A whistlestop tour of Scottish Conference

Scottish Liberal Democrats gathered in Perth last weekend for their Spring Conference.  I thought that LDV readers might appreciate edited highlights of a lively weekend.

It was a bit strange to turn up to find a huge area around the Perth Concert Hall cordoned off, airport style security and Police everywhere.  We’re not used to this sort of thing.

Leader Tavish Scott’s keynote speech hammered home our USP in the forthcoming Scottish election campaign – only the Scottish Liberal Democrats will speak out against a political power grab. SNP, Tories and Labour advocate merging eight police forces to just one. Tavish also outlined a 30 day plan to boost business and economic growth.

Danny Alexander faced some tough questions on subjects like banks and Housing Benefit changes. I’m sure that wasn’t half as daunting as his joint appearance with Alistair Carmichael at Liberal Youth Scotland’s traditional late night arguing competition. The ministers were asked by quizmaster Kevin Lang to explain “why I can’t get you out of my head.”

The highlight of the weekend for me was Nick Clegg’s speech. Our leader radiated a very infectious positivity as he listed the Liberal Democrat’s achievements in Government:

You know, we didn’t get to choose the timing of our opportunity to serve our country.

This is not an easy time to be in government.  But that makes our influence – our liberal influence – all the more important. We have not just seized an opportunity, we have taken responsibility.

We will ensure that the Scotland – the United Kingdom – that emerges from recession is a better, fairer, and more liberal place.

So when you go into this election campaign – and people are asking what difference we have made to government, tell them that this government is getting our economy moving, getting the banks lending, cutting income tax for those that need help, raising the state pension, investing in our children, driving corruption out of our political system. Tell them that it is this party – this government – that has abolished expensive and intrusive identity cards, smashed the ID database, and restored our civil liberties.

But of course the papers weren’t full of this rousing stuff.  “Lib Dems want heroin given out free on the NHS” screamed the Sunday Express. What, to everyone? The truth behind the lurid headline is that Conference passed a motion asking for more community service and drug treatment and testing orders rather than fines for drug possession, with the option of  Diamorphine Maintenance Clinics in the few cases where other options were exhausted.

The press was happy to talk about protesters but didn’t mention that an offer of a meeting with Cabinet ministers Mike Moore and Danny Alexander had been turned down. Comments on my blog post suggested that the STUC had said that they had been invited but disabled protesters were not.  I have to be honest and say that I thought that unlikely, but I did a bit of further digging.

This is how it all happened, as I understand it.  The party received notice from two bodies, the STUC and a disability campaign group, that they were going to protest at the Conference. Both groups were invited to meet Danny and Mike for half an hour and it was made clear to them that an accessible venue was available.

The campaign group felt that if a meeting was going to take place, they wanted it to be with other organisations as well, and I understand that that’s now being planned.  Correspondence received from them since the weekend is cordial and gives no indication that they feel slighted in any way.

The STUC, who knew fine that the campaign group had also been invited, declined the offer of a meeting. It annoys me that 2 cabinet ministers were interested enough to clear their diaries to try and make some progress on people’s concerns and not only were they turned down, but certain people are giving inaccurate impressions of what went on for political purposes. It certainly begs the question whether they were actually interested in solutions or just wanted to make noise.

Anyway, I’m glad that Danny and Mike were able to have a brief chat with some of those present on Saturday lunchtime, as you can see from these photos. From what I saw, it went well and was mostly friendly and constructive.

The AV Referendum was a popular topic with Mike Moore saying he felt embarrassed when people talked about MPs being elected on a tiny minority of the vote – as he had been with 31% in 1997. The Yes Campaign held a Fringe Meeting chaired by Charles Kennedy, who told some very gossipy stories principally involving John Prescott and a tacky disco music playing fish. I can’t do it justice on here, but ask him if you get the chance.

President Malcolm Bruce closed Conference as usual with a witty and thoughtful speech. On maintaining our identity in Coalition, he said “tonight I will go to bed with my wife. It doesn’t mean I will wake up tomorrow as a woman”. On Labour’s economic mishandling, he said “if Macbeth murdered sleep then Gordon Brown suffocated prudence.”

And, finally, remember Alex White, the 14 year old who took our Autumn Conference by storm? She was back with a heartfelt contribution to the drugs debate which won her the prize for best speech, something she found out by accident from none other than Nick Clegg.

Highlights of the weekend are available on the BBC iPlayer here and feel free to browse the photos on my Flickr account.

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This entry was posted in News and Scotland.
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2 Comments

  • Kevin Buchanan 11th Mar '11 - 3:50pm

    As the member of STUC who received the invitation from the Lib Dems let me clarify what was offered in respect of the meeting.

    The offer was that Danny Alexander would meet with the General Secretary of the STUC and that the Chair of Inclusion Scotland had also been invited. They would both be required to bring photographic identification for access credentials to be issued.

    The following day our Deputy General Secretary responded to the invitation indicating that given the number of campaigners and organisations involved it would not be appropriate for two individuals to meet with Danny Alexander. The disabled campaigners and the STUC believe the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’ is extremely important.

    We invited Danny Alexander to come out to chat with the lobby, we offered to arrange a near future meeting with campaigners to discuss the issues in detail, we indicated we would be happy to press release Danny Alexander’s intention to meet with campaigners in a constructive light.

    All this the day before the lobby.

    The Lib Dem response our offer.

    Silence!

    Kevin Buchanan STUC

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