Author Archives: Caron Lindsay

Afghans and their loved ones pay the price of a UK PM who doesn’t care

Jo Swinson was right about many things. Just after she became leader in 2019, she told Iain Dale that the worst thing about Boris Johnson is that he just doesn’t care about anything other than himself.

Nowhere has that been more obvious than in the way he has behaved over the evacuation from Afghanistan.

The way you act when you are in a leadership position is a powerful signal to those below you about how important you think something is. If you are passionate about getting something done, it’s very clear.

There’s a reasonable expectation that, at times of crisis, your leaders are going to look a bit like they are devoting everything to sort things out. You want to see a bit of worry, empathy, stress on their faces. We, instead, have a carefully dishevelled Prime Minister looking like he doesn’t have a care in the world, asking stressed staff at the Foreign Office if they are the ones being inundated by emails. I mean, I am sure that if Armando Iannucci had suggested that scene for The Thick of It, they’d have binned the idea as being too far-fetched. Ed Davey said that the video showed Johnson in his true light:

These flippant remarks show Boris Johnson in his true light, uncaring and unable to master the detail during this awful crisis.

The emails he refers to are from desperate family and friends worried that the Taliban will kill their loved ones.

Perhaps if Boris Johnson had understood and planned for the dangers of the Kabul evacuation, thousands of people would not be at crisis point.

Wendy Chamberlain added on Twitter:

Our MPs have been really good at supporting their staff with the emotional impact of this work with Ed taking time to message his appreciation.  Their caseworkers work alongside MPs supporting worried loved ones and all of them really care about the people they are trying to help.

And then we discover from the Observer today that many of the emails sent to the Government from MPs were not even read.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton announces new, young spokespeople team

Alex Cole-Hamilton has announced the spokespeople team he thinks will bring “new hope” to the party and to Scotland.

One of the most striking things about Alex’s team is that it is very young. I am positively ancient in comparison to all but about four others. It is fantastic that of the 18 spokespeople, 4 are in their 20s, and are members of the Young Liberals. They are Molly Nolan, who really closed the gap in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross in May. She is such a powerful advocate for our rural communities. Ben Lawrie, one of the youngest councillors in Scotland will be holding the Government to account on its handling of the drug deaths crisis. Joe McCauley, who stood in Glasgow in May takes on culture and Jack Norquoy, the youngest spokesperson at 22, speaks for young people. An Orcadian, now living in Edinburgh, he understands the issues they are facing in rural areas as well as in our cities.

Alex said:

Scotland needs new hope and this team can offer it. They are crackling with talent and ideas, ready to inspire people. We will focus on the issues that matter to people across the country every day, from the NHS to the climate emergency. We will oppose the centralising SNP and stand up for human rights at home and abroad.

“Over the coming weeks I will be setting out a series of proposals to give people new hope, from the environment to the future of our communities and the prospects for young people. Scottish Liberal Democrats have so much to offer the people of Scotland.

I was surprised and delighted to be asked to return to the role of Social Security spokesperson which I had until 2019, before moving to Housing and then Equalities.

Alex phoned me when I’d nipped into Morrisons last Saturday afternoon and I took his call standing next to a stack of lager. Fighting poverty and inequality is so important to me and we need to use every single power we have in Scotland to make life better for people who are really struggling to put food on the table and heat their houses. I’m thrilled to be working with Wendy Chamberlain, who has the DWP Westminster portfolio.

The team in full is as follows:

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Zoe Franklin selected to dislodge the Guildford brick in the Blue Wall

Good news from Guildford:

Zoe is bright, energetic and inspiring. I remember her speaking at a Scottish Lib Dem conference fringe meeting a couple of years ago giving lots of ideas about local campaigning. She closed the gap last time and could regain the seat which was held by Liberal Democrat Sue Doughty between 2001 and 2005. Sue was the only non Conservative to hold the seat since 1906.

From the Huffington Post:

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Heartbreak, humility and humour – Alex Cole-Hamilton talks to Matt Forde

A wee treat for your commute today, or to have on in the background while you work from home.

New Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton was the guest on this week’s Political Party podcast hosted by Matt Forde.

It’s a brilliant chat, incredibly serious and moving in places, absolutely hilarious in others. At the start, Matt Forde warns us that it includes Alex’s account of a man who died by suicide in front of him a few years back. It’s one of the reasons he has been so persistent in questioning the Scottish Government on their lack of a suicide prevention strategy or lack of mental health support.

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Maddy Planche: Young people do care about politics

This weekend we’re publishing all the speeches from Alex Cole-Hamilton’s launch event as Scottish Lib Dem leader. Maddy Planche, a student and activist from Edinburgh, who is definitely one to watch for the future, introduced Alex and talked about how he had listened to her and taken her seriously when she first got involved.

For as long as politics has been around, there has always been the assumption that young people just don’t care enough about it. It doesn’t take much to notice that at this current point in time, you could not be further from the truth. In fact, I’m the third young person to be speaking today.

Young people, just like the rest of society, look at the world and are worried. We’re worried about the ever-impending climate crisis, worried about whether we can be treated equally to our peers, worried about a lack of meaningful action.

We’re frustrated but that doesn’t mean we don’t care. We are constantly watching a wheel that is not turning fast enough and we cannot wait to jump at it and push it ourselves. So, we do, in our droves.

That is why I first got involved in politics, because I want progress and I want it to come faster. It’s what drew me to the Liberal Democrats. We do not create policies simply for the sake of being palatable. What underpins our liberalism is our belief that everyone should have the freedom and choice to make in life what they want of it, but they are not always given the right tools to do so.

We fight tooth and nail for this belief. That is why we’re the party best placed to get the wheel turning.

When I did first get involved, I didn’t quite know what to expect. When I turned up to my first canvassing session (eighteen, very nervous) I half expected to hate it, never go to another session but at least tell my university tutor on the Monday morning that I had tried politics in the ‘real world’.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. People that I was worried would not take me seriously enough because of my lack of age and experience instead appreciated my presence and made it vocal they did so. One of these people was Alex Cole-Hamilton.

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Kevin Lang: Council elections are the key to winning again

This weekend we are running all the speeches from Alex Cole-Hamilton’s rally on Friday after he was declared Scottish Lib Dem leader. Next up is his best friend and the architect of Alex’s, Christine Jardine’s and Wendy Chamberlain’s successful election campaigns. From his speech you get quite an insight into their relationship and into Alex as a person.

Alex may have the biggest vote of any MSP, but Kevin gained the highest number of first preferences of any councillor in Scotland. This man knows how to win elections and he’s on a mission to make sure we win as many council seats as possible next year.

So, about 10 days ago I got ap hone call from ACH. Now this is not an infrequent event but it was a conversation like we’ve never had before.

“Kevin, ” he said, if I’m fortunate enough to be chosen as party leader on 20th August, it would mean the world to be if you would come and speak at the announcement of the result. Can you do it?”

And I said to him, of course, you are my best friend. Of course I  want to be there for you. But tell me, what is the format going to be? Who are the speakers?  What role do you want me to have.

And then with all of the classic understatement that we associate with Alex Cole-Hamilton, he said:

“Well, Kevin, Jack Norquoy is going to be speaking. And this is going to be Jack’s Obama moment. Remember when Obama spoke for the first time at the Democratic National Convention, well this is Jack’s Obama moment.

I said, this is exciting. What role do you want me to have?

And he paused: Well, he said, do you remember when Pete Buttigieg rolled out his old high school classmates, that’s you.

Right, so Jack’s Obama and I’m  Pete Buttigieg’s high school classmates. If ever anything told me that I was the future once, it was that.

But here’s the truth. I have known Alex for 20 years. I know him about as well as anybody. And I can tell you with. You will struggle to find a more decent person and you will struggle to find a truer liberal than him. So for the last 20 years I have been proud to call him my best friend but today I am proud to call him my party leader.

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Welcome to our new Green overlords

As the Scottish Greens go into what looks very much like a Coalition with the SNP, taking 2 yet to be announced ministerial positions, it would be tempting to treat them with exactly the same kindness and empathy they showed us when we were entering coalition at Westminster in 2010.

Before we had even done anything, they were turning hyperbolic abuse into an art form.

But we should be bigger people here. We are, after all, in favour of electoral systems which encourage coalition and cross-party working.

We will have to judge the Greens by their actions.

And it’s not as if this development is anything particularly new. The SNP has relied on their votes for most of the past 14 years. I do have to wonder why they think that now is the right time to join a failing government and start to get the blame for the decline in our public services that the SNP has presided over.

The Greens in Scotland are very much of the watermelon kind rather than the mango. They are socialist in nature rather than liberal, and their support for independence risks them putting nationalism above the climate emergency.

I really don’t get why, with a decade to save the planet, any Green would want to spend at least a quarter of that time faffing about with the constitution. The planet is not going to be saved by us putting up barriers, that’s for sure.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton: Liberals see the best in things. We celebrate diversity and nonconformity and if something isn’t working we try to fix it or we fight for reform.

One sentence to sum up the Liberal Democrats:

Liberals see the best in things. We celebrate diversity and nonconformity and if something isn’t working we try to fix it or we fight for reform.

Here, in full, is Alex Cole-Hamilton’s first speech as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. It was a belter that brought a tear to my eye. He started by talking about Maddy Planche, the young activist who introduced him. Another couple of decades and we might well be holding a big rally when she takes over the leadership.

Alex paid tribute to Willie Rennie’s 10 years of service, highlighting his achievements in getting more mental health support, expanding childcare and ensuring that disadvantaged kids get more money in school.

Then he set out the reasons Lib Dems offer new hope to Scotland. In a powerful section he invited people who shared our vision to come to us.

If you want a party that will fight the climate emergency with ferocity but without the baggage of nationalism, come with us.

If you want Scotland to make things again and capture the imagination of the world, through industry and innovation, come with us.

If you want to live in a country which offers the best education in the world, which values its carers and those they care for, then come with us.

If you want a party that stands for human rights at home and abroad. One which fights for the women fleeing Kabul and protects young people from gay conversion therapy, come with us.

If you are affected by the mental health emergency come with us.

If you are worried about state intrusion or big centralising government then come with us.

Come with us and I promise you, that Liberal Democrats in the villages and towns of Scotland will show you the meaning of the word hope once again.

 

Read the whole thing here:

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WATCH: Ed Davey’s Afghanistan speech: Boris Johnson is a national liabilty

Ed Davey had a tough slot today, coming just after Tom Tugendhat’s powerful speech.

He did well, though. He laid bare Boris Johnson’s share of the responsibility for what had happened:

I cannot hold President Biden to account in this House, but I can hold our own Government to account. Our Prime Minister and his Cabinet cannot escape their culpability for this disaster—for both the mistaken decision to withdraw, and how the withdrawal has turned into such a catastrophe. From the Prime Minister’s self-evident lack of influence and clout in Washington, to his negligent inability, yet again, to master his brief

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What should Liberal Democrats be saying about Afghanistan?

Ed Davey called for Parliament to be brought back from its Summer holidays to discuss the growing crisis in Afghanistan. His comments two days ago seem even more urgent now as the Taliban advance on Kabul in an entirely predictable consequence of the withdrawal of US and UK troops from the country.

I am not a fan of military action. There have been very few deployments of our troops I have been in favour of because we often seem to ultimately make things a lot worse. There have been a few exceptions to this, for humanitarian purposes, such as intervention in Kosovo, but it does take a lot to persuade me of the need for it.

On this occasion, our withdrawal before there is a strong enough political and physical  infrastructure to bring stability,  and a better life for the people has put the population in huge danger. Not only that, but the Taliban has form for stoking international terrorism so their presence makes the world less safe.

Joe Biden is in a difficult position. Surely he must know that Afghanistan and the world have become less safe because of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw US forces, but he is basically worried  of Trump in three years’ time if he sends them back in.  The Trump administration’s peace agreement with the Taliban in February last year was a disgrace with no guarantees on human rights or even a mention of women’s rights. Subsequent talks aimed at finding a political settlement for Afghanistan between the Government and the Taliban had few women in the room.

The Government of Afghanistan’s record on human rights is far from exemplary. Amnesty’s 2020 report on the country said:

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Alex Cole-Hamilton: Everyone loses if choice is Boris vs Nicola

See, I’ve fixed the problem with the Times headline this morning.

A mischievous headline writer gave the impression that Alex Cole-Hamilton as new Scottish Lib Dem leader was prepared to work with the Tories to save the Union. That’s not quite what he said.

He was talking about offering something very different to the Boris and Nicola show:

If the choice boils down to Boris Johnson’s vision of the union versus Nicola Sturgeon’s of independence, then everyone loses. We don’t need to settle for that.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have never been satisfied with the union as it currently stands. Alex says that he is prepared to work with the Conservatives if they “recognise our union of nations is imperfect, is in need of reform and could do so much better.”

On Labour, he says that while we have much in common on issues of social justice, their instincts on things like ID cards mean that there are significant areas where we disagree. While he’s happy to work with them, we will pursue our distinctive liberal message.

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Double by-election GAIN in the Highlands

Today is one of those days when it is amazing to be a Lib Dem.

We have two new Liberal Democrat Councillors in the Highlands, gaining seats from Independents in Wick and East Caithness and Inverness West.

The Wick result was particularly pleasant because our 2017 result saw us in 9th and last place with 172 votes. New candidate Jill Tilt topped the poll on first preferences by 35 votes today. I’m fairly certain we got at least that many people out to vote in our polling day Maraphone today.

On paper, Inverness was a better prospect as we already have a well loved local councillor in the ward, Alex Graham. I went canvassing there at the beginning of July when I was up on holiday and it felt promising. It was great to see the fantastic Colin Aitken become our youngest councillor in Scotland.

Thanks to the Liberal Democrats in coalition with Labour, we have STV for Council elections in Scotland, which means AV for by-elections. The SNP were ahead by 40 on first preferences, but Colin won it on transfers.

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Should we boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics?

As the Olympic Games in Tokyo draw to a close and we look back on two weeks which has laid bare serious issues of wellbeing of athletes and blatant sexism in sport funding, as well as some brilliant performances in an incredible range of sports.

I hadn’t realised negotiating complicated climbing walls at speed was an internationally recognised sport but I swear I didn’t draw breath as I watched people take their lives in their hands.

And the cross country cycling was brutal with all sorts of obstacles thrown in the path of the riders.

I hadn’t been particularly invested in these Games but got drawn in.

Preparing to compete in the biggest of international sporting events is hard enough in the best of circumstances.  Athletes have to endure crushing physical and mental pressures and make huge sacrifices. Behind every length in the swimming pool in an Olympic final are years, maybe decades of getting up at 5am to do a couple of hours in a pool before school and evening training. But the pandemic added an extra layer of complexity to their preparation with athletes having to lift weights in their gardens rather than the gym.

Because of the year’s delay to the 2020 Olympics, it’s just six months until the Olympic circus starts up again for the Winter Olympics. I may be petrified of snow and ice in all its forms if I have to walk on them, but I’m quite happy to watch people lie down on tea trays and speed down helter skelters at amazing speeds, or jump off a high ramp on skis.

The problem with this event is that it takes place in Beijing. Would our participation in these Games in the wake of the brutality of the Chinese Government towards the Uyghur Muslims be in any way appropriate?

Ed Davey thinks not. In February, he called for us to boycott the Games. From The Guardian:

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Ed Davey: Johnson’s refusal to self isolate “Barnard Castle on steroids”

Boris Johnson’s blatant avoidance of self isolation as a staffer who tested positive for Covid further undermines confidence in this Government.

I feel sorry for anyone who has to be around him over the next few days. He could pass a potentially deadly virus on to them or ultimately their vulnerable relatives. It is an anxious time for them.

The Guardian has the story and Ed Davey’s reacton:

The group were tested upon landing, and the official’s result was positive so they went into isolation. Some whose result came back negative were told to make their own way home, while others, including Johnson, finished the tour. The prime minister was then pictured meeting the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, the Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross, and the Conservative MP Andrew Bowie.

Johnson and several members of the No 10 contingent are not isolating – but a government source said “the whole lot should be”. The Downing Street spokesperson also refused to say if he had been tested since the positive case was discovered.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, also called on Johnson to confirm he had not been asked to isolate again. Referring to the excuse Dominic Cummings used for breaking lockdown rules last spring, Davey said of the prime minister: “If it turns out he has scorned his own government’s policy on self-isolation again, the public reaction will be Barnard Castle on steroids.”

This is the second time in 3 weeks that the PM has tried to get away with not isolating after being in contact with someone who has tested positive. It’s not acceptable. If anyone becomes ill as a result of his behaviour, then he will have to take responsibility.

This comes close on the heels of the story about Alok Sharma, our climate change minister, dotting back and forth around red list countries and not quarantining despite being in risky situations of indoor mixing.

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Ed Davey: Government is failing Afghan people

The idea of the Taliban getting closer to power in Afghanistan is very worrying indeed. That it comes at a time when we are withdrawing troops and slashing foreign aid by 78% shows astonishing irresponsibility on behalf of our government.

You can’t just walk away and leave people in the lurch as we are doing.

Ed Davey has spoken of his concerns about the advance of the Taliban:

As the Taliban take swathes of territory on their advance towards Kabul, millions of women and girls are facing the prospect of a new era of injustice, inequality and brutality – while the

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UPDATED: Humza Yousaf challenges nursery which refused to take his daughter

Today’s Daily Record reports that a Scottish nursery refused three separate applications for children with names that might indicate they were from a minority ethnic background while simultaneously offering places to children who appeared to be from white backgrounds. The first of those was for the two year old daughter of Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and his wife Nadia. The Record subsequently conducted its own investigation.

After being contacted in July by Nadia, the Record made its own inquiries using fake names. Under Aqsa Akhtar we asked Mill on July 7 for any afternoons free for a three-year-old daughter Amira. Five days later after prompting, on July 12, Mill replied there was “no ­availability for a three-year-old” and in contrast to the non-ethnic cases there was no offer of a registration form, a tour of the nursery or an unprompted option of a waiting list.

That evening, we emailed under the name Susan Blake about a couple of afternoons at any point for Sophie, three. The next day, Mill sent a registration form and leaflet.

She said she wanted to see where Sophie “would fit in on our ­registers” and to “let you know of availability and arrange a suitable time for a show round for you”. This was in contrast to her ­statement the day before to Sara that there was resolutely “no ­availability for a three-year-old”.

On July 19, we asked for specific availability before filling in the ­registration form. Three days later, Mills apologised for a delay as she had not been in the office but said she could “accommodate any afternoon apart from a Friday”.

Humza said on Twitter:

He and Nadia have asked  the Care Inspectorate to look into what has happened and establish if there is evidence of discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity or religion. The nursery denies this.

It got me thinking about what I would do if I had a child at that nursery. I wouldn’t feel comfortable about standing by and keeping silent. I would certainly ask the nursery what was going on and I would not be fobbed off with the really poor response they gave to the paper, which amounts to “we can’t be racist, we have Muslims here.”

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Highland Lib Dem by-election candidates set out their stalls

It’s great to have local government by-elections back, especially when we have as good a night as we did last Thursday.

We have a really good chance of gaining two new councillors in the Highlands on August 12th.

Colin Aitken is hoping to gain the Inverness West seat from Independent and Jill Tilt is hoping to gain Wick and East Caithness, also from Independent.

Liberal Democrat councillors are currently in administration with the Labour and Independent groups in this vast council which stretches from the north coast to Skye , Lochaber and more than 50 miles south of Inverness.

It takes a good 2.5-3 hours to drive between the two wards, although the journey is much easier than it was when I used to do it frequently in the 80s.

Colin and Jill have been setting out what they want to achieve as Councillors for their areas.

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The National really doesn’t like Alex Cole-Hamilton…

Alex Cole-Hamilton has done a brilliant job of keeping his constituents informed about the constantly changing Covid restrictions over the past 17 months. As soon as things change, he sends out an email to his constituents to let them know.

In over 40 updates since March last year, there have been two typos. I am slightly miffed that they didn’t pick up the one last year when he referred to the Caronavirus. I mean what could the symptoms of that one be? A sudden obsession with Doctor Who and Eurovision?

He got a date wrong for the lifting of one aspect of the Covid restrictions in Scotland in his most recent bulletin. Someone pointed it out and he issued a correction in minutes. So far, so not very dramatic.

But Scotland’s nationalist newspaper, The National, never Alex’s biggest fan, decided to give this the full front page headline treatment. Clearly they see him as a threat.

It’s really bizarre when you consider that yesterday Scotland yet again a new high of drug-related deaths. We should all be talking about that and sharing ideas to sort this out. It’s not something that a newspaper that is little more than an SNP Government mouthpiece should relegate to a side story.

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Liberal Equality – David Howarth delivers Social Liberal Forum’s annual Beveridge Lecture

You always come away from a David Howarth speech with your brain fizzing with excitement. Our former MP for Cambridge did not disappoint tonight as he delivered the Social Liberal Forum’s Beveridge Lecture in a hybrid event hosted online and at the National Liberal Club. Our newest MP, Sarah Green, a former Director of the SLF, was in the Chair.

The theme for tonight’s talk was Liberal Equality – what should the liberal attitude be to equality.

He started out by pointing out that unequal societies are unhealthier and unhappier – even if you have above average income. The financial crash and the pandemic have hastened an already growing inequality.

He talked about the threat posed by the super rich to our democracy and liberal values.

He looked at how John Stuart Mill’s idea that “the best state of human nature” involves nobody being poor, nobody having the desire to be richer and nobody fearing that they could be thrust back into poverty.

He had some ideas about how we could break up concentrations of wealth and power – capping political donations, state funding political parties by giving citizens vouchers to spend on the party of their choice, capping the amount you could inherit. Before anyone in a blue wall seat has to lie down and grab the smelling salts, the amounts would be beyond the incomes of all but the ultra rich – the sort of amount it would take to buy a national newspaper.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton’s day in the media – New hope, right now

Since his announcement of his leadership bid last night, Alex Cole-Hamilton has been on a bit of a media whirlwind.

He held a press call near the beach in Cramond:

BBC News highlights his interview on Good Morning Scotland:

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Lib Dem researcher discovers proof that the Queen lobbied ministers to change climate change law

Lily Humphries is one of the Lib Dem team in the Scottish Parliament and the brains behind many of our scoops with her freedom of information requests.

She features in in today’s Guardian which reports that Lily discovered that the Queen had successfully lobbied Scottish Government ministers to get an exemption from a new law which “requires landowners to facilitate the construction of pipelines to heat buildings using renewable energy.”

That’s not bad for someone who owns as much land as Her Majesty does. As the Guardian reports:

Her lawyers secured the dispensation from Scotland’s government five months ago by exploiting an obscure parliamentary procedure known as Queen’s consent, which gives the monarch advance sight of legislation.

The arcane parliamentary mechanism has been borrowed from Westminster, where it has existed as a custom since the 1700s.

The article explains:

The new documents, uncovered by Lily Humphreys, a researcher for the Scottish Liberal Democrats using freedom of information laws, disclose how the monarch used her special access to Scottish legislation to intervene in the parliamentary process as recently as February.

Not only that, but the Government didn’t tell Parliament about this as Willie Rennie pointed out:

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BREAKING….Alex Cole-Hamilton makes his move

Alex Cole-Hamilton has tonight announced he is standing to be Scottish Lib Dem leader. The contest is taking place after Willie Rennie announced he was standing down two weeks ago.

Alex throwing his hat into the ring is the most surprising thing since the sun rose in the east this morning.

He announced the news in video posted on Twitter:

 

He is brilliant on all the touchstone liberal issues of human rights, civil liberties and social justice.

In his weekly column for the Edinburgh Evening News, he set out his stalll:

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Cable causes controversy over Uyghurs comments

Our beloved former leader Sir Vince Cable took to a new right wing tv news channel last night to have a pint with Nigel Farage.

During that interview he basically said that we shouldn’t call the brutality that the Chinese authorities are inflicting on to the Uyghur population genocide. He said:

“The use of the word genocide is not right here. There is terrible human rights abuse in many countries of minorities and China is one of them and they have abused those minorities for sure but calling it genocide is hyping the language.”

I wonder if he would consider that Amnesty International were “hyping the language” in their report last month in which they described China’s treatment of the Uyghurs as “crimes against humanity.” Over 160 pages, they outlined horrific human rights abuses:

Agnes Callanard, Amnesty’s Secretary General said:

Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities face crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations that threaten to erase their religious and cultural identities.

“It should shock the conscience of humanity that massive numbers of people have been subjected to brainwashing, torture and other degrading treatment in internment camps, while millions more live in fear amid a vast surveillance apparatus.”

In February, the BBC reported on allegations of systematic rape in detention camps:

Tursunay Ziawudun, who fled Xinjiang after her release and is now in the US, said women were removed from the cells “every night” and raped by one or more masked Chinese men. She said she was tortured and later gang-raped on three occasions, each time by two or three men.

Earlier this year, the US Government described the treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide in its annual report on global human rights practices:

Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. These crimes were continuing and include: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of China’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.

With that sort of evidence, it’s not hard to see why Vince’s comments have provoked some controversy in the party, even from a senior MP.

Alistair Carmichael said on Twitter that while Vince was a long standing colleague whose views he valued, on this he was wrong:

Other members and party bodies criticised his comment too:

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Suzanne Fletcher on her lifelong mission to speak up for the most vulnerable people

Suzanne Fletcher is one of the hardest working, humanitarian, compassionate people I have ever known. She has devoted her life improve living conditions for the poorest people with the least power.

Her local paper, the Darlington and Stockton Times, has done a wonderful profile of her as part of their series of features inspired by Middlesborugh Soroptimists’ list of outstanding local women.

Suzanne talked of her own experience of poor housing when she was small:

“We lived in an awful place, near the slag heaps,” says Suzanne. “It was difficult and dangerous as there was so much pollution in the air. Coal gas came up through the cellar, our plants died, as did my pet mouse, and the curtains rotted. My mother and father were both hardworking and did their best to keep everything clean, but when we complained the authorities didn’t listen. They considered our living conditions to be fine.

“The noise and swearing from the police cells at night kept us awake. My mother would prepare meals for the prisoners. They were sometimes sent back uneaten, but she was determined they would be treated with dignity.”

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Willie Rennie: “A cheerful voice for a more decent politics”

Willie Rennie has done two major interviews this weekend talking about his decision to stand aside as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and his hopes for the future.

The Times (£) leader had praise for him yesterday, too:

It is to be hoped that Mr Rennie remains active in public life. He has been a cheerful voice for a more decent politics and his brand of low-key, relaxed liberalism is more necessary than ever. After a summer running in the hills he should return to the fray, ready to play his part in building a bigger and better centre.

Willie spoke to Magnus Linklater for the paper (£) and talked about his hope that Labour and the Lib Dems would work more closely together to present a progressive, pro-UK alternative to the nationalism and populism of the SNP and Conservatives:

“I think working together with Labour on issues of common interest would be a good thing,” he said in an interview with The Times. “I wouldn’t run before we can walk. But build confidence between the parties and also amongst the electorate to show we’re getting our act together.”

This is about trying to show that for middle Scotland there is something better and stronger than the Conservatives or the SNP, that it’s got energy, it’s got momentum, it’s got ideas, and that’s the most important thing, so people know that if they vote for it, it will be worth it,” he added. “The actual mechanism is less important — it’s the energy behind it that matters.”

He talked about how much Scotland had changed in the past decade or so – and not for the better:

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ALDC Conference – a must for anyone who wants to be a Lib Dem Councillor

If you are hoping to be a Lib Dem Councillor next May, you really need to be a member of ALDC, the Association of Lib Dem Councillors and Campaigners. They have all the tools you need to win and you will be able to access all of them and attend their brilliant online training if you join.

They are having an online conference for members which includes their AGM on Saturday 4th September. There are sessions on things like how to win, how to make a difference in your community and local government in Europe.

ALDC Chief Executive Tim Pickstone said in an email to members:

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Willie Rennie stands aside as Scottish Lib Dem leader

After more than a decade in the role, Willie Rennie announced this evening that he is standing aside as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Watch his statement here:

He leaves while he is still incredibly popular within the party – and the tributes he has received from outside it show how valued he is across politics.

When he took over in 2011, he inherited a party that had been given the hoofing of its life in the Scottish Parliament elections, reduced from 16 MSPs to just 5.

The small group he led had a big voice, though. Over the years, the Scottish Lib Dems have been the go-to people on issues like education and mental health. Willie’s dogged persistence, challenging Scottish Ministers week in and week out on issues like police centralisation, college places, mental health waiting times, childcare and free school meals shifted government policy on many occasions.

He stared wipeout in the eye in the Scottish Parliamentary elections of 2016. If you had told me we would emerge with 5 MSPs from that election after the disaster of 2015, I would not have dared to believe it. But he showed what he could do with a bright and optimistic campaign which include him launching the manifesto while running down a soft-play volcano and being interviewed on a slide. When his photocall at a city farm was overshadowed by two amorous pigs, journalists were given a packet of Percy Pigs each at the next big event.

His commitment to improving the party’s diversity saw him ensure that we had all women shortlists for both 2017 and 2021 elections, a gender balanced team of spokespeople and serious money invested in diversity projects in each year’s Scottish budget. He put his own neck on the line to get these measures approved by Conference. He needed a two thirds majority and he got it by basically ringing everyone who had registered and talking them round.

And he has travelled the length and breadth of the country so many times supporting candidates at every possible level of election. He’s encouraged people to stand who have now been elected. He has led campaigning with boundless energy, enthusiasm and a huge smile.

I am incredibly sad to see him go, but I can understand that after 10 years of unrelenting graft, he relishes the chance to do something a bit different. He’ll stay on as MSP for North East Fife, of course – but don’t expect him to stop speaking out on th issues he has championed.

And as a campaigner who has been responsible for many of the party’s successes over the past three decades, his skills in that direction will be in demand.

So what now?

The Scottish Executive will set a timetable for a leadership election in which any of the party’s other three MSPs will be eligible to stand.

But for now, let’s look at some of the lovely things people are saying about Willie:

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Daisy Cooper slams “barmy brainwashing” One Britain event

When I heard that some schoolchildren in the UK are going to be asked to sing a song saying how great Britain is on Friday, to be honest, I thought someone was just having a laugh. Surely nobody could be so crass?

I was wrong. As The Independent reports,

The Department for Education this week announced it would encourage schools to celebrate One Britain One Nation Day on 25 June.

Celebrations for the event include singing a song called the “OBON Day Anthem 2021”, which ends with the children repeatedly chanting, “Strong Britain, great nation”.

It also includes the chorus: “We are Britain and we have one dream, to unite all people in one great team.”

I find the whole thing nauseating.

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Key dates for Scottish Autumn Conference

Yesterday Scottish Conference Convener Paul McGarry announced in an email to members that our online Autumn conference will take place online on 8th and 9th October.

So the key deadlines are:

Drafting advice: 16th July at noon

Constitutional amendments: 16th July at noon

Motions deadline: 12th August at noon

You can get your ticket here. And the first timer rate for Scottish members is but a mere pound.

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WATCH: Liam McArthur talks about his Bill to legalise assisted dying

Orkney’s Lib Dem MSP this week lodged a bill in Holyrood which would enable assisted dying in Scotland. This would enable terminally ill, mentally competent adults to have an assisted death.

Here he is talking about it to the BBC.

This is a subject that is obviously emotive and needs to be handled with compassion and sensitivity. I can’t think of anyone better than Liam to do this.

He is very thoughtful and wise and will take concerns about the measure very seriously and try to address them as best he can.

I have been a supporter of assisted dying for a long time. I don’t feel that I can say to someone that they must endure unbearable suffering before their inevitable death if they don’t have to. I went to a Dignity in Dying event at the start of the Holyrood campaign where Prue Leith described how horrendous it was for her brother David who died in great pain because of a brain tumour. At that same event, sisters described the intolerable suffering which preceded their mum’s death from oesophageal cancer. I really think that people should be able to choose a more controlled, dignified death.

I do get, though, that we need to make sure that disabled people, who are already marginalised don’t feel even more so. Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy had this to say:

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