Author Archives: Caron Lindsay

The highlights of Scottish Conference

Scottish members left Conference at Aviemore in upbeat mood, motivated to get out there and make sure that we secure a vote on the final Brexit deal.

We had some lovely weather in a beautiful location and an agenda full of interesting fringe meetings, a bit of controversy in the Conference hall and some highly informative training. We were also really thrilled to welcome a fair few members of federal party staff who met with key seats and provided training in campaigning, the new data protection legislation and fund-raising.

Staffing and office bearer changes meant that this Conference was put together on a much shorter timescale than usual. Huge thanks are due to new party manager Jenny Wilson for her excellent work in organising everything and to Conference Committee Chair Paul McGarry. Conference Committee members Callum Leslie, Rebecca Bell, Vita Zapooroczenko and Ross Stalker never seemed to stop working. Laura Thomas seemed to spend her entire conference helping out at the registration desk as did Oliver Mountjoy – and the Young Liberals also stepped in first thing on Sunday morning when there was a gap in cover.

You can watch BBC Scotland’s Conference programme here. Towards the end, three of the brightest and most talented young people in our party are interviewed – former youth president and campaigning genius Jenny Marr, environment spokesperson Mariam Mahmood and Cllr Ben Lawrie who won a Council seat last year in an area where we’ve never had a Councillor and who has made an excellent short film about his experience of Depression and Anxiety.

Here are some of the key decisions.

Syria

Am emergency motion talked about the need for parliamentary approval of military action. Christine Jardine explains why this is so important, to ensure that constituents’ views are repreaetned and that we have consulted as widely as possible as we attempt to do the right thing:

Those are just some of the decisions taken this weekend. I’ll write more about the fringe later.

Protecting puppies and kittens

Some may have mocked a little

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Scottish Liberal Democrats back abortion clinic exclusion zones and decriminalisation

When I first saw that a motion on decriminalising abortion had been put on the agenda for Scottish Conference, I was delighted, but unsure that it would pass. We’ve tended to shy away from what many people feel are issues of conscience, although the Scottish Party has form for leading the way on equal marriage before the 2010 election. The issue of abortion is an emotive one, though and was bound to provoke more controversy.

The motion was written and presented by Jess Insall, the 15 year old activist who persuaded us to adopt policy calling for gender neutral school uniforms 

Jess’s motion called for the Scottish Government to do five things

  • remove all criminal sanctions for receiving an abortion.
  • remove all criminal sanctions for appropriately registered and regulated medical professionals providing a safe abortion.
  • provide funding so that users of reproductive healthcare services are provided with enough specialist advice to make fully informed decisions.
  • enforce safe zones around abortion service providers so that those visiting can travel to them free of any harassment or pressure on their decision, and to make intimidation or harassment of abortion service users outside clinics, or on common transport routes to these services, illegal.
  • provide funding to enable abortion clinics to provide their services free of charge to service users regardless of country of nationality or residency.

It’s worth reading her entire proposing speech which was sensitive, authoritative and persuasive:

Conference, our world is changing. The 21st century has brought great new ideas, innovations, and inspirations. But now, more than ever, we know of the threats that new technology can create. The anonymous trolls of Twitter and Facebook spout misogyny, racism, and transphobia from every orifice. The corrupt practices of Cambridge Analytica are a real threat to our democracy, and the online purchase of illegal abortion pills is on a very worrying rise.

In 2013, just 5 doses of illegal abortifacients were seized being delivered to UK addresses, but this sharply increased to 180 doses in 2014. The rise continued, with 270 doses seized in 2015, and in 2016, the government seized 375 doses of unregulated, unreliable, illegal abortion medication. Despite the fact that self-induced abortion is punishable by life imprisonment, many women are driven to take this dangerous decision because current abortion legislation is outdated and ineffective. These women are not criminals worthy of life sentences, they are vulnerable individuals who have been let down by the system. This is only one of the many reasons we need to make abortion fair, legal, and free from judgement. We need to establish a real freedom of choice.

Leaving abortion in the criminal justice system is not fair. Unnecessary appointments are needed just to jump through legal hoops such as the requirement that two doctors authorise an abortion. These are mere inconveniences for women on higher incomes who have the time, money, and resources to attend them, and for women who have supportive partners or families. But for women on low incomes who can’t afford to miss work, can’t afford care costs for existing children or ill relatives, and can’t afford travel to and from clinics, it can realistically seem easier to seek dangerous illegal alternatives. This is also true for women trying to hide an abortion from unsupportive family, or victims of domestic violence who may well be carrying an unwanted pregnancy as a result of rape.

These vulnerable groups of women are even harder hit by the outrageous postcode lottery that Scottish abortion provision currently is. Although the legal late term limit on abortion is 24 weeks, providers in Scotland will normally only authorise abortion before 18-20 weeks, and some providers won’t authorise abortions as early as 16 weeks. This means approximately 200 Scottish women every single year have to travel to England just to access a legal abortion.

Scotland, that is unacceptable.

Our wonderful NHS is already stretched to breaking point, and the unnecessary criminalisation of abortion is wasting time, money, and resources that could be used to save lives. Doctors are apprehensive to specialise in abortion out of fear of prosecution simply for doing their job. Contrary to some beliefs,decriminalisation does not mean deregulation. Abortions will still be regulated to the exceptionally high standards that other medical procedures are, and we can trust our incredible NHS staff to maintain these standards.

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Don’t be fooled by Labour’s posturing on #peoplesvote

In the last few days we’ve had some tantalising hints that Labour may be willing to support a public vote on the Brexit deal. John McDonnell said on Friday that Labour weren’t ruling it out. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said on Marr that if there were sufficient public demand, Labour might think again.

So should we all breathe a sigh of relief and think that this might happen any time soon?

Not a chance.

For a start, Emily Thornberry’s threshold to determine what might be a suitable level of public demand to get them to change their minds was 80-90%. You don’t get 80-90% of people backing anything. Even the Monarchy at the height of the much loved Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations  was only getting 75% support.

So let’s not hold our breath waiting for the Labour leadership to back a vote on the deal. But why are they doing this? It’s all part of their deliberate tactic of making their policy as ambiguous as possible. This is exactly what the Leave campaign did, too. Nobody understood what Brexit would mean because they tried to make sure that the details were as non-existent as possible.

The reason they’re drip-feeding it all now is because there are some important local elections coming up. A lot of them are in Remain voting metropolitan areas in places like London and Manchester. They must be getting some indication that their stance on Brexit is costing them so they are trying to make it sound like they might just go for the vote on the deal.

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Vince Cable as you have never seen him before

We’re used to seeing Vince outlining his Liberal Democrat vision in typically thoughtful style. Action shots are more likely to be gliding effortlessly across the dance floor in a graceful and flawless foxtrot.

We’re used to seeing Willie Rennie dialling the fun in any photo opportunity up to the maximum level.

When Vince came to Aviemore yesterday to speak at Scottish Conference, he got a taste of photo-ops, Rennie style – and he loved it. He threw himself, quite literally, into the spirit of the occasion when he found himself next to a sign saying “Jump and Smile Adventure Park”

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WATCH: Willie Rennie’s speech to Scottish Conference

Here is Willie Rennie’s leaders’s speech to Scottish Conference. In it he talks about how the Liberal Democrats have influenced Scottish politics and policy in education, mental health and justice, calls on the Health Secretary to resign, tells us we can stop Brexit and has a huge challenge to Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader.

The text is below:

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What’s happening at Scottish Conference today

Here’s what happened yesterday at Scottish Conference:

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What’s happening at Scottish Conference today?

There will almost certainly be several sore heads this morning as Alistair Carmichael held one of his celebrated whisky tasting events last night.

Here’s what’s happening the rest of today.

Morning Session

Cervical Cancer Screening

Police Reform

Speech by Christine Jardine MP

Emergency Motion

Animal Welfare

Lunchtime Fringe

I am shamelessly abusing my position to put the meeting I’m chairing first – about addressing Scotland’s housing crisis with Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP and speakers from Shelter Scotland, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and the Chartered Institute of Housing.

There’s also an NFU Scotland fringe meeting with Mike Rumbles discussing The Good Food Nation and Brexit – what will be needed …

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Let’s not forget that the Gender Pay Gap reporting requirement is Jo’s Law

There was an urgent question in the House of Commons today about the Gender Pay Gap. Harriet Harman asked the Government what it was doing to close the gender pay gap after companies with more than 250 employees were required to report for the first time.

The minister Victoria Atkins was very supportive of the legislation. If you didn’t know better, you might be inclined to think that the Tories had introduced it:

It is unacceptable that in 2018 there are still differences in how men and women are paid in business and in industries. That is why this Government introduced new regulations, which came into force in 2017, requiring all employers with 250 or more employees to report their gender pay gap. I am delighted that as of yesterday 10,055 employers, covering all sectors of the economy, have reported their gender pay gap. These new regulations have shone a light on the injustice that has existed for too long and created a new conversation on the need for a step change in gender equality.

This is all very well, except the truth of the matter is that in the dying days of the Coalition Government, the Tories had to be dragged kicking and screaming to agree to the Liberal Democrats’ plan. Jo Swinson was the Liberal Democrat Minister who introduced the legislation and she reminded the Commons of that today:

The reason why I fought so hard as a Minister in the coalition Government to win the battle to introduce gender pay gap reporting—despite the Minister’s obvious commitment to this today, my goodness it was a battle with No.10 at the time—is that the visibility and transparency of hard numbers help to pierce the bubble of complacency in boardrooms, in newsrooms and in our living rooms where some people still think that we live in a world of gender equality. What concrete action are the Government taking to help employers understand that the gender pay gap is about unequal pay and so much more? It is about the fact that jobs in care and other roles are undervalued and low paid because they are predominantly done by women. It is about the 54,000 women a year who lose their job because they have a baby. It is about the toxic workplace cultures where the boys’ clubs make the decisions and sexual harassment is endemic. Time is up on pathetic excuses. It is time that organisations got serious about action.

Ms Atkins was forced to admit Jo’s role:

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Three important aspects of Barbara Bush’s legacy

My fascination with the White House and all its incumbents has been a constant feature but was at its peak in the late 80s and 90s as the long Republican incumbency gave way to the optimism of the Clinton era. I hoovered up every book I could find on the subject.

I always had a huge amount of time for Barbara Bush. She had an authenticity and candour that both got her into and helped extricate herself from trouble at times.

The powerful images of her scooping up and kissing children with HIV were an important part in busting the myths of that time.

I bought her memoirs as soon as they came out in 1994. In it she wrote about her spell of Depression in the mid 70s. She talked of how she learned through that to be more sympathetic and understanding to others. I read that at a time when I was going through a particularly suffocating visit from the Black Dog. People didn’t really talk about that stuff back then and it really helped to read that she had got through such an experience. She also said that although she had hid it at the time, she wouldn’t think twice about seeking professional help if it happened again.

She also understood the importance of education and particularly literacy and made that a lifelong campaign.   She was motivated to make sure that people learned to read and write to give them the chance to get on in life and set up the Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation which is still going strong today.

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Jane Dodds on the Welsh Lib Dems vision of hope and optimism to tackle today’s giant evils

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds set the party in Wales a mission at their Conference at the weekend. She wants them to find ideas to tackle the issues that provide the modern equivalent of Beveridge’s giant evils. Here’s her speech proposing the motion that kicks the process off.

Conference, I’m excited to begin the process today of shaping our vision for our party and for Wales. One thing I made clear during my campaign to become leader of our party was that I wanted to re-capture not only our radical, Liberal roots, but the idea that politics should offer hope.

That’s what I want us to do.

I want to rekindle the optimism and the hope that politics once offered by setting out an aspirational vision of the Wales we want to see.

I want us to start a conversation about what it is we want to achieve – a story and an ethos that will help us in shaping stand-out signature policies for the elections ahead of us.

In truth, much of my vision is informed by the vision of another Liberal a little over 75 years ago.

In 1942 William Beveridge published his report, a report that captured imaginations and transformed society. Dryly titled the ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services report,’ Beveridge’s work went on to transform British society and establish the welfare state as we know it.

It was a promise of a better, brighter future.

It was a promise that each and every one of us would have the opportunity to get on in life; to be healthy, to be well educated, to have a place to call home, and that there would be a safety net for when the going got tough.

Beveridge identified 5 giant evils: squalor, want, disease, ignorance and idleness.

Far from having disappeared, the challenges facing society in 1942 have only changed.

We no longer simply talk of a poverty  – or want – of “physical efficiency” – the minimum amount to simply feed ourselves; we talk about the number of households and children living in working poverty, turning to foodbanks, with opportunity out of reach.

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Vince’s three questions on Syrian airstrikes

In today’s debate on the Syrian airstrikes, Vince raised three questions. Here is his speech in full, complete with interventions.

My approach to this question was well captured by some of the independent-minded Labour Back Benchers yesterday, and particularly by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) when she said “If only the Prime Minister had asked it of me, I would have been inclined to support her.” The Prime Minister did not ask, and as a result she missed a significant opportunity to build consensus in this place and support in the country. She has clearly received other advice.

I

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The cruelty and insensitivity of the Home Office summed up in a single booklet

I had a bit of a sleepless night last night. The coughing started up again before I could take any more medicine so I had to try and distract myself with Twitter. I assumed that the screenshots of an alleged guide for deported people to help them settle in Jamaica had to be fake. Seriously, what human being could come up with this?

But I followed the link and, sure enough, it did actually lead to a gov.uk website. The advice on mental health was even more crass.

When you return, you may face a number of challenges, such as separation from family, friends, personal possessions and property; problems locating family members and friends; difficulties in finding suitable and safe housing; and general difficulties in adjusting to your new environment. Most people adjust fairly well but some people may experience mental health problems. Signs to watch out for are:  difficulty in sleeping, or sleeping too much  feeling sad  being irritable or short tempered  having no interest in the pleasures of life  loss of appetite  difficulty in concentrating or making decisions  feelings of hopelessness or helplessness  thoughts that life is not worth living  suicidal thoughts. If you experience mental health problems, you should:  develop supportive relationships where you can: contact family members and friends and establish supportive and healthy relationships;

If you are one of the Windrush Generation and have just been deported thousands of miles from your children to a place that you haven’t seen in half a century, the advice to contact family members could not be more hurtful and insensitive. This booklet isn’t new. It’s been around for about as long as Theresa May’s “hostile environment.” I really do feel ashamed of my Government sometimes. As Ed Davey writes on the Ad Lib blog, the Windrush scandal exposes the brutality of the Home Office:

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Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #514

Welcome to the Golden Dozen, and our 514th weekly round-up from the Lib Dem blogosphere … Featuring the five most popular stories beyond Lib Dem Voice according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (8-14 April, 2018), together with a hand-picked seven you might otherwise have missed. A few may slip in from the week before as there was no Dozen then because of my holiday.

Don’t forget: you can sign up to receive the Golden Dozen direct to your email inbox — just click here — ensuring you never miss out on the best of Lib Dem blogging.

As ever, let’s start with the most popular post, and work our way down:

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WATCH: People’s Vote campaign launch

1200 people gathered in London today for the launch of a new campaign to give the British people a final vote on the Brexit deal. The Cross-Party campaign heard speeches from the actor who played one of my favourite fictional characters – Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Sir Patrick Stewart and from MPs Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, Caroline Lucas and our own Layla Moran.

Mock the Week’s Andy Parsons kicked off the proceedings in very funny style. Patrick Stewart was so passionate and emotional about what being part of the EU meant to him. He was born in 1940 as the Battle of Britain was going on. War was to ravage Europe for the first five years of his life and its consequences were felt long after it. Brexit, he said, was hurting the economy, our public services and the life chances of our future generation. Now that we are learning the real cost, he said, he said the people should have the chance to make their feelings felt.

The event was so big that even the BBC couldn’t ignore it.

You can watch the whole thing here:

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Scottish Lib Dems highlight “destructive” short prison sentences for pregnant women

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has today revealed that dozens of pregnant women have served destructive short-term prison sentences in the last five years. He says that this einforces the need for the Scottish Government to press ahead with a presumption against jail sentences of less than 12 months.

He uncovered figures under freedom of information which reveal that since 2013 there have been 104 pregnant women in prison, of whom 31 gave birth while serving their sentence. Of these 104 women, 37 were given sentences of less than 12 months.

In 2012, the Scottish Government commissioned a report from former Prosecutor Dame Elish Angiolini highlighted the negative impact of custodial sentences on the children of offenders, something that affects many more women than men:

More women offenders have dependant children than men and only a small proportion (17 per cent) of children with mothers in prison live with their fathers while their mother is incarcerated. Approximately 30 per cent of children with imprisoned parents will develop physical and mental health problems, and there is a higher risk of these children themselves also ending up in prison.

Liam said:

The fact that 37 expectant mothers have been given destructive short-term sentences in recent years should have alarm bells ringing.

All the evidence shows that short-term sentences don’t work and are less effective than robust community-based disposals in reducing reoffending. Rates of reoffending amongst those who have served short stints in prison are sky high. That is why Scottish Liberal Democrats have consistently urged the Scottish Government to introduce a presumption against sentences of less than 12 months, something Ministers now accept would be a positive step.

If in the process it means more pregnant women pay for any crime they have committed through robust means short of prison then that has to be in everyone’s interests.

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Why is a parliamentary vote on military action necessary?

I have just come back from a wonderful week in the Highlands with only intermittent connection to the internet. The apologetic note from the housekeeper of our rented holiday cottage saying that the wifi was out of action was unexpected but very welcome. It was incredibly restorative to have a few days when the only thing I had to worry about (and this is not insignificant, I have to say) was the incredibly dim pheasants with no instinct of self preservation whatsoever that would blithely wander into the path of the car on the single track road to the cottage. Seriously, one of the little beasts held me up for three full minutes last night as my dinner was getting cold. Oh, and there was the irony of finding that Scottish Water, who have been delaying my commute with their roadworks in Edinburgh for nigh on half a year were also digging up the village on my twice daily route to the beach. The delays were substantially less, though.

My very grateful thanks and promises of beer and wine at a later date are due to Paul and Mary who kept the site going through mine and Kirsten’s absence this week.

Since we’ve been away, the horrific chemical attack in Syria has shocked, if not surprised, the world. When something like that happens, it’s so important to respond in a careful and considered way, with a proper plan that has the support of key international allies and, in our case, parliamentary approval. I know that we technically don’t have to have a parliamentary vote, but it sends a much stronger message if action is taken with the consent of a majority of members of Parliament. It lends a legitimacy to the proceedings.

Any Government sending our people into active service should have the democratic scrutiny of Parliament behind it. We live in a parliamentary democracy and the government shouldn’t avoid its responsibilities in that regard.

I am still not entirely sure whether I support the attack in principle. Of course anyone who gases their own people needs to be stopped and, frankly, sitting round a table and asking Assad nicely not to do it probably isn’t going to cut it. I think there is an argument for taking out the capability to produce and use these awful weapons. However, you have to be very sure that you aren’t going to make the situation worse for the people who live there.

Vince Cable’s statesmanlike approach to these issues has made me wish he were making the decisions rather than May and certainly the ever volatile Donald Trump. He has been reasonable, asking for evidence, a plan and a parliamentary vote and he’s been explaining today why he thinks that is so important:

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Young Lib Dem Councillor Ben Lawrie talks about his experience of Depression

I feel incredibly proud to know Scottish Liberal Democrat Councillor Ben Lawrie who has talked about his experience of Depression in this short film. It takes courage to talk so openly about something so personal. Doing so helps others immeasurably.

You should be aware before you watch it that it includes his description of an attempt to take his life.

He wants to share his experience to help others going through it, which I think it will. When I was growing up experiencing the sorts of things Ben went through, it would have been useful to know that I wasn’t alone and that this was an illness not some defect in my character.

It’s also great that his friends and family share how this all was for them.

His openness drew praise from Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie who, last weekend, ran 117 miles in 3 days to raise money for a Scottish mental health charity. It’s not too late to donate to his effort.

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Let’s celebrate another amazing Highland Lib Dem GAIN

Great news this morning which I’ve been unable to share with you until now because I’ve been at work.

There have been a few Lib Dem gains in the Highlands in recent years – Carolyn Caddick in Inverness South, Jean Davis in Aird and Loch Ness and Trish Robertson in Culloden and Ardersier. Today they were joined by Denis Rixson in Caol and Mallaig. This is a bit of Charles Kennedy’s old seat turned gold again and taken from the SNP.

I’ve been hearing from Lib Dems on the ground that it felt good, but I’m not sure anyone actually expected us …

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So who’s missing from the coverage of the #genderpaygap?

There’s someone missing in amongst all the coverage of the gender pay gap today.

It’s not entirely surprising that in 78% of companies men are paid more than women. However until recently, we didn’t have the evidence.

Thanks to a law passed in 2015, the facts have been laid bare. Companies have to face the uncomfortable truth about the disproportionate number of men in senior positions.

Much of the copious coverage of this today has missed something, though.

This crucial step forward was secured by none other than:

On  24th March 2015, Jo announced that she and Nick Clegg had worn the Tories down on this in the dying days of the Coalition. She wrote this article for LDV telling the story of how she did it.  Here’s that whole article:

In the final days of this Government Lib Dems are still delivering our agenda against the odds, and against Conservative obstruction.

Under the coalition government the gender pay gap had fallen to its lowest level, at just under 20% – but this is still 19.1% too high. Despite our high levels of women’s employment the UK has the 8th highest gender pay gap in the EU.

Not only is the gender pay gap socially wrong in modern society, but economically it’s nonsensical not to reward our most talented female employees properly. We should value the contribution of women and men in the workplace equally, so our goal has to be eliminating the pay gap completely.

As a Business Minister and Minister for Women, I have worked very hard to persuade my Coalition colleagues of the virtues of tough action to tackle this long-term inequality. Their traditional resistance makes it all the more remarkable that Nick Clegg has, in the last few weeks of our term, secured a government amendment that guarantees all large businesses will have to publish the difference between average pay for their male and female staff. So today (Tuesday) I will proudly vote for our party’s manifesto commitment – for large companies to publish the difference in average pay between male and female employees – to become law.

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Your last chance to respond to policy consultations

The party’s three policy consultations on immigration, refugees and identity, tuition fees and people and communities close today.

If you have something to say, you can find the information you need here.

My response to the immigration, refugees and policy consultation ran to 4,700 words but yours can be much more pithy.

The introduction to mine was as follows:

I am extremely disappointed with the tone of the consultation document.

This country is crying out for a strong liberal voice on immigration. Nigel Farage, the Daily Mail and the unpleasant anti immigrant lobby didn’t get where they are today by being subtle. They were bold and said things that were seen as way too controversial. In countering that message, we should be even more bold and confident.

Let’s get out of the shadow of the right wing press and be unashamedly liberal.

Any policy paper should be tested against the Preamble to our Constitution. This one is totally incompatible with this section:

Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries; we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services. 

I’m pretty much an open borders live where you like person. Michael Meadowcroft reminded us at the Southport consultation session, the old liberal constitution called for a world without borders. Out commitment to a world where NO-ONE is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity does not end at Dunnet Head or the White Cliffs of Dover.

I was horrified to see that the introduction to this paper had the word “robust” before “humane.” In my view that is pandering to the worst of the Farage/Daily Mail spin and is therefore completely unacceptable.

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Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #513

Welcome to the Golden Dozen, and our 513th weekly round-up from the Lib Dem blogosphere … Featuring the five most popular stories beyond Lib Dem Voice according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (25 -31 March, 2018), together with a hand-picked seven you might otherwise have missed.

Don’t forget: you can sign up to receive the Golden Dozen direct to your email inbox — just click here — ensuring you never miss out on the best of Lib Dem blogging.

As ever, let’s start with the most popular post, and work our way down:

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Willie Rennie completes 117 mile run and raises over £7000 for mental health charity

He’s done it!

For those of you who haven’t been following the story over the last few days, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has had a combined mid-life crisis/election substitute. He has run four and a half marathons in the last 3 days, 117 miles, around the Fife Coastal Path.

He finished just over an hour ago. He ran 44 miles today. I can barely drive that distance. It’s absolutely incredible. About 10 minutes ahead of him, I walked up the last part of the path – a not very steep, but long hill. I knew it was boing to be tough for him at the end of that uber-marathon stint.

I’d seen him at his penultimate stop 17 miles and 3 hours earlier. He was in good spirits but clearly very sore. His left ankle was protesting pretty severely at having been put through about 150,000 steps.

It was almost funny when he was asked by the photographer to go back down the hill a bit and run through the arch and ribbon (held by his wife Janet and son Stephen again) so he could get a better shot.

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Watch: Happy Easter from Wera Hobhouse

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“He was the only politician who was interested” in transgender rights

I am just back from a lovely afternoon at Transgender Pride Scotland. I hadn’t expected to be there but my plans changed – sadly too late to take place in the march in the biting cold and driving rain and sleet.

By the time I got there, the crowds were happily ensconced in a conference centre near the main student halls complex in Edinburgh. In the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, packed sessions on  such subjects as tackling transphobia, what to expect at school, navigating gender identity issues as a non binary person, speech and voice as well as creative workshops took …

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It’s Transgender Day of Visibility – why it should matter to every liberal

Today is the annual Transgender Day of Visibility. This afternoon, I’m heading into Edinburgh for the Trans Pride Scotland event and I’m really looking forward to seeing the stalls, workshops, talks and meeting lots of lovely people.

Today really matters to me. As a liberal, I instinctively strive for the rights of people to be able to express who they are without fear. When I was at university, so many of my lesbian and gay friends weren’t out. When I went to uni in 1985, technically homosexuality had only been legal for five years in Scotland. Homophobia still exists, but we have come a long way since then and we have a job of work to do to maintain and continue that progress.

While rights and recognition of transgender people have  improved in the last couple of decades, there is so much more to be done. Recent efforts to simplify the gender recognition system have inspired a bit of a transphobic backlash. Open any right wing tabloid these days and you’ll find scaremongering inaccurate bile which makes life so much more difficult for transgender people.

Imagine how you would feel if your very right to exist and be accepted as who you are was called in to question? Imagine how that must feel if you are a child or young person struggling to come to terms with your gender identity.

As a cisgender woman and a feminist, I’m not prepared to stand by why anyone is discriminated against and attacked. The words of Martin Niemoller are never far away from my mind and my love for my transgender and non binary friends is never far away from my heart.

The bottom line is that everyone should be able to express who they are, something very individual to them, as they see fit. They should be accepted and welcomed. For me, that’s a basic part of a liberal society.

I have been in total awe of my transgender friends these past few days. They have been under sustained attack on social media and have dealt with it with resilience, patience and humour. The bile and unpleasantness coming in their direction has been awful to see. That’s why I will always stand with them.

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Your last chance to help us build a liberal immigration policy

There’s been a bit of a confusion over the last dates to respond to the policy consultations that the party is running at the moment.

The policy papers themselves give Friday 31st March 2018 as the final date. However, you haven’t missed the boat as the party website says we have until 4th April.

This is just as well, as I have left my response to the 67 questions of the immigration paper until the last minute as usual. I have to say that the consultation paper is one of the most profoundly depressing things I have ever …

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#RunRennieRun: The highlights of day one and how you can help on day two

As we reported yesterday, Willie Rennie is running the 117 miles of the Fife coastal path to raise money for Scottish mental health charity SAMH. Yesterday he ran more than 40 miles from Kincardine to Buckhaven.

The weather was not in any way co-operative – the odd shower might have been a bit refreshing but driving rain, cold and sleet is never fun.

He’s now raised more than £5000 – with £1000 going on since Thursday. If you want to give him some motivation to keep going, please give all you can here.

If you want to go and cheer him …

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Willie Rennie starts his four marathons in three days around Fife to raise money for mental health

Easter weekends aren’t generally a time of rest for Willie Rennie.

For the last four years, there’s been an election going on, so he’s been campaigning at full pelt.

But there isn’t an election going on in Scotland this year. So he could decide to lie about and eat chocolate.

That’s not very Willie, though. He’s decided to spend the weekend running the length of the Fife Coastal Path to raise money for SAMH, a Scottish mental health charity. He sets off from Kincardine in a few minutes’ time and his schedule is brutal. 42 miles today. He’s slacking tomorrow. Only 29 miles. And then he finishes on Sunday with a 44 mile run. He’ll be running through the Dunfermline and West Fife constituency he represented as an MP between 2006-10 and will finish in his current North East Fife Scottish Parliament constituency. He represented the whole of Fife as a regional list MSP from 2011-16.

That’s a bloody long way. In 3 days. He’s been warming up by taking part in races in the bracing Scottish Winter.

He’s achingly close to raising £5000. When you are doing an endurance challenge like that, knowing that people are giving generously really helps motivate you. So, if you can, please give him some financial encouragement here.

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Another Thursday night, another Lib Dem Gain

Amazing news from the East Midlands

Congratulations to the amazing Hinckley Lib Dems team.

We didn’t have a candidate in the only other principal by-election yesterday.

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Layla Moran: We shouldn’t be punishing children for taking part in dance and music

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Back in the day, I used to get permission to be away from school to take part in the local arts festivals. It was good for me to broaden my experience and skills and good for the school to see its pupils win awards and present themselves well.

So I was pretty annoyed to see that the Royal Academy of Dance had complained that the Government’s rules on term time absence from school prevented children from taking their dance exams. From the BBC:

According to RAD exams director Andrew McBirnie, before 2013 ballet exams could be run “during the school day and the student was able to leave a class at say 10 o’clock, do their exam and be back by lunchtime – and that seemed to be a perfectly legitimate activity that the student might be doing as part of their all-round education.

“Increasingly over the last few years… there have been more and more schools saying: ‘No we can’t allow this any more because of this issue with unauthorised absence.'”

Just this week, a study showed the beneficial effects of structured music education on cognitive ability and academic performance:

Structured music lessons significantly enhance children’s cognitive abilities — including language-based reasoning, short-term memory, planning and inhibition — which lead to improved academic performance. Published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the research is the first large-scale, longitudinal study to be adapted into the regular school curriculum. Visual arts lessons were also found to significantly improve children’s visual and spatial memory.

Just like when I was at school in the 80s, a Conservative Government squeezes school budgets and music specialist education is the first to go, as a report in the Guardian highlighted last week.

The director of the Royal College of Music has criticised the “steady decline” of music provision in UK state schools.

Prof Colin Lawson used a speech celebrating Prince Charles’s 25-year association with the school to add his voice to a situation that Andrew Lloyd Webber has called a “national scandal”.

Lawson praised work that has been done to analyse the effect of arts and culture on public health.

The Liberal Democrats have long opposed the limits to term time holidays anyway, but Layla Moran had this to say about today’s reports:

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