Introduction

I’ve taken a long time to finally write this piece. This year I have been elected to represent the Scottish Liberal Democrats on the Executive Committee. I wanted to help improve our relationship between our membership and decision-making bodies in the party. Thinking of this, it made sense that now was the right time. I want to start conversations by communicating my views and my history in the party.

I started my active political following and involvement in the run-up to the 2010 election, a happier time when “Cleggmania” was running wild. Who then, honestly, could say they foreseen Brexit? We as a society have never been more politically polarised than we find ourselves in modern day Scotland.

Back then I was a naive young teen, passionately believing in the liberal ideals of freedom, fairness, equality. I was always brought up with the mantra of treating others as you would expect to be treated yourself – in their own way, my parents fuelled the fires of my earliest political ideals.

Looking at how divided we are in Scotland before and since that referendum in 2014, there can be no doubt – something has to change. I passionately believe that federalism needs to be implemented now, for the United Kingdom to survive.

In Wales, the tide may not have changed – but the waves are certainly starting to blow over the beach. Opinion polls in 2016 showed a favour for remaining in the United Kingdom of 40-50%. A poll last year showed that this gap may only now be around 7%. No matter how you look at this, there is clearly an altering of public opinion.

That is why federalism is the only way to stop the tides of division and bring our society together. I openly say that as someone who voted in favour of Scotland becoming independent.

At the time, I disagreed about our future in the UK with our party. This was a horrible time for me in politics. I felt self-doubt. Political confusion. Was our party truly my party too?

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community

Freedom. Fairness. Equality.

It’s what I believe in. It’s who I am. It’s how I seek to treat others, the same way I want to be treated myself. This is my political identity. It’s why I am a Liberal Democrat. The division of nationalism drove me away, the dream of federalism brought me back.

I disagreed with the party in 2014, but do I think we got it all wrong back then? No. We were the only party that presented an alternative. A better future, fully devolved within our family of nations. This vision was the only thing that almost swayed me to vote no. The only thing that stopped me? A doubt that at the time the UK two-party state political structure would allow it to happen. We were suffering electoral losses as a party from the coalition, the writing was beginning to appear on the wall.

Federalism swayed me. We could convince those that did vote yes in 2014, to back us and a new-look federal model now.

Fundamentally, we are not completely ideologically different from the nationalists. SNP supporters want more powers in the hands of the people of Scotland. We, as federalists, also want more powers derived locally. Local power, as far as it is possible. We agree that the Westminster system is broken. Plaid Cymru believes that too.

A political rival, but one of the most powerful arguments in debates in the runup to the EU Referendum was actually from Angus Robertson. He presented the White Paper, in response to a 1-page document on how Brexit would look. We may not agree on the contents, but the point was clear and easy to understand; The Yes campaign had a vision for independence. What did the Brexit camp truly produce apart from lies on the side of a bus?

Now then, may be our time to present a new “Orange Paper” on federalism. How would a federal UK look from our perspective in 2022?

We as a party go further than just a federal-motive. Everything we ever campaign for is about community. Getting the best for the people of Scotland. A person I’ve always considered a mentor, Willie Rennie, has always inspired me during campaigning by just how well he can relate to a person in their own community. He always wants the best for every person he speaks to. I believe in Alex Cole-Hamilton we now have a great MSP ready to walk in those shoes. Just please don’t try hill running Alex, I went with Willie once – it’s brutal.

Good government could never be a substitute for government by the people themselves.

These words of the former Liberal Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman I believe still ring true to our values as Liberal Democrats in the modern day. Empowering communities, devolving power to the most local of levels and enabling our Scottish councils to help their constituents. This is a concept under attack by this Scottish Government, and their Green long-term coalition partners. Our new party message ”A New Hope” has a strong appeal to me. Scotland can do better. The nationalist parties have continued to vainly put forward one ideal as a one-size-fits-all solution. Getting rid of Westminster will not solve the problems we face with this Scottish Government cutting the funding of our local communities and centralising key services.

I grew up just down the road from Campbell-Bannerman’s Stirling constituency in Dunblane. If ever there was a town that demonstrated the power of a community coming together, to support each other in such cruel adversary – Dunblane is a beacon of what hope can lead to. Stirling itself is a reminder of the strong liberal values of the Scottish people. Campbell-Bannerman’s statue proudly remains just off the centre of the Stirling town. It may never have had a modern Liberal Democrat MP in its history, but who is to say it won’t in the future?

The SNP and the Conservatives are the parties of division, they thrive on pulling people apart. Our party believes in the power of community, in treating everyone fairly and equally. Freedom, Fairness, Equality. A New Hope for a better Scotland. That’s a dream I believe in, and I hope in the near future we can start to make it a reality.

I hope that by divulging my own political beliefs and background, that I can at least start to communicate who I am and the ideals I bring to the Executive Committee for the Scottish party this year. I would love to hear new ideas – from party members old, new, former or even from outside our Liberal Democrat family.

* Neil Alexander is a Scottish Liberal Democrat Executive Member. He is a former GCU and University of Greenwich graduate, currently studying part-time for a PhD in Sports Science (Rugby) and Video Game Design - whilst working full time as a Game Designer in Elgin.

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8 Comments

  • I support Federalism, but I’m not mad keen on it – if that makes sense.

    For me, most of the good we hope to achieve by Federalism can better be achieved by electoral reform, ditching FPTP and moving to a proportional system. I think it’s important we do that first, and bring a bit of balance to the UK Parliament that way. And then see how Federalism can complement it.

    It is important we offer an alternative to the reckless division sought by the SNP, or the status quo offered by the Conservatives, but I’d argue that PR is the alternative path we need most.

    I’m not against us continuing to mention Federalism, or work away on how it might be achieved. But I’d rather the greater effort and resources went into persuading those who still need persuading that we should have a fair voting system, and how that might look. Adding the possibility of Federalism on top (or instead of) gets in the way IMO.

  • Neil, this is a really interesting and thoughtful article. And Congratulations and Good Luck on the Exec. I’m pleased to see that the Scottish party’s interests there are in good hands. I’m also loving your reference to Henry C-B. One of my personal heroes of our party’s history who is hugely over-looked, I think.
    Re federalism. I guess I was around your age in the Scottish party when we were fighting the long campaign to get the Scottish Parliament (and to make sure it was elected by an at least half-decent system!) The lesson I took from that time is that constitutional change has to come from the ground up. It can’t be imposed from top-down – the people have to demand it. I’m talking years, perhaps decades of meetings, marches, rallies, leaflets, door-knocking, speeches…. And the hard truth about federalism (which I believe in as much as you do) is that people in the English regions, and even in Wales, don’t really want it. Or at least, they don’t have that visceral determination to force it to happen.
    But you’re right. What we need to do is start the movement. There was a time after all when very few people in Scotland wanted devolution. We were in the vanguard then. We should be again on federalism. But we need to be realistic. The key is to somehow make the English regions *demand* it.

  • Brad Barrows 11th Mar '22 - 11:59pm

    A brave article – someone who voted ‘yes’ for in the hope of securing full powers for Scotland has now decided to support the Unionist position of some powers for Scotland, with sovereignty remaining with the UK government, without any explanation for this change of belief. Federalism is just another form of devolution where, as Enoch Powell once famously explained, “Power devolved is power retained.” So Neil, I assume you are perfectly happy for Scotland to continue to be governed by Tory governments it rejects, for Scotland to be out of the EU despite 62% within the country voting to remain part of the EU, and all in the hope that voters in England might be persuaded of the case for Federalism in the hope that Scotland may be given something slightly better than we have at present? If not, why would you now vote ‘no’?

  • Maurice Leeke 12th Mar '22 - 9:42am

    The job of the Scottish Lib Dems is to split the unionist vote.

    In deciding that they are a pro-union party they are denying themselves votes from all supporters of independence for Scotland – the other half of the electorate.

    The leadership clearly know this. How else could you explain the litany of fierce criticism of Nicola Sturgeon, a competent, caring and hard-working stateswoman, while supporting the system that gives us the incompetent, uncaring and corrupt crew running affairs at Westminster.

    Quite simply, the SLD are playing to the unionist gallery.

    The measure of their success will be if they are able to attract sufficient unionist votes for the Tories to lose seats in Scotland.

  • Brad Barrows 12th Mar '22 - 10:23am

    @Maurice Leeke
    I remember speaking to a Liberal Democrat councillor before the 2014 referendum who admitted to me that she planned to vote Yes but was unwilling to go public about it due to fear of the backlash she would face. The Liberal Democrats were standing shoulder to shoulder with the other Unionist Parties and she would have made national news had she gone against that position. Sad, really, because a more natural position for any party with ‘Democrat’ in its name should be to support the right of the people to have whatever constitutional arrangement they support – but somehow the Liberal Democrats find themselves in a position where they oppose the right of the people of Scotland to have another independence referendum even after an election in which a majority of MSPs were elected on pro-referendum manifestos. It appears the Liberal Democrats are now more Unionist than Democrat.

  • Gwyn Williams 12th Mar '22 - 11:40am

    Scottish and Welsh politics continue to diverge. Part of this is due to the difference between Scottish and Welsh Labour. Pragmatically Welsh Labour realised that as its voters are evenly split between supporting Welsh independence and continuing in union with England that they had to take a more nuanced stance. They reaped the reward for this in last year’s Senedd election. By contrast the Welsh Lib Demsfor the first time in history declared themselves an Unionist Party and lost tens of thousands of votes.
    Advocating Federalism looked to be the future in the 1990s. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London voted to start the Federal UK project over 20 years ago. It is the failure of Federalism to make further progress in England in that time that now makes advocating it a lost cause in Scotland and Wales.

  • Neil Alexander 14th Mar '22 - 9:25am

    Thank you all for some really interesting comments and discussion! Writing this first post was fairly emotive for a number of reasons and it’s started discussions, which is exactly what I wanted!

    With that in mind, I’m going to look to do some further articles on different topics – I’m thinking proportional representation would be a good topic to cover, maybe even the different types of electoral systems.

    Hope you all enjoyed the piece, and look forward to writing again in the future!

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