Opinion: Brown and Carmichael debate Coalition at lively Social Liberal Forum fringe

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Alistair Carmichael MP, Elspeth Attwooll and Robert Brown

The problem with Conference fringe meetings is that there are usually several that you want to go to and they’re all on at the same time. That was the case with the fringe run jointly by Liberal Futures and the Social Liberal Forum (Scotland) on Friday past at the Scottish Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Inverness. The meeting attracted a respectable crowd but those who attended the Scottish Women’s Liberal Democrats and Liberal International meetings missed a lively debate on Liberal Democrats and the Coalition. The speakers were Robert Brown, the ex-MSP for Glasgow, Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and a good number of the audience members piled in enthusiastically during the Q and A session that followed the opening speeches.

It is impossible to do the event justice in a short blog post, especially since its life came from the verbal agility of its participants and their commitment to Liberal Democrat values with a liberal sprinkling of spontaneous wit. Essentially the argument followed familiar lines with Robert lamenting the loss of trust among the electorate and Party members that followed the series of policy reversals that followed our entry into the coalition. He pointed out that coalitions have previously been unhappy experiences for the Party and he cited the splits in the Party that opened up in the Thirties over participation in the National Government. For his part Alistair urged us to remember that coalition inevitably means compromise and that, despite what you read in the papers, Liberal Democrats are at the heart of government, implementing Liberal Democrat policies and ensuring a greater degree of fairness in policy-making than the Tories would be capable of if governing alone.

However the main themes of Robert’s speech were more original and vital than this. He wants to encourage debate in the Party on social liberal values and to start work on developing yardsticks to be used to measure the fairness and worth of policies we implement in government. He finished by saying “…Liberal Democrats need this debate and this argument which will reinvigorate and re-empower us. We need a framework of values from which to critique the Coalition Government. We need red lines in the sand to delineate what is unacceptable for any Liberal Democrat in any Government. And we need thought-provoking ideas to help set our direction of travel.”

Those who want to follow up Robert’s arguments in more detail can:

  • read the full text of his speech here;
  • buy a copy of Liberal Futures new publication The Little Yellow Book, a stimulating book of essays written from a social liberal perspective, edited by Robert Brown and Nigel Lindsay and available from Amazon here.

Those who want more information on the Scottish activities of the Social Liberal Forum should contact me at [email protected] and keep an eye out for news about our all-day Summer Event, scheduled for 23 June in Glasgow.

* Norman Fraser is the Scottish Organiser of the Social Liberal Forum

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