Open letter to the Scottish Conference – don’t turn right

It may be tempting for the Liberal Democrats to move to the right to capture support from Conservative voters following the collapse of their party at Westminster.  But let’s not do that.  Remember what happened the last time we moved in with the Tories – years of austerity and near oblivion for our party.

Instead we should see the opportunity presented by the Conservatives’ collapse as a chance to become the party of new ideas.  Ideas like decentralisation, green growth and an economy which is an equal partnership between the government and independent organisations.  Successful modern economies across Europe are moving towards a 50/50 relationship between the state and commercial companies, social enterprises and charities.

The Truss government proved once and for all that the “low tax, high growth” model does not work. Even the financial markets don’t believe in it any more.

We need to shake off the nostalgic picture we have of Britain as a manufacturing and exporting country.  We are a service-based economy. Manufacturing only accounts for 10 per cent of our national income, exports account for only a third, and most of those are services, such as finance, insurance, scientific expertise, education and tourism.

We should expose the Tory myth that foreign investment, or indeed any commercial investment, is the key to growth.  Companies will only invest if there is a demand for their products or services and that depends on enough people having enough spending power. Tax rates are only a consideration once you have made a profit.

And while we are at it, let’s destroy another Tory myth, that the only way to tackle poverty is by growing the economy.  We could just divide up the existing cake more fairly.

In short, the Liberal Democrats should become the party that tells the truth.

Truths like: we have to pay for proper public services through our taxes.  One glaring example in Scotland is council tax.  If the SNP had not imposed a council tax freeze, councils would have £900m more to pay for their services. If we had council tax bands that reflected property values, councils would have many more millions.

We need to talk about climate change, seriously. Polluters should be made to pay the true cost of their emissions.  We need to introduce a law banning plastic packaging.

And, because the constitutional question dominates Scottish politics, we should be arguing our case for a federal Britain and welcoming the chance to do so in a second referendum on independence.  And somehow we need to persuade our fellow-Liberal Democrats in England and Wales not to chicken out on re-joining the European Union.

So, please, let’s occupy these open spaces of Scottish politics and use them to champion radical ideas. We should not just criticise the SNP and Labour but offer an alternative.  Even Conservatives might recognise our honesty and come back into the real world.

* John Knox is a member of Edinburgh South Liberal Democrats, a retired journalist and a recent council candidate.

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  • Excellent result yesterday at St Helens, Moss Bank. St Helens borders on West Lancs constituency. We sued to do well in areas of that seat until the Coalition. Cons vote right down nationally, if we fight the by election with enthusiasm, relish and desire we should come second. Let us give it a go and not hide away.

  • nigel hunter 21st Oct '22 - 10:59am

    I completely agree with us being the party of new ideas.We are entering an era of new thinking.The old ideas are dying.The new must be grasped.

  • Dave Bennett 21st Oct '22 - 12:11pm

    I doubt the Liberal Democrats would ‘move to the right’ merely to take advantage of political opportunity. As a party of principle, it stands for what it believes. Period.

    As for seeking to mop up disaffected Tory voters, the Liberal Democrats already stands for robust – indeed ‘muscular’ – Unionism that should appeal to those who would normally vote Tory.

  • Steve Trevethan 21st Oct '22 - 12:29pm

    Might the Truss regime be but a symptom of the underlying disease which is that all major parties embrace Neo-liberal socio-economic policy?
    Might the fact that we have more millionaires than ever, at the same time as having towards one third of our children being permanently hungry, indicate the savage harm that Neoliberalism does to the regular citizen and their children?

  • Great news and a cause for celebration. “Privilege Style” the airline that was taking the flight of refugees to Rwanda, only being stopped on the runway by the order from the European Court judge HAS NOW AGREED NOT TO FLY ANY MORE SUCH CASES. It gets more and more difficult for the government to carry out this policy.


  • Chris Moore 21st Oct '22 - 1:01pm

    Would you please explain what you imagine “Neo-liberal socio-economic policy” is?

  • Agreed on some of that John. I understand that it’s often easier to convince traditional Conservative supporters that since the Conservative party lurched to the right that we are their natural home, trying not to scare them off until they’ve learned to trust us, at which point we hope they have an epiphany that the Tories were always wrong.

    But in reality we have to put the work in, and now is a good opportunity to explain why much of what has been sold as sensible, ‘party of business’ Conservative policy is actually a load of twaddle. Not least because if we are to benefit from tactical anti-Conservative voting, we need to appeal to those who might otherwise prefer Labour or the Greens – as well as our own traditional support.

    We can select our language according to what we think is persuasive. Explain public spending as an investment that will save money in the longer term, or that not wasting time criminalising recreational cannabis users means more time for the police to catch ‘real criminals’ and that PR would pull the rug from under the nationalists.

    But no way should we be OK with another referendum on independence. Not least because most Scots don’t want one, and in the current climate, Federalism wouldn’t get a fair hearing. Better to push for PR across the UK first, which would bring many of the same benefits and then assess how Federalism could improve things further.

  • Michael Cole 21st Oct '22 - 2:04pm

    John Knox: Whilst agreeing with much of this article, I would add a sure vote winner

    You say: ” … a chance to become the party of new ideas. Ideas like decentralisation, green growth …” and you mention innovative ideas such as “partnership between the government and independent organisations.”

    I would add a sure vote winner, namely that we should loudly and unequivocally be the champion of electoral and constitutional reform.

    Anyone who watched ‘Question Time’ last night would have seen the response of the studio audience. A young lady suggested that we not only need a General Election but also reform of the electoral system itself to embrace proportional representation. This was met by enthusiastic applause by the majority of the audience.

    Leadership – please note.

  • Dave Bennett 21st Oct ’22 – 12:11pm……..I doubt the Liberal Democrats would ‘move to the right’ merely to take advantage of political opportunity. As a party of principle, it stands for what it believes. Period…………

    Thank goodness for that; I must have dreamt 2010-15…

  • Mick Taylor 21st Oct '22 - 2:45pm

    Neo Liberals can be socially Liberal and support abortion, same sex marriage, liberal divorce laws and trans rights. The problem is their economic policy. Some of our sister parties in Europe are socially liberal whilst supporting economic policies that are far too private sector for many LibDems. That is why in some countries, like Denmark and Holland there are two Liberal parties. Both tend to be socially Liberal but only one supports socially Liberal economics. You really have to be careful in talking about neo Liberal socio-economic policy, because it is a wholly inaccurate way of describing the current political state in the UK. You really have to talk about Neo liberal economics if you want to get to grips with the real problem.

  • Jenny Barnes 21st Oct '22 - 3:15pm

    @ Chris Moore. Google is your friend. Or try this.

  • Chris Moore 21st Oct '22 - 4:24pm

    Thanks, Jenny, for the kind link.

    It was a rhetorical question……

  • John Lib Dem 21st Oct '22 - 4:28pm

    The Scottish party might be beyond help at this point. Simply repeating over and over ‘the public doesn’t want independence’ doesn’t say anything about what the Lib Dems have to offer the country. They are also completely captured by trans activism to the extent that they refuse to engage with the evidence on self-ID and the harm done by ‘gender-affirming care’ and ignore the completely open goal left by an absolutely insane Scottish Green Party; whilst loudly echoing calls for a general election NOW despite being on course to actually lose seats. I’d love the Scottish Lib Dems to be a party that ‘tells the truth’, but they quite frankly look lost at present. It’s a shame.

  • nonconformistradical 21st Oct '22 - 4:41pm

    @Jenny Barnes
    Personally google is never my friend – it’s just another mammoth organisation wanting to vacuum up my personal data

  • @John, you want a Scottish party that tells the truth, just not things you don’t want to hear?

    The truth is the Scottish public doesn’t want another independence referendum, but I do agree that the SNP’s obsession with the constitution makes it hard to focus adequate energies on other areas, but I suspect that is one of their aims. The Scottish party comments on other things, and most of that has nothing to do with gender.

    The models that predict seats based on national polls are notoriously hopeless in Scotland because they are best at predicting seats where just two parties are at play. Three is less reliable, and four is less reliable still. Plus, they don’t even try to consider tactical voting. Nevertheless, just as SNP supporters refuse to believe the models that them losing large numbers of seats to Labour (with us gaining extra), we should be wary of believing modelling that doesn’t realise that when the Tory vote share drops in seats like NE Fife, then it won’t be going to Labour, it’ll come to us.

  • William Wallace 21st Oct '22 - 8:51pm

    Good to read John Knox on LibDem Voice. I’m sorry Robert Bruce hasn’t yet contributed, nor Malcolm Canmore – not David Hume. For English readers less familiar with Scottish history, I have had many a free whisky from people who recognise the historical resonance of my name, and I hope that John has received as many strong lectures on’ the monstrous regiment of women’.

  • @Fiona
    I understand your frustration that the SNP keep on demanding a referendum on independence. That said, I realise that a majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament were elected in 2021 on manifestos with explicit pledges on holding another independence referendum – as a democrat, I have to accept that democratic mandate. I find it worrying that others who also call themselves ‘democrats’ do not seem to accept democratic mandates when they disagree with the political position of those claiming to have won a mandate.

  • Will, I’m frustrated by a decade of diversion. The people of Scotland had our vote on the constitution in 2014, but the SNP didn’t respect us then, so I’m not sure why anyone thinks they’d respect us next time.

    I’ve also taken the time to understand which powers lie where, and Holyrood doesn’t have the power to call for another referendum, and Sturgeon insisted that a vote for the SNP was not a vote for another referendum, so I don’t think that an administration that won on a minority vote, having said it wasn’t about a referendum, has a mandate to call for something that isn’t in their remit.

    Speaking of mandates and things Scotland does need. I remember when the SNP campaigned on a promise to ditch the unfair council tax. Still waiting …

  • John Lib Dem 21st Oct '22 - 9:45pm

    @ Fiona – I’m strongly opposed to the breakup of the UK, so if our party’s current rhetoric is irritating even me…

    It may be the truth based on the polls, although it’s a narrow lead – but it isn’t actually doing anything for our own poll ratings and it isn’t persuading anyone who does want, or even leans towards, independence either. I just think we’re struggling for relevance and credibility in Scotland and our messaging sounds very tired.

  • Micki Taylor 22nd Oct '22 - 5:35am

    I know that unionism is the majority view in the SLD, but there is a not insignificant minority that take a different view. As a non Scot, it’s not my role to suggest what the SLD should campaign on, but from what I read there’s a lot that needs changing in Scotland and there’s plenty to campaign on there, other than independence.

  • @Fiona
    As I see it, if parties promising a new referendum on the question of Brexit won a majority of MPs at a General Election, that would be a mandate for another referendum – that would not be disrespecting those who voted for Brexit but just a recognition that democracy is not a one-off event and subsequent elections and referendums can revisit the question. Similarly, Scotland voted No to independence in 2014 but parties with election manifesto promises of a new referendum won a majority of MSPs in 2021 – that is, equally, a mandate that should be respected.
    As for whether the Scottish Parliament has the power to hold an advisory referendum on a reserved matter (as opposed to a binding referendum), that matter is disputed and is currently awaiting judgement by the UK Supreme Court.

  • Peter Hirst 22nd Oct '22 - 3:56pm

    I agree. Though I would not discount areas where we have expertise in manufacturing and future markets. If we propose a comprehensive progressive agenda along the lines you suggest the electorate will see where Labour is weak. The country needs a left of centre government that helps ordinary working people and cares and is pragmatic and progressive.

  • Mick Taylor “”I know that unionism is the majority view in the SLD, but there is a not insignificant minority that take a different view”
    Hi Mick. How do you know this latter point? And how big is this minority?
    I ask because you’ve said similar things before on here and I’ve asked you to elucidate but you chose not to. Also because I’m a Scottish party member (36 years now, God help me!) and I never seem to bump into these people. They never put motions to conference or organise fringe meetings or – with the exception of literally one or two familiar voices – state their view on here or anywhere else online. And when we do have conference debates – put by the leadership to re-affirm the policy – the debates are always very one-sided and the votes are not exactly close. I’m just curious about this hidden gang of uncommonly silent Liberals in our midst who won’t speak their minds. Seriously, what evidence you have about this?

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