Tag Archives: Alistair Carmichael

LibLink: Alistair Carmichael – Liberalism is the most effective counter to competing nationalisms

writing in the Scotsman, Alistair Carmichael challenges both the SNP’s view that independence is inevitable because so many young people support it and the older voters will die off and the Conservative view that those young people will become more conservative and risk averse as they grow older.

Both of these views are blinkered – and, frankly, complacent. We should have higher ambitions than some kind of “demographic destiny”. When we are talking about no less than the future of Scotland, our people deserve a little more by way of ideas and ideals, and a little less talk of inevitability.

Partisans on both sides of the constitutional divide are kidding themselves if they think they have a lock on our country’s future. The case for independence has not been made – but the stability of our shared community with the rest of the United Kingdom cannot be treated as an afterthought either. In a liberal democracy, we have to respect one another enough to make the case for the values of interdependence and shared prosperity, year on year and day by day.

He cited the experience of Quebec, where support for independence that once seemed inevitable is now much reduced. How did this happen?

What changed was not the demographic “inevitability” of Quebec, but the democratic debate and exchange of ideas. In the aftermath of the 1995 referendum, Liberal leaders and academics alike took on the issues raised by nationalism and independence and responded.

They challenged nationalist narratives head-on and reinvigorated discussions on the federal make-up of Canada. They changed minds – and made the case for a Canadian society of both diversity and shared common interest

And we have to keep winning the arguments to preserve our liberal values:

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UPDATED: Boris leaves Nicola isolated on vaccine passports

According to the Sunday Times (£), Boris Johnson may be about to ditch his controversial plans for vaccine passports in England to access nightclubs and other large indoor venues.

On Tuesday, the prime minister will announce plans to try to keep Covid under control over the winter. He will say that he has abandoned the proposed compulsory certification scheme, which would have forced venues to check people’s vaccine status.

Johnson tore up the proposals after scientists said vaccinations would be an effective first line of defence against a winter wave of the pandemic. But the move also represents a significant concession to Tory backbench rebels who had complained that enforcing vaccine passports would create a group of second-class citizens.

Liberal Democrats opposed the idea on principle on civil liberties grounds and also on practical grounds. The hospitality industry was raging about having to enforce them, it was going to be nigh on impossible to get one if you had had one vaccination in England and another in Scotland and it wouldn’t have been effective anyway given the spread of the Delta variant amongst double vaccinated people.

Alistair Carmichael described them as a “counterproductive illiberal gimmick” in an article for Politics Home to tie in with his urgent question on the issue:

Would you trust this government – this Prime Minister – with personal data of this sort?

We have never been a “papers please society” and if that is to change then at the very least we must be allowed to debate that change.

Once we cede the principle that it is acceptable for the government to regulate in this way not just where we can go and those with whom we can go then we will be at the top of a steep and slippery slope.

As history repeatedly shows us, when people give more powers to government to regulate their lives, governments are never swift to hand them back.

As an aside, when he asked his Urgent Question in Parliament, he had one of the lines of the year:

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Carmichael accuses Scottish Government of flip-flopping on vaccine passports

Alistair Carmichael has accused the Scottish Government of flip-flopping on vaccine passports for domestic use.

Way back last December, when questioned by Willie Rennie, Nicola Sturgeon sounded pretty sceptical about them. Here’s the excchange:

WR: With the great news about the vaccine, people will want to know how the restrictions will be eased. As a Liberal, I am nervous about talk of immunity passports for getting into shops and restaurants or on to planes. Putting personal information on to large databases means risks to privacy and the possibility of fraud, hacking and theft. The World Health Organization questions the value of immunity passports, and the UK Government has said that it has no plans to introduce them. I want to go further, and I think that we need guidance. We might need to make changes to the law to protect people from its misuse. What is the Scottish Government’s policy on immunity passports?

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Cable causes controversy over Uyghurs comments

Our beloved former leader Sir Vince Cable took to a new right wing tv news channel last night to have a pint with Nigel Farage.

During that interview he basically said that we shouldn’t call the brutality that the Chinese authorities are inflicting on to the Uyghur population genocide. He said:

“The use of the word genocide is not right here. There is terrible human rights abuse in many countries of minorities and China is one of them and they have abused those minorities for sure but calling it genocide is hyping the language.”

I wonder if he would consider that Amnesty International were “hyping the language” in their report last month in which they described China’s treatment of the Uyghurs as “crimes against humanity.” Over 160 pages, they outlined horrific human rights abuses:

Agnes Callanard, Amnesty’s Secretary General said:

Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities face crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations that threaten to erase their religious and cultural identities.

“It should shock the conscience of humanity that massive numbers of people have been subjected to brainwashing, torture and other degrading treatment in internment camps, while millions more live in fear amid a vast surveillance apparatus.”

In February, the BBC reported on allegations of systematic rape in detention camps:

Tursunay Ziawudun, who fled Xinjiang after her release and is now in the US, said women were removed from the cells “every night” and raped by one or more masked Chinese men. She said she was tortured and later gang-raped on three occasions, each time by two or three men.

Earlier this year, the US Government described the treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide in its annual report on global human rights practices:

Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. These crimes were continuing and include: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of China’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.

With that sort of evidence, it’s not hard to see why Vince’s comments have provoked some controversy in the party, even from a senior MP.

Alistair Carmichael said on Twitter that while Vince was a long standing colleague whose views he valued, on this he was wrong:

Other members and party bodies criticised his comment too:

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Focus on Hong Kong

This week’s news included an early “obituary” for Apple Daily, the eponymous newspaper founded by Jimmy Lai, a long-time critic of the Hong Kong and Beijing Governments.

The prediction of closure of the pro-democracy paper by the end of the week followed the arrests of the executives (including the editor-in-chief and the chief executive) and freezing of the assets of the parent company, Next Digital.  All the staff of the publication are expected to resign this week and the last issue may be the June 26 edition.

This news is remarkable to me in 2 respects: 

First, that the charges made against Apple Daily and its executives were based on breaches of the National Securities Legislation (NSL) for alleged “collusion with a foreign country” to endanger national security.  Which foreign country is implicated here?  The US, one assumes, rather than the UK, as there is a narrative that Hong Kong is a mere pawn in the US-China rivalry.  But do HKers who object to the imposition of the NSL have to collude with any external forces?  Or are they simply objecting because they do not like to see the rights and freedoms that they had grown accustomed to being taken away? 

This new crime of collusion with a foreign country or external forces (one of the 4 new crimes introduced by the NSL on 30 June 2020, the others being “secession” “subversion” and “terrorist activity”) should raise alarm bells for us in the UK too. It would suggest that the more vocal the Lib Dems are in criticising China and the NSL, the higher the risk to our members and supporters in Hong Kong.  

Secondly, the authorities have frozen the company’s core assets even before trial or any legal process, as the NSL operates outside of the HK legal system.  As the paper is unable to pay their staff and even their utility bills, they are forced to shut-down.   Here is a clear example of an attack on independent media and critics of the government in the name of national security, and attacking where it hurts, at its finances.   

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Priti Patel failing on legal routes for refugees

As Refugee Week begins, the Liberal Democrats have tabled a motion in Parliament calling on the Government to establish safe and legal routes for refugees to come to the UK.

The motion, tabled by the party’s Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP, calls on the Government to resettle 10,000 refugees each year, as well as a further 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children from elsewhere in Europe over the next 10 years.

It follows Home Office data showing that just 353 refugees were brought to the UK last year, compared with 4,968 the year before.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP said:

The UK has a proud history of providing sanctuary to those in need, but now the Conservative Government is turning its back on refugees.

Priti Patel is threatening to punish refugees who don’t come here by safe and legal routes, but at the same time she is failing to provide those routes.

Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to make an ambitious, ten-year commitment to resettle 10,000 vulnerable refugees a year from Syria and other dangerous conflict areas.

That is the best way to combat people smuggling and human trafficking, and to prevent people from making dangerous attempts to cross the Channel.

The full text of the motion is as follows;

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LibLink: Alistair Carmichael: Independence would do even more damage than Brexit

In an article in the Scotsman, Alistair Carmichael has pointed out the similarities between Scottish independence and Brexit. He said a hard border between Scotland and England would be inevitable:

Just as it is uncontested that ursine mammals defecate in forested areas, it is not a matter of debate that, under SNP plans, an independent Scotland would have a hard border with the rest of the United Kingdom.

He points out the harsh realties of independence:

The reality is that if Scotland separates from the rest of the UK and cuts itself off from its “single market” then there will have to be customs posts and officials, checks and barriers between Scots, our businesses and our biggest trading partners.

It is a simple matter of common sense – and for those lacking in common sense it is also a fact affirmed by experts in international trade and economics, the same experts who voiced the same concerns about Brexit and are in the process of being proven correct.

He compares Sturgeon’s language to that of Farage and Johnson over Brexit:

It speaks volumes that Nicola Sturgeon’s statements around independence and trade barriers mimic almost to the word the arguments of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson – that we would somehow be re-engaging with the wider world by building yet another hard border.

And an SNP candidate’s claims that a hard border would create jobs was no barrier to a campaign visit from Sturgeon:

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Brick thrown at Scottish Lib Dem HQ

So, yesterday morning, this happened:

This would have been awful if it had happened to any political party, but you always feel it more deeply when the building is full of your friends, people you really care about.

You have to wonder what goes through the mind of someone who thinks it is ok to put human beings in danger like that.

Elections are stressful enough for any party’s staff. By this time, they’ve been working ridiculous hours for months, and the idea of work/life balance has completely gone out the window.

They shouldn’t have to worry about missiles coming in the window or any other threat to their safety.

Alistair Carmichael, our campaign chair, said:

This morning a brick was thrown through the window of our HQ in Edinburgh.

“Fortunately no one was hurt but it could have been very different and our staff are understandably shaken by this.

“I’m dismayed that this kind of behaviour seems to have taken root in Scotland. Political campaigning should be about the clash of ideas, not about acts of violence.

“I would like to thank Police Scotland for their work in detaining a suspect. I also want to thank all our party staff who have been affected by this incident but who continue to give their all in delivering our campaign in this election.”

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21 March 2021 – the day’s press releases (part 2)

  • Reverse “deadly” aid cuts, say Liberal Democrats
  • Liberal Democrats call for greater measures to increase accessibility in education
  • Government must commit to 10k refugees a year, Liberal Democrats say

Reverse “deadly” aid cuts, say Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have called on the UK Government to reverse “unprincipled, unjustified and downright deadly” cuts to international aid.

The motion passed at its Spring Conference reaffirmed the Party’s commitment to the UK contributing 0.7% of GNI on Official Development Assistance and slammed the merging of the Department for International Development with the Foreign Office.

It also demanded the UK Government play a ‘proactive role in debt forgiveness and relief initiatives’ for developing countries struggling with the economic and health impact of Coronavirus.

Speaking after the motion was approved, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and International Development Layla Moran said:

The UK’s global reputation is disappearing fast. The decision to cut aid to the world’s poorest is not only wrong but short-sighted and strategically incompetent. The Conservatives are putting nukes before prosperity.

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21 March 2021 – the day’s press releases (part 1)

  • A real-terms pay cut is an insult to NHS workers
  • Patel must drop proposals to restrict right to protest
  • Liberal Democrats call for Autism support

A real-terms pay cut is an insult to NHS workers

Liberal Democrats have pressed the Government to give NHS workers a proper pay rise during an emergency motion passed at the party’s Spring Conference.

Munira Wilson MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Health, Social Care and Wellbeing, welcomed the motion being passed:

A real-terms pay cut is an insult to all the NHS workers who have gone above and beyond during this time of national crisis.

This Government seems obsessed with wasting millions of pounds on vanity projects yet can’t find a penny more to give nurses a proper pay rise. What kind of Prime Minister prioritises a new multi-million pound press conference room and expensive flat renovation at the expense of giving nurses a pay rise?

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What is even more fun than a raffle?

It is well known that Lib Dems like few things better than a good raffle. Somewhere back in the mists of time – even before the bit about no one being enslaved by ignorance or conformity – it must have been written, “wheresoever two or three are gathered together they shall tear up strips of cloakroom tickets and contest the ownership of cheap wine and a box of Milk Tray.

Forgive me then, if I offer a heretic’s view. There is one thing I like even better than a raffle and it is an auction. I suspect I am not alone. Many times I have seen my former MP colleague, Don Foster, auction a five pound note at Lib Dem dinners and watched as bids reached three figures after a bout of frenzied bidding.

It is, therefore, in the spirit of public service that Scottish Liberal Democrats have brought to you an online auction to add a few extra quid to the coffers ahead of elections to the Scottish Parliament in May. The site is

https://scottishlibdems.aucsys.com

Head over there now and get bidding.

You may be able to bag yourself some great holiday accommodation for that post-lockdown break (or next year if that suits better);

You can pick up some blue chip political memorabilia – books, pictures, a framed Private Eye cover signed by Sir Vince Cable or a campaign Tee Shirt from Jon Ossoff winning campaign in Georgia that finally handed control of the US Senate to the Democrats;

You can bid to spend time with some of our party’s stars – tea for two with Nick Clegg or Sarah Olney, lunch with Ed Davey, a guided walk up the Coniston Old Man with Tim Farron or a lesson in Palestinian Cookery with Layla Moran.

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Lib Dems tell Cressida Dick to resign

I have been a bit worried of late that the Lib Dems, at least in England, have been a bit bland and have been pulling the punches they should have landed.

Well, credit where it’s due. After the utterly disgraceful scenes on Clapham Common tonight, Alistair Carmichael, Luisa Porritt and Ed Davey have written to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to tell her she should resign.

Here is their letter:

Dear Commissioner,

The scenes this evening of the policing of the Clapham Common vigil in memory of Sarah Everard are utterly disgraceful and shame the Metropolitan Police.

The vigil this evening was a peaceful one brought together in the most horrific of circumstances.

Across the country, countless women have told their own painful stories of harassment and abuse. Your officers should have been standing in solidarity with those on Clapham Common tonight not being ordered to disrupt this display of grief and peaceful protest.

This was a complete abject tactical and moral failure on the part of the Police.

We therefore call on you to consider your leadership of the service and whether you can continue to have the confidence of the millions of women in London that you have a duty to safeguard and protect.

Yours sincerely ,

Ed Davey MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Luisa Porritt, Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London

Alistair Carmichael MP, Spokesperson for Home Affairs

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Munira Wilson: Government has duty to facilitate safe protest

I’m feeling frustrated, to be honest, that Reclaim these Streets vigils over the country have been cancelled after Police made clear to organisers that they could be hit with heavy fines. The events have now mostly been moved online and I’ll be taking part at 6pm tonight, on my doorstep with a candle to remember Sarah Everard and the other women killed by men and to assert the right of women and girls to go about their business in safety – and, crucially, without the fear that it is clear we all experience.

Now I’m about as Covid-cautious as you could possibly get. I’ve barely been out in a year. But I’m also a liberal and my instinctive reaction is that our right to protest is a fundamental civil liberties. In these times, you need to be responsible and protest in a Covid secure way, but the right to stand up and be counted for a cause you believe in is vital.

In recent days, several Liberal Democrats have been talking more about civil liberties.

I’m glad to see that Munira Wilson, our MP for Twickenham and health spokesperson, has made some robust comments on the vigil bans:

Women and girls should be able to walk down our streets safely and without fear. I completely understand why people feel moved to attend vigils or protest about this. It is deeply disappointing that the Metropolitan Police have refused to help make it happen.
“No one wants to see crowds of people at a time when social distancing is so important to save lives. But Reclaim These Streets is committed to organising Covid-safe vigils and the High Court made it clear that such an event can be lawful.
“The Government has a duty to facilitate safe protests. The way the Government has curtailed protest rights and is trying to do so even after we emerge from the pandemic is deeply concerning. Liberal Democrats will always defend the right to protest.”
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Alistair Carmichael MP writes…Electoral reform can happen, but it will take concerted action

When I joined the Liberal Party in the 1980s, I was optimistic that the UK would replace its unrepresentative voting system in the not too distant future. Fast forward to 2021 and we remain stuck with First Past the Post and, at first glance, little reason for optimism.

The current set-up has never been ideal for the UK or indeed any modern democratic society. First Past the Post results in governments elected by a minority of voters, with policies supported by a minority of the electorate being imposed on the majority. This leaves far too many people feeling excluded and unrepresented. With a distorted link between voters and MPs, how can the UK call itself a representative democracy>

The answer, as we know, is Proportional Representation (PR). Replacing First Past the Post with a fair alternative will make our democracy truly representative. Pluralism is a key tenet of democracy. As a liberal and a democrat, I recognise the need for a voting system that allows multi-party politics to show itself rather than be hidden by the illusion of First Past the Post. Proportional Representation provides a framework for multi-party politics to flourish and voters to be represented.

We have all heard the tiresome arguments against PR, all the more worn-out considering that the UK is now the only democracy in Europe to use the outdated First Past the Post system for its main elections. The myth that reform would end the constituency link is nonsensical, considering the range of systems that can preserve and even strengthen it by improving voter choice both at the ballot box and in between elections. Those resistant to change also argue that a switch to PR would be a risky, unnecessary experiment. Considering that Proportional Representation is used in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and is well established across Europe, this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

All major opposition parties apart from Labour support Proportional Representation for UK-wide elections and groups like Make Votes Matter are pushing the debate in the right direction. The establishment of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Electoral Reform is the latest boost in the campaign, ensuring a strong coordinated voice in parliament to champion the need for change.

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Two ways the Liberal Democrats stood up for people who have to quarantine in hotels

This time tomorrow, anyone arriving into

the UK from certain countries, and from any country into Scotland, will have to undergo ten days of mandatory quarantine in a hotel, an experience for which they will be charged £1,750.

I get that these measures are necessary. We do need to make sure that we limit the spread of new variants of Covid-19.

My issue, to be honest, is that I don’t think we should be charging for this if we think it is necessary to save lives. It’s arguable that it should have been done months ago. Typically both governments are acting too late and are being less than competent about the details of the implementation.

And we most especially shouldn’t be charging people who can’t afford it. If you are in a minimum wage job and a parent or a sibling dies or becomes seriously ill abroad, you are going to want to, in some cases need to, be with your family, to look after them. You should not be prevented from doing so because you can’t afford the cost of the quarantine.

The Scottish Government’s transport minister Michael Matheson announced on Tuesday that there would be a welfare fund to help people who couldn’t afford the cost of this quarantine.

But with less than 24 hours to go, we have scant details of what form this will take, how people will apply for it and how much they will get. Will it meet the whole cost or not?

Willie Rennie called on the Scottish Government to get its act together on this:

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Treat seekers of sanctuary with dignity – close Napier and Penally now

Just when you think you can’t get any more ashamed of the Home Office, they do something that takes your breath away.

Since last September, they have been effectively detaining seekers of sanctuary in two former military barracks in conditions which are less than humane. The Napier site in Kent and the Penally site at Tenby in Wales have housed accommodated hundreds of people in stark conditions. The detainees are supposed to be free to come and go but this does not seem to be how it operates in practice.

At a time when we are being told to socially distance and not mix indoors with other households at all, vulnerable refugees are put into dormitory accommodation. No wonder there have been outbreaks of Covid.

This week Jack Shenker described the harsh reality of their situation in an article in the Guardian:

From the moment the Home Office announced last year that it had struck a deal with the Ministry of Defence to repurpose Napier and another disused military site in Penally, south Wales, for this purpose, an extraordinary array of experts in the field – from doctors to lawyers to migrant support workers – have warned against the idea. Their fear was that following long journeys which had already left people physically and mentally vulnerable, and which were often precipitated by acts of state brutality, a martial environment of high walls and watchtowers was a deeply inappropriate form of accommodation for those seeking asylum, and wouldn’t provide them with the medical support and other basic services needed.

Even more pressingly, concerns were raised about the health implications of herding large numbers of people together during a deadly pandemic. At Napier, meals are served in a communal canteen and up to 28 people share a single sleeping area and two bathrooms, making social distancing impossible. For months, residents – who were theoretically free to come and go during the day, albeit at the sentries’ whim – have been trying to sound the alarm over the deteriorating situation inside: cold and cramped conditions, rising tensions and multiple suicide attempts.

It is of particular concern that volunteers trying to help the detainees have been made to sign confidentiality agreements to stop them revealing conditions at the camps.

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Alistair Carmichael: An Immortal Memory for Lockdown

Today is the birthday of Scotland’s National bard, Robert Burns. The traditional suppers to honour his memory have had to go online for obvious reasons. The Edinburgh South Lib Dems’ Burns Supper has been an essential part of my social calendar for years where I’ve been on the Naughty Table. It was a little different this year, eating my haggis in a Zoom breakout room with my fellow naughty friends.

Alistair Carmichael gave the Immortal Memory and had a pitch perfect look at how Burns might have coped with lockdown. He has kindly given us permission to reproduce it:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your invitation to be here with you for this slightly unusual Burns Supper in these exceptionally unusual times.

I hope that you enjoyed your haggis neeps and tatties as much as I enjoyed my artisan-crafted sourdough Haggis Pizza here in Orkney. I figure that if you are going to do things differently then you might as well go the whole hog.

Normally when called upon to propose an immortal memory at a Burns Supper I pose the question, what is it that is so special about Robert Burns and his works that people feel compelled some two and a quarter centuries after his death to gather together to honour his memory.

I suppose that the question remains a good one, given the extraordinary lengths that we are going to this evening to do exactly that but tonight I want to take a slightly different approach. I do so for a variety of reasons but principally because I have been doing that immortal memory for over twenty years now and I suspect most of you will have heard it once at least.

So,this evening instead I want to take a few minutes to consider what Burns might have made of life under lockdown.

I suppose fundamentally Burns was a practical man – a farmer from a farming family – so would have been used to getting on with things and making the best of them.

It should also be remembered that he also spent time working as an excise man so despite his romantic nature – as seen through both his life and his works – he had a side to his character that would have wanted to respect the rules.

I cannot imagine that Burns would have had much sympathy with the anti-mask brigade. Yes, he was a man who would rail against authority and was believed to have some sympathy with the revolutionaries in France but, even so, I suspect that he would have somehow managed to live with a measure that was for he common good.

Burns, I think, like the rest of us would have embraced Zoom in the early days but I fear he would also have tired of it pretty quickly.

Consider his works and you see two themes emerge – Burns as a man who loved nature and a man who was, above all else, a social animal.

As a farmer he would, of course, have been allowed to carry on his work outdoors so for his great works describing nature – his poems To a Mouse or To a Mountain Daisy the inspiration would still have been available.

In both cases Burns draws lessons for mankind from our relationship with nature. As he puts it in To a Mouse – and, for the benefit of our younger colleagues, let me make clear that when he wrote To a Mouse, Burns was not address a piece of computer hardware.

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
An’ fellow-mortal!”

Both poems take a melancholy turn in their final stanzas

To the Mountain Daisy

Ev’n thou who mourn’st the Daisy’s fate,
That fate is thine—no distant date;
Stern Ruin’s ploughshare drives elate,
Full on thy bloom,
Till crush’d beneath the furrow’s weight

Shall be thy doom.

And in

To a Mouse

Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I cannot see,
I guess an’ fear!

I doubt that with uplifting lines like that he would have got the gig to do COVID briefings alongside either Boris or Nicola.

Although he was writing two centuries before Brexit I defy anyone to find a better summary of how that is turning out than the lines in To a Mouse when he wrote

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

If you want to know how that feels then ask anyone who has tried exporting fish since the turn of the year.

But where I think Burns may have struggled more than most would be the loss of social interaction. His love of life – his enthusiasm for a good party and for dalliance with the fairer sex inspired and characterises some of his finest works.

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Alistair Carmichael sets out a route map back to the EU

There has been a lot of talk about the party’s future approach to the EU. In a speech to Liberal Democrats in Cambridgeshire this week, Alistair Carmichael MP set out a possible route map back to full EU membership for the UK and has given us permission to reproduce his remarks.

For the last quarter century Britain’s relationship with her European neighbours has never been far from the centre of our political debate.

For the last five years it has been absolutely dominant.

Brexit may now have happened but few would be naïve enough to think that would be the end of the story.

Less than a month after Boris Johnson signed his trade and cooperation deal with the European Union the flaws and gaps are already apparent.

Our fishermen have woken up to the fact that they were used by Johnson, Farage, Gove et al.

Our young people are coming to terms with the loss of the Erasmus Programme and the opportunities that it brought.

Our exporters are finding that before they can take advantage of the tariff-free access of which the Prime Minister is so proud, they must first get past the Tory red tape manufactured in Whitehall on this side of the channel.

Clearly our relationship with Europe will remain with us as a politcal issue for years if not decades to come.

For us as a party that is a challenge and an opportunity.

This is a point where we have to take stock and go back to our liberal first principles – free trade, enterprise, internationalism.

Since Jo Grimond, my predecessor but one as MP for Orkney and Shetland, took up the reins as leader of the Liberal Party we have been consistent in our view that the United Kingdom’s best interests have best been served by being a member of what was then the European Communities or European Union as it is today.

We have not always got it right. Too often our response to an unrelenting barrage of abuse and misinformation by a right-wing press was to be drawn into defending the institutions of the EU and to look, as a consequence, like uncritical fans.

I confess I never found that to be an attractive or even a particularly liberal approach.

That was why in my early years in Parliament I was one of a handful of Lib Dem MPs who wanted to see political reform before we joined the Euro. I think that time has vindicated that judgement.

It was also why I resigned from Nick Clegg’s front bench team in order to vote for the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty that we had promised in our manifesto in 2005.

I remember journalists describing me then as that most unusual animal – the Lib Dem Eurosceptic.

I won’t deny the “most unusual” bit but to the rest my response then, as now, was that as a liberal I would always be sceptical about the workings of government. The need to reform the way we govern ourselves in the UK was one of the main issues that motivated me to join the Liberal Party in 1980 as a fourteen year old schoolboy.

While we have made some progress in decentralising power away from Whitehall in the creation of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senned and Northern Ireland Assembly there remains much still to do.

The House of Lords remains stubbornly resistant to reform;

Our electoral system remains obscenely unrepresentative in the governments that it provides;

Local Government has been starved of funds and shorn of power piece by piece for decades.

At no point, however, have my frustrations with the institutions power government and politics dimmed my belief in the fundamental principles that underpin them – respect for democracy and the rule of law.

I mention that now because – as we saw most graphically in Washington DC a few weeks ago – these truths that were once regarded as being so obvious and universally held that it was trite to mention them – are under attack by a movement of nationalist populism as never before.

When the very idea of liberal democracy is under attack then the need for Liberal Democrats is greater than ever.

When historians come to write the story of the first two decades of the twenty-first century that is how I believe (and hope) that the debate about Britain’s relationship with Europe will be seen.

Yes, we have suffered a major set-back in that battle between those who believe that reform is possible and those who will tell you that it will never happen.

Our party has always argued for Scotland to have her own parliament within a federal United Kingdom. Not because of any nationalist sentiment but because we believe that produces better government.

Similarly we have always believed that the United Kingdom, while maintaining its own parliament and institutions should be part of the European Union. There again we should be guided by what produces better outcomes rather than the colours of a flag.

Nothing has changed in that regard. Our Federal Party conference confirmed as much as recently as last September when we passed a motion in these terms “Conference resolves to support a longer terms objective of UK membership of the EU at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.”

That remains the position. The Liberal Democrats are a party that wants to see the U.K. eventually rejoin the EU.

Of course, we should make it equally and emphatically clear that this is not something that we seek immediately. It is probably at best a medium-term objective. Quite apart from healing the divisions that have blighted our politics and communities since 2016 any party in government must be focused on rebuilding our economy post-COVID. Anything else would be unforgiveable.

Even a medium-term objective, however, must demand more than warm words.

This is a time when we as a party need to make it clear that we not only want to see the United Kingdom return to full membership of the European Union but that we have a clear and credible route map for getting there.

Liberal Democrats have always been a party where policy is set by our members, and rightly so. Just as we set ourselves that goal of EU membership at last year’s conference I would like us all to play our part in designing the route map to get us there. Full EU membership may be a medium-term objective but the problems caused by being on the outside are real and acute and immediate.

They need and deserve more than warm words about close cooperation.

So my opening bid in that debate is this.

I would like to see our party argue for the United Kingdom to rejoin the European Free Trade Association and to do so as soon as possible. We were, after all, founding members in 1960.

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LibLink: Alistair Carmichael Scotland’s fishermen have been used by opportunists

In a hard-hitting and justifiably furious article in the Sunday Herald, Alistair Carmichael highlights the betrayal of those working in the seafood industry whose livelihood has been ruined by Brexit enhnced by the incompetence of UK Government ministers.

He sets out what is wrong with the deal:

Having made a great pantomime of holding out to get the best deal for fishermen, Johnson folded. Instead we found a deal that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation described this week as “desperately poor” and “the worst of both worlds”.

On close scrutiny the deal leaves our fishermen able to catch fewer fish in most key species, “wins” us shoals of “paper fish” (which we have no economic interest in catching) and leaves us locked into a deal that we barely control and will only be able to leave in 2026 if we are prepared to pay a heavy political and economic price.

It’s already having a devastating impact:

Traditionally, the first week of the new year is a bumper one for exports before trade quietens down for a couple of months.

This year, red-faced Scottish traders were unable to meet their orders as the lorries carrying their slowly deteriorating stock sat idling in Larkhall – unable to penetrate the new fog of bureaucracy in Johnson’s deal.

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Nationalism even extends to fish now, apparently

Our Parliament has a reputation as being one of the oldest and best in the world. Every time I walk through the Palace of Westminster, I am reminded of who has walked these same corridors.

Shirley Wiliams, Barbara Castle, William Wilberforce talking about abolishing slavery, Lloyd George bringing forward the People’s Budget, Aneurin Bevan bringing in the legislation that set up the NHS.

All these great things, over centuries.

In 200 years time, I doubt they’ll be talking about the Day the Fish Smiled.

It was Business Questions. The SNP’s Tommy Sheppard raised the crisis in our fishing industry caused by the Government. But of course, he couldn’t just leave it there. He had to use it as a proxy to ask to have a Commons debate on Scottish independence. I mean, the industry is on its knees. One of its key players, Loch Fyne, is talking about only being able to last another week. And all because the Government first of all pursued Brexit, did so in such a cack-handed manner that the decisions were only made about how the seafood industry would operate on Christmas bloody Eve with a week to go and then didn’t get its finger out to produce the relevant paperwork. This level of incompetence is pretty much standard practice for this lot.

It’s infuriating that the SNP constantly let the Tories off the hook by turning the question to independence. Keep it on the subject. Make them own the mess that they have made. Nope.

So what should have been an exchange on a crisis of the Tories’ making ended like this.

The fishing issue was covered a moment ago by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have tuned into that debate, rather than bringing it up at business questions, but the Government are tackling this issue and dealing with it as quickly as possible. The key is that we have our fish back: they are now British fish, and they are better and happier fish for it.

Not exactly edifying, is it?

Earlier, the grown-ups were present. Our Alistair Carmichael  took the Government’s actions to pieces in an urgent question, laying bare the damage that they had done.

Boris Johnson had hinted at compensation yesterday, and his ministers have since spent their time trying to row back from that.

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Alistair Carmichael’s Commons First “President-Elect Biden”

Alistair Carmichael had a Commons first today. He was the first person in the UK Parliament to refer to President-Elect Biden.

He was presenting his Bill to tackle plastic pollution. When Speaker Dame Rosie Winterton asked him when it would be debated, he said “Nine days after President-Elect Biden’s inauguration.”

If he has tempted fate, he will be in massive amounts of trouble…

So what is his bill about?

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23-25 October 2020 – the long weekend’s press releases

  • Liberal Democrats push for expansion of Hong Kong citizenship offer
  • PM’s failure to listen to scientists has made family Christmas less likely
  • Tories must “wake up to reality” and do the right thing on Free School Meals

Liberal Democrats push for expansion of Hong Kong citizenship offer

A Liberal Democrat Bill to grant all Hong Kong Citizens a pathway to UK citizenship and “strengthen the UK’s historic bond with the people of Hong Kong” is scheduled to have its Second Reading debate in the House of Commons today.

The Bill, tabled by Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, Chair of the APPG on Hong Kong and Patron of Hong Kong Watch, would create a route to UK citizenship for all Hong Kongers.

By expanding British National Overseas (BNO) status to all Hong Kongers, the Bill goes well beyond the Conservative Government’s current citizenship commitments, which extend only to specific groups currently eligible to claim BNO status.

The Liberal Democrats have condemned the Home Office’s “deceptive” claim that the cost of a five-year visa for Hong Kongers will be just £250, as the true figure will be well over £3000 once the Immigration Health Surcharge is taken into account.

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20 October 2020 – the overnight press releases

  • Liberal Democrats: Government inaction failing survivors of sexual violence
  • Reversing Liberal Democrat Immigration Bill amendments risks “new Windrush-style Scandal”

Liberal Democrats: Government inaction failing survivors of sexual violence

Responding to the Victims Commissioner’s report on rape survivors and the criminal justice system, Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said:

Survivors deserve justice. They must be properly supported to come forward and be listened to when they do.

However, as this report shows, far too many survivors are put off reporting the crime for fear of being disbelieved, and far too many who do come forward find the whole process traumatic. Government inaction is failing survivors of sexual violence and allowing too many criminals to walk free.

It is incomprehensible that the Government’s review of rape cases is doing so little to engage with survivors – especially given the clear evidence that the system simply isn’t working for them.

Ministers must listen to survivors, complete the review as soon as possible, and urgently make improvements across the whole justice system. Survivors mustn’t be left waiting any longer for the justice they need.

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Our party must do more to tackle the digital divide

Whether it’s canvassing apps like MiniVAN or our fully-fledged – and fully functioning – virtual conference, Liberal Democrats have never shied away from digital innovation. Our current platform champions the roll-out of technologies like gigabit broadband and 5G, whilst also highlighting the frustrations of those in rural areas with limited access. By no means are we wrong to support these policies.

However, they do little to help those who don’t have the digital skills necessary to make the most of the internet. And what good is gigabit to you if you can’t even afford basic broadband? There are millions of people who are ‘digitally excluded’ in this country, and we need to do more to support them.

According to Lloyds, there are 9 million people in the UK who are unable to use the internet independently, and millions more who only use the internet for limited purposes, like social media. Meanwhile, roughly 23% of children in the poorest families do not have access to a desktop, laptop, or tablet. This had drastic impacts on children’s learning throughout lockdown and will likely have long-lasting consequences.

I was encouraged to hear Alistair Carmichael raising this very issue in Parliament on Monday. Children’s access to technology is paramount to ensure they aren’t left behind. Even when schools are open, access to tech at home helps children learn new skills and excel in the classroom.

Posted in News | Also tagged | 16 Comments

15 October 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Liberal Democrats: London lockdown further evidence Govt have lost control
  • Liberal Democrats vote against “dangerous” Government crimes Bill

Liberal Democrats: London lockdown further evidence Govt have lost control

Responding to reports that London will face Tier 2 Covid restrictions from Saturday, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said:

The Government have completely lost control of coronavirus across vast swathes of the country, and the situation in London is looking very difficult.

In the north of England, and now in London, the sacrifices of millions of people have been squandered by this Government. Because of Boris Johnson’s failure to ensure our test, trace and isolate system worked, millions of people will have to make those sacrifices again.

We need to understand the science behind the tier system immediately, otherwise there will be fears that this fresh wave of restrictions will do very little to help stop the spread of the virus. We need a circuit-breaker introduced now, on the condition that government overhaul the failing test and trace system – otherwise restrictions will need to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

The government must do much more to protect jobs and livelihoods and keep people safe.

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8-9 October 2020 – yesterday and today’s press releases

  • Liberal Democrats: Government must grant EU citizens proof of settled status
  • Slow economic growth reinforces need for furlough extension
  • Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group at risk of collapse shows need for furlough extension
  • Liberal Democrats: Sunak’s offer does not go far enough

Liberal Democrats: Government must grant EU citizens proof of settled status

The Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to grant EU citizens the automatic right to stay in the UK, with the physical proof they need, as new Home Office figures reveal thousands are being refused and 1.8 million have not been granted the right to stay permanently.

The latest EU Settlement Scheme statistics, which were published this morning, revealed 16,600 people have been refused Settled Status – including 5,700 in September alone. They also revealed that 1.6 million have only been granted temporary ‘Pre-Settled Status’ and 180,000 are still waiting for a decision.

On Monday, the House of Lords passed a Liberal Democrat amendment to the Government’s Immigration Bill which would require the Government to provide EU citizens with physical proof of their Settled Status. The party is urging Conservative MPs not to overturn that amendment when the Bill returns to the Commons.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said:

EU citizens in the UK – our families and friends – have been living under a cloud of uncertainty for far too long. They must have the right to stay.

Boris Johnson and the Conservatives promised to automatically guarantee the rights of EU citizens to stay, but they have broken that promise, as they have with so many others.

This Government’s botched scheme is anything but automatic and, without physical proof of their rights, EU citizens will be at the mercy of the Conservatives’ Hostile Environment.

To prevent a new Windrush-style scandal, Liberal Democrats are fighting for EU citizens to be given the automatic right to stay in the UK, with the physical proof they need.

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28 September 2020 – Conference day 4 press releases

  • Liberal Democrats condemn Tories’ attacks on rule of law
  • Government must prepare for international ‘lifeboat’ system for Hong Kongers, Liberal Democrats warn

Liberal Democrats condemn Tories’ attacks on rule of law

In a policy motion passed this evening at the Liberal Democrats’ Autumn Conference, the Party has condemned “Dominic Cummings’ long history of attacking the rule of law”.

The motion stated “the rule of law is fundamental to our society”, calling for the Government to drop plans “to restrict judicial review, weaken the Human Rights Act or undermine the rule of law in any way”.

Following the motion being passed, Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said:

This Conservative Government have revealed time and again their disregard for the rule of law. From their recent determination to flout it with the Internal Market Bill, to their attacks on lawyers as ‘activists’ or judges when they disagree with their rulings, it is clear that part of Johnson’s and Cummings’ strategy is to trample on our rights to achieve their aims.

When the Government rides roughshod over people’s rights, the law is the vehicle for justice. However, the Government’s plans to rip up the Human Rights Act and restrict judicial review gives Ministers the ability to break the law with impunity.

Liberal Democrats are clear – we will always fight tooth and nail to defend individuals’ abilities to challenge the Government in court and uphold their rights. It is more important than ever that we oppose these Trump-like tactics to erode our democracy, allowing Ministers to become above the law.

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1 October 2020 – today’s press releases

  • PM mistaken in thinking he can break the law without consequence
  • Tories’ nasty plans for asylum seekers not the answer

PM mistaken in thinking he can break the law without consequence

Responding to reports that the European Commission has launched legal action against the UK, following the UK Government’s refusal to remove sections from the Internal Market Bill, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

Contrary to the belief of senior Government figures and their families, breaking the law has consequences. It beggars belief that Boris Johnson and his Government seem to think that not only are they above the law, but they can get off scot-free when breaking it.

How can Ministers seriously condemn other countries, like Russia and China, for failing to respect international treaties if they don’t do the same when it comes to the Withdrawal Agreement?

No one should be surprised that the UK will face legal action if Boris Johnson pushes ahead with the Internal Market Bill. However, there is still time to ditch the Bill and prevent it from becoming law. We must do what we can to salvage our international reputation.

Posted in News and Press releases | Also tagged , and | 9 Comments

8 September 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Latest resignation shows damaging consequences of PM’s Brexit approach
  • Liberal Democrats condemn Government for “destroying” UK reputation on the world stage

Latest resignation shows damaging consequences of PM’s Brexit approach

Responding to news that Sir Jonathan Jones, head of the UK Government’s legal department, has resigned following the Government’s decision to introduce legislation which would undermine key aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

The head of the Government’s legal department quitting over Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit should signal how serious a situation this is.

For Johnson to think it is acceptable to row back on international agreements

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Ed Davey announces key appointments on Twitter

Ed Davey has started to make his announcements of his shadow cabinet on Twitter.

Layla Moran made a huge impression during the leadership campaign and has been rewarded with a promotion to Foreign Affairs Spokesperson. https://twitter.com/LaylaMoran/status/1300410349913608194?s=20

I can see an education dimension to this as well in terms of supporting education, especially for women and girls, around the world.

Christine Jardine takes up her third major office of state in three years. She covered Jo Swinson’s maternity leave at Foreign Affairs in 2018 and has been Home Affairs spokesperson for the last year. She is now the first woman to become Treasury spokesperson. As a former journalist, she will see this role very much in terms of stories and not numbers and will be able to articulate our liberal vision for a society that is fairer and values wellbeing.

And taking on Christine’s old portfolio at Home Affairs, Alistair Carmichael emerges from his Whiply shadows. It’s not clear if he will still be Chief Whip as well. We’ll have to wait and see.

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