Author Archives: Nigel Lindsay

Lib Dems and Europe – Scotland shows the way

We know that if the UK were in the European Union, GDP would now be £120bn higher, and tax revenues £40bn higher every year. We know that the UK is the only major European economy not to have returned to its pre-pandemic size. And polling shows us that there is a growing majority view that Brexit was a mistake which has delivered negligible benefits and has done substantial damage to Britain. Yet the Party’s leadership at Federal level still does not seem keen to explain these things to voters, nor to offer leadership to the large number of people across Britain for whom becoming part of the EU again is a political and economic priority.

Grassroots members, fortunately, see things differently. On Saturday, the Scottish LibDem conference in Dundee considered a motion calling for the party to re-commit itself to re-joining the EU. Conference unanimously supported the motion, which also called on the UK government to develop a roadmap towards re-joining the EU and initially re-joining the Single Market and Customs Union. Speaker after speaker stressed internationalism as a fundamental thread of Liberalism, and the personal, cultural, and economic gains that would accrue if the UK could work its way back to full membership of the European Union. There were calls for MPs and MSPs to mount a communications campaign explaining the benefits of membership, and for activists and party members to support this.

The motion ended with a call for Liberal Democrats to put campaigning for our European future at the heart of our approach. Gratifyingly, Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton gave a speech on the same day in which he committed himself wholeheartedly to a European future and stressed the importance of internationalism to his Liberalism.

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The Supreme Court decision on a Scottish Referendum

The Supreme Court has delivered the judgement everyone expected from it – the obvious statement that, under the law as it stands, the Scottish Parliament does not have powers to call a referendum on Scottish Independence without the consent of the UK parliament. This judgement presents one opportunity and one threat to Liberal Democrats.

The opportunity is the chance to cut through the squabbles between Conservatives and the SNP by pushing our own policy – that of a truly federal UK. A Federal UK has been Liberal policy for over a century and to my mind we do not emphasise it sufficiently often or strongly. Voices in other parties (including respected former ministers such as Malcolm Rifkind and Gordon Brown) have from time to time hinted at support for a watered-down version of federalism, but we are the only party which can authentically present the idea as fully worked out and our own.

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Philip Green and bad business – Lib Dems must act firmly

The collapse of Philip Green’s retail empire, Arcadia is a sad case of history repeating itself. It is only 4.5 years since BHS went into administration, and whilst Green was no longer the owner then, having sold it for £1 in 2015 to the serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell, it was under Green’s ownership in the previous 15 years that the under-investment and plundering of profits led to the situation where the chain was no longer viable.

Retail analysts are commenting that a similar set of circumstances mean Arcadia is now not fit for purpose. The shops look tired, and there has been a failure to embrace online technology at a time when going to physical shops is difficult for many customers. Additionally, Green is reputed to have taken huge dividends out of Arcadia – £1.2billion in 2005, all of which is safely secured in his wife’s name in the tax haven of Monaco.

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After the crisis – Developing a clear vision for Liberalism

The salient finding of Dorothy Thornhill’s excellent report on the 2019 election is that Liberal Democrats lacked an overarching vision and purpose.

Her report finds that “Feedback at all levels of the party … described a lack of clarity in what we stood for and what we would do in power, beyond stopping Brexit. There is still a fundamental belief, indeed passion, for the sentiment expressed in the preamble to the constitution, but this has not been turned into a vision and strategy which guides the whole organisation.”
The current emergency opens a chance to develop a vision that can guide the whole party and provide a narrative for voters to follow. Robert Brown and I try to show the way forward in our new essay “After the Crisis”, now available to read on the Social Liberal Forum website.

In the depth of the Second World War, Liberal thinkers such as Beveridge and Keynes were working on designing a better society after the conflict. We argue that a similar approach is needed now and that the LibDem leadership should establish panels of independent but liberal-minded thinkers to address ten broad questions about building a better Britain. This work needs to be done speedily, so as not to waste the opportunity that is now before us.

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Review: The Yorkshire Yellow Book 2019

If Liberal success is to be more than transitory, it needs to be based on a clear vision that can easily be transmitted to and acclaimed by the electorate.  On this basis, Yorkshire’s Liberal heritage is about to be reborn. The Yorkshire Yellow Book 2019 is bursting with ideas about how a future Yorkshire should develop.  Importantly, these ideas are evidence-based and embedded in sound Liberal principles.

The theme of the book – a devolved Yorkshire administration – is set out clearly in an excellent Foreword by Chris Haskins (former chairman of Northern Foods).  Illuminating comparisons between Yorkshire, Scotland, and London are made by David (Lord) Shutt. Yorkshire, with a population almost identical to that of Scotland, has higher unemployment but a lower GVA per head.  Both have GVA figures far behind that of London. Despite its relative prosperity, though, London is to receive over 50% of planned future transport spending in England, even though its extensive transport system is already massively subsidised by the rest of us.  New ways of sharing are obviously needed.

In this context, the authors build a convincing case for devolution. They emphasise that Yorkshire is a strong “brand”, with a recent track record of sparkling achievement in areas as diverse as sport (the Tour de France) and culture (Hull’s successes as City of Culture in 2017).  Philip Knowles points out that the party constitution implies Yorkshire’s entitlement to local decision-making on matters including health, education, agriculture and transport. Other valuable essays examine how Yorkshire devolution could work as part of a broader federal structure, as well as avoiding over-dependence on Leeds.

I was pleased to note scepticism about proposals for elected mayors, because it is difficult for the public to hold them effectively to account.  Rather the authors show a preference for devolution more along Welsh or Scottish lines, which two decades show to have delivered local accountability and to have engendered self-belief (as if that were lacking in Yorkshire!)

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Joint working with other parties – or leadership by silverbacks?


It seems as if the more we talk about gender equality, the less we achieve – at least in Scotland.

The Scottish Spring LibDem conference passed an exhaustive motion on the subject, but just a few weeks later the party saw its female representation in the Scottish Parliament fall from 20% to zero. Those who had proposed and supported the motion offered no visible resistance when the wonderful Alison McInnes MSP (who had been the only MSP to hold Police Scotland effectively to account for its many failings) was replaced as candidate by a male former MSP who has made little or no impact since then.

Yesterday, at the party’s autumn conference, a motion on Scotland in Europe was proposed by former MEP Elspeth Attwooll, and by Christine Jardine who fought Alex Salmond with distinction at the General Election. The motion called for a future for Scotland which retains the advantages of the EU “without the limitations of the unthinking Unionism of the Conservatives or the ideological drive towards independence of the SNP”. Nothing too controversial there, you may think – but you’d be wrong: to attack the Conservatives is to stand on dangerous ground nowadays, it seems.

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Opinion: Liberalism Unlocked: After the Coalition

On the eve of conference, a major new book on Liberalism is being published. “Unlocking Liberalism: Life after the Coalition” is a book of essays exploring what Liberalism should mean today, and how it can be taken forward after the 2015 General Election.

With a foreword by Charles Kennedy, the book starts with a masterly essay on the philosophy of Liberalism by Dr Nigel Dower of Aberdeen University, a lifelong Liberal who is a past president of the International Development Ethics Association.  This is followed by contributions from David Steel and Graham Watson, who examine Scotland and Britain after the Referendum, and Britain’s place in Europe.

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Opinion: Nick’s journey

It’s natural for defeated political leaders to make up stories which absolve themselves from blame.  After every by-election, those who have done less well offer unconvincing explanations. Nick Clegg is no exception, but his story last week that “the Liberal Democrats are on a journey from a party of protest to a party of government” is curious for two reasons. First, because no previous Liberal or Liberal Democrat leader has presented the party as one of protest and second because the party was very much a party of government before he became leader.

It is wrong and insulting to suggest that …

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Opinion: Clegg should look to Gladstone and Grimond, not John Lewis

Nick Clegg’s Mansion House speech on “a more responsible capitalism” gathered publicity, particularly for his widely-reported call for employees to be given the right to ask for shares in the company they work for. I am still puzzling over how people can be given a right they already have. Anyone can ask for shares at present, of course, but with no guarantee of an answer.

It would be meant something if Nick had called for employees to have the right to be given shares in their companies when they asked.   It would have meant even more if he could have …

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