Six highlights of Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference

I have to be honest. I was none too chuffed at the prospect of dragging myself out of bed at 6:15 yesterday morning and heading to Dunfermline for Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference. Dunfermline is half an hour from where I live, but I’m currently on holiday in the blissful Black Isle. This view from our holiday cottage will perhaps help you to understand my reluctance to leave:

Roebuck at sunset

That was sunset on our first night last Saturday.

Ultimately, though, I ended up very glad that I’d gone. Here are the things I wouldn’t have wanted to miss:

New Members

At one point in his his speech, Willie Rennie asked all the new members to stand up. They made up about a third of the audience and spoke in many debates. One, Wendy Chamberlain, introduced Willie and explained why she had joined the party:

Every new member I spoke to had a great time at Conference. One told me “Now I know I’m in the right place.” That theme of feeling at home was repeated by many others.

It was also fantastic to see people who had returned to the Lib Dem family, such as George Boyd from East Lothian.

Tim Farron

Tim had already been at the North West regional conference before he’d come to Dunfermline. That long day didn’t jade him – he leapt onto the stage to give his speech which was full of his usual energy and passion, telling people what Lib Dems are for:

A message that says to folks out there, if you are the kind of person who wants Scotland to be greener, free-er, more successful, for Scotland to remain in Britain and for Scotland to remain in the European union, for poverty to be beaten by more equality and by economic competence, for refugees to be welcomed not demonised, for Scottish people not to be taken for granted by the hubris of Tories or nationalists. If you are that kind of person, if you have those kind of values, then you need this kind of party. Then you need Willie Rennie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats to win. You need us, we need you. Go online now and join the Scottish Liberal Democrats today.

Willie Rennie

Willie’s leader’s speech was very different, but set out very positive reasons to vote Liberal Democrat next May. He pointed out all the changes in policy his small band of just 5 MSPs had forced on college places, nursery education, stop and search and armed police, and talked about how the Liberal Democrats would give the next five years to reforming public services to ditch the top town target driven culture.

Ending the “tampon tax”

Highland Councillor Kate Stephen submitted a motion calling on governments to work together to end the 5% VAT placed on feminine hygiene products. A relic of a time when there were a tiny number of women in Parliament, it has no place in a modern society. I was particularly pleased that a couple of young men, Daniel Coleman from Dundee and Tom Hunter from Orkney, spoke in the debate.

Susan Leslie also made the point that she had had problems trying to donate tampons to food banks. However, when she did, a woman came up to her and thanked her because she couldn’t afford to buy these items and couldn’t leave the house when she had her period because she had to use toilet roll. This is clearly something that we need to think about, particularly given the DWP’s requirement that people not in work should spend every waking hour looking for a job. Women with no money are put at a real disadvantage.

Evidence based policy on GM crops

Ross Stalker’s motion criticised the SNP’s blanket ban on GM crops and called for policy to be based on the evidence. This was backed overwhelmingly – a big change in attitude from the party which voted against former Lib Dem rural affairs minister Ross Finnie’s approach a decade ago.

RNIB fringe on making streets safer for people with sight loss

RNIB Scotland always does a good, thought provoking fringe at Scottish Conference. Yesterday’s theme was their Safer Streets charter where they talked about the hazards people with sight loss face just walking down the street. They are not asking for much – a clear pathway down the middle of the pavement that isn’t strewn with a-boards, cafe furniture, irregularly placed lampposts and the like. It made me think about the A-boards which are commonplace around polling stations.

Other news from the Conference

A penny on tax for the NHS?

I didn’t see this debate because we arrived too late but Conference amended the motion calling for a penny on tax for the NHS to be put in the manifesto to give a bit of wiggle room depending on the Scottish budget figures.

Controversy over Federalism motion

Graham Cowie from Glasgow suggested that the motion on Federalism put forward by Robert Brown was like going out onto the field campaigning for a nil-nil draw. A fair proportion of the conference had wanted to see something a bit more radical. The debate was full of quality speeches, with people on both sides of that argument putting the case for the UK to look very different than it does now.

It was a brilliant day, and I’m glad I went and just as glad that I’ve returned to this. Autumn has arrived on the Black Isle:

Autumn comes to Munlochy Bay

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

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  • Allan Heron 25th Oct '15 - 2:59pm

    Yes, the motion on federalism was deeply unsatisfactory.

    Not only did it add nothing to where we presently stand, but it seems that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are to seek discussions with Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. The elephant in the room’s not to be involved.

    As a party, we need to develop a coherent federal proposal rather than just bandy the word about as if it’s self evident what it would mean. That requires engaging with Liberal Democrats in England and moving them beyond lip service.

    And yet again, little reference to a written constitutuon which is the defining characteristic of any federal structure.

  • Jacquie Bell 25th Oct '15 - 7:01pm

    George Boyd is from Bilston in Midlothian. He has previously been a Midlothian Council candidate.Good to have him back. Midlothian is currently under East Lothian banner until they get membership over 30 again.

  • On the federalism point, we also need to actually consider what we do if we get told that we can’t have federalism. Do we fall back on pushing for an ever-more unequal relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK? Do we decide that, actually, Independence is the lesser of two evils if that goes on long enough? Whether we like it or not, this uncomfortable issue is going to be part of Scottish politics for a while.

    Another point to consider is that, although at a conference being rather hostile to the governing party is understandable, if our actual campaign is focussed only on talking down other parties it will probably fall flat. We can talk about the problems in education, in health, in the police, but we need to first and foremost articulate our policy, rather than just remind everybody about how rubbish we think the SNP is. For one thing, we give them a free advert every time we mention them. But more importantly, we give fuel to the idea that all politicians are just rubbish, driving disengagement and despair. Sunny ways my friends, to quote two successful liberals from across the ocean.

  • T-J You are so right but you may get a less than receptive reaction to calling for promotion of libdem policies rather than rubbishing the SNP. I was told to stop posting when I tried to make that very point. Criticism doesn’t seem to be acceptable in some quarters.

  • Dawud Islam 26th Oct '15 - 4:33pm

    Thanks Caron as ever an excellent summary. My own report on Scottish Conference can be found here at my new blog LibDemHame:

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