Tag Archives: Scotland

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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LibLink – Christine Jardine SNP’s policies on education have failed to make the grade

It’s been a hugely stressful week for thousands of Scottish teenagers and their parents.

They did not receive the results they were expecting for their HIgher exams after marks submitted by their teachers were downgraded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. This has disproportionately affected pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Willie Rennie supported pupil protests against the system used by the SQA.

Pupils who have worked hard for months have been marked down because of how previous students performed at their school. This is grossly unfair as it reinforces the inequity that has been growing for years.

The Education Secretary and the SQA were warned for months that their moderation process would damage the prospects of pupils for life. It’s no surprise that so many young people are out protesting. They feel as if their grades and their futures are being robbed by the SNP.

We can only hope that the appeals system is robust enough to deal with the tsunami of appeals heading its away. The funding and the resource for the appeals process must be increased to meet the considerable demand and the Scottish Government must ensure teachers have the time they need to fully support the many appeals that will be required.

Yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon apologised and today Education Secretary John Swinney faces a vote of no confidence in the Scottish Parliament.

But the problems in Scottish education go much deeper than this fiasco. Christine Jardine used her weekly Scotsman column to highlight how pupils leaving school this year have had their entire education under SNP Government – and the system is mired with problems with schools, colleges and universities.

International reports show Scottish education plummeting down the league tables which compare our schools with those abroad.

That proud boast that ours was the finest education in the world now seems empty, and out-dated.
Certainly for those at the chalk face it has long ceased to be the case, replaced by the reality that too many of our young people leave school functionally illiterate and the past few years have been to endure rather than enjoy.

Many of those who graduated from our universities this year are the same young people whose school years were disrupted by being the first to sit the new National 5 exams. Their teachers had to deliver a curriculum which was not only untried and untested but, by common consent, largely chaotic and stressful for all.

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Why federalism over independence?

Lib Dems support the union because we believe there is strength in unity.

We support the principle that decisions should be made at the most appropriate local level giving power to the people. We aspire to achieving mutuality and respect between the home nations and between the regions. We see fundamental flaws in the current constitutional arrangements whereby there is little or no real devolution in England and different approaches to devolution where it does exist. There is no common approach or equality in the way that power is administered across …

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The Scottish constitutional question

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The constitutional question has dominated Scottish Politics for years and shows little sign of going away. It’s something the Liberal Democrats should have total strength on – we have been interested in where power does and should lie for decades. Decentralisation in a system of cross-national cooperative government is in our DNA.

However, this period of constitutional obsession and wrangling has done little to support our party. Many across the UK may feel a similar sense of exhaustion talking about Brexit that we feel in Scotland about independence, except we have been doing it for nearly 10 years, not just the last 4.

It is for this reason that many in the Scottish Liberal Democrats feel tired and done with talking about the SNP, wishing that we would take a different stance to our pro-UK position. This often comes with the accusation that we risk looking like Tory-lite and we must talk about federalism as an alternative – a proposal that no Liberal Democrat I have ever met disagrees with. However, we also run the risk then of looking to be insufficiently pro-UK, or that we have qualifications to our support of the UK, which is unacceptable to the majority of our base or floating voters and risks alienating us from the Scottish electorate even further. 5 MSPs and 4 MPs are better than none.

However, both of these suggestions miss the point. Brexit and Scottish Independence are symptoms of a much larger problem. Those that would vote for these, come what may, are far from the majority of the Scottish or UK population. Focusing on the constitutional wrangling of the UK does not address that so many people vote for these because they feel they have nothing to lose, in an economic system of stagnant wages, few opportunities, an ageing working population lowering the promotional opportunities for them to advance. A housing market has allowed house prices and rents to rise for the majority of property owners, but priced out the young and low income earners from saving and buying a home of their own.

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Why Scottish Liberal Democrats oppose a second Indyref

Last Sunday,  Lib Dem Voice published my article on how the Scottish Liberal Democrats should promote polices that use the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament create a fairer, greener and more prosperous Scotland.  Some commented that since Brexit has happened Liberal Democrats in Scotland should pivot to support for independence, or at least put the question back to the people of Scotland.  I thought it might help to set out some of reasons why Scottish Liberal Democrats oppose a second referendum and want to keep Scotland in a reformed and federal United Kingdom.

The preamble to our constitution commits us to promoting promote a democratic federal framework for the United Kingdom.  Independence is not the same as Home Rule in a Federal UK and it should come as no surprise when we say that.  We should also learn from David Cameron what can happen if you support a referendum about something you oppose.

Over the past three decades the Scottish Party has successfully helped deliver devolution and home rule for Scotland within the United Kingdom.  The Scottish Parliament has substantial powers.  Those powers should be used to address the problems our country faces now.

Politics is about choosing what to spend time, money and effort on.  Choosing to talk about the constitution means that other issues will inevitably be neglected.  In March 2017 the head of the Civil Service in Scotland warned Scottish Ministers that preparing for another independence referendum would see de-prioritisation of domestic policies.  This is a real issue in SNP run Scotland.  Standards have slipped.  Scottish schools have declined in international rankings, college places have been slashed and the Scottish Government has failed to meet its own targets for the provision of nursery places.  Another referendum and potentially the creation of a new state will suck attention and money from almost every other problem we face.   Whether you’re a parent with a child at school, a patient waiting for surgery or a homeless person in desperate need of a roof over your head, you don’t have the luxury of years of more constitutional wrangling.

But what about Brexit?  We know the arguments against Brexit.  Separating from our largest trading partner will harm our economy for years to come, reduce opportunities for young people, for science, research and development and make it harder to tackle Climate Change.   The debates about the Northern Ireland backstop have highlighted the problems a new land border between the EU and a non-EU member state.  The real financial cost of Brexit is much larger than any ‘savings’ from ending EU budget contributions.  

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Liberal Democrats – the Interdependence Party

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One of the things I like about our Party is our willingness to bounce ideas off one another.

On a Zoom meeting of our local party Exec this evening, once the formal business was out-the-way, we socialised over an optional drink. This was no epic drinking session of lore in the making, to be sung-about to our as-yet unspawned grandchildren, but a glass was nonetheless raised.

The frustrations of campaigning in Scotland, where the national dialogue is no longer Left vs Right, but Unionism vs Nationalism, came to the fore. In this common parlance, Liberalism doesn’t get much of a look-in. You might as well try to talk to people in the street about Confucianism.

Ask people why they voted SNP in their local council election, and they’ll go glassy-eyed and start bandying around words such as ‘Independence’ and ‘Freedom’, meanwhile their bins go unemptied. Even on a national scale, failings in Education and Health get brushed aside for this snake-oil cure for all ills, this panacea that is Independence. How exactly this constitutional change is supposed to improve their lives… well, let’s just say the detail starts to get a bit thin.

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Building Scotland back better

The next Scottish Parliament election on 6 May 2021 will be a major test for the Scottish Liberal Democrats.  With some recent polls suggesting increased support for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom the stakes could not be higher.

We opposed Brexit and oppose Scotland leaving the United Kingdom.  Another independence referendum would be a massive distraction from sorting out the problems Scotland faces.

We must continue to make the passionate, emotional and economical case for a reformed United Kingdom.  People want to vote for success, for hope of a better future and for people who aspire to make a difference.  We need to show how using the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament will enable Scotland to be built back better.

The Scottish Party is about to consult members about the shape of our 2021 manifesto. It is worth setting out a handful of ideas that could, if the Scottish Government devoted its whole attention to them, make Scotland a fairer, greener and more prosperous place to live and do so by giving more power to local communities.

In 2017 the First Minister declared that education was her “top priority”, but Scottish schools have declined in international rankings and the Scottish Government has failed to meet its own targets for the provision of nursery places. The damage done to our education system will reduce the opportunities available to our children and hold our country back.

The Liberal Democrats long campaigned for a penny on Income Tax for education.  We should actually make Education the top priority for government once again.   Education is our way to a high-wage, high-skill economy where inequality becomes largely a thing of the past. It is a scandal that most of Scotland’s secondary schools only allow children to take six subjects at Nat5 level (the equivalent of GSCE in England).  That must change.  

We could give more power to schools and colleges, local school clusters and councils to come up with new ideas that meet local needs and help raise attainment.  In an environment where the UK Government is talking of increased public spending, we could use Barnet consequentials to increase school budgets, recruit more teachers and support staff and make the Pupil Equity Fund (the Scottish equivalent of the Pupil Premium) permanent and more effective. Scotland used to legitimately claim to have one of the best education systems in the world. We need to recover that reputation.

The pandemic has shown how our society pushes stress and risk onto the shoulders of those who find it harder to bear.  The Scottish Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for reform of mental health provision, so it is treated with the same urgency as physical health.  We should make that change.  Holyrood must also make a massive investment in new affordable and social housing to end homelessness and ensure that everyone lives in the home they need.  We should simplify and speed up the programme to insulate every home in Scotland, cut carbon emissions and end fuel poverty.

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The best argument for not having another independence referendum is by having another independence referendum

Doesn’t make sense? Hear me out.

Layla Moran has confirmed she is opposed to a second referendum in The Scotsman last week and Ed Davey (admittedly along with most other members) has a similar view. I feel this is the wrong tack and is sure to seriously hinder the Lib Dem’s prospects in the Scottish election before we even start next May. We will be fighting for scraps amongst the Unionist vote when we don’t have to.

Look across the water to Quebec, where I think we can draw a lot of parallels. The electorate confirming No twice in a space …

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The crude reality of independence and the renewal of federalism

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Hopefully come 2021 we will be in a position to hold elections again, which must mean a return of focus to our message in Scotland. What’s our message and why is it both unique and important for the people of Scotland?

In 1992, James Carville was a strategist in the successful Presidential campaign of Bill Clinton. Carville hung a sign in Bill Clinton’s Little Rock campaign headquarters that read:

  1. Change vs. more of the same
  2. The economy, stupid
  3. Don’t forget health care

We know fine well where both the SNP and Conservatives stand in their message going into next year’s election, it’s a straight fight between IndyRef2 and Unionism. The Scottish Liberal Democrats can cut through all that white noise by sticking to Carville’s sign.

In 2014, independence campaigners failed because they couldn’t produce a clear and credible economic narrative. I find little evidence to suggest that narrative has found new ground, in fact quite the opposite. There is a crude reality for IndyRef2 supporters and it’s the price of crude oil.

In 2014 the price of crude oil was over $110 per barrel and was the economic basis for the ‘White Paper for Scotland’. At the beginning of this year that price fell by a half and then stabilised at roughly $60 per barrel; the industry itself survived on a round of deep cost cutting and slashing employment in the North Sea on a large scale.

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Weaker for Scotland!

In 2015 while an election agent in my hometown of Inverclyde, I watched while Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP swept the board with one clear simple mantra: Stronger for Scotland. Five years on from that election and thirteen years into SNP government that’s simply untrue. The SNP have been weak, ineffective and downright scandalous in it’s handling of affairs in Scotland.

I’ve sat by and watched while Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government receive praise from their supporters for it’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. The reality is it’s been an absolute disaster and this slopey shouldered, pass-the-buck attitude of ‘Well we did a bit better than the Tories’ is just simply not good enough.

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Wendy Chamberlain recounts her first experience of violence against Police Officers

This week, the Commons debated a Statutory Instrument which introduces Police Restitution Orders in Scotland. This means that fines can be levied and the money from those will be used to finance extra support for Police officers who suffer from the effects of those assaults.

Wendy used to be a Police Officer, as were her father and husband. All of them suffered violent assault. Wendy described the first time it happened to her:

I, my father and my husband have all served, and I have other family members currently serving in Police Scotland. All of us were assaulted during our police careers. My husband was knocked unconscious during the policing of a football match. My father was head-butted by a prisoner in the police cells and required stitches.

My own most vivid memory is from early in my police career—within months of leaving initial training at the police college in Tulliallan in fact. It relates to attending a call about a report of a domestic dispute in a high-rise block of flats in Edinburgh. On arrival at the landing in question, my tutor and I could hear a loud argument and decided to call for additional officers to make their way to support us in case they were required. I am glad we did so. The door was answered by a man who, after telling us where to go, was then attacked by his girlfriend, but from behind with a knife. A toddler was visible at the back of the flat hallway. My colleague managed to baton the knife from the women’s grasp, and in anger both of them then turned on us, and a violent struggle ensued.​

Luckily for us, colleagues came quickly, and both people were arrested. The man, in particular, struggled violently throughout the arrest and attempted to spit at all the officers, claiming that he was HIV-positive. It then transpired that he had been responsible for an assault and robbery nearby earlier that evening. Other than bruising, my colleague and I were unharmed, but it was a salutary lesson to me in being prepared for any eventuality and in being responsive to events.

Her whole speech follows:

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Alistair Carmichael questions government on ending of virtual parliament

If the Government produces guidance it should stick to it, right? After this weekend, that idea seems old-fashioned.

One of the 5 main steps of the UK Government’s guidance on safe working is about helping people to work from home.

3. Help people to work from home

You should take all reasonable steps to help people work from home by:

  • discussing home working arrangements

  • ensuring they have the right equipment, for example remote access to work systems

  • including them in all necessary communications

  • looking after their physical and mental wellbeing

     

For people who are mainly office based, the guidance is clearer:

Objective: That everyone should work from home, unless they cannot work from home.

We have seen over the past few weeks that MPs have been able to work pretty well from their dining rooms, studies and kitchens. Some might say that Parliament has even come across as being a bit more mature and responsible in that time as we’ve not been subjected to the weekly pantomime of Prime Minister’s Questions at full pelt.

But Jacob Rees-Mogg has decided that MPs should all return to Westminster from next week. Unless they live within driving distance of Commons, they will have to take public transport unnecessarily. They will require on-site staffing, not necessarily from their own parliamentary staff, who can continue to work from home, but from House cleaners, security staff and clerks.

Rees-Mogg, a representative of a Government who doesn’t like being held to account at the best of times, argues that Parliament can’t operate effectively if they aren’t all there. How effective a use of people’s time is it going to be to take up to an hour carrying out votes which could be done at the touch of a button? Chris Bryant, in an article in today’s Observer, describes the bizarre procedure:

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Lib Dems bid to pave the way for safe street cafe culture in Scotland

Scottish Liberal Democrats have proposed an amendment to the latest coronavirus emergency legislation to help pave the way for more cafes, restaurants and bars to use closed roads to enable social distancing between customers, once they are permitted to re-open. Alex Cole-Hamilton will lead on this when the vote takes place on Tuesday.

The amendment confirms that it shall not be an offence to place tables and chairs in the road outside a premises, provided it is done with the local authority’s consent and doesn’t cause an obstruction to disabled people.

Scottish Liberal Democrats will also ask the Scottish Government to publish advice to alert businesses to these possibilities and help local authorities prepare their own plans for the reopening of these businesses when the time comes.
This comes as Lithuanian capital Vilnius is to be turned into an ‘open-air cafe’, with businesses allowed to use nearby plazas, squares and streets free of charge.

Australia this week allowed restaurants and cafes to open but have initially limited the number of people dining inside to 10, causing some to reportedly say it isn’t worth their while to re-open at this stage.

Alex said:

Once it is safe and they are permitted to reopen, it seems inevitable that cafes, restaurants and bars will need to operate at a much reduced capacity to enable social distancing.

Embracing a new street cafe culture with more covers outside could for many make the difference between their business being viable or not.

Temporarily allowing these businesses to use nearby streets and other open-air spaces would help them lift the shutters when the time is right, protecting jobs and keeping people safe.

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The real north

I have been feeling grim about the prospects of the union, should there be another referendum. I’m trying to figure out what we can do to stop it breaking apart, beyond the empty soundbite of “working together for now, cross-party, towards a better Scotland, regardless of its constitutional state”. Basically making some progress on “the day job” stuff for a while. To do that, we need to figure out what it is nationalists want, because like it or not, there is no Scottish Parliamentary election result in 2021 that doesn’t see us having to find some common ground with …

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8 November 2019 – the overnight press releases

  • UK family of nations must work together to stop Brexit
  • Jardine: The Tories visa plan is a tax on nurses

UK family of nations must work together to stop Brexit

Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson will tomorrow make the case to Remain voters in Scotland to back the Liberal Democrats to protect Scotland’s place at the heart of the EU, as she visits North East Fife as part of her Leader’s Tour of the UK.

Jo Swinson will be visiting Crafty Maltsters Farm in Auchtermuchty alongside Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie. Speaking ahead of the visit, Jo Swinson said:

Voters in Scotland who despair

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Cole-Hamilton’s pride as Scotland passes smacking ban

If Alex Cole-Hamilton were to slap me, he would, rightly, face the full force of the law. If he were to slap his 5 year old daughter Darcy (which would never happen), he could do so with the full support of the law, which allows “reasonable chastisement.”

That is an inconsistency that he has been campaigning against for years. Today his work and that of many others was rewarded when the Scottish Parliament voted to give children the same protection from assault in law as adults, becoming the first country in the UK to do so.

I’ve known Alex for almost two decades. In that time I’ve teased him on many occasions, always with justification. But there have been many more times when I have been proud of him and today is one of the biggest. One of the reasons I spent a decade trying to get him elected was that I knew he would be an amazing advocate for Scotland’s children.

He’s been working to change the law on physical punishment of children for a long time. And he had an uphill battle trying to change party policy. In 2013, we lost by just 9 votes. Three years later, the result went the opposite way – and overwhelmingly. The proposer of the amendment in favour of keeping the law as it is changed his mind during the course of the debate, persuaded by the arguments. This move ensured Lib Dem support for the Bill today.

Today’s Bill was originally brought by Green MSP John Finnie but it had cross party support across Holyrood – except from the Conservatives, of course.

Here is Alex’s speech in favour of the Bill.

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Lib Dems oppose SNP plans to delay Gender Recognition Act Reform

The SNP Government announced yesterday that it was kicking the can down the road on gender recognition act reforms.

While acknowledging the need for reform, Cabinet Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville told the Scottish Parliament:

I am a feminist, and I am deeply—and rightly—proud that this Government has taken such clear and concerted action to protect women’s rights and to promote gender equality. I have stated before, as has the First Minister, that I do not feel a conflict between my support for women’s rights and my support for trans rights. However, I know and I understand that many people do. It is important that we listen to and address those concerns.

This is a very disappointing decision not least because the government is pandering to scaremongering and misinformation. Trans people are suffering every day from abuse and discrimination. Ministers should look at evidence not media hyperbole.

Every day in the media, we see yet another attack on trans people and the organisations that support them. And every time these have been scrutinised – such as when the charity Mermaids was subjected to a review for funding which they eventually got – they have been found to be completely without foundation.

All GRA Reform does is make it easier for trans people to change their birth certificate. Scotland’s feminist organisations are all in favour of reform. Last year at Conference, Lib Dem Voice hosted a meeting at which Emma Ritch from Engender and James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance explained how their organisations in Scotland had worked together for equal rights for all.

Christine Burns, who was at the forefront of campaigning for the law to be changed to protect transgender people from discrimination back in the 80s and 90s, highlighted the dangers of the Scottish Government’s approach:

Women are women. And trying to draw divisions between cis and trans over who gets women’s rights is exactly the divide and conquer tactics used by the people who want to diminish *all* women’s rights and all human rights.

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Sheila Ritchie heads Scottish European list

As he launched the Scottish Liberal Democrats list of candidates or the European election, Willie Rennie stressed that every vote for a Lib Dem MEP will help stop the division and damage imposed by Brexit.

The list includes a partner in an Aberdeen law firm who has spent 20 years supporting start-up businesses and entrepreneurs in the North East, the former head of the European Parliament’s office in Scotland, and an EU citizen who represents the hundreds of thousands of people who have made their home in Scotland but whose futures are put at risk by Brexit.

The list is as follows:

  1. Sheila Ritchie
  2. Fred Mackintosh
  3. Catriona Bhatia
  4. Vita Zaporozcenko
  5. John Edward
  6. Clive Sneddon

Willie said:

I am delighted to announce our list of candidates for the European elections. We have a strong group of people who are committed to protecting our place in Europe.

This election gives voters an opportunity to demand an end to the constitutional chaos we’ve endured for years. People are fed up with Brexit and listening to all the arguments. It has divided our country and damaged our economy for long enough.

A vote for Scottish Liberal Democrats is a vote to stop Brexit and will send a message to the SNP on their unwanted independence plans. Every MEP we gain in Scotland will help make the division and damage stop.

Sheila Ritchie said:

I am thrilled to be leading the fight to secure Lib Dem seats in Brussels and a chance to stop the chaos of Brexit dead in its tracks. This election provides us with a tremendous opportunity.

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And this is why I spent 10 years trying to get this man elected to the Scottish Parliament

I  wanted Alex Cole-Hamilton to be elected to the Scottish Parliament for a decade for many reasons, but one took precedence over all the rest – that he would  be a fantastic voice for children and young people.

Yesterday he proved why, arguing in committee for his amendment for the Scottish Government to raise the age of criminal responsibility from a “medieval” 8 to a much more civilised 14. The SNP Government would only go as far as 12. He lost, 5-2, but listen to his passionate arguments.

After the vote, he said:

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WATCH: Willie Rennie questions Nicola Sturgeon about restraint of vulnerable and disabled children

In December, Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner published a shocking report which stated that local authorities risked breaking the law and breaching vulnerable and disabled children’s human rights with the way they used restraint and seclusion.

Out of the 18 local authorities which record such incidents, almost 400 children were subjected to these procedures a total of 2764 times. And 14 local authorities gave no information at all so the overall figure may be higher.

The report made 22 recommendations to which the Scottish Government was to respond to by the end of January.

There was one particularly disturbing account of the seclusion of a child with the mental age of 3:

One time I was called and he was being kept in the cloakroom with the door shut on his own incredibly distressed and not allowed out until I arrived. He was 5 years old with the mental age of a three year old… X very traumatised re the holds and not sleeping well and screaming in his sleep, very reluctant to go into school…

The staff had even put him in a room on his own in a totally unregulated state and held the door handle from the other side and wouldn’t let him out. X. was Distraught.

Willie Rennie asked Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions what the Government was going to say.

Watch the exchange here. The text is below:

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Scotland’s way out

No deal is better than a bad deal.

Theresa May

My prediction is that the UK is heading for a no-deal Brexit. If Theresa May thinks what she had was a good deal, then all other deals must be a bad deal, so if all other deals are bad deals, then by her logic, we’d all be better off with no deal.

No one will get a deal that suits the majority because you can’t have the Customs Union without freedom of movement. One side don’t care about the Customs Union as long as freedom of movement is cancelled, and the other side don’t want a deal without the Customs Union.Therefore, a majority in the Commons will never be achieved no matter what deal is brought to the table by whoever – leaving this country in a situation where disaster contingency plans are being put in place and businesses are relocating their HQs.

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Willie Rennie pulls Lib Dems out of Scottish budget negotiations

While all eyes are on a key vote on a proposal put forward by a minority government at Westminster this week, another political drama looms. On Wednesday  the Finance Minister of a minority government at Holyrood will present his budget.

Derek Mackay is going to have a hard time getting his proposals through. All Willie Rennie asked for as a preoondition to negotiaions for Lib Dem support was that they just drop the idea of an independence referendum in this Parliament, fulfilling a key part of our manifesto. It chimes with what we are hearing consistently on doorsteps – that people don’t want to go through 2014 again. They want to concentrate on getting rid of Brexit.

The arguments that all parties apart from the Conservatives, have united behind in the Scottish Parliament against Brexit apply equally to breaking up the UK. While you don’t expect the SNP ever to give up campaigning for independence, keeping it off the agenda for the time being is as sensible for them as it is good for the country.

The SNP lost 21 seats in the 2017 General Election as Scottish people reacted with horror to the prospect, floated by Nicola Sturgeon, of another poll. All tests of opinion so far suggest that they would lose another referendum, which is why they won’t call one. The problem is that if they explicitly say they’ll delay, their own people will kick off.

So they wouldn’t agree Willie’s pre-condition. And so Willie has withdrawn the Lib Dems from the negotiations.

From the BBC:

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said he had met Mr Mackay and Public Finance Minister Kate Forbes on two occasions “to explore what could be done” with the budget.

Mr Rennie said his party had been willing to “step in to help address the problems that have been mounting since the SNP came to power 11 years ago”.

This included investment in education and mental health services, an improved deal for councils and action to help tackle staffing shortages in hospitals and schools.

But he said the talks ended when the SNP politicians “could not agree to even a short cessation in their independence campaign”.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton has called for age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14

Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, a former youth charity worker, has called for the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to be raised to 14. The UN suggests that 12 should be an absolute minimum baseline. On both sides of the border, we fall short of this. In England and Wales, it’s 10 and in Scotland just 8.

The Scottish Government is putting forward legislation to raise it in line with the UN minimum guidelines, but Alex says that it doesn’t go far enough:

Scotland is the only country in the EU where children as young as eight can find themselves

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LibLink: Vince Cable: Brexit’s real life impacts are already hitting the UK hard

Vince was up in Edinburgh this week (not, contrary to some reports, flying business class and staying in luxury). After an early start to do budget media stuff, he voted on the budget at 6:30 or so and caught a flight an hour later. He and Christine Jardine got to the Edinburgh West dinner at about 9:45 and both were in sparkling form.

In fact, I think that the speech Vince gave was better than his Conference speech. There was none of the schoolboy, carry-on style humour, and just a very simple, effective liberal message. He talked about needing to be honest with people about the future funding of public services – we will need to pay more tax. He talked about Brexit and our desire to stop it too, but he had plenty of vision about helping those who need it most – putting more money into Universal Credit and stopping its rollout until the problems with it are sorted out. He talked of his surprise that Labour had abstained on he Tory tax cut for better off people as he led our MPs to oppose it.

Timed to coincide with his visit was an op-ed in the Scotsman which he used to describe the detrimental impact that Brexit is already having on us:

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History made as the Scottish Parliament passes landmark Social Security Bill, improved by cross-party co-operation

Last Wednesday the Scottish Parliament passed the Social Security Bill which gives power over many disability and carers benefits as well as some aspects of Universal Credit. It was a marathon debate with over 120 amendments. One of the really good things about the Scottish Parliament’s modern systems is that you can have many more votes. Unlike the House of Commons where each vote means 15 minutes of queuing, at Holyrood, it’s a second of button pushing. This has meant a much more wide-ranging debate. To the SNP Government’s credit, Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman engaged with the opposition parties and not only listened to what they had to say but took it on board as well.

One particular issue was the issue of terminal illness. At the moment, to access benefits if you are terminally ill, you have to have six months or less to live. In a move even supported by the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament, there will be no limit.

The Liberal Democrats have no representation on the Social Security Committee, but worked with Green and Labour MSPs to ensure that there will be no unnecessary disability benefit assessments, and for those that have to take place, the person involved will have a say in when and where they should take place.

Unlike south of the border, the Bill provides for the housing element of Universal Credit to be paid directly to the landlord and, as the result of an amendment, to be split between joint claimants in a household. The latter is an important point. If there is domestic abuse in a relationship, there will likely be financial abuse as well, so it is important that everyone has some level of financial independence. That is going to be a difficult one to implement because the DWP will drag its heels. I hope, though, that they will find a way to do this for the whole of the UK.

The DWP also needs to address issues with the direct payment to landlords. At the moment, payments are being delayed. They are aware of the fault but not seeing a sense of urgency about fixing it.

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Scottish Lib Dems highlight “destructive” short prison sentences for pregnant women

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has today revealed that dozens of pregnant women have served destructive short-term prison sentences in the last five years. He says that this einforces the need for the Scottish Government to press ahead with a presumption against jail sentences of less than 12 months.

He uncovered figures under freedom of information which reveal that since 2013 there have been 104 pregnant women in prison, of whom 31 gave birth while serving their sentence. Of these 104 women, 37 were given sentences of less than 12 months.

In 2012, the Scottish Government commissioned a report from former Prosecutor Dame Elish Angiolini highlighted the negative impact of custodial sentences on the children of offenders, something that affects many more women than men:

More women offenders have dependant children than men and only a small proportion (17 per cent) of children with mothers in prison live with their fathers while their mother is incarcerated. Approximately 30 per cent of children with imprisoned parents will develop physical and mental health problems, and there is a higher risk of these children themselves also ending up in prison.

Liam said:

The fact that 37 expectant mothers have been given destructive short-term sentences in recent years should have alarm bells ringing.

All the evidence shows that short-term sentences don’t work and are less effective than robust community-based disposals in reducing reoffending. Rates of reoffending amongst those who have served short stints in prison are sky high. That is why Scottish Liberal Democrats have consistently urged the Scottish Government to introduce a presumption against sentences of less than 12 months, something Ministers now accept would be a positive step.

If in the process it means more pregnant women pay for any crime they have committed through robust means short of prison then that has to be in everyone’s interests.

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Willie Rennie calls for Land Value Tax “to shape society and economy in fair and just way”

It was the Greens’ opposition day debate in the Scottish Parliament. They chose to hold it on local government finance.

It was a worthy subject, but they were a little muted. Their Andy Wightman made a speech which pretty much said “The Council Tax is bad. Let’s replace it with something.”

Don’t get me wrong, this was fine as far as it went. It was certainly a million miles better than the Tories and SNP who voted together to keep the Council Tax that the latter had once railed against.

If you are one of those liberals whose hearts beat a little faster at the mention of Land Value Taxation, you might want to sit down and have some smelling salts handy. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie espoused that old liberal idea from the dawn of time, saying that it would change the way our society and economy works in a fair and just way. Here’s his speech in full:

We have heard from Murdo Fraser and James Kelly that the SNP has been on a journey with the council tax. There was a time when it would take every opportunity to condemn it. Alex Salmond called it unfair and insisted that he would scrap it, but he did not. Nicola Sturgeon said—quite strongly—that she “hated” it. She went on to criticise any suggestion that it should be tinkered with, but then she did that.

Now SNP members seem to be the staunchest defenders of the council tax. When they secured the support of the Greens and the Labour Party for their arbitrary increases to the council tax, I argued that those would not be the first steps towards further reforms but the last steps. We have heard from the minister this afternoon that we will have to get a consensus across the Parliament from the other parties before he will even consider taking our proposals forward. Rather than being with us on developing a consensus, he is going to be a bystander, and his long-grass amendment confirms that.

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