be about patience and allowing the Conservatives to make mistakes. Happily, with the kind of caliber of people they’re now reliant on as ministers we can be confident they will.

  • David Garlick 15th Jun '20 - 9:17am

    Agree with so much here and following John Pugh’s suggestion to read the latest from Ian the new leader of the SLF felt that joining them would be a good move. Too good reads for one day.

  • Peter Hirst 15th Jun '20 - 9:35am

    To survive as a UK wide Party we need to carve out a niche for ourselves that both provides a reason for people to vote for us nationally and reflects our collective values. To do this we need to give as much attention to the policies of our opponents as our own. If we can do this there is no reason why when the time is right and with the right messaging we cannot fulfil our ambition of again forming a government.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Jun '20 - 10:07am

    James Fowler

    I’m in favour of a broadly centre-right position for us at the moment. I think that not only is that congruent with a liberal position on social and economic issues, but also because there’s going to be a slow steady flow of middle class conservative refugees

    So you want our party to become the true heir of the pre-2016 Conservative Party?

    If so, after 40 years membership, I will resign from it. Because what you want is our party to become what I joined it in order to oppose.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Jun '20 - 10:22am

    Barry Lofty

    I despaired when Boris Johnson became leader of the Tory party even more so when the electorate gave him and his right wing supporters such a large majority in the election

    That’s because many ordinary people see the Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson as the party of the left.

    People are unhappy about the way our country has developed, has become more unequal in terms of wealth, seems to be run by and for international extreme wealthy people. So when leaving the EU was promoted by the Conservative Party as “returning control to our country”, people saw it as reversing the economics that had made our country more unequal, and returning control back to elected democratic government.

    That is, people voted Conservative in order to oppose what the Conservative Party actually stands for.

    Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, by just insulting such people through using a rude word to describe Brexit, failing to explain properly what the EU does and how it works, and failing to do anything to stop the way we have been portrayed as if we were keen supporters of everything the 2010-15 government did, are now seen as the party of the economic right, the party that cares nothing about people being enslaved by poverty.

    And, as we can see, that has lost us most of the votes we used to get, meant that most of the seats we used to win or were close second place are now seats we have no chance in, and has not won us much in terms of alternative votes elsewhere.

    We need urgently to push ourselves out of the way we are now being seen, not promote it as James Fowler suggests.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jun '20 - 10:33am

    Matthew Huntbach 15th Jun ’20 – 10:07am
    I like the word congruent, usually expressed when I was a t school, as an equals sign= with three horizontal bars, implying perfectly total equality, not really equality at all, but actually the same identity, more equal than so-called ‘identical’ twins.

  • James Fowler 15th Jun '20 - 11:27am

    Well Matthew, we’ve disagreed about this before I know. I also know that many (a majority?) of members see the LDs as a Party of radical non-conformity rather than establishment classical liberalism.

    My observation has always been that radical non-conformity is much better represented by a strand in the Labour Party (Jeremy Corbyn et al.) and/or by the Green Party. In Wales and Scotland the nationalists also take a big slice from this cake.

    40 years ago the Liberals really were the only non-conformist Party and both Jo Grimond and Jeremy Thorpe traded heavily on that niche. But being the ‘radical moderates’ is something of a contradiction in terms. Other more effective and credible voices have arrived – hence partly why Tim Farron fell so flat.

    In broader brush strokes I see the financial crash, Brexit and now the lockdown moving the major Parties towards a more insular and national focus in their outlooks. That leaves social and economic liberalism – our birthrights anyway – open to us.

  • Alex Macfie 15th Jun '20 - 4:27pm

    James Fowler: Don’t know where you get the idea that Corbynism represents “radical non-conformity”. It is actually the modern manifestation of the Hard Left of Labour, with Momentum being the spiritual successor to Militant. Corbyn himself got his politics from Tony Benn. The British Hard Left is characterised by an intolerant approach to politics and prescriptive ideology; non-conformity is something of a contradiction in an ideology that tends to expect conformity on the part of everyone else.
    There is a Christian Socialist strand in the broad Left, but Corbynism would not fit into this.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jun '20 - 1:42pm

    @ James Fowler

    The whole point of the Liberal Party, when it merged with the SDP, was that what you describe as “liberalism” is NOT enough for true freedom. That is why those of us who were involved in the merger insisted that the merged party should state as a key aspect of what it is about that “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.

    The belief that has grown since then that the pre-merger Liberal Party was all about “economic liberalism” is completely wrong. If anything, it was the other way round, with the Liberal Party being to the left of the SDP, not to the right. The other issue with the SDP was that it was about more centralist control of the party, and I feel this has also contributed towards the way it has became damaged with the Clegg leadership.

    The 20th century Liberal Party split, with one half joining the Conservative Party. The Liberal Party that survived as an independent party and then grew again was those who could see that it required more than economic liberalism to give true freedom, so its central issue was the need for government action to do that.

    The claim, that Clegg made supported by those he put undemocratically in control of how the party was run from the top, that if we would become more of a conventional economic liberal party we’d get many more votes, has proved to be false. A lot of our core support that was winning us seats was from poor working class people in places where Labour was weak or was seen as a party that didn’t really care about ordinary people. But we’ve lost most of those votes now, and sadly many of them has been tricked into thinking that leaving the EU will return our country into one which cares more for them. Picking up a few votes from wealthy people who are strong EU supporters and were keen Conservative voters until the Conservatives switched to being the real Brexit party has not achieved us much in the way of significant alternative support that would win us seats.

  • James Fowler 16th Jun '20 - 2:18pm

    @ Matthew. That’s an interesting take on Liberal history, and I agree that the pre-merger Liberal Party had long abandoned economic liberalism, or indeed any ism. For my part, I think that in understanding Liberal history we should accept that the original Liberal Party effectively disappeared, leaving half a dozen independents who generally faced no Conservative opposition.

    In my view Grimond and then Thorpe revived this tiny ember by calling a plague on the other two houses and harnessing the romantic revolution and non-conformist zeitgeist of the 1960s and 70s – an impressive achievement. I think this what you mean by a freedom unconstrained by socialist doctrine, conservative tradition, or liberal economics. Whether it has much purchase now on the electorate or any purpose in government is debatable in my view.

    I concede it is true that this – as I see it rather hazy – strategy did restore a transient crew to the ghost ship of the Liberal Party, but blending being everybody’s second choice with the occasional quirky policy pose is a castle built on shifting sands. For example, between 1970 and 1979 just 2% of the electorate voted Liberal at every election. We’ve always struggled with this, and so I don’t accept that we have lost our core support. We’ve never had any, and that is the problem.

    This is what I’m arguing for: A consistent, intellectually congruent position build around liberalism. Freedom is a contested term claimed by everyone in different ways – it doesn’t really mean anything unless it’s given a context. Ours should be liberalism.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jun '20 - 3:46pm

    James Fowler

    We’ve always struggled with this, and so I don’t accept that we have lost our core support. We’ve never had any, and that is the problem.

    Nonsense. We were definitely seen as the main opposition to the Conservatives in many parts of the UK. Most obviously south-west England and the far north of Scotland, but increasingly south-east England outside London. That’s why I joined the Liberal Party, it was growing in Sussex where I grew up in a poor working class family, and the Liberal Party seemed the only party that really stood up for us and understood our issues. It took time to fully grow, but eventually Eastbourne and Lewes were two seats in Sussex won by the Liberal Democrats, with several others looking as if they would eventually become Liberal Democrat seats.

    We were also becoming successful in seats which were seen as safe Labour seats, but where people were becoming fed up with Labour. That was also important, stopping this places from being one-party dominated. I became the leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the London Borough of Lewisham, once seen as a Labour-Conservative area, but the Conservatives there had collapsed and we became the main opposition.

    I can assure you, from my own activity in these places, that the way to win votes there was NOT to have right-wing economic policies which used to be called “Thatcherism” but now gets called “neoliberalism” or “economic liberalism”. In fact the way to win votes was to clearly oppose that and properly campaign against enslavement by poverty that it leads to. During the time I was active in Lewisham, the Liberal Democrats grew from a small party getting few votes to one which achieved a good second place to Labour in all its constituencies in the 2010 general election.

    I reluctantly accepted the Coalition, as I felt it would be hypocritical to support multi-party politics but then refuse to join the only possible coalition. But we needed to make clear that it was very far from what we would do if we were in control, and that we could have only a minor say in it thanks to the disproportional electoral system.

    By doing the opposite of this, and letting us be seen as the the party that stands for the sort of economics that used to be called “Thatcherism”, we have lost most of the votes I and my colleges worked so hard to build up, and gained very few elsewhere.

  • @Stuart & @TonyH. On the point of our policy on Scottish Independence…

    We were discussing many of these same points on our local party Zoom meeting recently. Of course the ‘elephant in the room’ is independence. While that prospect is dangled in front of the Scottish electorate, and promoted as the cure for all ills, the SNP will continue to dominate the polls in the FPTP sense at least.

    We discussed many common conceptions and misconceptions against which we struggle – how the saltire has been appropriated for the nationalist cause; how any vote for a UK-wide party is deemed somehow treasonous; how any UK-wide party is seen not to have the interests of the Scottish electorate at heart; how the SNP chooses to portray itself as the only truly Scottish party; how the cybernats, bullying and sleaze in the SNP get quietly overlooked by the party faithful.

    I feel that as Liberal Democrats, our current policy is handing this golden pass to the SNP. While I feel that independence would be economically disastrous for Scotland (and almost everything in life flows from the economy), we do ourselves an injustice for not recognising that the right to call a referendum on self determination should lie with the Scottish Parliament. By denying that, we betray our democratic and federalist principles, and in doing so make ourselves a target. Our manifesto supports democracy in Ukraine, and an independent Palestine, but when it comes to Scotland? No, no, no.

    We cannot have continual repetitions of independence referenda, but nor can we have this manufactured grievance hanging around indefinitely either. There would have to be strict conditions and controls, such as two-thirds support for a constitutional referendum, and dissolution of the parliament & administration while it’s conducted. For more than twenty years, the Scottish Parliament and Government has proven its credibility under a number of administrations. For the right to self-determination to be denied by a letter from Boris Johnson in Downing Street is unsupportable for any liberal democratic party.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Jun '20 - 5:04pm

    A relative writes from the USA saying that she is reluctant to travel to a country where they do not speak English.
    I have replied about a visit to Finland, before they joined the European Union. I became separated from the others in the party and needed to catch a particular flight to return to London.
    Everyone I met spoke Finnish, but, in a sudden flash of brilliance I saw a black man and asked him. He was a university student from Ghana. He did speak English and gave me directions to the airport, where I met a relieved wife and party and thankfully flew to London.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Jun '20 - 6:02pm

    Matthew is right, I believe; left-of-centre Liberalism prevailed in the party I belonged to before the merger with the SDP, and hopefully it is the dominant trend in our party now. We adherents can trace our history back even beyond Jo Grimond, to the radical reforming government of Lloyd George and Asquith before the First World War, which laid the foundations of the welfare state with the beginnings of national insurance against illness and unemployment, and the first pensions. It was the work of a Liberal many years later, William Beveridge during the Second World War, which planned the great reforms of guaranteed income for everyone, whether in paid work or not, and free health care – the programme then carried out by the post-war Labour government.

    We have a chance now to write a new chapter in the history of progressive liberalism by supporting a new national Social Contract to replace the Beveridge-inspired one which the UN Rapporteur Phllip Alston told us was broken, and set out how to deal with the current great social ills of our time.

  • Encouraging to hear Katharine spelling out what the Liberal Party I joined in 1962 was all about. We felt and believed we were more progressive and people centred than the then Labour Party of Gaitskell… the true father of the SDP.

    What would be pleasing, Katharine, would be to hear if you’re getting any encouragement for your ideas from any of the declared Leadership candidates.

  • David Craddock 17th Jun '20 - 12:11pm

    The Lib Dems stand up for local politics and local people. We are different to the Tories and Labour in that regards as they are both centralist parties. Although we claim to be Fedralist unfortunately the Lib Dems have lost that decentralised approach in its own structure and organisation and that is what needs to change. We need to champion a decentralised approach to running the country by acting in that way as a party, and placing more emphasise and resources in our regions and local parties, especially in England. No disrepect to Londoners intended but I for one am fed up of being treated like a suburb of London!

  • I think it’s worth being careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater of the 2019 election.

    It was a disaster, for sure, and the full-on pro-EU approach failed at the time it was most likely to succeed, so it definitely needs to be forgotten now.

    However, it should not be forgotten that it was also not a million miles away from being successful. There were a lot of second places, especially in the south of England, that could still be built upon, in my opinion by a pro-business, pro-Europe (but not EU-obsessed), and above all competent, party.

    The Tories won big, but I don’t think they were especially popular, especially in prosperous areas. People voted for them because they feared Labour, and if they were opposed to leaving the EU, they weren’t *that* opposed. Given that they’re still pursuing the hardest of Brexits, which could harm them horribly unless it doesn’t happen or by some miracle actually works out well, and Labour is no longer such a terrifying prospect, I think there are big gains to be made for a party that takes a rational position on Europe (e.g. EEA membership), doesn’t think that “profit” is a dirty word, and projects an aura of competence.

  • @ Dan Martin “it’s worth being careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater of the 2019 election”. “by a pro-business, pro-Europe (but not EU-obsessed), and above all competent, party”.

    You’ve missed a baby. How about a more pro- tackling inequality anti poverty Party ?

    Have you read the Alston UN Report on Poverty and Inequality in the UK yet, Dan ? Here’s your chance now. Please google, read, digest and implement.

    2019: UN Rapporteur: Final Report | Bristol Poverty Institute …www.bristol.ac.uk › poverty-institute › news › un-rapp…
    Here is a summary of the report: “The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, undertook a mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 5 to 16 November 2018. … Close to 40 per cent of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021.

  • @David Raw – I’m struggling to see the bit where I suggested being pro-poverty, so I’m not sure what your point is.

  • @ Dan Martin In football terms that’s a bit of a body swerve which Marcus Rashford would be proud of, Dan.

    And…. I’m struggling to see where you paid any attention to it. Have you read the Alston Report and how important and relevant do you think it is, Dan ?

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