Interview: Alistair Carmichael Part 1 – the Scottish Elections

Way back last May, when Government posts were being handed out, I had this to say about the appointment of Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael’s appointment as Chief Whip:

In this new uncharted boldly going where no-one has gone before type arrangement, having someone with excellent people skills enticing people into voting lobbies they may not be entirely comfortable with is essential.

The downside of Alistair being Chief Whip is that we don’t get to hear as much of him as we used to. In fact, if you look at his They Work For You page, the words he seems to say most frequently are along the lines of  “I close this debate”.  This is a great pity, because he’s a very wise Liberal who is very good at plain speaking and making people laugh. However, I’m glad to say that he agreed to step out of the shadows he now inhabits to talk to me as part of my Guest Editor day.  As I did before when I interviewed Jo Swinson the last time they let me loose on here, I shall pretty much let you see the whole conversation in several parts. Soundbites have their place, I guess, but sometimes it’s illuminating to see the entire conversation.

I’d like to say that I conducted this chat sitting on the House of Commons terrace sipping gin rather than at my laptop at the kitchen table while cooking the dinner.  I spoke to Alistair just before he went into the Parliamentary Party meeting on Monday night and I started by asking him about the Scottish elections.  How, I wanted to know, do we make ourselves heard when we were being used by Labour and the SNP as a get out of jail free card and being drowned in a torrent of  hysterical and emotive language.

“We always knew this was going to be a difficult election and the reality is that it is difficult. How do we get beyond the hysteria that’s been generated by Labour and SNP? Given that we’re facing not just hostile parties but hostile media, it’s going to be diffiuclt but if what we are about is constructing a more mature and consensual politics, we have to make the point that not every compromise is a gross betrayal.

I sense that in fairly short order some of the hysteria you hear from the others will turn people off. We are looking at a 5 week campaign here and I don’t think they can can sustain, or the voters can cope with, that level  of hyperbole for 5 weeks

We need to hold our nerve and just keep putting our case.”

Why, I wondered, should Scots vote for us in these elections?

We are the party who, at the time when spending cuts are happening, can be relied upon to protect people and communities form the worst excesses of the Labour and SNP parties in Holyrood. The worst excess I can identify in both parties is a determination to address the economic problems by centralising things and by doing things like the creation of a single Scottish police force which they have wanted to do for years and which they now think they have a good excuse to do.

If there’s one thing that singles out the Lib Dems from the other parties, then we can say it’s the determined drive towards localism and getting power away from the centre. We can point to the experience of Westminster where Andrew Stunell has been instrumental in driving power away from Whitehall and also point to the way in which Lib Dems have changed and influenced Government policy.

If you look at tax, the Tories prioritised cuts to Inheritance Tax, helping the richest deadest people whereas the Liberal Democrats have made tax changes which work to the benefit of the poorest and lowest paid in our community.

So, when we have influence we use it to get the best deal for the poorest and most vulnerable in the most difficult circumstances.

Tavish Scott, the Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader is not as well known yet as he could be. I asked him to tell me something we didn’t know about what made Tavish the best candidate for First Minister.

What I see better than most people is the way in which Tavish is so completely embedded in his community in Shetland and the passion that this brings to his approach to politics. He preaches the sermon on localism so well because he lives the theology.  I think that we don’t see as much of that passion as we ought but I know that  if he were First Minister then the people of Scotland would have someone who would be tireless in pursuing Scotland’s best interests.

Later on I asked him which of our lot caused him the most grief as Chief Whip, about the NHS Reforms, and what it’s like keeping our MPs in order. And, he gives a better explanation of the philosophy behind the despised-by-many phrase Alarm Clock Britain than I’ve heard from anyone else.

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