Tag Archives: Scotland

Scotland results open thread

The current state of play in Scotland is that the SNP is well ahead and will be forming the next government. We don’t know yet whether they will get an overall majority on their own or will need to rely on the Greens for support.

The Lib Dems ended last night on 4 constituency MSPs, with absolutely stonking victories by Willie Rennie and Alex Cole-Hamilton. Alex got the highest ever vote of any MSP in the history of the Scottish Parliament, a record that Willie had previously held for a few minutes yesterday afternoon.

These are huge personal votes of confidence in our amazing MSPs.

Today we learn if we are going to get any list seats. We need 5 MSPs to be counted as a parliamentary group. We made it by the skin of our teeth last time. It’s going to be a stressful day.  We’ll keep you updated but there is unlikely to be any news until much later in the day – late afternoon, early evening.

I will be spending the day at my count in Almond Valley. We got 2.9% in 2016, so actually keeping my deposit would be a major achievement. We just missed out on that yesterday in the other West Lothian seat in Linlithgow where we went up 1.1% to 4.5%.

See you later with some more news…

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Parties adopt Kennedy Commitment to disagree well with open and respectful debate

Earlier today I  joined Willie Rennie in calling on all parties in Scotland to commit to a zero-tolerance approach to abuse and to lead a respectful campaign.

In the course of the Scottish campaign to date a brick has been thrown at Scottish Liberal Democrat HQ and the new Labour Leader Anas Sarwar has been racially abused outside Holyrood.

It just isn’t how politics should be done.

It was also worryingly reminiscent of an attitude in the 2015 campaign which resulted in the unacceptable campaign of intimidation against Charles Kennedy. And if the reaction to BBC Alba’s recent documentary about Charles’ life showed me anything, it was that this sort of behaviour is as unpopular now as it was then.

We must never go back to those old divisions.

With social media playing an increasingly prominent role in elections, politicians can show they have learned the lessons of the past and send a clear message of the value we hold in open, honest and respectful debate.

Our democracy is at its best when it is open, inclusive and free from intimidation or abuse. That is what Charles believed. He understood the importance of disagreeing well with political opponents. So the Kennedy Commitments put these values into practice:

Publicly challenge and denounce derogatory, untrue, or hateful messages on social media.
To disagree well and treat my political opponents, journalists and the public with respect.
Run an honest campaign that does not permit character defamation, libel, or slander against political opponents.

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Carmichael: Alba leaflets can’t fit Salmond’s ego

Arguing that Scotland deserves better than to spend the next five years arguing over independence, Alistair Carmichael notes that Alex Salmond does not appear on Alba Party leaflets. Apparently it is all down to the size of Salmond’s ego. For the record, Newsmoggie is only interested in the size of the salmon in the River Tay.

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Rennie: Tackle drug addiction with compassion and treatment, not imprisonment

Liberal Democrats care about people being able to fulfil their potential and getting the care and support they need to recover from illness and addiction. That’s why our Scottish manifesto highlights the need to take a public health approach to addiction. Scotland has the highest drug deaths rate in Europe, something which became very real to a friend of mine recently when her son died after taking street valium. Typically, she thought of others before herself and allowed the BBC to film his funeral.

Willie Rennie said today that the next Scottish Government will only end the drug deaths crisis through compassion and health treatment, not prosecution, as he revealed new figures showing 605 people convicted of possession without intent to supply being sent to prison.

Meanwhile, only 108 people received a Drug Treatment and Testing Order during the same three year period (2016/17 to 2018/19).

1264 people died of drug related causes in 2019. Each of them were individuals with talents and skills. Each of them loved and had people loving them. Pretty much 3 people a day lose their lives and each one of them, with the right intervention, could still be alive today.

So the Scottish Liberal Democrats, looking to the best evidence, has the following measures to tackle the harm that drug addiction causes to people and communities that are focused on help and support. The party will:

  • Reduce the misery of drug abuse with compassion and health treatment rather than prosecution.
  • Take radical steps with the prosecution authorities and the Lord Advocate to help establish heroin assisted treatment and safe consumption spaces.
  • Establish new specialist Family Drug and Alcohol Commissions to help provide wraparound services and to take a holistic approach to those reported for drug offences, learning from best international practice such as that in Portugal.
  • Divert people caught in possession of drugs for personal use into education, treatment and recovery, ceasing imprisonment in these circumstances.
  • Protect and enhance drug and alcohol partnership budgets, and adopt the principle that individuals and families shouldn’t have to pay for the care and treatment of those at risk of death from drugs or alcohol.
  • Use emergency housing funding to help people keep their homes and tenancies while they undergo treatment and rehabilitation.

Willie Rennie said:

The SNPs failure was more than just a political failure, it was a failure that cost the lives of hundreds of people.

Not only did the SNP fail to take the necessary action to save lives, they made it worse by cutting the alcohol and drug partnership budgets, surrendering services and expertise.

It was admitted in 2017 that essential drug reforms weren’t pursued because it wasn’t seen as a vote winner. This is political negligence of the highest order.

Scottish Liberal Democrats will put recovery first. We will reduce the misery of drug abuse with compassion and health treatment rather than prosecution. After years of being told no, Scottish Liberal Democrats have just won cross-party agreement for that important principle.

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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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Rennie marks 10,000 deaths of people with Covid-19 in Scotland

Responding to Scotland having passed 10,000 deaths from covid-19, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said:

“When I think of 10,000 deaths, I think of 10,000 broken families and friends. I think of the pain and the loss. 

“For their sake we must learn the lessons of what went right and what went wrong.   

“With one of the highest numbers of people dead in Europe, Scotland has a special responsibility to conduct an early public inquiry. That inquiry must look at the lack of testing for new care home residents, the lack of preparation in the summer for

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Willie Rennie highlights Lib Dem plans for health, education and climate change in first major campaign interview

It’s been a good start to the Scottish Liberal Democrats election campaign with our first photo opportunity getting on the front pages of the two main Scottish broadsheets:

Willie was out and about early for his morning run today. He posted it on Twitter at 6:30 when it was still dark due to the clocks going forward:

He had to be up so early because he Willie had a great first interview of the campaign on the Sunday Show. He always sounds so joyful and optimistic and got across our main talking points while avoiding the usual traps. He contrasted the SNP and Conservatives constant arguing over independence, which would continue into the next Parliament with our approach to get our health and education services.

Here are the highlights:

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Carmichael: Alex Salmond is not the answer to Scotland’s future

Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has announced he will lead the pro-impendence Alba party, which was registered just four months ago. He told a press conference today: “We expect to field a minimum of four candidates in each regional list and we’re hoping to elect Alba MSPs from every area of Scotland.”

Scottish Lib Dem leaders responded: “There are no questions about Scotland’s future to which Alex Salmond is the answer.”

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Why have there been no women of colour in Holyrood?

The Scottish Parliament is 22 years old this year, but it hasn’t yet had a woman MSP of colour.

This failure was explored by a Disclosure Scotland programme broadcast last night. In it women of colour from all parties talked about the barriers they faced in getting selected and elected.

The Liberal Democrat representative was the brilliant Aisha Mir who stood for us in Edinburgh South West in 2017 and is on our Mid Scotland and Fife list for the forthcoming election.

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Economic Guardrails – Why we need Recovery First for Scotland’s economy

The First Minister and Finance Minister must be truthful with the people of Scotland about the looming economic catastrophe Indyref2 would deliver during our recovery from this pandemic.

We have never experienced a lockdown economy before, and our recovery from the Covid19 pandemic will not follow the traditional post-recession recovery pattern we saw following the 2008 banking crisis. In fact, there is still significant debate between economists as to how the recovery will take shape. We find ourselves in a very different landscape.

Scotland’s future and Scotland’s prosperity lies in leading, not leaving, the UK. This May we must vote to put recovery first for Scotland.

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Event: Liam MacArthur MSP to take part in Question Time on tackling global poverty and climate justice

Voters in Scotland are being given the chance to quiz politicians – including Scottish LibDem MSP Liam McArthur – and make their voices heard on Scotland’s role in building a greener, fairer world.

Scotland’s International Development Alliance (The Alliance), which represents over 200 diverse organisations operating in over 100 countries, is hosting an online Question Time event to encourage Scottish political parties to include commitments to global sustainable development in their manifestos ahead of the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections in May.

Scotland for a Fairer World: Question Time will be held on Thursday 11 March from 6.30 to 8pm, chaired by campaigner and writer Talat Yaqoob. The politicians taking part are the SNP’s Jenny Gilruth MSP, Minister for Europe and International Development, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie, the Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesperson Liam McArthur, Scottish Conservative Shadow Economy Secretary Maurice Golden, along with a representative from Scottish Labour.

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Declare a mental health crisis say Scottish Lib Dem MSPs

Even if your circumstances have not been too adversely affected by the pandemic, chances are you have gone through some mental health challenges. Even people who were coping pretty well have found the dark and cold Winter lockdown pretty grim.

And if you have had to suffer bereavement, loss or financial struggles along the way, it’s been so much harder.

A study tracking Scotland’s mental health during the pandemic found that there was a significant rise in those contemplating suicide or suffering from Depression and Anxiety. The Herald reports:

The second wave of the Scottish Covid-19 Mental Health Tracker survey, which was carried out between mid July and mid August, a time when Covid-19 restrictions had been eased, showed 13.3 per cent had thought about taking their life in the last week.

That is up from the 9.6% recorded in the first wave of the research, which took place between May 28 and June 21.

That was in the Summer when restrictions were at their lowest point and the weather was at its finest

Last month the same paper reported a Federation of Small Businesses survey which found that half of the small business owners who responded said that they were struggling with mental health.

And another report suggested that almost half of young people had said that their mental health had deteriorated due to not being able to see their friends and worrying about their future prospects because of the state of the economy.

Even before the pandemic struck, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services struggled to meet demand. It was not unusual for young people to wait more than a year even to be seen.  You don’t have to be that good at maths to work out that even if you recover within another year, your life has still been blighted for more than a third of your secondary education. That has got to have an impact on life chances.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have been badgering the Government for years to improve mental health services. Now that these under-resourced services are going to feel any more pressure, the party will call for a mental health crisis to be declared in a parliamentary debate this afternoon.

In their opposition day slot, they will ask the Parliament for the second time to declare the situation a crisis. When the issue was last debated back in November 2019 (we are consistent, after all), the Greens and SNP ganged up to remove all reference to a crisis from our motion.

Our Mental Health Spokesperson Rebecca Bell explained why it was so important for the Government to act to help those who are struggling with mental ill health:

“People are struggling. When they turn for help, it is often not there. Problems that can start small, become crises as help is either lacking or arrives too late. Waiting times for mental health services are long and the targets for treating people have never been met.

“That was true before the pandemic, but the situation is now even graver. Sadly with resources vastly outstripped by the demands on services from those who need mental health treatment, departments are forced to focus solely on the acute end of the scale. that means more people are left sick for longer, and just getting worse. We need to aim for prevention as well so fewer people suffer mental ill health in the first place

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Scotland beat Wales in thrilling Maraphone clash

As I write, Scotland are playing Wales in the Six Nations at Murrayfield. As I write, Scotland are ahead by 17-3. I don’t know much about rugby but this seems unusual to me. Let’s hope we can hold on to that lead for however long a rugby match lasts.

However, an earlier clash between the two countries brought an assured victory for the Scots. The Welsh and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have spent the day tussling on the phone lines before kick off in a battle to see who could make the most phone calls to voters.

It’s all been great fun. Both leaders pumped up the rivalry, visiting each others’ phone banks Willie Rennie announced to the Zoom Room that the Welsh dragon behind him reminded him of me. I’ve never been so proud.

Jane Dodds almost got away with starting to sing a 14 verse traditional Welsh song to distract us from our work.

And Ed Davey showed up too! For an equal amount of time to both teams so as not to show any favouritism. He seemed to enjoy himself.

There really has never been a better time to make phone calls for the party. People seem genuinely happy to hear from us and are happy to share their concerns. We’ve noticed this both where we have elected representatives and where we haven’t.

Canvassing in a Zoom room is great because it spurs you on to do more, you can have a bit of a laugh with it. If you’re at home sitting there with Connect open, you can feel very alone. It is nice to have others to share your canvassing anecdotes with.

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Let’s all agree on a federal plan

The Liberal Democrats may favour a federal Britain, but it would be so much more persuasive if all the Unionist parties could come together to agree on a specific proposal to put before the Scottish electorate in any independence referendum. There are moves afoot to achieve this, with Conservative and Labour heavyweights Michael Gove and Gordon Brown cautiously circling around the issue like two Sumo wrestlers.

They might come up with a plan for more devolution to stem the tide of support for independence in Scotland. Or, if Gordon Brown gets his way, they might go further and consider some sort of federal arrangement. Moreover, if all this seems to be just a “Scottish problem” to people living in England or Wales or Northern Ireland, think what we are missing: the chance to reform our centralised British state and build a modern democracy.

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All quiet on the Brexit front

To judge by the silence in the media, Brexit is done and dusted, and the country has already moved on. Or perhaps it was all a bad dream and never happened.
Of course, the covid-19 pandemic has eclipsed much of the other news, but this is not entirely explained. There have been plenty of problems: mountains of red tape that never perished in any bonfire, failed deliveries, cargoes of rotting fish. Of course, the Government has played these minor irritations down, no surprise there. But more puzzlingly, Kier Starmer has staged a judicious retreat from the Brexit battlefield, fearful no doubt …

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Why don’t the Scottish Lib Dems support Independence?

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I am a founder member of the Liberal Democrats and I live in England. I respect the right of Scottish Lib Dems to decide their policy on Independence for Scotland. I hope, though, that they will permit me to ask the question “Why don’t you support Independence”.

We, that is Lib Dems on both sides of the border, are an outward-looking, pro-European Union party.  We argued long, hard and loudly that a Union of 28 member states with a home market of over 400 million citizens was better than a single state with 67 million.

The UK is no longer in the EU.  I don’t think anyone is optimistic that the UK will re-apply for membership any time soon, nor that England would be welcomed with open arms by our former colleagues if we did.

On the other hand, all indications are that an Independent Scotland would have the opportunity of a fast-track to membership, with a full say in shaping EU policy and allowing its citizen’s the benefits that are being taken away from the rest of us.

From the southern side of the border that looks like a very attractive option indeed.

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Willie Rennie’s New Year Message: Lib Dems will put recovery first

https://www.flickr.com/photos/policyexchange/9815585233/in/photolist-fXnrwa-4C63rJ-fQSzEG-4rW51x-5Z4kL2-4C1Kca-6jhoX5-nSybs-GtLAXb-EFShm-nZJzu-nSycj-atnm6F-53aUVG-FjDVj-QqjFZR-rKPkDc-rKJgQr-rKH3hN-rtng5p-rKJgiK-rruKrF-rHwGqu-qP3HST-rKJ6ho-rKH3oQ-rKJgGv-qNPxv7-rKPkoT-rKJgBR-rteyLw-rtngf4-rKH35o-rKPkcv2020 has been a year like no other. The stresses and strains of it will be etched in our memories for many years to come.”New Year is usually a point to reflect on a year that’s passed and set new goals for the year ahead. This year that feels different. We have to pause to take stock of the enormity of our loss.  The virus has devastated so many families and ripped the fabric of our liberal society apart too.

However, we can be proud, proud of the effort we’ve made as …

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Willie Rennie: Our children will be astonished that this Government pursued big bang Brexit in the middle of a pandemic

The Scottish Parliament debated whether to give legislative consent to the Bill putting the new trade deal with the EU into operation.

Liberal Democrats voted against, and Willie Rennie explained why:

This debate needs a bit of realism. The deal is going through. It’s going to go through because Boris Johnson has an eighty-seat majority, he has his Euro Sceptics on board and even the bulk of the Labour Party is backing it.

So no deal has, finally, been taken off the table.

But just because we accept Brexit is happening, that there is a deal and it is going through does not mean we have to like it.

We are realistic but we won’t swallow all our deep reservations about Brexit and especially this deal.

In no way is anyone compelled to vote for something they think will be bad for the country.
And after all the Brexit chaos this Conservative Government have inflicted on millions of people for years and after the Scottish Conservatives promised they would never back a deal that gave separate treatment to Northern Ireland, that party is in no position to lecture anyone else today.

There should be no surprise that we can’t support the Conservatives on Brexit today because our support for Europe has been resolute for decades.

From the liberals support for yes in the ‘75 referendum, the Gang of Four in the 80s and Paddy Ashdown bailing out John Major to support the Maastricht Treaty in the 90s to our enthusiastic support for remain in 2016 and our advocacy of a people’s vote for the last four years.

People who believe in a strong relationship with Europe can count on us.

We do not use Europe as a weapon in another battle, to be discarded when no longer useful.

We believe in international partnership and cooperation especially with our closest neighbours.

It is why we support keeping the UK together and believe the lessons from Brexit should be the lessons for those who advocate independence.

This is a bad deal. The Prime Minister ran down the clock in the most cynical fashion to give parliamentarians just three working days to read, analyse, scrutinise and vote on 1246 pages of complex legal text. That is not good government.

Giving companies just a week to get ready is not good business. Where is the sensible easement arrangement?
We will be the first country in the world to put trade barriers up as a result of a trade deal.

The Prime Minister claims no quotas or tariffs on goods. But if the UK diverges, and that was the point of Brexit was it not, there will be heavy punitive tariffs and quotas. Those quotas and tariffs will hang around like a bad smell for years.

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Scotland 2070 Healthy | Wealthy | Wise

Visions of a possible future for a country usually come from politicians or, more often these days, from think-tanks. This book is a notable exception, its authors coming from backgrounds in the oil and gas industry, the defence sector, and nursing respectively. The authors deliberately set out to make their vision non-political; what they suggest could equally well be achieved in an independent Scotland, in a Scotland that is part of a Federal UK, or a Scotland that has its present devolved powers. Their vision instead is for a Scotland with a renewal of the spirit that characterised the Scottish Enlightenment.

After an introduction to their vision, they go into more detail in six areas: the economy, the environment, renewable energy, healthcare, research and development, and infrastructure; then sum up the synergies that actions in these areas could bring to a Scotland that wholeheartedly embraced them. They do not claim to have painted a complete picture of Scotland in two generations time, but rather a framework to which others can add.

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A Europe policy for the Scottish elections: a humble suggestion

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I must begin with a disclaimer. I am not Scottish, I have no Scottish blood that I know of, and I have never lived in Scotland (the “Mc” in my surname is Irish, courtesy of a great-grandfather who left Galway in the Potato Famine and ended up in the Metropolitan Police). But I love Scotland. As a Lib Dem I campaigned in the 2014 referendum for Scotland to remain in the UK, and today I am as devastated as any Scot that we are leaving the European Union.

That certainly gives me no right to make any suggestion about what the people of Scotland should do at this juncture, so I float the following with due humility. It is an idea; it is not thought-through. If it is worth thinking about, there will be much devil and much detail to be grasped before it can be developed into a policy, but I throw it open for discussion in the party, north and south of the border.  Here goes.

In next year’s Scottish elections, we should campaign for Scotland to have the same status in the UK as Northern Ireland will have from 1 January 2021. It would mean Scotland remaining in the Single Market and having the same customs status as NI.

It would have the following advantages:

  • it would be democratic (giving at least some weight to the Scottish vote in 2016 to remain in the EU);
  • it would also respect the 2014 Scottish referendum decision to remain in the UK;
  • it would end the new invisible border in the Irish Sea between NI and Scotland (although leaving it in place for England and Wales).
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Why should we have to move?

“Why should we have to move everywhere and everything because of him?”

That question is on the front of Change, Justice, Fairness, a Scottish Women’s Aid community research project into homelessness caused by domestic abuse in Fife.

Too often, the trauma suffered by victims of domestic abuse is exacerbated when they are forced to leave their homes, often with their children. It is not acceptable that they should be forced into this situation.

It is unlikely that the event that led to them seeking help was the first incident. Safe Lives suggest that someone will endure 50 incidents of abuse or violence before getting effective help.

So you have very vulnerable, traumatised individuals, the vast majority of whom are women, having to declare themselves as homeless. That means that they are put in temporary accommodation, perhaps for short periods into bed and breakfast accommodation with no cooking facilities, where they don’t have the comfort of having their own things around them, the children don’t have their toys. They are perhaps in an unfamiliar area away from their support networks. They could get moved at any time to different temporary accommodation. That instability and insecurity piling even more distress on to them.

Those who aren’t married and aren’t named on the tenancy face a lengthy and complicated battle to gain occupancy rights if they wish to stay in their home.

The process of transferring a tenancy can also take time, during which the victim can be homeless. This needs to be sorted with greater speed. The Scottish Government needs to produce guidance that strengthens the rights of the victim to prevent them going down the stressful homeless route.

This is why I persuaded the Scottish Liberal Democrats to pass policy calling for better support for housing for victims of domestic abuse. In a very moving debate, members shared their own experiences.

We call on the Scottish Government to do more to ensure that they have the right to stay in their own home if they wish to do so. If they are to be moved, that should be done in a planned way. We recognise that the statutory homeless route is not appropriate for families who are suffering the effects of abuse.

I was surprised to learn that not all social housing providers have stand alone domestic abuse policies so we call on housing associations to do more to support people in this situation

The Women’s Aid research identified serious flaws in the way victims were treated. Women described how they had to talk about what had happened to them in an open plan office.

A third of the staff who dealt with disclosures of abuse said that they had not had any training.

Particularly troubling was the fact that the majority of service providers didn’t have any idea that the moment of leaving an abusive partner was the most dangerous for the victim.

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Could Scottish Independence save the Scot Lib Dems?

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There’s no denying that the first 20 years of the 21st Century have hardly been auspicious for the Liberal Democrats in general and the Scot Lib Dems in particular. North of the Border the numbers of our elected representatives has been in rapid decline; in the period 2000 – 2020, numbers of our MSPs in the Scottish Parliament have dropped from 17 in the first Parliament to five now; at Westminster, in roughly the same timeframe, our MPs have reduced from 10 to four; whilst in Scotland’s local authorities the number of Lib Dem councillors has atrophied from 170 in 2003 to 67 today.

That’s an approximate reduction of two thirds overall which, however you might try to dress it up, cannot be celebrated as progress; quite the opposite. The reasons  why this might be so are many and varied and I have written about some of them before, so now is not the time to beat that particular drum again. Suffice to say that continuing to do more of the same, in terms of electioneering and campaigning, and expecting different results falls very neatly into Einstein’s definition of madness. Radical change in strategy and tactics is called for, and it can’t come a moment too soon.

What hope for the future, then? The prospects for the Holyrood elections next May – if Covid-19 allows them to take place – aren’t looking too rosy for the party. Multiple successive polls have put the party at between 6 – 8% or the projected vote, in many cases a lesser proportion than the Scottish Green party. Below the Greens for goodness sake! How are the mighty fallen. Most commentators predict a healthy majority for the SNP and their Green allies, although the only poll that matters is the election vote itself, and politics is a fickle mistress. We may be surprised yet.

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Scotland passes landmark bill aimed at ending period poverty

It is unbelievable that in the third decade of the 21st century, people have to miss out on education because they can’t afford tampons or sanitary towels during their period.

In a 2018 survey, a quarter of respondents said they had struggled to access period products.

Yesterday, Scotland became the first country in the world to pass a law putting an obligation on local authorities to provide period products free of charge to anyone who needs them.

From the BBC:

The scheme will need to be operational

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Scots need hope for a progressive United Kingdom

Boris Johnson has clearly demonstrated this week that he is a severe threat to Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom. Liberal Democrats need to consider any strategy which can give Scots a vision of a progressive United Kingdom freed from Boris Johnson’s “leadership”.

This is a speech I intended to deliver at Scottish conference last month, and I dearly hope this course can be seriously considered and deployed in good time to positively affect our performance in elections next May.

“I am deeply worried about Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. I see polls showing support for Independence at 58%. I see within those polls that younger generations support Independence at a rate close to 4 to 1.

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Lothians candidate Jill Reilly talks about her experience of volunteering to help homeless people during lockdown

Yesterday, Scottish Conference discussed a motion which called for the party to adopt the Housing First model to help the most vulnerable homeless people.

This means that people with addictions, mental ill health or  prison leavers, for example, are given somewhere to live. Housing First projects set up in Scotland have been successful – with no tenancies failing and incredibly positive feedback from those who have been helped.

It is an important tool in making sure that the most vulnerable homeless people are properly looked after. If they have somewhere to live, then everything else that is going on in their lives is easier to fix, whether that is trauma, addiction or mental ill health. 

And look what the tenants have to say:

Housing First is the best thing ever. To have the chance to start a new life. 

The Housing First support has been amazing and coming into prison into my own tenancy has made a huge difference as I am away from negative influences. With Housing First Support I feel I can remain in my tenancy and stay out of prison

You have to wonder how on earth has it taken so long to the point where we actually make sure someone has somewhere to live when they leave prison.

While I think we must build on the success of Housing First, we have to make sure that we tackle all forms of homelessness. While Shelter support the Housing First model they are concerned that we don’t make people experiencing different forms of homelessness. 

There was a lot of support for the Housing First model at the Conference, but there was concern that the motion called for a new government agency to administer the model. The movers of the motion wanted that because the councils in the biggest cities have more homeless people, who have come from all parts of the country to deal with. It is counter-intuitive, though, for party that doesn’t like centralisation and when we can see how SNP centralisation has ruined most of our public services.

So the motion was referred back for further discussion, with a stronger motion coming back to Spring conference.

Lothians candidate Jill Reilly talked about what she had learned from her experience volunteering to help homeless people during the pandemic. Here is her speech:

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Lib Dems pass motion calling for constitutional reform and a Federal UK

On Lib Dem Voice: Reportage | Contribute
On the official party website: Conference home


The UK is in danger, said Wendy Chamberlain in her proposing speech for today’s motion calling for a federal UK. We’ve already seen one union disintegrate on the basis of divisive nationalism, she said, and we need a liberal offer to fix the union and give power back not just to state governments but to communities. The motion was about building a collaborative, constructive and consultative relationships between the nations of the UK and we will end the current structural inequalities of the Union.

Federalism has been a key part of our constitutional reform plans for as long as I have been involved in the party, but we haven’t been very good at showing how this would work in practice.

One of the biggest issues has been about how England would fit into a federal structure. The motion before Conference didn’t address this and it led to calls for it to be referred back for that to be resolved. They certainly do need to be resolved and the people who raised concerns were justified in doing so. The issue is that time is not on our side. WIth elections in Scotland and Wales less than 8 months away, we have to have something to counter the pro-independence argument.

In the end, Conference chose to pass the motion today by an overwhelming majority of 681-96 on the understanding that the Federal Policy Committee does the work on sorting out how this would work for England.

It was a very good debate, but only two women were called. Session Chair Geoff Payne said that reflected the balance of the cards submitted. So what is it about constitutional issues that causes that sort of imbalance and how do we talk about them in a more inclusive way?

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A sensible strategy for the Scottish election

The Liberal Democrats should be able to prosper mightily in the Scottish parliamentary election on 6th May. But only if we stop attacking the SNP.

The SNP are unassailable. They are riding at over 55 per cent in the opinion polls, boosted by Nicola Sturgeon’s impressive performance in the Covid-19 emergency. And by next spring, they will be able to surf the wave of anger over Brexit and the expected surge in unemployment.

The Nationalists will blame the Johnson government for all the problems and the lack of resources to tackle them. In that they are quite right and it would be counter-productive for the Lib Dems to take a different tack. It’s misleading and dishonest to suggest the Scottish government can fix our schools and hospitals, and the potholes in the roads, with the austerity budgets they’ve been given by Westminster. Yes, the SNP could put up taxes to raise more funds but not by a significant amount.

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Constitutional reform: a coherent national policy or not?  – Part 2

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In 2014 the Liberal Democrats endorsed Policy Paper 117 calling for a federal United Kingdom. It said that having an English Parliament would create a terribly imbalanced federation. It must follow that English Regions would be the constituent parts alongside Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There can be no part-federalised England: if one understands the West Lothian Question, one must appreciate the absurdity of replicating it any number of times and ways within England itself. The remaining alternative is not to propose federalism, in which case the party would have wasted six years, abandoning its aims and objectives.

Unfortunately, Paper 117 was circumspect in proposing the regionalism it implied was necessary. The proposed devolution-on-demand is neither a route to structural coherence nor fair to anyone other than those who are first to grab the powers they want. It is a purely locally-led, “bottom-up” free-for-all which sits at the opposite end of the spectrum to a “top-down” imposed solution. However, it is not a Liberal answer, it is a chaotic libertarian one. Furthermore, devolution is becoming a dirty word, characterised by successive governments creating or abolishing local government structures on a whim. It is therefore time to stop talking about devolution altogether. We need federalism and we therefore need a process to regionalise England – fully and rationally.

Federalism motions (based on English regionalism) were twice submitted to Federal Conference in 2016, to no avail. These followed co-ordinated motions passed by NW England and East of England regional conferences in 2015, decrying chaotic, arbitrary devolution and calling on the party to make progress on a model for a federal UK. Subsequent calls to get Policy Paper 130 to cover regionalism more extensively fell on deaf ears. The meagre 400 words on devolution-on-demand seemed more laissez-faire than the proposals of Paper 117, arguably a backwards step.

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Constitutional reform: a coherent national policy or not?  – Part 1

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I have voted Liberal or Liberal Democrat since my first opportunity in 1987, having seen as a teenager the emergence of the SDP and the Alliance and having understood the need to reform British politics. I then became more and more aware of the many flaws of our anachronistic, dysfunctional and increasingly corruptible political system and I clamoured for a sea-change in our political landscape. It was never “just PR” for me.

In many walks of life it is the structure of our governance that holds the country back – the stultifying straitjacket placed on England by the unitary state and the increasing polarisation of Scottish politics producing division, not progress. I grew to believe that a more diverse political landscape, with power taken wholesale from Westminster and exercised at the lowest practicable level, would foster an evolution and reinvigoration of political attitudes as well as a better distribution of wealth, culture and well-being. This evolution should benefit every corner of the kingdom equally, not be one of increasing constitutional asymmetry, unfair distribution of empowerment and more disengagement by the electorate.

I was shocked when becoming a more engaged party member 25 years later, to find our policies were incomplete and failed to portray us as the torch-bearers for far-reaching constitutional reforms. Six years after a divisive independence referendum in Scotland, we still have no fully-formed vision for a new United Kingdom fit for the 21st Century or to inspire wavering Scottish voters away from separatism. Such ideas – a federal union and all the structural reforms and constitutional guarantees that would accompany it – should have existed before 2014. The national party leaders Cameron, Clegg and Miliband should not have been scrabbling around for votes at the last minute with the great Vow, necessitating further constitutional bodges such as English Votes for English Laws.

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All is not well in the SNP

Next year, the Scottish Parliament elections take place. Nicola Sturgeon’s minority SNP Government’s record will be up for the judgement of the electorate.  The SNP has been in power now for 13 years. The children who were done over by the exams fiasco up here have had their entire education with the SNP in charge. And, as 16 year olds have the vote in Scottish Parliament elections, they will have the chance to make their voices known.

Scotland’s public services are failing, local government is being undermined and underfunded and it’s hard to think of anything major that the SNP has done that has been as positively transformative as free personal care, land reform, free eye and dental checks and STV for local government introduced by the Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition which governed for the first 8 years of devolution. And it’s the Liberal Democrats who were the driving force behind those reforms.

Nicola Sturgeon is getting a lot of credit for the way she has handled the Coronavirus crisis. Certainly her communications have been a lot clearer than the UK Government’s but she has faced the same issues in care homes. Willie Rennie highlighted lack of testing for new care home residents early on and, eventually, she had to change course. We have had a more cautious approach to the easing of lockdown up here, but I get the sense that people don’t really understand what they are and aren’t allowed to do. Conversations with parents of school age children set alarm bells ringing for me. Our schools have been back for two weeks. I’ve heard several accounts of there  being a few kids off with coughs at several schools. Their families didn’t seem to be self-isolating or getting tested, though…. You would think that one would be a no-brainer, but the message that the whole household should self isolate for 14 days unless there is a negative test result does not seem to be getting through.

Aside from the challenges of defending its record and managing the pandemic, the SNP has its own internal problems and divisions. They used to be, at least in public, suspiciously united. Any disagreements were kept private. Now there are fault lines between those who favour a more gradualist approach to independence and those who basically want to do a Catalonia, between those who favour a more progressive and equalities centred agenda and those who think feminism has gone too far and those who think that Alex Salmond’s behaviour towards women has been unacceptable and those who think that he is the innocent victim of a feminist conspiracy theory. The party’s internal civil war on transgender rights is a symptom of a much wider schism.

Two programmes this week are well worth your attention. Kirsty Wark’s BBC documentary on the trial of Alex Salmond is shocking and infuriating. The outcome of the trial did not really get the attention it deserved as it ended on the day that lockdown was announced. While no guilty verdicts were recorded on any of the charges, the evidence highlighted behaviour towards women in a professional environment that was at the very least questionable. On Tuesday journalist Dani Garavelli took a look at the history of the deepening divisions within the SNP in a programme for Radio 4, Scotland’s Uncivil War

Unsurprisingly, both women have been subject to abuse on social media for daring to investigate. And the abuse they have taken is nothing compared to what the women who actually complained about Salmond’s behaviour are getting. Garavelli mentions within her programme how some nationalists called for her to face criminal proceedings. Politicians calling for journalists to be prosecuted is not a good look. On Twitter, a couple of days after her programme was broadcast Garavelli spoke out about some of the criticism she had received:

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