Home Rule ‘defined’ at Scottish Autumn conference

Scottish Parliament 23 May 06 061Just imagine. You are canvassing for the Holyrood election in May 2016 and are mindful of what Willie Rennie said in his speech at the 2015 Scottish Autumn Conference.

We are the party for you…  if you support independence but are disappointed by the SNP in Government.

Some voters are probably beyond redemption, such as the man who told me on the doorstep before the Westminster election that he had vote Liberal/Lib Dem for 40 years but had now joined the SNP.   In such cases, you may mutter “we are fed up talking about the Constitution” and move on.

Other former supporters appear interested when you refer to party policy on targets, colleges, the police, local democracy, nursery education and mental health. But they won’t say whether they will switch back from the SNP, so you decide to outline Lib Dem policy on Home Rule.  After all, before the Independence Referendum, polls tended to show that most voters would prefer a third option – devolution max in some form.

Party policy has now been defined in a resolution entitled Towards a new Federal United Kingdom and a new Treaty of Union which was passed at the Scottish Autumn Conference.    You have memorised key passages from it.

Devolution by itself”, you tell these floating voters, quoting from the resolution, “is an inadequate response to the current constitutional challenge”.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we want home rule as developed in the Steel and Campbell Commissions.”

“Never heard of them”.

“Of course.  Put simply, the main thing Lib Dems want is a mandate for federalism”.

“OK, whatever that means.  But what’s your policy about giving Holyrood more powers?”

“Ah,” you triumphantly recall, “Future changes to the powers will be considered in the context of the move towards a properly federal United Kingdom”.

Job done.  On to the next doorbell.

* Robin Bennett first joined the Liberal Party in 1957. He is a member of the North East & Central Fife Liberal Democrats.

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  • Let’s all not keep ignoring the Preamble’s commitment to the right to self determination. As I have said here for years mow, it does not have a corollary that says ‘except for Scotland or Wales’. Liberals should be liberal and work to those aims regardless of whether Scots elect to establish their own state sooner or later.
    Until that time, traditional Nat voters (who too too often used to be our voters) won’t even look at coming back. I fear that new Nat voters (who used to be labour voters) aren’t even thinking about us yet, and being the little tail on thr conservative Unionist dog won’t get much attention any time soon.
    Time to relax and be liberal – let the Scots go if they elect to, and even help them along.

  • Johnmc I think you should read Cllr Mark Wrights comments because he sums it up perfectly.

    I do have a few comments on your points though
    ‘Time to relax and be liberal…
    …let the Scots go if they elect to’. Absolutely, if a clear majority of Scottish residents want to leave the UK.

    …and even help them along.’ Does that mean we should also campaign to the leave the EU? The UK has a right to self-determination just as much as Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter.

    ‘Let’s all not keep ignoring the Preamble’s commitment to the right to self determination….Liberals should be liberal and work to those aims regardless’. Why? Why should I work to see the end of one political union, but not another? I can oppose Scotland leaving the UK, just as I oppose the UK leaving the EU, but still absolutely respect the right to self determination. I would also look to our friends in Canada – are they any less liberal because they are Canadian unionists?

  • Robin, sorry to say that your article is wee bit all talk no action home rule, federalism, devo max are but meagre crumbs things have moved on at a tremendous pace towards Scotland’s Independence, I think that if you knock on doors offering these crumbs you will hear a lot of bleating from people that it’s not good enough. Anyway I wish the best of luck with your endeavours.

  • Robin Bennett 27th Oct '15 - 1:27pm

    Adrian: There is no sign of the party supporting independence and opting in, as indeed Jo Grimond proposed in 1983. Such has been the haemorrhage of support to the SNP (as @johnmc alludes to) that the members left seem to favour few additional powers for Holyrood beyond those proposed by the Smith Commission. The Conference even voted down, albeit by a small majority, a short debate on a Reference Back of the Federalism motion.

    Mark: What Federalism means in practice has to be defined now. There will have been elections at Holyrood and again at Westminster and, in all likelihood, a further Independence Referendum before Federalism makes much headway at Westminster. By declining to adopt a strong definition of Home Rule in a federal structure – as much responsibility for our own affairs as is possible, but coming together for defence, foreign affairs, and large scale economics – the party cannot hope to win back its former supporters. It has such a small voter base that it is becoming increasingly inaudible to the media and, in consequence, the electorate. This is a shame as we have so much to offer.

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