“Those bloody Liberal Democrats are in town”

The main hall in the Town House in the South Lanarkshire Town of Hamilton was the room where it happened this weekend (see what I did there?). The song from the musical Hamilton tells us to “Talk less, smile more” but there was actually a lot of both this weekend as Scottish Liberal Democrats gathered for Conference.

I have to admit, I was sceptical about this new venue and the hour I spent dragging my suitcase round empty streets in the dark on Thursday night trying to find the hotel did not improve my mood.

One of our number overhead in the ASDA across the road from the conference hotel “Those bloody Liberal Democrats are in town this weekend.”

However, the Town House is a lovely building, even more so when lit up purple by LGBT Youth Scotland for Purple Friday, the last Friday of LGBT History Month. The staff there and in the Town House were so  friendly and helpful.

We had some intense debates over the weekend. I actually ended up making five speeches, which is unheard of. I had planned to do three – I was proposing a motion on providing better housing support for victims of domestic abuse, summating the Scottish Young Liberals’ motion on trans rights and I’d hoped to be called in the debate on sex work.

I ended up also speaking about the problems people face with housing and the social security system when they leave prison and proposing the constitutional amendment which would allow the implementation of the new disciplinary process in Scotland.

The latter struck true terror into my heart. It meant going up against Scotland’s wonderful constitutional guru, John Lawrie who had concerns that we were giving too much power to the Federal Party. Actually, Sheila had cannily drafted the amendment so that we retain the power and delegate the functions so covering all our bases.

As persistent troublemaker (in the best possible way) Richard Coxon said in his speech, two inalienable truths of the Scottish Party are that Sheila Ritchie (the convener who wrote the amendment) is always right. And John Lawrie is always right. The party dealt with the conflict in Sheila’s favour this time.

One of my best highlights was the look of utter surprise and mild irritation on Sheila’s face when she won the Scottish Lib Dem Women’s award for the person who had done most to advance diversity. She has become a real driving force for the implementation of the Alderdice Review, showing local parties how to engage more with BAME people and get them involved in the party. She absolutely deserved the accolade. The SLDW AGM, by the way, decided to name the award after Helen Watt, who devoted so much time to the organisation until her far too early death in 2016.

I shall tell you more about the weekend in the next few days, but the agenda was absolutely packed with things that actually provoked debate. An attempt to overturn our policy on decriminalising sex work and replace it with the controversial Nordic model was unsuccessful, but the summating speech in favour of the motion affected everyone, whichever side of the debate you were on.

Diane Martin, who experienced the most awful treatment by exploitative pimps and ended up being trafficked for sex work, described her horrendous experience in an incredibly moving way. There was shock as she told how she was raped by a man with a gun who told her he was having a “freebie.” Diane won the award for the best speech of the Conference.

The Scottish Young Liberals’ motion on transgender rights faced a wrecking amendment but this was defeated by a considerable margin. Stephen Harte, who has written a few posts for us over the years has been a part member since 1986, but yesterday he made his mark with an impressive Conference speech, which attracted the attention of the BBC’s Philip Sim.

I don’t think Philip had been there on Friday to see similarly contested debates on trains and public toilets. The latter attracted an amendment from the Policy Committee and two requests for separate votes as well as the inevitable puns and humour that the motion inspired. I don’t think there was an opportunity missed in that regard.

As well as the debates, Christine Jardine and Jo Swinson led an hour long discussion on Brexit, focusing on jobs, medicines and EU nationals. We watched videos recorded by our Lativan colleague Vita Zaporozcenko and Borders candidate, Jenny Marr. Jenny has Type 1 Diabetes and is understandably concerned about the availability of the insulin that keeps her alive if there is a no deal Brexit.

Willie Rennie’s keynote speech was a blistering, values-filled statement of intent to deliver better for this country. Even amidst the nightmare of Brexit he found things to be cheerful about.

Jo’s keynote speech on Friday similarly set out how liberals had the values and solutions that we need:

The political faultline has shifted. We’ve moved from talking about left or right, socialist or capitalist totalking about liberal or authoritarian, open or closed, internationalist or nationalist.

Like never before in my lifetime, liberal values are under attack, here in the UK and around the world.

People are crying out for a vision for the future of our country that is open, outward-looking, internationalist and pluralist.

Liberal Democrats, we can paint this vision, and we should do so with confidence.

We have 2,000 Cllrs, 100,000 members and a quarter of a million people backing our campaign for an Exit from Brexit.

We have a proud liberal heritage and innovative policy solutions for the future.

We can reach out to harness the energy of the many liberal-minded people who are suddenly alive to the need to defend and promote these shared values.

Our brilliant North East Fife candidate Wendy Chamberlain in her keynote speech took advice from the musical Hamilton, saying she was scrappy and hungry and she would win the seat back from the SNP.

Emma Walker, who joined the party at the end of 2017 and is now an approved candidate, did the financial appeal yesterday. She described how she is slipping the Liberal Democrats in to every conversation these days – from her “prosecco playdates” with other mums and children to the lady who did her bra fitting the other day.

Alistair Carmichael did his now traditional whisky tasting but there was a difference this time. You had to guess which whisky you were drinking from the tasting notes you were given. I think there are still some spaces for the one at York so email me at [email protected] if you are interested.

I can’t end this summary without mentioning the fantastic Lorna Cammock. She’s in her 80s but has the energy and optimism of a teenager. She spoke in the prisons debate about the importance of positivity and music in rehabilitation and took her Ukulele onto the stage too.

I caught up with her later at the SLDW AGM.

I always love Conference. This one was even better than usual,  though.  Huge thanks are due to the Party Manager Jenny Wilson, our administrator Megan Wiseman and the Conference Committee for making it happen.

We know that the country is in the worst mess it has been in in our lifetimes, and we stand ready to play our party in being part of the solution, to being part of a realignment of politics for the better.

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

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3 Comments

  • I don’t think any mention was made of the toilet role for local authorities. 😉

  • Thanks for the summary Caron. I saw a bit of coverage on the BBC yesterday, and they promised more would be available on the website, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.

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