The Herald: “All power to the Lib Dems for standing up for our liberties”

Willie Rennie - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsHerald columnist Ian Macwhirter is not known for writing nice things about Liberal Democrats. In fact, I think it actually causes him pain to do so. It is always welcome when someone who is not your biggest fan says nice things about you. He was very complimentary about Willie Rennie the other day. As someone pointed out on my Facebook when I posted this originally, “All Power to…. is not the most civil-liberties friendly headline, but it’s appreciated nonetheless.

As James Baker wrote a few weeks ago, the Scottish Government were trying to sneak in plans for what is effectively a massive ID database capable of even more surveillance than that set up by Labour. Once Willie got to hear about it, he set about questioning it and used a rare Liberal Democrat opposition day debate in Parliament to highlight the issue. He called for the creation of such a database to be the subject of primary legislation. He was never going to win, because, you know, SNP overall majority and all that – and they don’t take kindly to rebellion or even criticism from their parliamentarians – but he inflicted a bloody nose on the Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

Macwhirter wrote:

I think now we have an answer to what the LibDems are for: they’re the only major party, Greens aside, that really takes issues of civil liberties seriously, as we saw yesterday with their debate on the Scottish Government’s plans effectively to create a national identity database.Leader Willie Rennie’s motion to stop the measure being rushed through without proper parliamentary scrutiny succeeded by 65 votes to 60 in the Scottish Parliament after an intelligent and thoughtful debate; a rare occasion on which Deputy First Minister John Swinney was sent back to think again

We need parties that keep a vigilant eye on government. Labour has never quite got this privacy thing having been, for most of its existence, a party very much of and for the big state. The Tories are supposed to be the party of the individual but their law’n’order populism, hostility to immigration and preoccupation with state security have made them suckers for any agency – police, spooks, tax authorities and so on – that wants to snoop into our affairs.

The Tories seem to recognise threats to civil liberties when in opposition. Their spokeswoman Liz Smith MSP is opposing the latest plans from the Scottish Government as “identity cards by the back door”.

The SNP are similarly schizophrenic. They opposed the introduction of a national identity database in 2005 when it was proposed by Tony Blair’s Labour government. But once the Nationalists got into government they started succumbing to the same pressures to tighten up all round and, of course, to praise our wonderful police, as Nicola Sturgeon did last week.

That would be the same wonderful police, by the way, whose senior management are, for the second time, being hauled back before a parliamentary committee for failing to deliver what they said they would. On both stop and search and armed police they have not kept their word and their chief constable has not shown an acceptable attitude towards scrutiny.

Macwhirter concluded by talking of the importance of liberty and privacy against the temptation for ever more state intrusion to deal with perceived threats:

Police and victims groups will forever insist that civil liberty is a luxury we cannot afford in the fight against organised child abuse and acts of murder by ISIS. If one child is saved … if one terrorist atrocity is avoided, then surely the price is right; except that it isn’t. Some things are more important, and personal freedom from arbitrary authority is one of them.

Officialdom’s demand for information and control of our lives is insatiable. Only the LibDems seem to understand this, which is why they have scored a major victory for parliamentary scrutiny. They are absolutely right to hold the Scottish Government to account and demand that this should be a matter for primary legislation after a national debate on the implications for personal liberty. All power to Willie Rennie, even if he is fighting what looks increasingly like a losing battle.



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Looks like the link for ” they don’t take kindly to rebellion or even criticism ” is broken, should be:

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 9th Mar '15 - 8:09am

    Thanks for the post, Caron.
    Herald columnist Ian Macwhirter wrote: “I think now we have an answer to what the LibDems are for: they’re the only major party, Greens aside, that really takes issues of civil liberties seriously…” Can you tell me about the ‘Greens aside’ comment? Was the difference with LDs elaborated upon?

  • Dr Michael Taylor 9th Mar '15 - 9:16am

    Oh, the Green are not pro civil liberty. They want to abolish elections till their programme is implemented if they ever get the chance.

  • I can find no reference to The Greens abolishing elections on their website. Is this an urban myth designed to fool the intellectually challenged?

  • Stephen Campbell 9th Mar '15 - 12:32pm

    @Dr Michael Taylor: “They want to abolish elections till their programme is implemented if they ever get the chance.”

    As an ex-LD voter and now a Green supporter, I kindly ask you to provide proof of this or retract this smear.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Mar '15 - 2:04pm

    Tony, the Greens have been pretty sound in the Scottish Parliament on these things. There was one afternoon back in 2010 when the SNP casually quadrupled pre-charge detention time with Tory and Labour support. Our Robert Brown and Patrick Harvie made valiant efforts to stop it but to no avail.

    The difference for Westminster, of course, is that in Scotland no Green has a chance of being elected.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 9th Mar '15 - 2:38pm

    Thanks for your comment which I take to mean that Greens are NOT like LDs [ LDs are FOR civil liberties] but Greens have voted to restrict civil liberties. Is that what you are saying? In that case Mr Ian Macwhirter’s ‘Greens aside’ is meaningless and the LibDems are the ONLY party FOR civil liberties.

  • As an ex-lib dem it would be curlish not to admit that the Lib Dems have stood up for individual freedoms and liberty.

    But I was one of those social and liberal democratic voter who, for me, a coalition with the Tories largely forcing austerity on the nation has been beyond the pail. Nevertheless even with challenges like ISIS the Lib Dems have (largely) remained firm to their principles on individual liberty. But what about freedom from poverty, the right to an education etc…? Are we going to reduce freedom to the absence of the state forbidding you from doing certain things?

    Anyway, I believe the Lib Dems have a future, but as a very different party to the one they were. I think the Lib Dems have lost about 2/3rds of their vote due to such a narrow view of what freedom actually is and will have a future in the South of England as a sort of ‘nice’ bunch of Tory-lites. Like Germany’s FDP.

  • @Caron: “The difference for Westminster, of course, is that in Scotland no Green has a chance of being elected.” – Anyone can win. Every candidate has some chance. The whole point of the voters being sovereign is that the voters can choose anyone they like. Nevertheless if you’re going to throw that around then I hope you won’t object when after the 5th of May other parties start saying that a vote for the Lib Dems is a wasted vote in Scotland, and that Scottish Lib Dem voters simply must choose someone else because Lib Dems don’t win in Scotland.

    If you’re going to say the Greens can’t win in Scotland based on the last election results then shortly you will have to accept that of the Lib Dems.

    Are you honestly prepared to do this? Please answer the question.

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