Author Archives: Stuart Crawford

Could Scottish Independence save the Scot Lib Dems?

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There’s no denying that the first 20 years of the 21st Century have hardly been auspicious for the Liberal Democrats in general and the Scot Lib Dems in particular. North of the Border the numbers of our elected representatives has been in rapid decline; in the period 2000 – 2020, numbers of our MSPs in the Scottish Parliament have dropped from 17 in the first Parliament to five now; at Westminster, in roughly the same timeframe, our MPs have reduced from 10 to four; whilst in Scotland’s local authorities the number of Lib Dem councillors has atrophied from 170 in 2003 to 67 today.

That’s an approximate reduction of two thirds overall which, however you might try to dress it up, cannot be celebrated as progress; quite the opposite. The reasons  why this might be so are many and varied and I have written about some of them before, so now is not the time to beat that particular drum again. Suffice to say that continuing to do more of the same, in terms of electioneering and campaigning, and expecting different results falls very neatly into Einstein’s definition of madness. Radical change in strategy and tactics is called for, and it can’t come a moment too soon.

What hope for the future, then? The prospects for the Holyrood elections next May – if Covid-19 allows them to take place – aren’t looking too rosy for the party. Multiple successive polls have put the party at between 6 – 8% or the projected vote, in many cases a lesser proportion than the Scottish Green party. Below the Greens for goodness sake! How are the mighty fallen. Most commentators predict a healthy majority for the SNP and their Green allies, although the only poll that matters is the election vote itself, and politics is a fickle mistress. We may be surprised yet.

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Free bus passes for all can make financial sense

As we slowly emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions there has been, understandably, a marked increase in road traffic. In particular, Britain’s love affair with the car has largely created the congestion on our roads. Seldom is one able to complete a journey without delays due to accident, road works, or just sheer numbers of vehicles.

To alleviate such congestion, we are encouraged to make more use of public transport. Using buses instead of private cars could significantly reduce the number of vehicles on the roads.

But people are reluctant to give up their cars, Covid fears notwithstanding. It takes some incentive to persuade them to abandon their warm personal transport and take their chances at the local bus stop. In Scotland, congestion charging was rejected by Edinburgh and parking charges are an insufficient deterrent.  And bridge tolls have been banished.

How can we get people to use public transport? A blinding flash of the obvious; in Scotland, where I live, old people and young people use public transport because of the Young Scot card and the senior citizens card.

I don’t use my car anymore to go into town.  It’s madness for me to drive, search for a parking place, pay the fee, and spend much of the time worrying whether I will get a fine before I return. I can travel for free with my card. It is a no-brainer.

What if we extended this “free” benefit to everybody? Scotland has been very keen on other free universal benefits so why not public transport? But how would we pay for it? How much will it cost?

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A Critique of Liberal Democrat Defence policy, Part 3

This is the third of a series of three posts. The first part can be read here and the second part can be read here.

The following is a critique of the defence policy outlined in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto published for the 2019 General Election and presumably still extant at time of writing (June 2020).  Manifesto commitments are reproduced verbatim followed by my commentary.

Page 91: A Secure Defence in the 21st Century (continued)

  • Support the Armed Forces Covenant and ongoing work to support veterans’ mental health.

Comment.  The Armed Forces Covenant is advisory only and unenforceable.  We should commit to embedding it in law.

  • Improve the quality of service housing by bringing the MoD into line with other landlords, giving tenants the same legal rights to repair and maintenance as private tenants.

Comment.  Agreed, most important.

This defence policy manifesto extract seems to have been written in a void outside the context of current defence developments by somebody/ies who has/ve no idea of defence and security matters.

The problems with the UK’s armed services are clear to see. A huge hole in defence spending, ageing, obsolescent, and lack of equipment across all three services, a real problem with recruiting and retention (retention particularly) and an unrealistic over commitment of scarce resources. This toxic combination can result in low morale were it not for the high standard of training and leadership that the armed forces continue to enjoy.

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A Critique of Liberal Democrat Defence policy, Part 2

This is the second of a series of three posts. The first part can be read here.

The following is a critique of the defence policy outlined in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto published for the 2019 General Election and presumably still extant at time of writing (June 2020).  Manifesto commitments are reproduced verbatim followed by my commentary.

Page 91: A Secure Defence in the 21st Century (continued)

  • Maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent. We propose continuing with the Dreadnought programme, the submarine-based replacement for Vanguard, but procuring three boats instead of four, and moving to a medium-readiness responsive posture. This would mean replacing continuous at-sea deterrence – instead maintaining the deterrent through measures such as unpredictable and irregular patrolling patterns.

Comment. I suspect this is an attempt at compromise to show that the party is essentially anti nuclear weapons philosophically but also serious about defence. This policy is neither fish nor fowl and needs radical revision.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 11 Comments

A critique of Liberal Democrat Defence policy, Part 1

The following is a critique of the defence policy outlined in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto published for the 2019 General Election and presumably still extant at time of writing (June 2020).  Manifesto commitments are reproduced verbatim followed by my commentary.

Page 91: A Secure Defence in the 21st Century

The Armed Forces play a vital role in the defence of the nation: government should have a deep sense of duty to properly support service personnel and veterans. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have shown a commitment to this: the Conservative government in particular has spread chronic low morale, misspent money on vanity projects and failed to recruit and retain people with the skills needed for 21st century warfare. Liberal Democrats are the only party who understand the new challenges faced by the Armed Forces and who are committed to properly supporting them.

Comment. This is bland, anodyne and says nothing of any consequence on what the party thinks the armed forces are for and what they ought to do.  It talks vaguely about “new challenges” and the need to support the forces without saying what either of those might be. Do we actually know?

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A longer read for the weekend: Where now for the Lib Dems?

The Liberal Democrats find themselves lost at sea, rudderless, without sail or paddle, and devoid of compass. Famously, Odysseus spent ten years afloat after the Siege of Troy – “long adrift on shipless oceans”, as Tim Buckley sang in Song To The Siren – but there’s every chance that the Lib Dems will spend much longer than a decade wandering the political oceans if they don’t sort themselves out, and quickly.

Of course, the party does realise it’s in trouble post its catastrophic performance in the December 2019 General Election, and Baroness Thornhill’s after action review has addressed some of the perceived problems. To be fair, her review pulled few punches but arguably is a bit light on solutions or suggestions for radical change. I have no intention of going through her paper point for point and leave it to you to read it should you choose to so do, but I would recommend it.

It’s an old army saying that there are no bad regiments, just bad commanding officers, and this adage probably applies to political parties too. Thornhill notes that Jo Swinson’s short period of leadership was pretty disastrous overall, leaving the party with only 11 MPs at Westminster and she losing her seat and resigning shortly thereafter.  Personally, I don’t blame Jo Swinson – I voted for her in the leadership election – but with hindsight she was probably too young, too inexperienced and perhaps too naïve to be leader of a political party. And she was either completely stubborn or very badly advised by those around her, of which more later. Suffice to say that whoever thought “Jo for Prime Minister” was a good idea needs their head examined.

What is completely unforgivable, though, is that the party has yet to elect a replacement leader and will not do so until August at the earliest. I am well aware of the arguments put forward in favour of this timescale but I’m afraid they just don’t wash. A new leader should have been in place within a fortnight, and that the party hierarchy thought, and still thinks, that an eight month hiatus is acceptable beggars belief, interim leaders notwithstanding. No serious, competent organisation in any of the private, public or voluntary sectors would deem this acceptable.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 36 Comments
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