Author Archives: John Lawrie

In defence of Liberal principles

At the (virtual) Party Conference at the weekend, a large number of amendments will be proposed to the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ Constitution. Many of these are recommended by a Working Group (of which I was a member) appointed by the Executive. Others are proposed by the Executive themselves, mostly intended to improve or clarify the wording, and largely uncontentious. There is one, however, which was not recommended by the Working Group and which I believe should be strongly opposed.

Since the formation of the Party in 1988, the Constitution has set out the grounds on which a Party Member can be expelled from membership and the procedure by which this can be done. Until 2009, there was no provision for suspending a person’s membership while the grounds for expulsion were investigated or considered. A power to suspend was then inserted into the Constitution, largely because there could be occasions when the Party’s reputation might be at risk if it did not seem to be taking action about something unacceptable. The length of time for which a member can be suspended was limited to three months, after which it must lapse. The concept of “innocent until proved guilty” is an important one to anyone of liberal mind. Suspension, even for a short time, does deprive somebody of their rights and needs to be justified.

The Executive is proposing to Conference to increase the length of time for which a Party Member may be suspended to six months. I understand that the reason arises from our adoption of the Federal Party’s disciplinary process a few years ago. This process was a response to concern about the Party’s handling of complaints of inappropriate behaviour by Party Members, and it can be quite protracted, though cases now average about six weeks.

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Opinion: Some thoughts on preventing suicide

Nick Clegg has been quoted this week as calling for the NHS “to commit to a new ambition for zero suicides”. That is an aspiration that nobody could argue with, but it is unrealistic to believe that it can quite be achieved. Throughout human history and in every kind of society people have died by their own hand, and it would be naïve to believe that a government initiative can single-handedly change that. Nevertheless, he is right to identify suicide as a “massive taboo”. He is also right to raise awareness of the risk. He was speaking particularly in relation to mental health, but we should not infer from that that everybody who contemplates suicide is mentally ill, even though many people suffering from mental illness may indeed see suicide as an escape from an unbearable life.

He was also speaking in relation to the NHS’s role. To be fair, doctors and psychiatrists do routinely ask patients who are depressed or otherwise at risk whether they are suicidal, and many involved in the medical profession are trained to recognise indications of suicidal thought. And everybody who arrives in A&E departments after a suicide attempt is supposed to be seen by a psychiatrist before being discharged, but inevitably many people will simply be returning to the situation from which they were trying to get away. We should also recognise that, among all those in the care of a government-funded organisation, the risk of suicide is rather greater among people sentenced to prison or remanded in custody than it is among those cared for by the health services. Sadly, calling for better emotional support of prisoners does not have the same electoral appeal as concern about the NHS.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 5 Comments
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Thu 28th Oct 2021
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