Caron’s Guide to the craziness of Conference – updated for Glasgow 2014

Federal Conference is probably the best fun that you will ever have in your life. You will thoroughly enjoy every exhausting moment. If you’re new, it can be a bit overwhelming until you get used to the sensory overload. I had a long break from going to them and when I returned, three years ago, I spent the first day wandering round like a child in a toy shop.

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d throw together a fairly random list of tips and hints for getting the best out of the annual cornucopia of Liberal Democracy. If you have any other Conference survival tips, let me know.

1. Plan your days

The Conference day starts with breakfast fringes as early as 7 and goes on until the small hours. There’s a comprehensive training programme alongside the debates in the hall. There are ministerial surgeries. There are 20 or 30 separate fringe meetings in every fringe slot. You can guarantee that you will never be bored and that several things you want to see will be on at the same time. If you want to go to the big events like the New Statesman or Channel 4 events, you are best advised to get there early because they fill up quickly. Be aware as well that you can eat quite well for free by choosing the right fringe meetings. The NUT’s fish and chip supper on Tuesday is one such example. Get your ticket early from their stand. But it’s much easier if you sort out your diary in advance. The best laid plans will always be subject to a better offer or meeting someone you haven’t seen for years randomly in a corridor, but it’s best to at least try to get some order into the proceedings.

2. The Liberal Democrat Voice Events

I wouldn’t be abusing my editorial position properly if I didn’t put in an almighty plug for the Liberal Democrat Voice events at Conference. First of all, there’s the Awards, Castle 3, Crowne Plaza on Saturday night at 10 pm. Dress code imaginative. And on Sunday, we have our own unofficial Presidential hustings between 1 and 2 pm in Castle 2 of the Crowne Plaza.

Stephen, Joe, Nick, Mary, Paul and I will all be around at Conference. Come and say hello.

3. Make time to do the Exhibition properly

Organisations pay the party a small fortune to have a stall in the exhibition. It’s therefore only polite for us all to take time to visit their stalls. But it’s not just about manners. They are actually really interesting. You have a mix of companies trying to sell you things, voluntary organisations wanting to tell you things and book stalls that are just far too tempting. It’s a good opportunity to sign up for some of the many Party groups – the Humanists and Secularists, or ALDC, or Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform to name but a few. If you’re going to do it properly, it’ll take you a while, probably a good couple of hours, but it’s really worth it. You learn loads, meet lovely people and pick up some good freebies.

4. To Glee or not to Glee?

You either love or hate The Glee Club, the raucous end of Conference singathon. I’m firmly in the love it camp. Singing the traditional, funny or downright rude songs that make up the Liberator Song Book is a great way to end Conference on a high. There are regular guest appearances by the likes of  Tim Farron and Paddy Ashdown. The day after the event a couple of years ago, there was a very funny interview with Alistair Carmichael on the World at One where Martha Kearney played a recording of us singing “The 12 days of Coalition. He talked his way out of it admirably. I thoroughly recommend that you give this madness a go. It is unique and nobody laughs at ourselves like we do.

5. Don’t assume you’ll bump into your friends by accident

Last year, some of my best friends were there and I never saw them. Conference is a big place. If you want to make sure you catch up with people, organise in advance.

If you’re there on your own for the first time, we are a pretty friendly bunch, so don’t be shy. Speak to the person next to you in the coffee queue whether it’s a government minister or another activist.

6. Try and get out and see some of Glasgow – and sample some fantastic restaurants

It is a fantastic city of greenery and culture.  I suggested some things you could do in my guide for AD LIB last year. And you can get a train from the Exhibition Centre to Bearsden where Jo Swinson’s office will give you some leaflets to deliver in amazing scenery. And remember that Scottish fish and chips is a million times nicer than any fish and chips you’ve ever eaten anywhere else. And if you are in a fish and chip shop, don’t make the mistake of assuming that a white pudding is vegetarian. Talking of vegetarian and vegan cuisine, you might find this list helpful. I love Mono – great atmosphere and what’s not to love about a restaurant that has books in it? Here are some other lovely places to eat:

  • India Quay, opposite the Hilton Garden Inn where Liberal Democrat Seekers of Sanctuary enjoyed a sumptuous buffet last year. Delicious, piping hot and a lovely variety of dishes.
  • Fanny Trollope’s, where the Social Liberal Forum are having their second sellout dinner on Sunday night. Last year my hot smoked salmon with horseradish and creme fraiche was perfectly balanced, my shin of beef with dauphinoise potatoes and mushroom fricasee was rich, tender and delicious.
  • Roastit Bubbly Jocks in Partick. Bring your own wine and enjoy contemporary Scottish cuisine. I am told that  the venison stew and creamy mash is amazing.

If you fancy going to the theatre, you can go and see The Full Monty at the King’s Theatre on Friday or Saturday nights. If you are looking for a bit of Scottish culture and decent whisky, Oran Mor is the place to go. They do a Pie, Play and Pint thing at lunchtimes so maybe something to do on Friday or Saturday?

7. Go outside to get between auditorium, hotel and exhibition. Seriously, it’s easier

The bulk of the Conference takes place in 3 separate buildings, the Clyde Auditorium, affectionately known locally as the Armadilo, the Crowne Plaza Hotel and the exhibition hall in the SECC itself. They are connected by disorientated, identical labyrinthine internal corridors. My advice – don’t bother with them. Going outside and walking between them is actually a lot easier and quicker.

Another wee tip is that there is a whole corridor of nice sofas and places to charge your phone upstairs in the SECC on the way to the Leven room. It was pretty quiet last year but it might not be now that I’ve publicised it.

Have a fantastic conference and enjoy your stay in Glasgow.



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Would love to have even tried to come, but sadly my Con council has decided to ensure I am busy with non sensical matters to deal with.

  • suzanne fletcher 30th Sep '14 - 11:07pm

    all good advice. I’d emphasise that it really is ok to just start up a conversation with anyone at all. I went on my own for years and years, and by now know half the party it seems ! one of the points of conference is to meet others, and it has been invaluable to me to have good friends the length adn breadth of the country.
    Another tip – it can be difficult to eat properly, and I make a point of stocking up on fruit at the beginning (I usually call in M and S at the station, just before I get into a taxi to the hotel, but we are all different). I take an apple out with me each day and whatever else I have a banana to go back to !
    I won’t dare advertise our fringe event here, or Caron will tell me I am being naughty and if everyone does it …… but if you want to hear directly from people affected by an issue, and have a chance of leaving any unasked questions or points to be answered, and want to see how a Lib Dem policy can make a difference …. (6.15 on Sunday).

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Sep '14 - 11:49pm

    You need to tell us where, Suzanne. It’s a thread about Conference. How can advertising a fringe be off topic?:-)

    And the reason half the party loves you is because you chatted in those conference queues:-).

  • As so often Suzanne is entirely right–
    suzanne fletcher 30th Sep ’14 – 11:07pm
    “… really is ok to just start up a conversation with anyone at all. I went on my own for years and years, and by now know half the party it seems ! one of the points of conference is to meet others, ”

    It is easier to get to know half the party now, because Clegg has made it so much smaller. 🙂

  • Kevin White 1st Oct '14 - 8:01am

    Boom boom !

  • “Federal Conference is probably the best fun that you will ever have in your life”

    I so sincerely hope that this is not true for any of us.

  • Simon Banks 1st Oct '14 - 9:49pm

    David has almost stolen my comment. Definition of a political nerd: one for whom a week at a conference is the best fun ever.

    Yes, conference is fun. Pity the whole shebang is so expensive unless you live near enough to commute in, which would rather spoil some of the fun.

    I can’t afford two successive long conferences (plus a York spring) but if CAMRA are there again with their mini-guide to Glasgow real ale pubs, I recommend it (and the pubs).

    Last year I walked from the coach station towards my budget accommodation, stopped at a pub for a pint and a bite to eat, got into conversation with a guy at the same table, answered his question about why I was in Glasgow, and, hey presto, someone nearby bought me a pint!

  • Suzanne Fletcher 2nd Oct '14 - 10:26am

    LD4SOS fringe is in Campanile, Picasso 3 at 6.15. our highlight is someone who is experiencing the problems, coming and telling us about it, put over in a mini drama – not yet another boring or even emotional speech. chance to ask questions and raise points. LD4SOS fringes always have a “yellow Sheet” for you to fill in with anything you wanted to say and didn’t have chance, or even didn’t like to. Empowering people, whether those with a story to tell, like those seeking asylum, or our members is what Lib Dems DO, not just talk about (or should do anyway).
    I spend the next month answering, and taking on board ……

  • Suzanne Fletcher 2nd Oct '14 - 10:28am

    John Tilley – Kingston Liberals were the very first people I talked to at my first conference in 1982 in Bournemouth. You were a really friendly lot. I was a “lone cllr” at the time, and you showered me with support 🙂 I remember it now, even where you were sitting near a door in a hotel ! (Not that I can remember where anything is I need to pack right now…)

  • “Kingston Liberals were the very first people I talked to at my first conference in 1982 in Bournemouth. You were a really friendly lot…..”

    Not many of those 1982 Kingston Liberals left now, but Roger Hayes and I are as friendly as ever. Steve Harris has moved to better things in Aberdeen and others have also moved away from the Borough. The three of us would have just been elected to the council for the first time in May 1982 as part of a group which the local paper (traditionally Conservative) dubbed ‘The Magnificent Seven’.
    Sorry I will not get to see you at Glasgow this year, but just recently Rosemary and I have been taking it in turns to be out- patients at The Marsden. 🙂

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Simon R
    One thing puzzles me - and @Tom I hope this isn't too much of another tangent. You mention the potential problems caused by France's deficit and how that could ...
  • tom arms
    there is more than one line in the article I wrote, In fact, I think the line about the French in Africa was about one percent of the whole in terms of wordage...
  • tom arms
    Does anyone have anything about the substance of the article: the French parliamentary elections, the political future of Emmanuel Macron, the dangers or otherw...
  • Alan Jelfs
    I was pleased our sister party, Fianna Fáil, did well in the Irish EU elections, going from 2 MEPs to 4....
  • Thelma Davies
    It has a currency. It has a Parliament. It has an anthem, a flag, it has its own foreign commissioner. The ever closer union I was referring to Chris is Eurozon...