Opinion: A first timer’s guide to Scottish Lib Dem Conference 2010

Saturday’s Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference was the first conference I’d been to, and aside from a local hustings at the general election, the very first political event I’d ever been to. I was very much a newbie and a little bit nervous and uncertain about what to expect from the day. I even had to ask what it was best to wear, although that was really to stop my wife insisting I go in a suit. I wouldn’t have looked out of place in a suit, but if I’d turned up in a pair of green wellies I wouldn’t have been the only one either.

To make First Timers feel welcome and to explain what to expect at the conference, the organisers had set up a special session before the main conference started. I even got a special invitation card from Tavish Scott in the post a few days before the event. About 40 new attendees managed to make it, despite the roadworks on the Forth Bridge, and received a warm welcome, a cup of tea or coffee and a very bright, yellow bag. First Timers were quite obvious throughout the day. Perhaps that was the real reason for the session.

After the meeting, my local party colleague, Caron introduced me to a whirlwind of faces and names, all very friendly and welcoming, walking around the exhibition stands and through the main area. What I noticed was how busy the room was becoming. I did wonder what the mood of the event would be, given this was the first meeting of Scottish Lib Dems since the forming of the Coalition. The atmosphere seemed genuinely upbeat

The morning session started in the main hall where there were a series of debates and speeches from Liberal Democrats from ministers, members and the Party Leader. The stand-out speech was from Alexandra White who was just 14 years old. I was asked if I was going to make a speech and after watching Alexandra’s excellent, youthful performance, I knew I’d made the correct decision to go nowhere near the stage.

At lunchtime there were a series of Fringe events in rooms around the venue, with a buffet provided. I chose a subject close to home, A Manifesto for People Living with Long Term Conditions in Scotland, as my wife works in the voluntary sector. This was a panel debate in a much smaller room and felt more personal and interactive.

The next time I attend a conference I hope to be lucky enough to hear another debate of the standard of the one on the Education Working Group. When you arrive at the conference, you get a Bulletin which contains a list of Amendments. Amendment 2 was on the hot topic of student finance and called for an acceptance that “a level of graduate contribution towards education is fair”. The speeches on both sides of the argument were of the highest order and it was a privilege to watch. Without wanting to pick out any speaker, Tim Farron chose this highly charged issue to make his speech and I think chose well. Speaking out against the amendment, Tim called the English system a ‘basket case’ and said we should be proud of what we’d achieved in Scotland and not throw it away.

After the debates, you get to vote. Firstly you vote for or against any amendments and then on the main issue. In this case, the amendment was voted down but the main motion was carried. You actually use your conference card (which has the word “voting” on the back) to vote. In a later debate on Procurement, a vote on a ‘Reference Back’ was so close the stewards had to go along the rows and count them. Luckily you are also given a guide to what all the terms mean. I had to look it all up, whilst the lady in front on me was apparently such an old hand, she could get on with her knitting whilst this was all going on.

By early evening I’ll admit I was flagging and tired. Luckily, the event didn’t go on into the night and after another series of evening fringe events there were drinks and food to wrap up the evening. A chance to chat and relax after a very interesting day.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Scotland.
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