Sunday, August 10, 2008

Scottish Lib Dem Leadership hustings, Edinburgh

Yesterday saw the first of four official Scottish Lib Dem leaderhip hustings in Edinburgh. It was a miserable morning - wet, grey and cold, but even so the room was almost full. It was a good opportunity to catch up with some friends I hadn't seen for ages.

I'm not going to go through their speeches in detail - Stephen Glenn has done that very well himself with a different posting for each candidate. I want to give a bit of an overview with my own views on each performance.

Tavish delivered a competent speech outlining his ambition for the party, his view on the Scottish political landscape and what his policy priorities will be in terms of developing solutions to people's concerns. He talked about how he would be a leader who would talk bluntly and have sharp elbows in terms of the opposition. I have no doubt that he would be able to do that very well.

I see him in many ways as the candidate who stands most for continuity in terms of both policy and the way in which the Party is managed. One of my biggest concerns, shared by many others, about the Party in recent years has been its dominance from Holyrood. Communications between the Holyrood and Westminster parliamentarians have improved greatly recently and there have been meetings between councillors and MSPs - but not nearly enough. I share Ross's view is that no one part of the party dominating the others is fundamentally illiberal.

I feel that there needs to be genuine dialogue between the grassroots, councillors and parliamentarians. By dialogue, that means listening as well as talking. Centralised control has no place as the default management style in a party which values decentralisation. If you communicate well, you can spend less time doing it and have more time out on the streets campaiging, enthusing and bringing more people in to the Party.

I have a lot of time for Mike Rumbles. He was on the committee I chaired last year and he was always a constructive presence at meetings offering sensible advice. He was talking about how the Party had to go off in a completely different direction. I think we have to develop our narrative, but based on our own core values of fairness, freedom, decentralisation and empowerment. We have to show how that is relevant to people's lives and current concerns. He was right in that our strategy has to change from being in Government. Opposition demands a whole new extra skill set and completely different tactics. While I like Mike, I don't see him as leader

I had very high expectations of Ross's speech and he managed to exceed them. Yes, I'm backing him and it's no surprise I thought he was best, but I do feel he got the biggest laughs and warmest applause. He was relaxed, funny, incisive, sharp and to the point. From talking to people I felt that he won over most of the non aligned people in the room.

I think Ross can best give the party what it needs. He has the best skills to manage the change the Party needs. He is a team player, but can be decisive. This is the guy who insisted, in the face of opposition, on increasing the targets for renewable energy. It's a pity that the SNP Government is now undermining that work.

On the basis of yesterday's performance, it's clear that we have three very talented leadership contenders, but Ross, for me, is best placed to take us forward. He combines likeability and humour with credibility and experience.

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