Tag Archives: Scotland

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

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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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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.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 36 Comments

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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