Tavish Scott used his keynote leader's speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat conference in Perth last Friday to slam the other three parties for their plans to centralise public services. It was clear how passionately he wants to see power given to local people, not grabbed back to Holyrood. He is particularly livid at the plans to create a single national police force which, if the other parties have their way, will go through on the nod.
I completely agree with Tavish and have written before why I think a single police force is one of the most dangerous and stupid policies ever thought of. You can't argue for a second that policing priorities are the same in Gairloch as they are in Glasgow. The idea is a whole tanker full of wrong.
Liberal Democrats have always been in favour of giving power away from Government, ensuring decisions are being made at the lowest practical level so Tavish's stance is no surprise. He's made it into the Liberal Democrats' Unique Selling Point for this election, too. If people are worried about increasing centralisation of any public services, or particularly a single police force, they can rely only on the Liberal Democrats and Tavish Scott to do what they want.
This is what Tavish had to say on the subject:
The most worrying trend I’ve seen in Scottish politics over recent months is the central power grab.
The view that, in tough financial times, Holyrood bureaucrats know best. That saving money is always about centralising power. I see it every day in Parliament.
All the others believe it. Labour, Tories and the SNP. They all want an approach which is alien to a liberal democracy. So our Party must make this case in the coming campaign;
A campaign for local people and the decisions that affect them.
So, we will stop highly paid quango bosses and Holyrood Ministers grabbing even more power for themselves.
They think they have all the answers. We say trust local people.
Those who run our schools, hospitals and health centres.
Devolution was not about giving a new Scottish Parliament responsibilities from London, while grabbing power from local people and locally elected councillors.
So I will not stand to see the local dimension demolished; every idea, initiative or spark stripped out of local services.
Every part of Scotland will be poorer if that happens.
We will not let that happen.It’s a defining difference between us and the rest in May’s election.
And it is no more serious than when it comes to the police. I met Colin McKerracher the other day. He’s the chief constable in Grampian. He’s Alex Salmond’s local policeman.
The Chief Constable doesn’t believe that these SNP, Labour and Tory plans for a single police force across Scotland are right. These plans will cost the jobs of thousands of police officers. The government’s own figures showed they would cut sixty million pounds from local policing.
A national force will not keep officers local, solving crime and in touch with people. Your local bobby will disappear.
It mixes politics and the police. The national chief constable will owe their job to the Justice Secretary. They will be in and out of each other’s office and will never be in the communities they are meant to serve. Conference we want local police, serving your community, not serving a political master hundreds of miles away.
It’s not just folk in Perth who should be angry.
You should too. I won’t stand for it. Nor should you. Demand to have your say. Demand to have control. Demand they listen to you. We will oppose a national police force.
But I fear the other parties won’t stop there.
The fire service, care of Scotland’s older people, every pound and penny spent in your area – there is a growing list of things that will end up controlled only by Holyrood bureaucrats and Ministers.
So our approach will break that Scottish cabal of Labour, SNP and Tories.
We will secure the local services you depend on. We will drive out waste, tackle high pay, end unjustified bonuses. But above all, we will give those who run services more power to change the way they respond to your needs.
If you value local services. If you think you should have the right to a say over your local community then the Liberal Democrats are the only ones on your sidYou can understand why centralisation is anathema to him when you realise how his values were shaped by his local community in Bressay, Shetland.
It was Up Helly Aa in Bressay last Friday. That’s when we burn a Viking galley and celebrate our Scandinavian heritage. A lot.
Strange you might think. But it goes rather deeper than the smell of paraffin as the torches light and singing the Norseman’s Home.
Shetland is a place where a visitor is someone to welcome, speak with, understand.
Where a healthy interest in that outside world is not just because a litre of petrol is £1.48.
But a place who took on the Labour Government as they sought to deport a personable young Thai man who was and is part of Shetland....and won. (that's Sakchai Makao, who was spared deportation after an amazing community campaign)
A place where traditional music, played brilliantly goes hand in hand with the visiting Mumford & Sons. Where fishing matters, economically and socially. Where crofting, the way of life, is a pride in the quality of livestock, of wool for the knitting industry and the camaraderie of the sheep sales.
This is the place where I grew up, where my instincts were forged and my values took root.
We care about people and we look out for each other;
We look after our elderly neighbours;
We want our children to have the best possible start.
We look outwards not inwards.
And we look to the long term not the short term.
These are the fundamental values that shaped my politics.
These are the values that I want to see take root across Scotland.
Tavish then went on to show how those lifelong values translate into his priorities for Scotland:
We must live within our means, not promising money we just don’t have. Scotland deserves better. Scotland deserves honesty. So our manifesto will explain what we would do for Scotland; how we will tackle the challenges the nation faces.
Anything else simply won’t be good enough.
We’ll do that in this way.
With three core Liberal principles –
· First, local people know what’s best for their areas, not bureaucrats at Holyrood.
· Second, solutions for Scotland that last, not hollow quick fixes that achieve nothing;
· Third, every Scot, whatever their background, should have the chance to make the most of their lives.
A Government determined to see a brighter future for Scotland , a sustainable future for Scotland, a prosperous Scotland.
I finished reading David Laws' book on the formation of the Coalition last night. He talked of the deficit - the gap between what the government spends and its income - as being £3 billion a week. It dawned on me that that's a sum equivalent to the entire Scottish budget for a year every 11 weeks. That actually sounds to me scarier than the fact that we're paying £120 million a day in interest. Labour can't duck their responsibility for leaving the country in that mess and the SNP can't deny it isn't happening. Nor can they pretend that in an independent Scotland money would grow on trees and we wouldn't have to worry about any of this stuff. Ireland, anyone?
Tavish has started to suggest over the weekend that universal benefits like free bus travel for all 60 year olds might not be affordable in the longer term. I think that's right, even though my husband turns 60 in June. If I had a choice, I'd go for my daughter having a free university education than my husband a bus pass that he doesn't really need and Bob would agree with me on that. No definite decisions have been made yet, but I expect that our manifesto will suggest some changes to universal benefits. That's a brave thing to do, but it's the right thing to do. Last year Vince Cable and Nick Clegg were the most honest about the need for spending cuts and in making suggestions as to how they could happen. Remember Nick talking about the need for "savage cuts" way back in 2009? The Liberal Democrats have always believed in treating voters like grown ups and aren't going to stop now.
This post is probably long enough now - but there's more in Tavish's speech to talk about, so I will do some more later.
It's no secret that I've felt that it's been too long since the Scottish Liberal Democrats offered exciting ideas that the public can really relate to. Our campaign against a single police force and other not-so-creeping centralisation hits the spot.