The weirdest evening I’ve ever had at taxpayers’ expense

Kenny MacAskill at Scotland's Future LivingstonWell, last night was a weird evening. And I know what weird is. I go to the Glee Club a wild, rude, drunken end of Liberal Democrat Conference singalong and Doctor Who conventions.

This, though, was the Scotland’s Future taxpayer funded Scottish Government independence event in Livingston, held in a local hotel. It was hosted by Training and Youth Employment Cabinet Minister and local MSP Angela Constance who was lovely, as she always is. She also had that clever political talent of under-promisng and over-delivering. She said we’d get a sugary biscuit with our cup of tea at the end. In fact, it was a fruit scone with jam, cream and a strawberry on the top. ”Clear Desk” Kenny MacAskill, the Government’s Injustice Secretary, spoke and took questions from an audience of about 50. Here are three things I learned from his remark that I had clearly missed before:

1) Apparently the merger of Scotland’s Police forces was necessary because of austerity, which would never happen in an independent Scotland. It’s unpopular, so clearly it must be Westminster’s fault.

2) Scotland was the first to discover oil. Kenny MacAskill actually said that twice. Did cars run on fresh air before the 1960s, then? As a friend of mine said on Facebook, who knew that this Wikipedia page on the history of petroleum, which charts its 4000 year history, was part of Project Fear?

3) The SNP brought in free personal care. Unless by “we”, Kenny MacAskill meant “The Liberal Democrats in coalition with Labour”

The tone was really set with the first question. What right did “they” have to interfere in “our” election? They being Scotland’s other government, who have sent this leaflet to Scotland’s households. MacAskill had to admit that they had the perfect right to do that, given the amount the Scottish Government has spent on advancing the independence cause.

MacAskill’s answers were strewn with casual inaccuracy. I’ve noticed before that Better Together are not so good at challenging the oft-made assertion that the NHS has been privatised south of the border. Last night, Kenny also added in that the Tories hate the BBC so that would be privatised as well. And they say that the pro-UK side indulge in scaremongering.

I asked him a question about civil liberties, which he didn’t directly answer. Thing is, I said, I had to judge his government on what they did with the powers they already had, and here was him being happy with kids being stopped and searched, vulnerable women being kept in solitary for months on end, with Strathclyde policies being imposed on Highland policing, with rules on armed police being relaxed. How could I trust him to act in a liberal way if he got more power, if some security chief said that they needed to be able to detain people without charge for 3 months, or to read all our emails. From what we’ve seen so far, he’d cave immediately, saying it was an operational matter for them and they could do what they liked.  MacAskill’s response? That the UK had been complicit in torture. When Angela said that she had been protecting my civil liberties by letting me speak, I knew she was joking. I wouldn’t have that same confidence with Kenny.

The whole thing had the feel of an SNP branch meeting. Angela told me afterwards that only half a dozen so SNP members were there and only another 3 or 4 Yes campaigners. There were many more Yes badges and lanyards than that, though and the questions were reminiscent of SNP backbenchers quizzing their leader at First Minister’s Questions. They were quite friendly, although clearly I was viewed with slight wonderment, almost as though I was some curious novelty that had been thrust into their midst. It was perfectly ok for me to come along even if I was voting no, they said. You’re darned right it was, seeing as it was being paid for out of taxpayers’ money.

They really didn’t understand how anybody could possibly be voting no. In fact, two of them said, without any malice at all, that no voters were stupid. They just didn’t seem to understand the arguments, they said. It was far from the aggressive online cybernattery I face on a daily basis. This was more like being thumped with a goosedown pillow.

At least I got something out of the evening – my own copy of the White Paper so I can give my Dad’s back to him. But when I took it, the Yes people were at great pains to tell me that I could read it online, even telling me how to search in Google Chrome. I do know how to do that, strangely enough. But the convenience of an iPad or Kindle is never quite the same as having a book to thumb through and make notes on.

How, came the final question, would Scotland heal its divisions after the referendum? Collaboration on a written constitution would help, said Angela. The prospect of a No vote wasn’t even entertained.

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

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  • The similarities between the SNP and UKIP abound both parochial, isolationist while claiming new treaties will improve things before they are negotiated and a disdain for that which is other…

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 27th Jun '14 - 10:21am

    I wouldn’t go too far in comparing the two, Mike, though. The SNP has many people in it who, but for this independence stuff, I could easily run the country with. I wouldn’t want to even run a bath with anyone from UKIP.

  • Frank Bowles 27th Jun '14 - 2:52pm

    I’d agree with Caron, I see few similarities between the SNP and UKIP. The SNP are an established and perfectly competent and honourable political party with quite a spread of people, many of whom would not be out of place in our party. I think though that what you are seeing is that people on the Yes side of the argument have immersed themselves totallywith their own, their websites and feeds and selective news. They really believe ‘No’ voters are scared of or uninformed about how great an independent Scotland would be. And they are surprised and don’t really believe that most people in Scotland are planning to vote No. But we are…

  • Caron,
    Here’s a plan.
    Scotland votes for independence.
    You then arrange for Nick Clegg to resign his Westminster seat and leadership of the Liberal Democrats so that he can move up to Scoland to be your leader up there.

    That way, both you and I would be very happy.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 27th Jun '14 - 6:09pm

    Not so keen on the independence part of that, though. That’s the killer, John.

  • David Howell 28th Jun '14 - 9:12am

    I suppose the big difference between the SNP and the LibDems is that the SNP have formed a popular and respected government here in Scotland; whilst the the LibDems have formed a coalition government with the Tories which is neither liked, nor respected.

    I assume you did read the various articles yesterday pointing out that the top 20% of society have become richer under ‘your’ government as the rest of us have become poorer – under the “austerity measures” that ‘your’ government brought in.

    It’s just speculation on my part; but the predicament ‘your’ party finds itself in could have something to do with keeping election promises?

    I think you should look again at the moral high ground that you seem to think you’re standing on . . . It looks rather like a small hillock from other folks perspective.

    Just saying.

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