Social liberal values and the tyranny of spin doctors – the Social Liberal Forum (Scotland) Conference

Partick Burgh Halls in Glasgow was the venue for the Social Liberal Forum’s first Scottish Conference last weekend. Members came from as far away as England to participate in what turned out to be a lively and stimulating meeting.

The highlights of the event were:

  •  Sessions on a varied collection of topics designed to get members thinking about basic Social Liberal values and about practical ways of translating them into Party policy. In particular, Ben Colburn’s speech on Social Liberal Values and Robert Brown’s on Tackling the Policy Problem  will be published over the next few days on  Caron’s Musings. Colburn made the point that social liberty is an essential liberal value but economic liberty is not. Robert Brown argued that we must “end the tyranny of spin doctors in our party” and pay more attention to the substance of our campaigning.
  • The meeting agreed to adopt the proposed draft constitution with some amendments. This now provides for a committee to be elected at an AGM which will probably be held at the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ Conference in October. The right to vote in this election will be restricted to members of the Social Liberal Forum website. Further information on this will be notified in due course.
  • In his speech the Lib Dem Scottish Leader Willie Rennie  gave an interesting insight into coalition politics and indicated in broad terms where he saw the Party going in the next couple of years.

To give a flavour of the discussions, Robert Brown’s tweets from the event are available on Storify here.

The sessions were characterised by lively questioning and points from the floor. At the end of the day it was gratifying to see people so reluctant to leave that they were chased out by the janitor!

Anyone wishing more information on the activities of the Social Liberal Forum in Scotland should ‘like’ our Facebook page, contact me at [email protected] or phone me at 0141 946 4102.

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

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  • Of course economic liberty is an essential liberal value, what a daft thing to say.

  • Andrew Emmerson 27th Jun '12 - 8:33pm

    “Colburn made the point that social liberty is an essential liberal value but economic liberty is not”

    What a , childish, divisive idea. Well done SLF.

  • Simon McGrath 28th Jun '12 - 5:18am

    “Colburn made the point that social liberty is an essential liberal value but economic liberty is not”

    What on earth does this mean. Surely the whole point about Lib Dems is we believe in both – otherwise why not be Tory (just economic liberty) or labour ( just social liberty)?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Jun '12 - 8:47am

    I thought that little teaser of Ben Colburn’s speech would incite some controversy. I’ll be putting up his lecture in full in several parts on my blog next week. You are all cordially invited to comment on it when it appears.

  • Surely all 4 comments relating to this are silly, the original from Ben Colburn, Z, Andrew Emmerson, and last but not least Simon M!

    The point seems to me that the idea of “liberty” is a bit academic – it’s all very well appearing in the Constitutions of France, the USA, etc (maybe even in that of the UK if we ever get round to writing the Constitution that our party has enshrined in its values!) However, in any discussion of this, people very quickly get into how one person’s unfettered liberty restrict another’s liberty, and so democratic political parties are generally selective on this – they have to be, otherwise no-one will vote for them.

    Did Colburn elaborate on his point? The idea that within a finite world, with finite resources, there cannot be total freedom to exploit, and the fact that resources can be and are measured in financial terms, means, unless there is something wrong with my maths / physics, that “economic liberty” WILL impinge on others in a negative way, if you assume that most people would like more liberty to own / use more. If someone truly believes total economic liberty to be feasible, that must imply they have an unrealistic view of resources available to us, or they don’t especially care about the deprivation of others. They would, in essence be “trickle down” “economists”.

    So, the answer here, IMO, is yes, we all believe in social and economic liberty within limits (even Lib Dems), but because of the finite nature of the planet we live on, too great economic liberty could impinge greatly on others’ liberties.

    Consider the effects of powerful players (eg topically, the banks manipulating rates) – these people have a direct effect on others in weaker positions. Consider how the rich have become richer while the less well off have become poorer in recent years. If that is what Colburn tried unsuccessfully to summarise, then I am with him.

  • Dave Page, You are confusing how a basic idiology is transfered into policy and action. Depending on wether you are a social liberal or an economic liberal will dictate how you create policy to resolve issues. A social liberal will start the problem resolution with the following question :- How can I resolve this issue whilst maintaining or improving the freedoms of the individual and the support of the most vulnerable. For an economic Liberal the question is :- How can I resolve this issue whilst maintaining or improving the freedom of the market. The solution delivered by these two seperate questions will be very different. The dilema is which of those two questions,as you cannot ask both, is the most liberal?

  • David Allen 28th Jun '12 - 1:36pm

    Dave Page, whether to spend money on cancer drugs isn’t a liberty issue. It’s a priorities issue.

    We social liberals do place limits on our advocacy of social liberty. We don’t demand the repeal of the repressive indecency laws, we don’t campaign for the freedom to be a noisy nuisance neighbour, indeed most of us don’t campaign to repeal the smoking ban. I guess the point is that few others do so either, and that on most contentious questions of social liberty, we’re more likely to be in favour of the liberty side of the argument than most politicians.

    Similarly, economic liberty covers a whole host of questions, and everybody has a view as to where to strike the balance between freedom and restraint. Some people are entirely happy with the present situation, where the rich have used their economic freedom and power to become very very much richer. Some are not. These are not “minor distinctions in opinion as to how best to deliver liberalism”.

  • Dave Page,

    “But the insistence that there is some kind of inherent divide where you can either care about market mechanisms or government intervention but not both, destroys any chance of striking a balance in that area, which is arguably the most critical balance to be struck and the one that needs the most informed debate.”

    This should be self-evident. All of the world’s developed economies are mixed economies, including both the USA and China, that combine a mix of market capitalism and state intervention.

    It is not the efficiency of markets over public delivery that determines the mix. There is as much waste and economic inefficiency (often morseso) in the private sector, particularly the larger organisations, as there is in any large public service organisation.

    The mix of free market and social structures in any given country is more a question of historic, cultural and political philosophy coupled with trial and error than any pure evidence based foundation. Privatised healthcare in the US versus socialised medicine in Europe is a case in point.

    Our social structures in the UK, and the political science that underpins them, have been developed over centuries from the English civil war to Beveridge’s post-war welfare state.

    In recent decades we have seen a shift away from the relative cohesiveness of the post-war culture and a significant rise in inequality. Unprecented glabalisation has brought about dramatic shifts in how and where the goods we consume are produced and the kind of jobs that are available to the younger generations.

    Coping with these seismic structural changes in the economy and the British way of life, while maintaining the social cohesion of the United Kingdom, is the challenge for modern liberalism. A challenge that requires an intelligent mix of free market and social policies that are grounded in a cohesive and compelling Liberal vision for the future

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