Willie Rennie goes all Alice in Wonderland AND uses the F-word

Have you ever thought that what Parliament really needs is a few more Alice in Wonderland references?

This afternoon the Scottish Parliament started a two day debate on whether to call for a Section 30 order, the device that would enable them to hold a second independence referendum. Theresa May has said that “now is not the time” in much the same tone of voice as she said “brexit means brexit.”

It’s funny, because, as Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles pointed out today, they’ve managed to clear 2 days of parliamentary time for this (although the length of the debate was something we agreed with) at a week’s notice and put so much effort into setting it all up, yet we’ve gone 445 days without a mental health strategy. Priorities, and all that.

I started watching the debate as Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale started speaking. Of all poisoned chalices, hers is the biggest. She’s one of the most caring, articulate, engaging politicians I’ve come across, yet she’s lumbered and with and constantly undermined by Corbyn. During the last referendum, I watched her speak particularly to women’s groups and she was fantastic at putting across a positive case for the UK. She and Willie Rennie are both very good at that but they were both sorely under-used on the national stage.

As Kez was speaking, the SNP bit of the room got lively, and not in a good way. They were shouting and bawling and baying and just being generally unpleasant. I wonder if they ever think about how that comes across. Maybe they actually want to be intimidating. Maybe they want to legitimise all the nasty cybernats who stalk the internet to prey on the opposition. If they don’t, then a bit of self awareness is called for.

Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie couldn’t have been quicker to say that his party would support the call for independence, even though his manifesto had said that there would have to be huge public demand for it – a petition with a million signatures. Now, as with the SNP’s budget, the Greens just seem to jump when the SNP say how high. And they aren’t even in coalition. Patrick Harvie spent the coalition years giving us some serious pain, but is now doing everything he can to prop up the SNP.

In his own speech, which was interrupted constantly by SNP MSPs, Willie said:

I want to address the issue of this cast iron mandate. For the SNP their mandate for another referendum is based on the European Union. But now the SNP tell us they will not seek or guarantee membership of the European Union with their referendum.

They will use the EU to get a referendum even though their referendum won’t get the EU. And we know the reason why. They are cynically courting the one in three independence supporters who backed Brexit. So they will use pro Europeans to get a referendum but sell them out to win independence. It is low politics for narrow gain.

And then we have the Greens. It seems like from a different time but we recall their budget triumph where they secured funds that were going to be spent anyway and not a penny for the environment. Far from being a bold green budget it was a bland shade of beige. That was the first broken promise this year.

Now we have the verbal gymnastics of Patrick Harvie arguing that manifesto commitments don’t count anymore. What happened to this participative democracy? What happened to the million names of a petition? Where is the role of the people in deciding whether to have another referendum? Patrick Harvie’s idea of participative democracy is a few green members gathering on a wet Saturday afternoon in Perth to airbrush a manifesto commitment.

In just three months two manifesto commitments blown out of the water. The Scottish people will remember Patrick Harvie and his excuses.

Alex Salmond said the referendum in 2014 was a once in a lifetime opportunity. At the weekend he denied he ever said it. Despite it being on the record. We have it on YouTube. Then he denied he denied it despite that being on YouTube too. Then he dismissed the whole this as nonsense anyway. It was the fastest denial about a denial about a broken promise ever known.

‘How long is forever?’ said Alice. ‘Sometimes, just one second,’ said the White Rabbit. ‘Time is a relative concept, especially in Wonderland.’ Or, indeed, in Scotland.

The Liberal Democrats stated clearly in our manifesto that we would oppose another divisive independence referendum and that is exactly what we will do.”

Gillian Martin, SNP MSP for Gordon, even raised a ridiculous point of order because Willie wasn’t taking any interventions.

I was particularly pleased to see Willie use the F word – federalism:

We have made great progress on reforming our United Kingdom. In just 20 years, we have created this Parliament, which is based on proportional representation and has been built on the foundations of human rights. It has gained more powers, including—most recently—powers over tax. We should be proud of what we have achieved together, through everybody in the Parliament working together.

I want to create a federal United Kingdom with power that is shared across the country, a written constitution, fair votes and an elected second chamber. Such reforms are on the way to making our United Kingdom even stronger. The campaign for independence undermines that chance and that momentum.

There is a positive case for the United Kingdom. The economic case for the UK is even stronger than it was in 2014, but it is not just about numbers on a spreadsheet; it is about the values that we share. It is about the compassion that has built some of the best charities in the world, such as Oxfam and Save the Children—British charities that are spreading compassion around the world. It is about the compassion that has built the second-biggest aid budget in the world—SNP members do not like that. It is about the compassion that has built one of the best health services in the world.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is up for us on Day 2. Expect a characteristically robust contribution from him.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Thomas Robinson 21st Mar '17 - 8:01pm

    If I live for a thousand years I am prepared to bet that the fifth party in the Scottish Parliament,the Lib Dems will still be no nearer to a achieving a federal UK than they are today
    As for the Greens being punished by the electorate-in your dreams. A recent opinion poll for the Holyrood list that I saw showed the Greens only 2 per cent behind the British Labour Party in Scotland

  • “I want to create a federal United Kingdom with power that is shared across the country”

    In my opinion the UK would be a far stronger union if there was more done – or more spoken about what is currently being done – to increase links between Scotland and Wales, Wales and NI, and Scotland and NI. Currently, I get the impression that we are just competing nations as we battle for funding from Westminster.

    I would point to two speeches made by two Scottish politicians in recent times. The first made by Gordon Brown which many felt ensured that the UK remained whole and yet focused purely on the relationship between Scotland and England (much along the lines of “we don’t like them in sport but we offer so much to a union between us two”), while the second was made by Nicola Sturgeon to the Plaid Cymru conference not so long after she became leader. Strangely it was the speech made by the nationalist to the nationalist party that made me feel far more positive about the United Kingdom.

    If we have to tie it back into Brexit, it seems everything must be, then you could ask why people were apparently ready to give their opinion on a European union when there seems to be so much more done for our own at home.

  • Why on earth would the Conservatives agree to a Federal UK?

    The current system works perfectly fine for them – they get one MP from Scotland but remain free to overrule all the MPs from Scotland and/or the Scottish government should they be determined to do so.

  • Probably a bit late to post on this thread, but just in case someone does ‘visit’:

    This is from the official record of the first day’s Holyrood debate on indyref2 and of Mr Willie Rennie’s speech (See http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10855 ).

    “I want to create a federal United Kingdom with power that is shared across the country, a written constitution, fair votes and an elected second chamber. SUCH REFORMS ARE ON THE WAY (my emphasis) to making our United Kingdom even stronger. The campaign for independence UNDERMINES THAT CHANCE AND THAT MOMENTUM (my emphasis).”

    How long have Liberals and LibDems been holding such aspirations? How long do we have to suspend belief until the LibDem’s have the power and influence to deliver on even one of Mr Rennie’s wants?

    Following a Yes vote in 2014 Scotland would almost certainly still have a ‘fair’ voting system; would now have or be close to having a written constitution; and (if the Scottish electorate chose) would have an elected second chamber – and by now Scotland could be setting an example with the real potential to catalyse progressive change (and meet LibDem aspirations) in our nearest neighbour.

    But it seems that in Mr Rennie’s view there is nothing in the known (and the unknown) universe that could possibly be worse than an independent Scotland! Unionism trumps Mr Rennie’s democratic aspirations?

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