Norman Fraser is the interim Secretary of the Social Liberal Forum (Scotland) and has written this brief report of some of the themes that emerged from the Forum’s meeting in Glasgow last Saturday.
A small but vocal group of Lib Dem activists came together last Saturday in Glasgow to debate the current state of and prospects for the Party in Scotland. Although mostly drawn from Glasgow and the West of Scotland members travelled from as far afield as Irvine, Bo’ness, Edinburgh and the North of England.
The meeting lasted slightly over two hours but covered a lot of ground. Caron has already published Robert Brown’s hard-hitting keynote speech in full here
The other main part of the meeting was a series of short themed discussion in an open forum format. Speakers did not pull their punches and the two distinctively Scottish matters addressed were the actions of the Scottish Parliamentary Party in the last Parliament and the complete ineffectiveness of the Scottish Executive.
The Executive was strongly attacked as being remote, weak and ineffective. The Executive minutes are confidential and cannot be distributed. The Executive’s failure to communicate in any other way renders it invisible to both the membership and local parties. Clifton Terrace Focus appears irregularly and without any attempt to impart anything above the bare minimum of information. The Executive produces annual action plans that it does not publicise or explain; it has only tenuous formal or informal links with local parties and makes no attempt to involve the lay party by consultation. It has presided over a withering away of Party policy-making. Party membership is declining swiftly without any action being taken and the Party has organisational and structural difficulties that are not being addressed. In addition, senior figures in the Scottish Party are not doing enough to project a strong Scottish voice at Federal level.
Speakers also noted that at times during the last Scottish Parliament the entire rationale of the Parliamentary Party seemed to be to bash the Nats. It was felt that the Party had become too prone to criticise what it disliked without proposing alternatives. We need to concentrate more on cooperation to achieve success where our policies are close to other parties. It was also felt that less attention should be paid to focus groups and more effort put into developing our own distinctive vision. We also need to better articulate our wish for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. In this connection it was felt that neither the Westminster Parliamentary party nor the Federal Executive really understands the implications and necessities of devolution and that they need to raise their game in this respect. The one positive note that was expressed was the indications that Willie Rennie appears to have taken note of most of these criticisms and will hopefully act on them.
The meeting went on to strongly endorse the formalisation of the Social Liberal Forum in Scotland and for the Group to take steps to seek positive changes in the Party and to promote debate on tactics and values amongst the membership and at Scottish Conference.
A more complete account of the meeting has been posted on the Social Liberal Forum website here
Anyone interested in being kept in touch with future activities of the Forum should contact Norman Fraser at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 0141-946-4102.