Today at Scottish Conference -“Turning back the tide of division”

Scottish Liberal Democrats gather in Perth today for our Spring Conference. Some of us gathered last night and enjoyed a delicious meal in a French restaurant. Sorry if I breathe garlic fumes on everybody I meet today.

We meet just seven weeks before every council seat in Scotland is up for election. A better than expected result in last year’s Holyrood elections, with solid parliamentary work on mental health, education and justice since has heartened the party but the national opinion polls are yet to show any significant movement in our favour.  The political environment up here is very different from south of the border where we have the advantage of being the only party standing up against the Tory and Labour compete with each other to get to the Brexit cliff first.

Up here, the SNP are making a great deal out of the fact that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain. Of course they are going to use it to call for independence although even a former nationalist leader said this week that they were being forced into it at the worst possible time.

Gordon Wilson, who led the SNP from 1979 to 1990, said he did not want an early independence referendum but recognised “its apparent inevitability.”

He said: “The Scottish National party must exercise extreme care if, as it appears, it is caught in a political vortex and cannot avoid holding a second referendum on independence at the worst possible time.

“For many supporters, that is not the only problem. It is the seeming unpreparedness, almost as if the Party hierarchy is giving priority to the local government elections. When are we to be given the answers on the currency, budget and trade? Who is to lead the campaign and how is it to be financed?”

This comes the same week as a former SNP MSP admits that oil is not going to be the source of riches that we were told in 2014 by any stretch of the imagination.

But we know from the Brexit vote that people don’t always choose the option that is in their clear economic self interest. It’ll be about the mood. The choice between Theresa May’s Brexit Britain and Nicola Sturgeon’s isolated independent Scotland, outside both EU and UK, is not one which inspires. It will be up to us as the one progressive, pro EU, pro UK party in Scotland to craft a positive case to stay that resonates with people, that shows a pathway from Theresa May’s Brexit Britain to a positive, internationalist partnership of nations.

Willie Rennie said ahead of the Conference:

If there is to be another independence referendum the responsibility on liberals is great.  We must stand up and be counted for our values. The Conservatives have done more damage to the Union with their Brexit gamble and with Labour in complete disarray they have turned from the party of opposition to the party of compliance.

The argument of independence is a battle of ideas and values, not of identities and flags. We must stand up for our family whether in Britain or across Europe. We must make the positive, open, internationalist case. Send a message of hope that things can be better still.

We can turn back the tide of division. We can celebrate both our differences and the ties that bind us. We can say no to independence and yes to partnership.  We can, once and for all, put an end to the claim that if you do not believe in independence you do not believe in Scotland.

Our job is to turn back the tide of division.

Today the Conference will hear keynote speeches from Alistair Carmichael and Nick Clegg.

11.00 – 12.30 Morning session

Welcome address
SC1: Protecting independent consumer advocacy
EM1: Emergency motion
Speech by Alistair Carmichael MP

14.00 – 16.50 Afternoon session

SC2: Preventing drug-related deaths
SC3: Updating speed limits for HGVs over 7.5 tonnes
Speech by Nick Clegg MP
TI1: Topical issue
SC4: Education

You can read the text of the motions here.

On the fringe, Nick Clegg will be taking part in a fringe meeting  speaking about the global threat from populism and nationalism. ALDC will be looking ahead to the Scottish elections and Universities Scotland will be discussing the role or universities in Scottish enterprise.

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

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