Scottish Conference: Nazanin, new faces and the rise of the mini motion

Scottish Lib Dem Autumn Conference in Edinburgh yesterday was an absolute blast and showed the party at its best. I love going to Conference and catching up with old friends, but this time there were so many new people to get to know as well.

One of them, Lauren Buchanan-Quigley from Dunfermline, criticised the UK Government for trying to force disabled people back into work without ensuring that workplaces were accessible. She talked also about the scandal of people with assistance dogs being denied access to hospitals.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have led the way on pressing the Scottish Government to do more to help Councils deal with the problems associated with Reinforced Autoclaved Aereated Concrete. Conference passed a motion, proposed by West Lothian’s Lib Dem Councillor  Sally Pattle, calling on the Government to provide funding to local authorities to deal with this and to compensate those, like West Lothian, who have already spent millions on it.

The Leader

Alex Cole-Hamilton was confident of Lib Dem gains come the election in places like Mid Dunbartonshire where Susan Murray hopes to take the seat once held by Jo Swinson and the new version of Charles Kennedy’s old seat where Angus MacDonald is  in a very good position.

His leader’s speech had two big new ideas – using the Barnett Consequentials from our trebling of the Digital Services Tax, paid by social media companies, to pay for better mental health support for young people, and a Clean Water Act to protect our waterways from pollution.

And I know many people reading this will be delighted by what he had to say on Europe:

Conference the European project represents the most important plan for peace in the whole of human history. It ended centuries of war.

And while, by slim majority, the citizens of these islands chose to turn their backs on that, we, the Liberal Democrats, will never turn away from it.

We will never let go of the inescapable reality that our country was simply better off as a full member of the European Union.

The Tories have set fire to all the goodwill and understanding that existed with our European neighbours. They have made our road back to Europe all the longer, all the harder.

But it is a road we have already started out upon.

Conference, be in no doubt of our commitment to that aim. Realistic, pragmatic, remorseless.

We are already building bridges, re-establishing connections amid the seeds of common understanding in the British people of the hideous calamity of Brexit.

Mark my words, it may not be this coming General Election, but one day an election will come where a chance to reclaim our European membership is on the ballot paper. We will be at the heart of that.

My commitment to you is this. I have spent the vast majority of my life a citizen of both the United Kingdom and of the European Union. It is my intention to leave this life a citizen of both as well.

I reckon the sky would not fall in if Ed said something like that.

Alex was introduced on to the stage by Gloria Adebo, our brilliant candidate in the recent Rutherglen and Hamilton South by-election.

Nazanin and Richard

One of the most moving sessions was an interview, hosted by Christine Jardine, with Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe and Richard Ratcliffe. Christine said she still has the blue flower Richard gave her when she went to visit him outside the Iranian Embassy when he was on hunger strike during Nazanin’s six year imprisonment in Iran.

Nazanin and Richard want British citizens to have a right to consular protection after the Foreign Office was so slow to help her. At the moment, the commitment is dependent on ministerial whim, and, if ministers are reshuffled, you have to build the relationship up all over again.

The Guardian has reported on Nazanin’s comments about how difficult it was for her to readjust to freedom and of her worries for her family and friends back in Iran.

“I came out, I had to rebuild my relationship with our family, and with the neighbourhood and community and society.

“I am a different person, Richard has changed, my daughter is nine. When I left her she wasn’t even two, so we are very different people.”

She added: “I was hoping I would be in a better place in terms of recovery, but with what is happening in Iran and the Middle East … there are a lot of external factors that stop me from feeling like a normal person and getting on with my life.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe said that “at the moment there is no return” for her to Iran, where she still has family.

The charity project manager added: “My family is still in Iran, given what is happening in Iran … things are much more complicated. There’s very little we can do in terms of talking, video calls and things. I can’t really talk to them at all. It is a constant worry about my country, my family, my parents, my friends.”

The rise of the mini motion…

Three people got standing ovations at Conference: Alex Cole-Hamilton, Nazanin and 12 year old Noah, who proposed a mini motion calling for childcare to be available for all from birth to nursery.

Mini motions are a new idea introduced by Scottish Conference Committee aimed at making it easier for members to make policy. Submitting a motion can be quite a formal and intimidating process, so they invited ideas summed up in a couple of hundred words. These would have 15 minutes each, a 3 minute proposal speech followed by 1 minute reactions. Conference then has an indicative vote on whether they want Policy Committee to work up the idea.

It was an undisputed success. The energy in the room was brilliant. We had so many first time speakers. The biggest sign that it was working was that there was free tea and cake outside during the first session yet the hall was packed.

We discussed six ideas, three on housing and three on children and families. They were:

  • Tiny villages
  • Right to housing for key workers in rural areas
  • State backed house building factories
  • Universal childcare from birth to 3
  • Compulsory swimming lessons in school
  • Child Bereavement support

You can read them all here.

The next stage, of course, is crucial. In my view, Policy Committee’s role should be enabling rather than just taking over the idea. They need to work with the proposers so that they can bring back the developed motion to a future Conference.

Delete all and insert…

Delete all and insert amendments to motions are frowned upon and don’t usually get through Conference Committee. However the motion on Council Tax became so out of date when Humza Yousaf announced the imposition of an unfunded Council Tax freeze on local authorities at SNP Conference a couple of weeks ago. So the proposers basically rewrote their motion to condemn the Government for this and for failing, in 16 years, to keep their 2007 promise to get rid of the unfair tax.  Kevin condemned the Scottish Government for holding Scottish Councils in contempt by imposing the freeze without any sort of warning or consultation and reaffirmed the Scottish Lib Dem commitment to empower, support and properly fund our local government.

Lorna

Lorna Cammock is in her 90s. She had a long and successful career as a head teacher and has been a wonderful presence at Scottish Liberal Democrat conference in recent years. She brings her ukelele and sings to us once during each event. We absolutely love her positivity. She’s like restorative sunshine. Yesterday was no exception, and she had the leader as her glamorous assistant.

Yesterday was a brilliant day which showed a confident party in good heart and fizzing with ideas ahead of the next electoral test.

 

 

 

 

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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5 Comments

  • Stephen Harte 5th Nov '23 - 12:26pm

    The energy in the room yesterday was palpable. The Scottish Lib Dems are clearly in good spirits as we embrace yet another election here (those of us in Edinburgh have not had a year free of an election for quite some time now).

  • Nigel Jones 5th Nov '23 - 12:43pm

    Scottish conference sounds really good and it looks as though the Scottish party conference operates rather more flexibly than the Federal Conference. Does this signal a change in the way FCC works or the people on it ?
    As to the EU, I applaud what Alex Cole-Hamilton said but he should have added that we want to be in that seat of power in the EU in order to play our part in improving the EU and part it plays in world affairs.

  • Mary Fulton 5th Nov '23 - 1:10pm

    I welcome the motion on getting swimming lessons into the primary curriculum. That said, I recognise that this will create massive problems for remote primary schools to deliver….Tomintoul Primary School for example would require an hour round trip bus journey to use the nearest swimming pool, assuming it was able to book a slot.

  • thomas prag 5th Nov '23 - 3:43pm

    Delighted the mini motions etc went down well. I have been a reluctant conference attendee – the formality and apparently arcane processes involved were not welcoming or terribly useful for the party. This sounds better and more likely to draw members into the policy building game.

  • Mary Fulton: I remember a schools’ television programme over 50 year ago in which a school in Leicester corresponded with one in Skye – and the sole teacher at the Skye school would bring a collapsible swimming pool to school in her van.

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