Author Archives: Alistair Carmichael MP

What is even more fun than a raffle?

It is well known that Lib Dems like few things better than a good raffle. Somewhere back in the mists of time – even before the bit about no one being enslaved by ignorance or conformity – it must have been written, “wheresoever two or three are gathered together they shall tear up strips of cloakroom tickets and contest the ownership of cheap wine and a box of Milk Tray.

Forgive me then, if I offer a heretic’s view. There is one thing I like even better than a raffle and it is an auction. I suspect I am not alone. Many times I have seen my former MP colleague, Don Foster, auction a five pound note at Lib Dem dinners and watched as bids reached three figures after a bout of frenzied bidding.

It is, therefore, in the spirit of public service that Scottish Liberal Democrats have brought to you an online auction to add a few extra quid to the coffers ahead of elections to the Scottish Parliament in May. The site is

https://scottishlibdems.aucsys.com

Head over there now and get bidding.

You may be able to bag yourself some great holiday accommodation for that post-lockdown break (or next year if that suits better);

You can pick up some blue chip political memorabilia – books, pictures, a framed Private Eye cover signed by Sir Vince Cable or a campaign Tee Shirt from Jon Ossoff winning campaign in Georgia that finally handed control of the US Senate to the Democrats;

You can bid to spend time with some of our party’s stars – tea for two with Nick Clegg or Sarah Olney, lunch with Ed Davey, a guided walk up the Coniston Old Man with Tim Farron or a lesson in Palestinian Cookery with Layla Moran.

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Alistair Carmichael MP writes…Electoral reform can happen, but it will take concerted action

When I joined the Liberal Party in the 1980s, I was optimistic that the UK would replace its unrepresentative voting system in the not too distant future. Fast forward to 2021 and we remain stuck with First Past the Post and, at first glance, little reason for optimism.

The current set-up has never been ideal for the UK or indeed any modern democratic society. First Past the Post results in governments elected by a minority of voters, with policies supported by a minority of the electorate being imposed on the majority. This leaves far too many people feeling excluded and unrepresented. With a distorted link between voters and MPs, how can the UK call itself a representative democracy>

The answer, as we know, is Proportional Representation (PR). Replacing First Past the Post with a fair alternative will make our democracy truly representative. Pluralism is a key tenet of democracy. As a liberal and a democrat, I recognise the need for a voting system that allows multi-party politics to show itself rather than be hidden by the illusion of First Past the Post. Proportional Representation provides a framework for multi-party politics to flourish and voters to be represented.

We have all heard the tiresome arguments against PR, all the more worn-out considering that the UK is now the only democracy in Europe to use the outdated First Past the Post system for its main elections. The myth that reform would end the constituency link is nonsensical, considering the range of systems that can preserve and even strengthen it by improving voter choice both at the ballot box and in between elections. Those resistant to change also argue that a switch to PR would be a risky, unnecessary experiment. Considering that Proportional Representation is used in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and is well established across Europe, this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

All major opposition parties apart from Labour support Proportional Representation for UK-wide elections and groups like Make Votes Matter are pushing the debate in the right direction. The establishment of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Electoral Reform is the latest boost in the campaign, ensuring a strong coordinated voice in parliament to champion the need for change.

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Sanctions on Hong Kong human rights abusers work – we must press the Government to use them

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2020 has a been a difficult year for people around the world. In Hong Kong, however, the situation has been dangerous for political reasons as much as public health ones. 18 months since demonstrations started against a potential extradition arrangement with China, protests have turned into a struggle for the city’s soul. Hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers have taken to the streets, standing against the looming erosion of their freedoms.

Protestors in Hong Kong are fighting for exactly the liberal values that we hold dear in our party – democracy, freedom and internationalism – values which the encroaching illiberal regime in Beijing does not care for.

The state’s retaliation against these protests has been shocking and brutal. As a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong I have heard firsthand evidence of the police’s brutality. They have committed a plethora of human rights abuses, infiltrated hospitals and launched targeted harassment campaigns against anyone connected to the pro-democracy movement.

In July, a further blow was dealt with the introduction of the National Security Laws. The new legislation broadly criminalise acts such as “sedition” or “collusion with a foreign power”. This can be applied to any act which could be perceived as criticising the Hong Kong government, by any individual, anywhere in the world. I could be prosecuted for writing this article. Perhaps you could be prosecuted for reading it! Either way, the maximum penalty under this law is life in prison.

This already sounds like enough of a dystopian nightmare and yet things have already gone further downhill in recent months. In a farcical act, Beijing removed four Hong Kong lawmakers from the city’s legislative council for the crime of being “unpatriotic”. This escalating aggression should concern anyone who believes in freedom and liberal democracy.

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Alistair Carmichael MP writes…How Lib Dem MPs will approach the leadership election

Next month will mark eighteen years since I was first elected as a Member of Parliament. To say it has been something of a rollercoaster would be an understatement – so it feels good to be on the way back up again!

One of the things that has made the process of rebuilding so much easier over the last couple of years has been the really good team dynamic that we have within the parliamentary party. Most of the time agreement on positioning and priorities is simple and intuitive. When it is not then I think we manage our discussions and differences well. Even when Stephen Lloyd felt it necessary to resign the whip because of undertakings he had given to his constituents before he was elected, the process was amicable and we all remain on good terms with Stephen.

It is against that background that we now embark on a leadership contest between two of our own colleagues – Jo Swinson and Ed Davey. The choice for the party will be between two different styles and sometimes maybe priorities. Our greatest strength is that as a party we are united. We simply do not have the ideological splits that will probably split either or both of the Conservative or Labour Parties in the next twelve months. Whichever of the two candidates is chosen by the members will lead a united group in the House of Commons. I would be as happy to work with either Jo or Ed as leader as I have been to work with Vince for the last two years.

Our constitution gives a special role to MPs in the process of electing a party leader – it requires any candidate to have the support of at least ten percent of the rest of the parliamentary party. In a parliamentary party of over fifty that made sense. In a parliamentary party of eleven things are different. That is why Liberal Democrat MPs have decided to treat their role in this election as a different, essentially neutral one. As all MPs are happy to work with either Jo or Ed as leader our role should be to facilitate a vote amongst the members. We will do this by agreeing that two MPs will nominate Jo (Tom Brake and Christine Jardine) and that two of us will nominate Ed (Wera Hobhouse and Jamie Stone).

In nominating in this way they act on behalf of us all in saying that we will work with whoever the membership should choose and that they should make the choice. Of course some parliamentary colleagues will want to make their preference known in the course of the campaign (Vince, as outgoing leader will not, nor will I as chief whip) but that is quite apart from the nomination process.

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Alistair Carmichael MP writes…The truth about those “secret Tory talks”

A couple of weeks ago I was due to meet with one of my counterparts in the Conservative whips office. These meetings are routine and are not normally the subject of comment.  This particular meeting was intended to deal with allocation of offices between the parties for MPs to use. In fact the meeting did not go ahead although I DID meet the Government Chief Whip’s Private Secretary (known inside the bubble as the usual channels).

The meeting that did not happen (mundane though it was) somehow found its way into the Daily Mail who proceeded to speculate wildly about whether the meeting was indeed a sign that the Lib Dems were now cosying up to the Tories to stitch up a secret coalition deal.

Of course at that time the Conservatives were trying to negotiate a deal with the DUP, negotiations were going badly (due mostly to their own mismanagement).  Briefing the press in this way was a mark of the desperation with which they were seized.

So when I read in the Times yesterday that Tim Farron’s chief of staff Ben Williams had met with his No 10 counterpart Gavin Barwell last Thursday I took it with a pinch of salt. Not least because I knew that Ben was in Leeds on Thursday.

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Alistair Carmichael writes: for allowing mixed sex couples into civil partnerships

The late great Groucho Marx once said, “Marriage is a wonderful institution – but then, who wants to live in an institution?”

I have no problem in answering “I do” – coincidentally the same words I spoke on September 19th 1987 when my wife and I got married.

Like everyone else, our marriage has had its ups and downs but when we got married I had no doubt that it was the right thing to be doing and I have never doubted it for a second since. I like being married. For us, marriage is a good thing. In fact I …

Posted in Op-eds | 15 Comments

Alistair Carmichael MP writes…Sometimes it is not a bad thing to be an elitist!

Now that I have your attention let me explain what I mean.  In 1982 I was part of an “elite squad” of Liberals and Social Democrats who campaigned in the Queens Park by-election.   It was not the most fertile of territory and despite having an excellent candidate (one Graham Watson, sorry Sir Graham) we finished, I think, a “good fourth”.

For me it was the first taste of what was to become a minor obsession, namely campaigning in parliamentary by-elections.  Since then I have seen the good, the bad and the indifferent.  A “good by-election” is like nothing else.   If Theresa May had realised how stimulating and addictive by-election campaigning can be for Liberal Democrats then she would have found a way to bring it within the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Last Thursday and Friday I joined our excellent candidate, Liz Leffman and her awesome team in Witney.

Let me tell you – Witney is a GOOD by-election.

In fact, it is good and getting better and heading for being excellent.

What can make the difference between good and excellent?  You can.

Bluntly the party needs you to get to Witney tomorrow and on Wednesday and again on Thursday.  You can have your life back again on Friday.

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Alistair Carmichael MP writes: Snoopers’ Charter debate was a circle of Hell even Dante could not have imagined

This week in Parliament we debated the Investigatory Powers Bill or, as some would have it, the Snooper’s Charter take 2. It was two days of my life that I will never have back and, after fifteen years as an MP, it was two of the most depressing days I have known. Being an MP is a great job and when parliament works as it is supposed to it can be exhilarating. When it fails to do what it is elected to do, namely to hold the government of the day to account, then it is hell. The debate on this bill took us to a new circle of hell that even Dante could not have imagined.

The Bill is rotten to its core and I wish we could have blocked it as we did in Coalition when faced with the Communications Data Bill. Dealing with Tories in government was difficult. Dealing with Tories in government and Labour in opposition is impossible.
We had two days to debate hundreds of amendments in the House of Commons. The government alone brought forward one hundred and four amendments on the first day and a further twenty on the second. After all the amendments the provisions on bulk data collection and the retention of “internet connection records” are not even half-baked. They are raw.

You would have thought that this would be grist to the mill of any decent opposition. You would be right in that. Unfortunately we don’t have a decent opposition, we have the Labour Party. There was not a single amendment in the whole two day debate on which Labour considered worthy of voting. For two days they were absent from the voting lobbies. We did get a little excited on day two when we heard through the usual channels that they were “going to vote on something”. We need not have got our hopes up – it turned out that “something” was a third reading of the bill (ie on the bill as a whole) and the vote they cast was to support it.

For our part, despite our overarching opposition to the Bill we had tabled a raft of amendments in an attempt to make the Bill a little less awful. The SNP took the same approach. I will not bore you with them all but give you a flavour below.

First, I proposed – and pushed to a vote, an amendment which would have deleted provisions in the Bill for the introduction of the collection and storage of Internet Connection Records (ICRs). Now, I’m not yet 100% clear what an internet connection record is. Nobody is – even the Home Secretary. I surmise that it will probably be your web history. This will then be stored for 12 months just in case you ever come under suspicion. Meanwhile, that information can be hacked and stolen revealing an enormous amount of detail about your life, activity and even your state of mind. I knew that when I pushed the amendment it would not pass. Andy Burnham the shadow Home Secretary had already said that whilst he accepted that ICRs were incredibly intrusive and might not even be helpful in solving crime he supported their collection in principle (God alone knows what the principle was but by this time I had given up on trying to understand the Labour Party’s position).

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Alistair Carmichael MP writes…Suzanne Fletcher reminds us how one person can make a difference for vulnerable people

Today in Parliament the Minister for Immigration was forced to explain why G4S were housing asylum seekers behind red doors, leaving them open to targeted attacks. The Minister, who said he was “deeply concerned”, in response sprang into action announcing an audit of asylum seeker accommodation in the North East. Good to see the Minister reacting so quickly to something that was only in the papers that morning you might think. Not so.

Suzanne Fletcher, former Liberal Democrat Councillor and now Chair for Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, has been campaigning on this issue doggedly for years. In fact, it is predominantly down to her campaign work that this became a news story today.

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Voting with the government to opt-in to Prum

Politicians tend to disagree with one another on a lot of issues – luckily, catching criminals is not one of them. That is why the Liberal Democrats will be voting with the Government on the decision to opt-in to Prum: an EU process which allows member states to quickly exchange DNA, fingerprint and vehicle information in order to identify and catch serious criminals and terrorists.

The last time this decision was put in front of Parliament during the Coalition the Liberal Democrats couldn’t agree to it. At that point there were still millions of innocent people on DNA databases and schoolchildren were having their fingerprints taken in schools. The Freedoms Act 2012 put a stop to this, and with the additional safeguards the Home Secretary is proposing we can support opting-in to Prum this time round.

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Alistair Carmichael MP writes…Britain should not be rolling out the red carpet to President al-Sisi

Today, in the House of Commons our Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Tom Brake, asked an Urgent Question highlighting the appalling human rights record of the Egyptian Government – led by President al-Sisi, who has arrived in the UK for a state visit. While David Cameron was rolling out the red carpet for a human rights abuser in Downing Street, in parliament it was yet again Liberal Democrats who stood up for his victims.

The Egyptian President heads a government with a poor and deteriorating human rights record. The imprisonment and torture of political prisoners and an increasing use of the death penalty are at the heart of its suppression of dissent. Since January 2014 438 people have been sentenced to death – shooting up a league table on which no civilised government should want to feature. 63% of these sentences were handed down for involvement in political protests.

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Alistair Carmichael MP writes…A proud day as we move nearer to Liberal Democrat vision of home rule for Scotland

Saltire - St Andrews Flag - Scotland - Some rights reserved by byronv2One of my first political campaigns was the 1979 referendum on a Scottish Assembly, as it was then styled.

The failure of that campaign was formative in my political thinking.  We all learned the hard way some simple political truths. Constitutional change is only achieved by working with people from other parties and of no party and that our liberal vision of Home Rule for Scotland within a strong federal United Kingdom is more relevant today than it has ever been.

As a teenager growing up in a small tight-knit island community I also quickly realised that local communities were best placed to make the decisions that affect them. We also understood that Government in Edinburgh was just as capable of getting things wrong for us as government in London.

Fast forward thirty five years and it was a proud day for me as Secretary of State for Scotland when we won decisively the vote to keep our 300 year old family of nations together with a promise of extensive new powers for our Scottish Parliament.

We set up the cross-party Smith Commission to bring people together and build consensus on what these new powers should be.

No party got everything they wanted but we owed it to the majority of Scotland who made the democratic decision to reject independence to see through their desire for more powers – a desire shared by our party.

I was pleased the Smith Commission aimed high.

The draft clauses I have published today will mean our Scottish Parliament will raise over half of what it spends. It will create a new Scottish Welfare State System with a starting budget of more than £2.5 billion.

And it will introduce votes for 16 and 17 years olds for Holyrood and local government elections.

Smith also made another important point that has not received the attention that it deserves, namely that the process of devolution should not stop in Edinburgh but should be driven to local communities across Scotland.

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Alistair Carmichael MP writes…how the Lib Dems in government worked together for Grangemouth

Three weeks ago when I was appointed as Secretary of State for Scotland many journalists and commentators (and even a few posters on Lib Dem Voice!) forecast a period of strife ahead as the “bruiser” from the Whips’ Office took over at Dover House.

I am not expecting anyone to say they were wrong but I hope that maybe some of them are feeling just a little sheepish this weekend.

The threat to the future of the petro-chemical plant at Grangemouth was one of the most serious to face Scotland for several years. It also produced a degree of political unity and …

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Alistair Carmichael writes…We should be talking about how Lib Dems won record investment for renewable energy

Yesterday I voted against the inclusion in the Energy Bill of a target for decarbonisation to be met by 2030. In truth I think that the setting of a target would have been sensible and that is why I am content with it being party policy. So why vote against it? I didn’t do so because I am a bad person who is determined to ignore party policy. The truth is a little more complex than that.

Firstly, it seems to be conveniently ignored by many that the Bill does include a power to set a target but in 2016 – …

Posted in News | 16 Comments

Alistair Carmichael MP writes…Why I’ve put the whip away for the Equal Marriage vote

Everybody knows that the first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club.

I am no Brad Pitt but the same is also true of the Whips’ Office.

It is not normally my practice to discuss whipping arrangements for the parliamentary party, nor to discuss publicly the process by which decisions are reached. Today, however, I am prepared (exceptionally) to do so and to explain the decision taken last night to allow Liberal Democrat MPs a free vote …

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