Author Archives: Caron Lindsay

Declare a mental health crisis say Scottish Lib Dem MSPs

Even if your circumstances have not been too adversely affected by the pandemic, chances are you have gone through some mental health challenges. Even people who were coping pretty well have found the dark and cold Winter lockdown pretty grim.

And if you have had to suffer bereavement, loss or financial struggles along the way, it’s been so much harder.

A study tracking Scotland’s mental health during the pandemic found that there was a significant rise in those contemplating suicide or suffering from Depression and Anxiety. The Herald reports:

The second wave of the Scottish Covid-19 Mental Health Tracker survey, which was carried out between mid July and mid August, a time when Covid-19 restrictions had been eased, showed 13.3 per cent had thought about taking their life in the last week.

That is up from the 9.6% recorded in the first wave of the research, which took place between May 28 and June 21.

That was in the Summer when restrictions were at their lowest point and the weather was at its finest

Last month the same paper reported a Federation of Small Businesses survey which found that half of the small business owners who responded said that they were struggling with mental health.

And another report suggested that almost half of young people had said that their mental health had deteriorated due to not being able to see their friends and worrying about their future prospects because of the state of the economy.

Even before the pandemic struck, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services struggled to meet demand. It was not unusual for young people to wait more than a year even to be seen.  You don’t have to be that good at maths to work out that even if you recover within another year, your life has still been blighted for more than a third of your secondary education. That has got to have an impact on life chances.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have been badgering the Government for years to improve mental health services. Now that these under-resourced services are going to feel any more pressure, the party will call for a mental health crisis to be declared in a parliamentary debate this afternoon.

In their opposition day slot, they will ask the Parliament for the second time to declare the situation a crisis. When the issue was last debated back in November 2019 (we are consistent, after all), the Greens and SNP ganged up to remove all reference to a crisis from our motion.

Our Mental Health Spokesperson Rebecca Bell explained why it was so important for the Government to act to help those who are struggling with mental ill health:

“People are struggling. When they turn for help, it is often not there. Problems that can start small, become crises as help is either lacking or arrives too late. Waiting times for mental health services are long and the targets for treating people have never been met.

“That was true before the pandemic, but the situation is now even graver. Sadly with resources vastly outstripped by the demands on services from those who need mental health treatment, departments are forced to focus solely on the acute end of the scale. that means more people are left sick for longer, and just getting worse. We need to aim for prevention as well so fewer people suffer mental ill health in the first place

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Two ways the Liberal Democrats stood up for people who have to quarantine in hotels

This time tomorrow, anyone arriving into

the UK from certain countries, and from any country into Scotland, will have to undergo ten days of mandatory quarantine in a hotel, an experience for which they will be charged £1,750.

I get that these measures are necessary. We do need to make sure that we limit the spread of new variants of Covid-19.

My issue, to be honest, is that I don’t think we should be charging for this if we think it is necessary to save lives. It’s arguable that it should have been done months ago. Typically both governments are acting too late and are being less than competent about the details of the implementation.

And we most especially shouldn’t be charging people who can’t afford it. If you are in a minimum wage job and a parent or a sibling dies or becomes seriously ill abroad, you are going to want to, in some cases need to, be with your family, to look after them. You should not be prevented from doing so because you can’t afford the cost of the quarantine.

The Scottish Government’s transport minister Michael Matheson announced on Tuesday that there would be a welfare fund to help people who couldn’t afford the cost of this quarantine.

But with less than 24 hours to go, we have scant details of what form this will take, how people will apply for it and how much they will get. Will it meet the whole cost or not?

Willie Rennie called on the Scottish Government to get its act together on this:

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Scotland beat Wales in thrilling Maraphone clash

As I write, Scotland are playing Wales in the Six Nations at Murrayfield. As I write, Scotland are ahead by 17-3. I don’t know much about rugby but this seems unusual to me. Let’s hope we can hold on to that lead for however long a rugby match lasts.

However, an earlier clash between the two countries brought an assured victory for the Scots. The Welsh and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have spent the day tussling on the phone lines before kick off in a battle to see who could make the most phone calls to voters.

It’s all been great fun. Both leaders pumped up the rivalry, visiting each others’ phone banks Willie Rennie announced to the Zoom Room that the Welsh dragon behind him reminded him of me. I’ve never been so proud.

Jane Dodds almost got away with starting to sing a 14 verse traditional Welsh song to distract us from our work.

And Ed Davey showed up too! For an equal amount of time to both teams so as not to show any favouritism. He seemed to enjoy himself.

There really has never been a better time to make phone calls for the party. People seem genuinely happy to hear from us and are happy to share their concerns. We’ve noticed this both where we have elected representatives and where we haven’t.

Canvassing in a Zoom room is great because it spurs you on to do more, you can have a bit of a laugh with it. If you’re at home sitting there with Connect open, you can feel very alone. It is nice to have others to share your canvassing anecdotes with.

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Nominations open for Scotland’s party awards

Every year at Scottish Spring Conference we present our awards to those people who have excelled at a various aspects of Lib Dem life.

The awards are as follows:

  • The Ray Michie Quaich for best contribution to membership recruitment and retention.
  • The SLDW Quaich for the Liberal Democrat who has done the most to advance diversity within Scotland in the past year.
  • The John Morrison award presented by the Office Bearers for outstanding leadership/dedication/success in local government.
  • The Sheila Tennant award presented by LYS for an outstanding contribution from a LYS member.
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Treat seekers of sanctuary with dignity – close Napier and Penally now

Just when you think you can’t get any more ashamed of the Home Office, they do something that takes your breath away.

Since last September, they have been effectively detaining seekers of sanctuary in two former military barracks in conditions which are less than humane. The Napier site in Kent and the Penally site at Tenby in Wales have housed accommodated hundreds of people in stark conditions. The detainees are supposed to be free to come and go but this does not seem to be how it operates in practice.

At a time when we are being told to socially distance and not mix indoors with other households at all, vulnerable refugees are put into dormitory accommodation. No wonder there have been outbreaks of Covid.

This week Jack Shenker described the harsh reality of their situation in an article in the Guardian:

From the moment the Home Office announced last year that it had struck a deal with the Ministry of Defence to repurpose Napier and another disused military site in Penally, south Wales, for this purpose, an extraordinary array of experts in the field – from doctors to lawyers to migrant support workers – have warned against the idea. Their fear was that following long journeys which had already left people physically and mentally vulnerable, and which were often precipitated by acts of state brutality, a martial environment of high walls and watchtowers was a deeply inappropriate form of accommodation for those seeking asylum, and wouldn’t provide them with the medical support and other basic services needed.

Even more pressingly, concerns were raised about the health implications of herding large numbers of people together during a deadly pandemic. At Napier, meals are served in a communal canteen and up to 28 people share a single sleeping area and two bathrooms, making social distancing impossible. For months, residents – who were theoretically free to come and go during the day, albeit at the sentries’ whim – have been trying to sound the alarm over the deteriorating situation inside: cold and cramped conditions, rising tensions and multiple suicide attempts.

It is of particular concern that volunteers trying to help the detainees have been made to sign confidentiality agreements to stop them revealing conditions at the camps.

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An example from the EU on what to do when you screw up

Oh my, the EU screwed up badly yesterday. There is no doubt about that. Invoking Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, however briefly, to prevent Covid vaccines getting into Northern Ireland via the Irish Border.

The Northern Irish and Irish Governments made clear their displeasure and, in very short order, the EU backtracked, as it should have done.

It was an example of the appropriate way to behave when you get it wrong. The EU is no more immune to screw-ups than the rest of us. In fact, it was really quite incredible that it got through the Brexit process by being pretty reasonable most of the time, in the face of extreme provocation from our ministers.

Last night, their leaders, when confronted with the consequences of their actions, didn’t hunker down and get all belligerent about getting Article 16 done, or anything. They stopped digging. Earlier this month, Boris Johnson was pretty gung-ho about the possibility of us invoking the same provision. I doubt that it would be resolved so unremarkably if he ever does.

Our Layla Moran talked about the need for calm heads in a difficult situation:

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Saturday fun: Jamie Stone, Hen Whisperer

Fresh from his triumph at last week’s Edinburgh South Burns Supper, where he wowed the audience with his Toast to the Lassies (none of which is publishable in public), Jamie Stone has released a hilarious video on Twitter.Enjoy!

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Alistair Carmichael: An Immortal Memory for Lockdown

Today is the birthday of Scotland’s National bard, Robert Burns. The traditional suppers to honour his memory have had to go online for obvious reasons. The Edinburgh South Lib Dems’ Burns Supper has been an essential part of my social calendar for years where I’ve been on the Naughty Table. It was a little different this year, eating my haggis in a Zoom breakout room with my fellow naughty friends.

Alistair Carmichael gave the Immortal Memory and had a pitch perfect look at how Burns might have coped with lockdown. He has kindly given us permission to reproduce it:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your invitation to be here with you for this slightly unusual Burns Supper in these exceptionally unusual times.

I hope that you enjoyed your haggis neeps and tatties as much as I enjoyed my artisan-crafted sourdough Haggis Pizza here in Orkney. I figure that if you are going to do things differently then you might as well go the whole hog.

Normally when called upon to propose an immortal memory at a Burns Supper I pose the question, what is it that is so special about Robert Burns and his works that people feel compelled some two and a quarter centuries after his death to gather together to honour his memory.

I suppose that the question remains a good one, given the extraordinary lengths that we are going to this evening to do exactly that but tonight I want to take a slightly different approach. I do so for a variety of reasons but principally because I have been doing that immortal memory for over twenty years now and I suspect most of you will have heard it once at least.

So,this evening instead I want to take a few minutes to consider what Burns might have made of life under lockdown.

I suppose fundamentally Burns was a practical man – a farmer from a farming family – so would have been used to getting on with things and making the best of them.

It should also be remembered that he also spent time working as an excise man so despite his romantic nature – as seen through both his life and his works – he had a side to his character that would have wanted to respect the rules.

I cannot imagine that Burns would have had much sympathy with the anti-mask brigade. Yes, he was a man who would rail against authority and was believed to have some sympathy with the revolutionaries in France but, even so, I suspect that he would have somehow managed to live with a measure that was for he common good.

Burns, I think, like the rest of us would have embraced Zoom in the early days but I fear he would also have tired of it pretty quickly.

Consider his works and you see two themes emerge – Burns as a man who loved nature and a man who was, above all else, a social animal.

As a farmer he would, of course, have been allowed to carry on his work outdoors so for his great works describing nature – his poems To a Mouse or To a Mountain Daisy the inspiration would still have been available.

In both cases Burns draws lessons for mankind from our relationship with nature. As he puts it in To a Mouse – and, for the benefit of our younger colleagues, let me make clear that when he wrote To a Mouse, Burns was not address a piece of computer hardware.

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
An’ fellow-mortal!”

Both poems take a melancholy turn in their final stanzas

To the Mountain Daisy

Ev’n thou who mourn’st the Daisy’s fate,
That fate is thine—no distant date;
Stern Ruin’s ploughshare drives elate,
Full on thy bloom,
Till crush’d beneath the furrow’s weight

Shall be thy doom.

And in

To a Mouse

Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I cannot see,
I guess an’ fear!

I doubt that with uplifting lines like that he would have got the gig to do COVID briefings alongside either Boris or Nicola.

Although he was writing two centuries before Brexit I defy anyone to find a better summary of how that is turning out than the lines in To a Mouse when he wrote

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

If you want to know how that feels then ask anyone who has tried exporting fish since the turn of the year.

But where I think Burns may have struggled more than most would be the loss of social interaction. His love of life – his enthusiasm for a good party and for dalliance with the fairer sex inspired and characterises some of his finest works.

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Conservative Government bans political leafletting – how should Lib Dems react?

Yesterday afternoon, a letter arrived in the inbox of our chief executive from Chloe Smith, the Cabinet Office Minister. It said in stark terms that the Government was banning volunteer delivery of political material in England. Parties who are rich enough can pay to have their stuff delivered. Some parties are so rich that they can afford to send the same leaflet to a house twice in a week, as the Scottish Tories did to me this week.

Last night, Lisa Smart, the Chair of the party’s Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee wrote to regional and local chairs saying:

This afternoon we received a letter from the Tory constitution minister, saying that the Government is changing the rules to make political leafleting no longer permissible.

This is a clear and brazen attempt by the Tories to stop our work to support local residents, and to fix the elections in their favour.

We know that the Tories will do best if campaigning is limited.

We should see that as a strong sign that elections will go ahead on 6 May.

Updated campaigning guidance will be on the website on Monday, following checks with our lawyers. In essence we expect this to say:

No further Liberal Democrat political literature should be given to volunteer activists, and party political materials must be delivered through paid routes.

Elected representatives and local teams may still deliver literature to residents, so long as this is focused on their non-political work of supporting local residents.

This is a vital activity at a time when millions of households do not have internet access and rules and support services are changing quickly.

We will be writing shortly to all members, asking them to support telephone canvassing and asking for donations for paid delivery.

Our national teams will be focused on bulk buy deals and helping organise telephone campaigning.
Let me reassure you. We won’t let Tory dirty tricks stop us from making a difference for our communities.

Our party’s decision to allow leafletting during lockdown in England was controversial both within and outside the party. Although we know that other parties were also distributing leaflets, the Conservatives snd Labour both complained about us. Ed Davey was tackled about this on Marr last Sunday. I wrote at the time:

There are some very strong views on both sides of this argument in the party. I tend to think that, while delivery is one of the safest things that we can do and we’re all having many deliveries to our homes at the moment, my inclination is that we have much more meaningful interaction with people if we phone them and talk to them. The difficulty with that is that the proportion of phone numbers we have is quite small. If you want to give out information to the widest possible number of people you need to do what David Penhaligon said – put it on a bit of paper and push it through their door. Even if it were allowed in Scotland, I wouldn’t choose to do it at this point in the pandemic, but if other Lib Dems feel it is appropriate in their communities, I’m not going to argue with them.

I do think it was a mistake to lead with a defence that was very legalistic and tenuous at best in its understanding of volunteer work. We should have limited our remarks to the importance of reaching those in the community who don’t have access to the internet with what is in many communities a trusted source of information.

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Lib Dem peers unite musicians from Elton John to Iron Maiden over Brexit visa problems

Liberal Democrat peers have organised a letter to the Times signed by over 100 very well known musicians and others in the industry outlining the problems they are now facing as a result of the Brexit deal.

The letter has united Ed Sheehan, Iron Maiden and the Sex Pistols with just about everyone in between.

Significantly, the letter is also signed by Roger Daltrey, who was a prominent campaigner for Brexit.

The Times(£) has the details and quotes Lib Dem peer Paul Strasburger.

Lord Strasburger, the Liberal Democrat peer, said that while the government was “predictably” trying to blame the EU, Britain’s creative artists had been “left high and dry”

He added: “The artists who signed this letter are either furious or fearful for the future of their business, or both. If the Conservative government cares about these industries and the economy, they must get back around the negotiating table and get this sorted pronto.”

The basic problem is that up until 31 December, musicians could just go to any of the other EU countries and perform with zero hassle. Now they have a mountain of paperwork and visas to deal with.

The deal done with the EU has a gaping hole where the promised free movement for musicians should be: everyone on a European music tour will now need costly work permits and a mountain of paperwork for their equipment. The extra costs will make many tours unviable, especially for young emerging musicians who are already struggling to keep their heads above water owing to the Covid ban on live music. This negotiating failure will tip many performers over the edge.

We urge the government to do what it said it would do and negotiate paperwork-free travel in Europe for British artists and their equipment. For the sake of British fans wanting to see European performers in the UK and British venues wishing to host them, the deal should be reciprocal.

You can find out more in an article on the Lib Dem website which describes how musicians have been left high and dry by the Brexit deal.

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Lib Dem parliamentarians Disneyfied

There’s an app on your friendly neighbourhood app store called Toon me.

It enables you to make cartoon images from photographs.

To cheer us all up, Oxford Lib Dem James Cox has put some of our party VIPS through this.

He started with the MPs:

By popular demand, he then started on the MSPs

Here’s Beatrice Wishart, Liam McArthur and Mike Rumbles

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Layla Moran: Protect frontline workers who have Long Covid

You would think, wouldn’t you, that if you caught a disease because of your work, that your employer would be obliged to look after you.

This is not the case for frontline workers, even public sector workers. In a parliamentary debate she’d secured on Long Covid, Layla Moran highlighted the cases of three who had experienced the wrath of HR departments after contracting long Covid.

Take Daisy, an NHS nurse in Wales. For four months she received reduced and then no pay from NHS Cymru, which told her that it was unable to support staff who contracted covid-19. Her case was resolved, but she continues to say that this issue has not been resolved at a national level in Wales. That story, and many others like it, have left me speechless—a headteacher and a nurse, key workers on the frontline, who have no choice but to do their job with inadequate personal protective equipment and testing, and now face financial ruin for doing their duty. It is unacceptable, which is why the APPG recommends that the UK Government recognise long covid as an occupational disease and institute a long covid compensation scheme for frontline workers.

She asked the Minister for three things – better reporting of Long Covid – with the daily stats – research into the condition and how to treat it and recognition of the condition in the social security system and by employers.

I know several friends who have Long Covid and it is really debilitating.

Alistair Carmichael also spoke in the debate, saying that he expected problems in the social security system which had already shown its utter uselessness in dealing with people with ME.

There must be more flexibility in how the system responds to people who are affected in this way. The point has been made to me by constituents that there is a lot of crossover between the symptoms and treatment of people with long covid and those who suffer from ME; I think that point was also made by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams). Certainly, looking back over the years at the way in which the benefits system has coped with people who suffer from ME, let alone the medical profession, we can see that this will be a problem with which we shall have to come to terms for some considerable time.

A Universal Basic Income would make a big difference, he said.

As the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Long Covid, Layla can speak with some authority on these issues. I think that the UK Government has been better than the Scottish Government which doesn’t even have a decent strategy for dealing with Long Covid and that in part is due to the fact that Layla’s leadership on this has been so good.

Here is Layla’s whole speech:

I would like to start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for giving us time to debate long covid today. I also thank members of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, especially the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) and my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who co-sponsored the debate. Most of all, I want to thank everyone who has written to me, the all-party group or their own MP in the last few weeks with their stories. Their accounts are deeply moving. Today’s debate is for them.

In one such email, a constituent of mine said,

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WATCH: US Congressman’s beautiful and heartbreaking tribute to his son

Content warning: Suicide:

I have been known to become exceptionally sweary while watching Sunday morning news programmes. The inane and out of touch utterances of some politicians drive me mad.

But today I was moved to tears by the proud and loving way in which Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin talked about his son, who died by suicide on New Year’s Eve.

He was very open about what he had been through, and spoke so eloquently about his son Tommy and what he had brought to the world. He sounds like a wonderful, community minded, considerate person who lived his values.

Four days after Tommy died, Rep Raskin and his wife Sarah wrote a tribute to him which was full of love and warmth.

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LDV’s Sunday Six – 17 January 2021

Here’s my hand-clicked pick from this week’s Sunday newspapers. What have you been reading today?

An article in the Observer shows that those in the Red Wall seats stand to lose most from the Tories ending the £20 per week Universal Credit top-ups. Will any of the red wall MPs be tempted to vote for a Labour amendment to extend it? Or will the fall for Rishi Sunak’s idea to give families half as much?

In the same paper, Patience Akumu writes about the election in Uganda which saw the incumbent leader returned to power, despite the desire for change among many Ugandans.

There was once a time when the free world was a powerful ally in such matters but now it seems it has too many problems of its own to bother with yet another developing country grappling with a leader who will not relinquish his grasp on power. Following difficulties in getting election observers accredited, both the EU and US chose not to send any.

Perhaps the west feels that, with its own perceived failures, it does not have the moral authority to lecture Africa. Museveni and other African leaders love to hang on to this particular lifeline. Museveni, in a CNN interview, retorted that while Ugandans may have electoral problems at least they are not dying (of coronavirus).

As we prepare for an inauguration which many fear will see outbreaks of violence in the US, Scotland on Sunday takes us back 150 years to when Abraham Lincoln was sworn in, telling the story of how his life was saved when a Scottish detective uncovered a plot to kill him.

The Sunday Herald has some uncomfortable truths about Scotland’s role in slave trade and how our towns and cities benefitted from its profits.

But it was not just those who were directly involved in slavery who benefitted. The wealth derived from unfree labour in the plantations – including compensation – turbocharged the post-union Scottish economy, funding key infrastructure such as canals and waterworks and creating thousands of jobs.

“Slavery and its commerce also had wider effects; powering the Scottish Industrial Revolution and providing large scale employment in cotton mills from 1778, funding philanthropic initiatives in universities, schools and hospitals, as well as the repatriation of wealth to families of lower rank in wider Scottish society,” Mullen says.

The Mirror highlights how a Conservative MP’s company failed to pay casual workers the national minimum wage.

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Ed Davey on Marr: We need £150 billion green recovery, not weak and timid government

“We are not a rejoin party” was one of the first things Ed Davey said in his New Year interview with Andrew Marr. The starkness of that statement is bound to disappoint some Liberal Democrat members and activists who are committed to this country ultimately being part of the EU again. Party strategists are adamant that now is not the time to have that argument and that we need to re-establish our credibility after the 2019 election. Perhaps being proven right will take care of some of that issue. We just need to make sure that we can be better at benefitting from being right than we have been all the other times when we have called a major issue correctly – think Iraq and the 2008 economic crisis.

It’s also not what our policy, passed at Conference in September, says:

Conference resolves to support a longer term objective of UK membership of the EU.

I would have preferred to see a very quick addition to Ed’s line that we didn’t support Brexit for all the reasons we can see it going wrong before he emphasises the need for the closest possible relationship with the EU. There is nothing wrong with saying that while rejoin isn’t on the table now, we think we’ll get to a place where it will be a viable option. There is nothing wrong with keeping that hope alive.

However, he was very strong on one issue that differentiates us from the Labour Party. Keir Starmer is not going to fight for freedom of movement of people. The Liberal Democrats will. Ed said that taking away the freedom to live, work and raise families across the EU is illiberal. The issue is one that impacts on so many families in this country and should increase our support.

That’s a major point of difference with Labour and should attract young people.

The conversation then turned to students. Ed said that the Government had let down schools, universities and students. He called Gavin Williamson the worst education secretary in living memory, who had mismanaged the crisis for everyone in the education sector. He argued that students should be refunded some of their fees and the Government, not the universities should pay for this.

Marr then turned to another really important issue for Lib Dem voters – the environment.

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Are you joining the Maraphone this Saturday?

This Saturday sees the first National Action Day of the year. Under normal circumstances, we’d be out delivering tonnes of leaflets and knocking on doors, talking to voters.

We can’t do that at the moment, so the plan is that we phone as many voters as possible.

There are events taking place all over the country.

During the leadership election, both campaigns worked out that if you get a bunch of people together in a Zoom room, have a bit of a chat, and a briefing session, put ourselves on mute, sign into Connect …

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Nationalism even extends to fish now, apparently

Our Parliament has a reputation as being one of the oldest and best in the world. Every time I walk through the Palace of Westminster, I am reminded of who has walked these same corridors.

Shirley Wiliams, Barbara Castle, William Wilberforce talking about abolishing slavery, Lloyd George bringing forward the People’s Budget, Aneurin Bevan bringing in the legislation that set up the NHS.

All these great things, over centuries.

In 200 years time, I doubt they’ll be talking about the Day the Fish Smiled.

It was Business Questions. The SNP’s Tommy Sheppard raised the crisis in our fishing industry caused by the Government. But of course, he couldn’t just leave it there. He had to use it as a proxy to ask to have a Commons debate on Scottish independence. I mean, the industry is on its knees. One of its key players, Loch Fyne, is talking about only being able to last another week. And all because the Government first of all pursued Brexit, did so in such a cack-handed manner that the decisions were only made about how the seafood industry would operate on Christmas bloody Eve with a week to go and then didn’t get its finger out to produce the relevant paperwork. This level of incompetence is pretty much standard practice for this lot.

It’s infuriating that the SNP constantly let the Tories off the hook by turning the question to independence. Keep it on the subject. Make them own the mess that they have made. Nope.

So what should have been an exchange on a crisis of the Tories’ making ended like this.

The fishing issue was covered a moment ago by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have tuned into that debate, rather than bringing it up at business questions, but the Government are tackling this issue and dealing with it as quickly as possible. The key is that we have our fish back: they are now British fish, and they are better and happier fish for it.

Not exactly edifying, is it?

Earlier, the grown-ups were present. Our Alistair Carmichael  took the Government’s actions to pieces in an urgent question, laying bare the damage that they had done.

Boris Johnson had hinted at compensation yesterday, and his ministers have since spent their time trying to row back from that.

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What is the Tories’ problem with feeding children?

Just when you think that the Tories couldn’t sink any lower than their opposition to providing help to families with free school meals during the holidays, they have gone one further.

All over social media, there are pictures of the sorts of food packages that are being sent to children who would normally qualify for free school meals.

Daisy Cooper has written to the Education Secretary to ask him to investigate and sort this out – by giving vouchers to families rather than these “woefully inadequate” and “abysmal” packages:

It is completely unacceptable that parents have received woefully inadequate food parcels in place of free school meals.

The amount of food parents have received to feed their children is not anything like enough to provide an adequate, nutritious lunch every day. Nor do they appear to represent value for money, given what the parcels should theoretically be worth.

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Tories kill off bid to give NHS workers right to remain in UK

On Sunday we brought you the news that Christine Jardine’s Private Member’s Bill to give NHS workers the right to remain in the UK.

Sadly, today, the Tories tried to kill that hope by cancelling all sitting Fridays until the end of March. At best this postpones when the  Bill will be heard.

Christine’s Bill proposed that all health and social care staff from outside the EU would be granted indefinite leave to remain, enabling them to avoid the hellscape that is our immigration system and granting them rights enjoyed by British citizens.

Christine vowed to fight on, though:

Like the rest of our wonderful NHS and care staff, hundreds of thousands of people from other countries are on the frontlines of the Covid pandemic, putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure we get the care we need.

The UK should say, loudly and unequivocally, that those who have put their lives at risk for our country are welcome to live in it. That’s what my Bill would do, and I am deeply disappointed that the Government is not even letting it be debated in Parliament.

I am not giving up. I will urge Ministers again to make Government time available to pass this urgent legislation, which has cross-party support.

The idea that anyone who has worked so hard to save lives during this emergency might one day be forced to leave should be unthinkable.

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What a peaceful transition of power should look like

I might have known that after I had written about Obama’s inauguration speech earlier, how I would fall down the rabbit hole of the Obama White House You Tube Channel.

I came across the unveilings of the official portraits of George W and Laura Bush. Now, I am not a fan of him or his presidency at all. It is, however, very difficult not to love Laura.

Despite all that, when you watch all the speeches from the Obamas and the Bushes, you pick up a real warmth between them.

There was not a lot of common ground between them when Obama took office, but he went to great pains to point out how helpful Bush had been to him, then and since, and how there was quite a rapport between all the living occupants of the Oval Office. It is enjoyable to watch.

I think back to 1992, when Bill Clinton won after a pretty fraught election campaign with not a lot of love on either side. The first President Bush was similarly helpful and graceful to his successor and they struck up an enduring friendship as a result.

Obviously, this is not going to happen this time round, but Donald Trump, as in so many other ways, is very much the aberration here.

We need to see more examples of people with totally opposing views can behave with grace towards one another without compromising their principles. We need to follow the example of our own Charles Kennedy, whose friendship with Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell had been so important to both of them, as we found out after he died.  Charles had been subjected to the most appalling abuse for his opposition to the Iraq War, yet away from the heat, those two had a close personal friendship.

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A look back at Obama’s inauguration

As we prepare to welcome Joe Biden as US President a week on Wednesday, I thought it might be an idea to look back at previous inaugurations.

Let’s hope that we get to 20th January without any more of the scenes we saw this week. There may well be drama in Congress as the Democrats attempt a second impeachment, but the last thing anybody needs is more injury or loss of life.

I’m thinking back 12 years to Obama’s inaugural speech. I will never forget it. But that is partly because our hamster Puffball died during it, not just for its inspiring and hopeful qualities.

You can watch it, subtitled, here.

And read it here.

Then LDV co-editor Stephen Tall said that he came across as the “ultimate pragmatist CEO”:

Was this speech a mesmerising tour de force which will rank among his best? Not for me. But that’s not a bad thing at all, because what the speech did demonstrate was a sense of uncompromising purpose – and I’ll take that over highfalutin oratory from the most powerful leader in the world. For sure, there was the soaring promise:

The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

But what struck me more was the sense of the ultimate pragmatist CEO, impatient to fix what he sees as broken:

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

I was still learning to love him. Obviously I was delighted that he had been elected, but I have always been a Hillary fan. Somewhere there’s an alternate universe where we are now at the end of Obama’s first term as 45th President with her having been the 44th. That would have been a lot better.
Obama was just starting to inspire me. His inaugural speech certainly made me warm to him more as I wrote on my own blog.

Obama’s speech still had the idealism and the confidence that we have come to expect from him, but this was tempered with sobering realism and a call to all Americans to give of their best to deal with the unprecedented challenges ahead.

You could actually see George W Bush squirming as his legacy was laid bare in a few well chosen, but very frank words. “Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet”

There were two phrases that I thought were the signs of the new age. “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” So it’s goodbye Guantanamo. The poisonous vernacular of the war on terror is replaced with “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Well, I loved it.

And if this is true, then bring it on: “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect.” I hope Israel was listening and will be made to think about the way it consumes the resources of the middle east. It would be good if clean waters flowed in Gaza.

Another theme of the speech was personal responsibility, and embracing your duties as a citizen to help the nation succeed. “For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.”

The two things I really loved most of all about the speech was the inclusion of non-believers in the list of value systems at one point and the addition of curiosity as one of the “values on which our success depends.” I like the willingness to abandon conventions as novel solutions are sought for challenges.

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LDV’s Sunday Six – 10 January 2021

Welcome to another selection of interesting articles from this week’s Sunday papers. It’s been a dramatic week, but we start off with something a bit closer to home:

The Observer has an article about how the huge number of elections due to take place in England could be run:

Measures such as switching to postal votes or extending the time in which ballots can be cast are regarded as logistically impossible in England.However, election officials are looking at simple measures to reduce transmission, including a publicity campaign asking that voters bring their own implement to make their mark.

“Voters can bring their own pen or pencil to vote,” said Craig Westwood, the Electoral Commission’s director of communications, policy and research. “While you can do that in any election, it’s another measure to help keep safe. Voters will be hearing these messages from us, and others, in the weeks leading up to the polls.

“We are focusing a lot more on the voting options that people will have, including postal and proxy voting, and making sure that polling stations are safe places to vote. We’re comfortable that local authorities can make them safe, with support from voters in following the advice they’re given. This will all be similar to what we’re already experiencing in our daily lives, in terms of social distancing, hand sanitiser and masks.”

They ruled out extending the time for voting. It would perhaps be sensible to have the voting over a weekend rather than just a Thursday.

Liberal Democrat guidance is to assume that the elections are going to go ahead in May regardless of any speculation to the contrary. That means that we continue to campaign in Covid-safe ways and if we have to go on for longer, then we’ll be in really good shape to do so.

In the Independent, Jim Moore urges Keir Starmer to look to Stacey Abrams, who has done so much to level the playing field in Georgia where Republican voter suppression had given them so much of an advantage. Her work at making sure people were registered to vote has been credited with both Joe Biden’s victory in the state and those of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to take control of the Senate. Moore argues:

So to Sir Keir. The Tories have been increasingly using the same language adopted by the Republicans when it comes to voting, despite the UK’s Electoral Commission stating in 2019 that there remains no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud.

For the record, there were more than 32 million votes cast in the UK General Election that year, but just 161 cases of fraud reported to the police and only a single conviction.

As in the US, enforcing voter ID in Britain looks very much like a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. But if it can swing you a few constituencies – and it might do that because poorer, and younger, voters who are less likely to have ID are typically more likely to vote Labour – then hey, why not.

These are the sorts of things that have been raised time and again by Liberal Democrat MPs and peers. It would be really helpful if Labour got their act together and really started pushing against the Government’s plans which so transparently follow the Republican voter suppression 101.

A distressing interview in the Sunday Mirror with a nurse shows the pressure that NHS staff are under.  She was speaking after four patients she was caring for had died in two days.

Given the pressure on her, it was really worrying to see that when she is not at work, she can’t sleep because of the nightmares she’s having.

She begged people to follow the rules to avoid catching Covid.

Her message to anti-lockdown groups is simple: Get real.

Ameera said: “They don’t have any medical qualifications yet feel it’s OK to make unfounded comments.

“When will they realise what’s really going on? Will it be when they lose someone they love? We can have a day where patients are dying all day long and you are having to quickly wash them and zip up a body bag.

“None of the people from anti-lockdown groups will ever zip up a body bag in their lives.” Doctors and nurses are risking their lives to treat patients, day in, day out.

Back to the Observer and Bill Clinton’s former Labor Secretary Robert Reich gives us a long list of people who should pay the price, along with Donald Trump, for the events this week.

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Christine Jardine’s Bill to give NHS staff right to stay in the UK to be debated on Friday

Our NHS is under more pressure than it has ever been. As I write, brave nurses, doctors, cleaners, porters, health care assistants are putting in superhuman effort to keep people alive, to comfort them and their families when they can’t and to treat more critically ill people than they have ever had to at the same time before.

And all the time taking the risk that they could be next to be lying there struggling to breathe.

It’s exhausting. And it comes after many of them bust a gut during the first wave. Then they barely stopped to rest before trying to catch up with the routine procedures and tests that they had not been able to do.

After ten months of relentless pressure, many are at breaking point. They are seeing suffering on a scale that they had not imagined.

Every day on my social media, I hear about at least one person who I actually know in real life being admitted to hospital.

As I think of them and hope that they will soon be restored to good health, I think about the stressed health professionals and support staff treating them.

Many of those staff are not UK nationals. Those who aren’t EU citizens with the protections of settled status have the hellscape of our horrendous immigration system to navigate. Every so often, their visas will have to be renewed. That is a hellishly stressful and expensive process.

If you came in to the country on a spouse visa, that will set you back £1500. And you’ll have to pay it again to renew it after two and a half years. You also have to pay £624 PER YEAR in NHS surcharge.

So, that’s nearly 5 grand for the first five years. Then you can apply for indefinite leave to remain. That will set you back another £2400.

We’re at pretty much £7,500. On a nurse’s salary? Are you having a laugh? And if you have kids who are not UK nationals, you have to pay for them too.

Right from the start of the pandemic, Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine has been trying to get the Government to give indefinite leave to remain to healthcare staff and their spouses and children.
This week, her Bill is debated reaches its next parliamentary stage. It says:

BE IT ENACTED by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

Indefinite leave to remain

    1. (1)  An eligible person has indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom.
    2. (2)  The Secretary must, on request from an eligible person, issue physical documentary proof of that indefinite leave to remain as soon as reasonably practicable.

(3) No fee may be charged for issuing a proof under subsection (2)./ol>

Simple. The right to stay for free for those who have been braving the pandemic, taking that risk, and their families.

Here she is introducing the Bill back in September:

The party has released a campaign video and we can expect more in the next few days:

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What took you so long, Twitter?

Twitter logoFor years now we’ve rolled our eyes around mid morning when Donald Trump woke up and found his phone and Twitter app. “Oh god, what now?” we would groan as we read the latest instalment of populist bile.

This week, entirely predictably, it all got dangerous and people lost their lives. Families are mourning loved ones whose deaths were entirely preventable. And the events which led up to them were highly predictable.

Twitter, who have for years hosted his most outrageous statements without taking action finally lost patience with Trump, permanently banning …

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Ed Davey volunteers to help with Covid vaccine

Our Ed has got himself in the Sun two weeks in a row.

He has signed up to the paper’s scheme to provide volunteers to help with the rollout of the Covid vaccine.

It is certainly going to be some job to get this vaccine rolled out.

My Dad, who has just turned 75, got his first jab this week. It is such a relief. I don’t think I will even start to rest easy until my Mum and husband have had theirs, though.

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Ed Davey: PM dodged the difficult decisions and acted too late

Boris Johnson as good as said in his address announcing a new “March-style” lockdown that we we would have succeeded in beating Covid if it hadn’t been for this pesky new variant. The variant he’s known about for three months and done little to combat. Brazen or what?

Not even 36 hours had passed since his Marr interview yesterday, when he said that parents should send their kids to school today. Now, the decision he should have taken before Christmas has been made.

Ed Davey pointed out these errors of judgement in his reaction to the PM’s statement. He had earlier called for a lockdown, and so the party will be supporting these measures. However, we also want to see better support for those who have so far been excluded from the Government schemes, investment in mental health services and an increase to Carer’s Allowance.

Ed said:

This is the public health policy the Prime Minister should have announced before Christmas, but yet again, Boris Johnson ducked the difficult decisions, failed to listen to experts and acted too late.

Just yesterday morning Johnson was telling parents that schools were safe and children should definitely go. Today he is telling us that they must all move to remote learning but without any proper future plan.

The Prime Minister’s failure to act earlier means we are seeing record numbers of new infections, a rising death rate, hospitals overwhelmed and NHS and care staff exhausted.

With this new lockdown, Liberal Democrats believe it’s urgent that the Government announce a new comprehensive economic plan for businesses and the self-employed; a plan to increase Carer’s allowance in line with the increases in Universal Credit and must fully take account of the impact of these developments on the mental health of young people and vulnerable individuals who are going through an incredibly difficult time.

All around the world, the evidence is that acting early is critical to minimising damage to the economy and protecting public health. We need a Prime Minister who can act in time, not one who acts when it is too late.

There’s one interesting difference between the PM’s statement and the announcement by Nicola Sturgeon this afternoon.

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Tackling destitution and child poverty – what can the Liberal Democrats offer?

The first sentence of the Preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution, oft quoted, sets out the sort of society we want to see:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

No-one – that’s a high bar, and it’s not qualified by national boundaries. Tackling poverty is a central part of what we are about.

In December, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published its third report into destitution in the UK. Updated to include the impact of the pandemic on already high vulnerable people, it makes horrifying reading. Why, in one of the richest countries in the world, do too many people not have the ability to access the basics of food, shelter and clothing? Why do we tolerate it? And what can we do to change things?

Let’s look at some of those conclusions from the JRF Report, which should make every single government minister feel utterly ashamed.

With more than a half (54%) of the whole destitute population being sick or disabled according to our quantitative survey, COVID-19-associated delays in the processing of DLA renewals and PIP claims and appeals had a detrimental effect on the mental health and material wellbeing of people in receipt of or applying for these benefits. The loss of face-to-face contact with health and other services often hit participants with mental health or drug or alcohol problems especially hard, as they felt much less benefit from online or telephone-based support. The difficulties of contacting local authorities on unaffordable telephone lines was a particular problem during lockdown when council offices were closed.

A household’s ability to manage relationships well through the COVID-19 crisis depended very much on space they had at their disposal. Overcrowding and lack of access to outside space affected many of those we spoke to, and parents who were interviewed reported that the effect of lockdown on their children was overwhelmingly negative. Some participants lived in inadequate or shared forms of accommodation, which made social distancing requirements challenging to fulfil. Several interviewees had paid rent arrears with credit cards to stave off eviction, and others were awaiting eviction once the protection offered by the eviction moratorium had ended.

Some things helped, though. The extra £20 per week on Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit, along with increased working hours for some key workers, helped take some people out of destitution. Only into poverty, though, which is just as unacceptable. The removal of conditionality elements for Universal Credit – the suspension of the requirement to prove that you are spending all your time looking for work – had a beneficial impact on stress levels and mental health too. The ban on evictions helped remove the threat of homelessness, although they didn’t stop arrears accumulatingBut these are the things that the Government is stopping.

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LDV’s Sunday Six

Welcome to the first Sunday of 2021.

Here are six hand-picked items from today’s media to inform, amuse or provoke you.

As Scotland records the worst drug rate death in Europe, costing the job of Joe Fitzpatrick, the Public Health Minister last month, a senior lawyer, Ian Smith of defence firm Keegan Smith backs decriminalisation, according to the Herald.

He said: “Most of the people I know that take heroin and almost all of the ones who have died, have come from childhood trauma. Heroin, drugs and alcohol, are a way for them to deal with that.

“There needs to be a shift in society from seeing these as deaths of ‘junkies’ to deaths of abused, traumatised kids who turned into adults.

“That’s why I’m an advocate of decriminalisation. If you take the criminal element out of it, you take the stigma out of it, take the labelling out of it and recognise that they’re people who need help.”

This is something Liberal Democrats have been calling for for years and it could become a key issue in the Scottish elections this year. The SNP Government cut drug and alcohol rehab services early on in this term. Although the funding was later reinstated, the consequences in terms of homelessness and deaths were serious.

Support for assisted dying is growing and the election of more progressive MSPs could make it possible to introduce legislation after the next elections, scheduled to take place in May. Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton is quoted in this Scotsman article:

We wouldn’t want to launch a bill unless we were confident that we had the numbers.

But every successive Parliament has a seen a shift towards this to the point that we are at the tipping point into majority. We just need a few more like-minded progressive MSPs to join our ranks.

This is a dignity that we should be affording to Scots at the end of their lives.

Fans of Russell T Davies’ writing will be interested in this article he’s written in the Observer to coincide with his new tv drama, It’s a Sin, about when AIDS first became prevalent in the 1980s, with the heartbreaking impact of not only the disease but the prejudice and stigma which was allowed to grow up around it.

But me? I looked away. Oh, I went on marches and gave a bit of money and said how sad it was, but really, I couldn’t quite look at it. This impossible thing. There are boys whose funerals I didn’t attend. Letters I didn’t write. Parents I didn’t see. Late last year, I bumped into the father of a good friend who’d died in 1992. We chatted, politely, hopelessly, and I flailed around, wondering how to apologise after all this time for not going to the funeral. But then I realised it hardly mattered. No one went. The shame had been so great that they only had 25 people for a lovely, lively lad, dead by 28.

They were comparatively lucky to have had a funeral at all. Back then, there were undertakers who refused to handle the bodies. Crematoriums that turned people away in case their staff were contaminated. Some lonely funerals happened at night, so no one could see.

Families split up by the Home Office’s harsh deportation policy speak to the Observer

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Ed Davey calls on Government to make it easier for retired health professionals to work

We’ve all seen some pretty scary things on social media and the news about the strain that some hospitals, particularly in the South East, are under.

In the past few days, I’ve seen accounts of a friend’s relative waiting hours for an emergency ambulance and then spending more than a day in A & E before a bed could be found in a ward.

Just on my social media, I am seeing several people each day testing positive. I’m aware of people having the virus, too, although, thankfully, nobody I know has been seriously ill with it. However, the so called “mild” version is extremely unpleasant.

With all this in mind, you can just imagine the stress that front line health workers must be facing. Exhausted already by the first wave and the race to catch up with the backlog of things that didn’t happen during it, the intensity of the second wave is at times overwhelming for them.

And that’s before any of them catch the virus and have to take time off themselves.

They need reinforcements, so it would help if retired health professionals could take some of the strain, even if it is covering things away from the front line.

But apparently the system makes it difficult for that to happen seamlessly.

Our Ed Davey has got himself into the Sun today, calling on Matt Hancock to sort this out. He said:

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Kirsty Williams breaks ranks with Welsh Government to oppose Brexit trade deal

We’ve brought you reports from the Commons, the Lords and Holyrood debates on the Brexit trade deal today already.
In Wales, Lib Dem Education Minister Kirsty Williams broke ranks with her Labour colleagues to support an amendment to the government’s own motion which reaffirms the longstanding Liberal Democrat policy to vote against the deal. The amendment which Kirsty specifically voted for stated that she:
Does not support the UK Government’s deal and calls on Wales’ representatives in the UK Parliament to vote accordingly.
Labour dodged making a decision on this and abstained. But Wales’ sole Liberal Democrat voice stood up for her convictions,

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