The highlights of Scottish Conference

Scottish members left Conference at Aviemore in upbeat mood, motivated to get out there and make sure that we secure a vote on the final Brexit deal.

We had some lovely weather in a beautiful location and an agenda full of interesting fringe meetings, a bit of controversy in the Conference hall and some highly informative training. We were also really thrilled to welcome a fair few members of federal party staff who met with key seats and provided training in campaigning, the new data protection legislation and fund-raising.

Staffing and office bearer changes meant that this Conference was put together on a much shorter timescale than usual. Huge thanks are due to new party manager Jenny Wilson for her excellent work in organising everything and to Conference Committee Chair Paul McGarry. Conference Committee members Callum Leslie, Rebecca Bell, Vita Zapooroczenko and Ross Stalker never seemed to stop working. Laura Thomas seemed to spend her entire conference helping out at the registration desk as did Oliver Mountjoy – and the Young Liberals also stepped in first thing on Sunday morning when there was a gap in cover.

You can watch BBC Scotland’s Conference programme here. Towards the end, three of the brightest and most talented young people in our party are interviewed – former youth president and campaigning genius Jenny Marr, environment spokesperson Mariam Mahmood and Cllr Ben Lawrie who won a Council seat last year in an area where we’ve never had a Councillor and who has made an excellent short film about his experience of Depression and Anxiety.

Here are some of the key decisions.

Syria

Am emergency motion talked about the need for parliamentary approval of military action. Christine Jardine explains why this is so important, to ensure that constituents’ views are repreaetned and that we have consulted as widely as possible as we attempt to do the right thing:

Those are just some of the decisions taken this weekend. I’ll write more about the fringe later.

Protecting puppies and kittens

Some may have mocked a little

and David Laws would definitely be annoyed – after all, he complained in the Orange Book that we’d passed policy protecting goldfish sold at funfairs – but the motion calling for dog breeding to be better regulated will appeal to our nation of animal lovers.

Our environment spokesperson Mariam Mahmood had this to say on the motion:

Puppy farming is an abhorrent and abusive trade. Illegal breeders are exploiting loopholes to avoid requiring licences. We must do more to catch out cruel dealers in search of quick profit.

It’s important we raise the profile of puppy farming and make sure prospective owners know what to look out for, especially because of the disastrous health effects farming has on people’s pets.

The Scottish Government ought to revise licences for the sale of dogs, ban third party sales and rule out the sale of particularly young dogs.

An amendment proposed by Dunfermline Lib Dems made sure that cats were afforded the same protection too.

Police reform

The SNP have botched up policing arguably more than it’s botched even health and education. It’s been a massive mistake to merge Scotland’s 8 police forces into one. In the debate suggesting a solution. Wendy Chamberlain said that removing local governance was like removing a leg from a three legged stool and still expecting it to balance and hold a person’s weight.

Justice spokesperson Liam McArthur spoke about the motion:

The only “business case” the SNP considered when pressing ahead with this misguided merger was a calculation of how quick they could scribble out the words “British”. This motion sends a clear message that they should go back to the drawing board.

Ministers failed to do the basic work to identify and plan for the risks and implications of their latest centralisation.

The officers and experts left to oversee this merger have been damning and the timetable proposed by the SNP slipped straight away amid warnings from the very top that ministers’ plans would have compromised public safety.

Scottish Liberal Democrats were right to warn SNP ministers not to repeat the mistakes they made in pushing through the botched Police Scotland centralisation. This latest centralisation is the last thing Police Scotland needs, and the last thing the British Transport Police wants. The merger therefore should not go ahead.

The Scottish Government must also now agree to an independent commission, appointed by the Scottish Parliament not ministers, so that the damage done by the 2012 Act can be repaired through new legislation, ensuring power is shared and that effective, democratic governance arrangements exist.

Protecting local banking

RBS’s plans to shut banks annoys me no end, particularly when those banks are a lifeline to highland communities. If you think that we don’t need branches and everything’s digital nowadays, do go and try out the broadband on the Black Isle. It’s not up to much. When we go there on holiday, I can just about get a 4G signal if I lie on the edge of my bed on my left side. Accessible it isn’t.

Our motion on protecting local banking called for banking hubs to be set up in communities. Jamie Stone, our MP for Caithnes, Sutherland and Easter Ross had this to say:

Losing local RBS branches is a major blow to people and businesses across Scotland. It’s an easy cost-saving strategy for banks but it’s devastating for rural communities.

Our local economies deserve busy high streets and face-to-face reliable banking. Peeling services back to their bare bones and making people rely on ever reducing mobile services, which are vulnerable to the elements, is simply not good enough.

That’s why setting up banking hubs, where banks could pool resources to ensure at least one shop can stay open, is an innovative solution to the daunting programme of closures on the horizon.

The UK Government must give these proposals serious consideration. There should be a mechanism for people to intervene when services in their towns are threatened.

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

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