Author Archives: Stephen Harte

Members and local coalitions 

As we hurtle towards local elections on 5th May (in Scotland, something that only happens every five years), I’d like to pause for a moment and have a think about 6th May.

In many council areas across the country, we will elect Lib Dem councillors (Yay!) and in some of those areas the question will arise whether those councillors enter coalition to form an administration. In Scotland, thanks to the Lib Dem participation in early administrations in Holyrood, we vote by Single Transferable Vote in multi-member wards (again Yay!) and this means that single party administration in any council area will be unlikely.

In the run up to 5th May, members are the source of the “3 Ds” – deliveries, door-knocking and donations. Election time makes it very clear that we could not survive as a party without our membership base – although, I do recognise that it’s not just members who contribute to the 3 Ds.

Where do members stand on 6th May? When coalition decisions are taken, often it’s the Council Group that does this alone. Some may think that this is right and proper but surely we can do better than this? If members matter on 4th May, surely they matter on 6th May and beyond?

Involving members in the decision making is a key safety valve in our process. It ensures that we don’t become trapped within the dynamic of Town Hall politics – where often personalities and petty problems can have too big an impact. It also allows for the membership to buy into the decision. In Scotland, the SNP/Green government has already decided that the next five years are going to be tough for any Council as their main job will be to deliver Nicola’s savage cuts locally.  Any administration will have to deliver bad news. Keeping your members on board is essential to weather any storm.

There are different ways of involving members and I would resist suggesting a “one size fits all” model. However, if we liberals can’t come up with a way of ensuring grassroots involvement, what hope is there for local democracy?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 17 Comments

Reprise: Managing staff – a chance to show liberalism in action

Editor’s Note: Two reports published this week highlight bullying and harassment of staff in both Houses of Parliament. There are some horrific stories. Gemma White QC described the situation in the Commons. Naomi Ellenbogen QC did the same for the Lords. . There are some serious issues with the culture in Parliament.

This seems like a good moment to rerun an article written by Edinburgh Lib Dem member Stephen Harte who makes some suggestions about how we as a party can make sure we live our values in the way that we treat our staff. 

There has been much in the news about MPs and, in Scotland, MSPs behaving inappropriately towards staff – whether this be bullying or inappropriate sexualised behaviour. Many of the current examples relate to other parties but most of us will be aware that we too have had our problems and can be no more complacent than any other party. For example, I can think of one former Parliamentarian (who, to this day, I greatly admire) who, when stressed, could shout at staff in ways that fell far short of good HR practice. There are many other stories within our party of much worse behaviour from other Lib Dems towards staff and volunteers. This is simply not good enough.

This all makes me wonder if every Lib Dem who employs or engages with staff (whether at a party level, directly as their own staff or as staff of the body on which they serve) or manages volunteers should undertake a training course on how to manage staff in accordance with the law, good HR practice and, importantly, our liberal values.

The late, great Maya Angelou told us “When people show you who they are, believe them.” What we do is a showcase for what we believe liberalism looks like in practice. While no one is perfect and we all have times when we fail to live up to our ideals, how we behave shows people what we truly believe.

Posted in Op-eds | 3 Comments

Managing staff – a chance to show liberalism in action

There has been much in the news about MPs and, in Scotland, MSPs behaving inappropriately towards staff – whether this be bullying or inappropriate sexualised behaviour. Many of the current examples relate to other parties but most of us will be aware that we too have had our problems and can be no more complacent than any other party. For example, I can think of one former Parliamentarian (who, to this day, I greatly admire) who, when stressed, could shout at staff in ways that fell far short of good HR practice. There are many other stories within our party of much worse behaviour from other Lib Dems towards staff and volunteers. This is simply not good enough.

This all makes me wonder if every Lib Dem who employs or engages with staff (whether at a party level, directly as their own staff or as staff of the body on which they serve) or manages volunteers should undertake a training course on how to manage staff in accordance with the law, good HR practice and, importantly, our liberal values.

The late, great Maya Angelou told us “When people show you who they are, believe them.” What we do is a showcase for what we believe liberalism looks like in practice. While no one is perfect and we all have times when we fail to live up to our ideals, how we behave shows people what we truly believe.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 4 Comments

Shouldn’t positive campaigning start at home?

On election night, I was knocking up voters in a very posh bit of the Edinburgh West constituency.  It was going well with most folk indicating that they had already voted for Christine Jardine.  I got to one house where a very angry man told me he wasn’t voting for us and wasn’t sure who he would vote for as, in his view, everyone had run a negative campaign focusing on what was wrong with the other candidates.
I’d not concede that Christine’s campaign was wholly negative – although the voters did need to know where we stood on the SNP’s second independence referendum and the Tories’ hard Brexit – but it’s certainly true that voters often feel that the parties appear more focused on tearing each other down rather than casting a vision of what we should do as a nation.
The political climate has become particularly toxic in Scotland since the independence referendum (for example, a SNP supporter followed Tory canvassers in one seat screaming abuse through a megaphone).
What can we do to change this?
Two weeks or so ago we were all overjoyed to see twelve lovely Lib Dem MPs elected to Westminster.  Each one of those victories was something to celebrate.  We are overjoyed that the voters in those constituencies hold those MPs in as high esteem as we do.
Some of those twelve will be candidates in the forthcoming leadership context and we will have to choose between them.  That will require us all to scrutinise what they have to offer.
Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 14 Comments

The emotions of constitutional change

 

Here we go again – Scotland is (if Westminster grants a S30 Order) being treated to yet another bitter, divisive and emotional constitutional referendum where lies and spin will confuse one and all and we will likely end up with a narrow result that satisfies no one. What joy!

I voted No before.  This time we are told that circumstances have changed (thus the SNP and the hyper-nationalist Scottish Green Party are demanding the re-vote that they would have demanded whatever happened) and some of my LibDem friends say that Brexit means they will now vote Yes.

Willie Rennie promises to make an “emotional case for the Union”.  I find it hard to get any more emotional about staying with the Union then separating from it.  Where can a liberal find that emotional call?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 16 Comments

Dreaming of Lords reform

Surely there is nothing better for a lifelong liberal to do in an idle moment than to fantasise about some form of constitutional reform?  Well maybe that’s just me….but please indulge me for a moment.

In the last couple of weeks we have seen Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie explore the issue of all women short lists and the dissolution honours has prompted unease at the membership and structure of the House of Lords.  Could we solve both these issues in one move?

How about we elect (gasp!) the House of Lords but do so differently from the Commons?

Currently, the UK sends 73 MEPs to Europe from 12 constituencies.  My plan would be to use these same constituencies for the Upper House except with double the number of seats – half for women and half for men – 146 members in total – a reasonable amount for a focused chamber and more than the US Senate.  

Posted in News | Tagged and | 28 Comments

Opinion: A liberal postcard from Athens #2

I sent a postcard from Athens to LDV six months or so ago as we waited for the Greek people to elect a new government – bringing to power the curious mix of Syriza (a collection of hard left factions that would make the People’s Front of Judea blush) and the Independent Greeks (representing the Greek chauvinistic right). This odd mix of nationalism and hard –left rhetoric has been colourfully described by one academic as “ethno-bolshevism”. Since then, it has certainly been eventful and I have been very much aware that political choices have consequences.

In the Greek election campaign, Syriza promised to free Greece to make its own financial decisions without interference form the much hated “Troika” (the IMF, the Eurozone and the European Union) while, at the same time, ensuring Greece could stay within the security of the European monetary union – even receiving debt relief from its other members. Greece duly voted to have its cake and to eat it.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 55 Comments

#Libdemfightback isn’t just for newbies

I joined the Liberal Democrats as a Scottish Liberal Party member on merger and have held a membership ever since. Like many, I am keen to turn my grief at last Thursday’s results (and, being honest, the results of the last Scottish Parliament elections too) into determination that liberalism is too important to be allowed to die. But, unlike the much appreciated surge of new members, I can’t join a party I am already a member of.

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Opinion: A liberal postcard from Athens

Sunday morning in Kifissia, one of the leafy northern suburbs of Athens, and the view from my bedroom balcony is blue sky with dark clouds looming – a fitting scene for this very important Greek Election Day.

A product of the oil industry in Aberdeen, I am one of many Scottish expats supporting the oil and gas industry around the world (and lets not mention oil prices!). I have been working in Greece for a little over a year and after commuting between the Athens of the North and the real Athens for a year, I have been resident (and paying tax!) in Greece since November.

Greece has been going through a tough time in the last five years, unemployment is high and wages are low. Though there are few signs of austerity in the posh northern suburbs, my Greek colleagues (I am a lawyer) have lost faith in their politicians and their economy. Much though they love their country, pessimism is rife.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 27 Comments

Opinion: A new constitution won’t deliver the social change people think they’ll get with a yes vote

As a Scottish Liberal and a lawyer, I have been inclined at times to get too involved in the minutiae of constitutional issues.  I can explain how to count several forms of PR and I have firm and detailed views on written constitutions.  Enduring two years of referendum campaigning in Scotland, however, has woken me up to the dangers of over-emphasising constitutional issues.

When you read much of what comes from the Yes campaign, you are lefd to believe that every social problem – real and perceived – that has ever occurred in Scotland will be solved by changing the constitutional settlement.  Scotland will become a land of milk and honey where all social problems melt away (or, at the very least, are showered with unending supplies of healing money) and a raft of social services will be presented as being “free”.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 7 Comments

Opinion: We have to conduct ourselves more respectfully in politics

Handshake man - women http://www.flazingo.com

You will have seen Caron’s story on the moving article by Gordon Aikman, Head of Research at Better Together, sharing his news that he has, at 29, Motor Neurone Disease and is likely to die soon. He is raising funds for MND Scotland and in just one day exceeded his £20,000 target. If you wish to donate, you can do so here.

I don’t know Gordon Aikman and probably now never will, although we have friends in common.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 5 Comments
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