Monday, September 05, 2011

Interview: Mike Moore MP - Action in Government, ideas for the future

It can’t be much fun being Alex Salmond these days.  The euphoria of May has subsided, and he’s  realised that there’s nobody else to blame for his majority Government’s actions.  On top of that, wherever he looks, he sees the grin of Wilie Rennie,  keen to highlight any example of anglophobia, of  dodging , delaying, ducking and diving. The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader has had accolade after accolade in the press for providing such high quality opposition to the SNP bulldozer.

There’s another Liberal Democrat making Salmond’s daily life uncomfortable.  They don’t come more reasonable than Mike Moore,  Secretary of State for Scotland.   Moore was an accountant before he became an MP.  Precision and detail are what he does. He’s on a mission to nail Alex Salmond’s independence jelly to the wall, this week posing six questions for the SNP to answer.

I caught up with him recently, just as he was finishing his 15th Summer Tour of his large Borders constituency. He talked for quite a while about the diverse communities on his patch, recounting  every issue raised in each place. It’s clear he thrives on getting out and meeting people.

It’s as well Moore has a huge capacity for work, given that his position as Scotland’s champion in the UK Government requires him to, as he says, “fight like hell”, for Scotland across virtually every area of Government.  Here are just a few examples:

Welfare reform

The anxiety felt by people with long term conditions about the Coalition’s welfare reforms, especially the Work Capability Assessment and changes to Disability Living Allowance is shared by most Liberal Democrats.  Moore has met many times with people affected by the changes and feels that he can help change things:

It’s interesting to hear directly from people that nobody thinks the old system worked particularly well 
and everybody accepts that we need some reform.

 What I’ve been able to do is to take specific examples of concerns back to Iain Duncan Smith and our own Steve Webb who’s been playing a blinder on these issues.

The Work Capability Assessment is at the heart of people’s concerns. We’ve changed it so that the WCA is only one of the bits of evidence that a decision maker will take into account.

There are other issues to work through and I and my colleagues are getting out there, talking to people and feeding their concerns back in.

The Economy

In the wake of disappointing unemployment figures and with growth lower than expected, what did Mike have to say about the effects of the Coalition’s cuts on Scotland’s economy:

With every passing day we see more clearly the global context in which we are trying to fix our economy. We are being recognised internationally as taking the necessary action to deal with the deficit and we escape the huge interest rates being demanded of Greece and elsewhere. It’s not easy to make any of the decisions and they are challenging s for Liberal Democrats but we’re doing it because it’s necessary.

We have some huge legacy issues in terms of the way the economy was too reliant onwards the financial service sector in the south east of England. We’re now trying to support businesses across the country and across all sectors.

Moore has been in regular touch with business and has met with bankers over concerns about lending fairly. He talks about how Vince Cable and Chris Huhne have been responsive to the issues he’s raised from a Scottish perspective. He’s making a strong case for the Green Investment Bank to be based in Edinburgh.

We are making decisions which will have impact for decades and that’s a hell of a responsibility but it’s very exciting.  I want Scotland to take a huge part in that.

Bleak economic news in Scotland is often greeted by an assertion from the First Minister that if he had more powers, everything would be just dandy. Moore, unsurprisingly, disagrees.

Fundamentally as a good liberal I think it’s important that we devolve all the appropriate powers to the Scottish Government – but they have phenomenal power already with the funding they give to, for example, enterprise, planning, higher education. There are broader debates about whether you should devolve Corporation Tax and we will consider their arguments.

Since then, the SNP have published their proposals for Corporation Tax, which they want to cut to 12.5%. Even they admit this would lead to a fall in revenue, cuts in services and the full economic benefits might be felt outside Scotland. 

Air bases, carriers and coastguards

Scotland’s had its share of bad news in the last year in terms of the closure of RAF Kinloss, the loss of the Forth and Clyde coastguards and Leuchars changing from an RAF to an Army base. Moore has been fighting for the best result possible for Scotland. He won through on the aircraft carriers, which will boost employment in Fife and on the Clyde, and it’s clear he’s had a positive influence on other decisions.

It was widely recognised we need to modernise the Coastguard service. The Department of Transport brought forward a series of proposals for consultation. I was very much involved in the discussions. All different options were properly looked at. We’ve reached the solution that recognises modernisation but also takes on board strong evidence from Stornoway and Shetland which suggests they need to stay as 24 hour bases. We’ve moved the original set of proposals to a much better solution.

On air bases, this was a challenging situation and difficult to work through. There are huge, huge challenges coming in Fife with Leuchars becoming an Army base – but there are great opportunities there also.

(That’s a view backed up by Fife Chamber of Commerce)

In Moray, nobody will underestimate the effects of the change, but Lib Dems, Danny, me and others paid a lot of attention to the impact on communities. I’m not going to play that down and there will be difficulties. In the Scotland Office, we had a response group working with communities, the MOD and the Treasury so we could be the focal point and conduit for people’s concerns and information and act internally to challenge things and make sure all the right things were being considered. In Scotland we will have 2,500 more armed forces than before. Scotland’s contribution to UK defence will be significantly enhanced. This shows how importantly the UK Government sees Scotland.

Using the Crown Estate revenues to invest in communities

Next year Scotland’s coastal communities will benefit from a £4 million boost thanks to Mike and Danny Alexander taking it upon themselves to shake up the way the Crown Estate operates in Scotland.

I’ve wanted to make changes as there’s been a growing dissatisfaction with the way the Crown Estate operates, how it engages with Councils and other Government bodies in Scotland.  I’ve probably had more meetings with Crown Estate representatives than my last 10 predecessors to change things.
Danny as a highland MP knew in spades what the issues were around the prospect of vast renewable resources coming to the Crown Estates because of offshore wind and so on and the danger that communities would be sidelined. There’s been an unsatisfactory set of circumstances for communities affected by onshore wind, and this mustn’t be the same for offshore wind. We will see substantial sums of money available for communities around Scotland and they are very pleased with the way this will work.

The Scotland Bill and beyond

The Scotland Bill goes to the House of Lords next week and Moore confirmed that there is still potential for further changes – but there are conditions:

“Any such changes have to be clear cut in what they are set achieve. They need to be properly thought through and they need not to be to the detriment of the rest of the UK.”

I asked him what happens after the Scotland Bill – after all, Liberal Democrats have a strong and positive vision of a federal UK

I’ve been discussing this with Willie since he became leader and we support and understand that our approach and thinking towards devolution doesn’t end with the Scotland Bill. We want to take the work done by the Steel Commission, which set out some key principles for further devolution, to the next stage.


At some point in the next 5 years, the Scottish people will be asked to vote on independence, and Willie Rennie has already warned that rejection of the idea is not a foregone conclusion.

I am absolutely sure that Scotland benefits from being part of the UK. Our exports to other countries in the world are about £20 billion a year in value. Our exports to the rest of the UK are about £40 billion. We get a huge amount of value from the UK, a single market that enables us to trade without 
additional cost barriers and to work with each other on a straightforward basis
My anxiety is that we are entering a phase with the prospect of the referendum which creates a lot of uncertainty for businesses when they are planning their investment for the future. Like the rest of us, they don’t have a lot of detail. There are some fundamental things that the First Minister has to set out so that the people of Scotland understand the terms of the debate.

Last week the Chairman of CBI in Scotland, Linda Urquhart, said something very similar.

Rebuilding the Party

The Liberal Democrats took a huge battering here in May.  Mike spoke at a special members’ forum to discuss the way forward and I asked him what he’d taken from that meeting.

That kind of gathering wouldn’t happen in any other party in the way that we held it – it was an important example of us being true to our philosophy that we talk about things, we’re open and accountable. We as ministers were conscious of the strength of feeling, the sadness that we’ve lost so many colleagues and friends in the Scottish Parliament. There’s no question that what the Coalition Government has been implementing in the last year, was very difficult for candidates. I visited every single one of our key seat candidates at least once and I knew from my own experience on the doorsteps how challenging it was for them.

What impressed me at the Forum was the courage and determination people showed to fight back. There were strong words said, but people were universally committed to getting out there and knocking on doors.

It’s clear that we have to get much better at explaining at what we as Liberal Democrats are bringing to and changing in this government. We’ve a lot of work to do and we are asking a lot of people who’ve spent years working for the party. The result in May was difficult but the resilience of the party and commitment to our principles and determination to fight back was absolute. 

Mike Moore will never be anything other than reasonable and measured. He compares well to a First Minister full of bluff and bluster. His skilful advocacy for Scotland within the Government has already brought changes for the better.  In the constitutional debate, he and Willie Rennie will make a formidable team, keeping the argument real and practical, but also fresh with new ideas for further devolution not just to Edinburgh but beyond, to communities, giving away power wherever they can. 


Lord Snooty said...

Erm, what is the colour of the sky on your planet Caron?

My ghast is flabert!

Your Union is crumbling and I can only assume you(the rump of the Scot Libs) are in some weird dystopia where the Scottish Secretary of State ( Michael Moore today, who maybe the last to bear the title?) has anything of substance to add to the debate on Scotland breaking the Union. He does not represent Scotland in the Cabinet of Westminster and really represents the forces of Westminster in Scotland.

Go forth and prepare for annihilation.

You will be missed and maybe, if you can regain your Scottish personna, may be able to reform a true radical Liberal politic in an independent Scotland.

The tipping point has passed.

The writing is on the wall, the tipping point has passed.

Don McC said...

Support for independence is increasing. Willie has an approval rating of MINUS 14%. Actually, I bet it's brilliant fun being Salmond these days.

Graeme said...

Sorry Caron, but this is just bemusing. Michael Moore has been an unmitigated disaster as Secretary of State for Scotland. The SNP have a higher share of the vote in the polls than they did on election day despite a handful of blunders in the first 100 days and for all the media hype, Rennie's not yet had much, if any, impact on the electorate.

It's time we stopped obsessing about Salmond and focussed on our own message.

cynicalHighlander said...

Yes Salmond is shaking with guffaws as Moore and Rennie are playing a blinder, more of the same please.

Ipsos MORI Scottish Public Opinion Monitor

Yes voters take lead in new independence poll

tris said...

I'm almost speechless Caron.

Today the Herald carries the story that the independence "yes" outstrips the "no".

Alex Salmond has an approval rating of 62% against Willie's 17%.

In voting intentions the SNP have 49%; the Liberals have 6%. And for London they have 6% too against the SNP's 42%. I doubt they will get a seat at that rate.

Michael Moore is without doubt a disaster as SoS. He wasn't considered worthy even of a junior post in government and then Laws was found out and he jumped to Cabinet rank, because Cameron respects Scotland not at all.

Alexander doesn't even know who is responsible for the tram fiasco and caused sharp intakes of breath from his educated audience when he referred to it recently in some pathetic attempt at a joke.

Willie has 4 members of parliament; I suspect that that's about how many Nick will have (or rather Nick's replacement will have) after the next election.

Fun being Alex Salmond. Take it from me, he'll be lovin' it.

Munguin said...

Caron have you ever heard of the cringe factor? Actually just do your usual and don't reply that is a rhetorical question.

I am like your other commenters speechless. This post achieves new heights of mindless sycophancy and plumbs new depths of head in the sand syndrome!

Caron said...

Funnily enough, I don't write this blog to please cybernattery in all its forms.

I can't remember the last time, Munguin, you wrote anything that wasn't barbed.

You are quite happy to have a good go at any Liberal Democrats you fancy, portraying Mike Moore and Danny Alexander at great unionist oppressors. There's not a lot of balance in the rants you write especially when it comes to Willie.

That's your style, fine, but I'll run my blog my way. Now, I've been critical of Willie, Mike, Danny, Nick and quite a bit of what the Coalition is doing on things like welfare reform, but I will also give credit where it's due. That's called being fair and that's who I am.

Caron said...

Graeme, what is it about Mike's performance that you think is so disastrous?

And I think that Willie Rennie has been saying a lot of the right things, articulating our values really well. That kind of stuff doesn't turn opinion poll rankings round overnight. It's going to take time, but I believe we will do it by hard work and being true to ourselves.

Munguin said...

That’s fair enough Caron and you are right you run your blog your way. My criticism of you is that you do not reply to comments, which if I am honest is rather bad mannered and rude. People including me take the time to read you blog and compose comments. I think the least you could do is answer some of them. But now we know why! Its just the so called cyber-nattery that you don’t want to take on. What a dull blog it would be indeed if everyone just gushed with praise for you and the Lib Dems.

As for Rennie, I think he is what he is a failed Fife MP who got to the top of something (anything) by being the last turkey standing at the turkey shoot! He did not bother to put his name forward for a constituency in Fife because the people of Fife had already told him to sling his hook. Deny that if you dare!

tris said...


As long as you attach yourselves to David Cameron and his English Tory Party I doubt that you will see any improvement in your polling. No matter how hard you work at it. Even the Tories know that in Scotland (and much of England) the very name is poison.

But to say in a week where polls have shown a further surge for the SNP, even from the unimaginable heights of the General Election when they won a majority (supposedly an impossibility), and in which the number of people shown (in a separate poll) to be PRO independence was greater than those against, that it must be hard to be Alex Salmond.... well!

If that were Mr Rennie or Mr Clegg enjoying that kind of support, do you seriously think they would be bemoaning their lack of fun?

I think they would be singing in the shower.

Didn't Clegg recently say that he got very depressed about some of the comments directed at him.

As for Michael Moore. What I say is keep it up mate. At least some of credit for the fabulous figures for the SNP must be laid at his door.

There's not much Scots like less than being bossed about from London by a Tory (and let's face it, that is, more or less, what he is).

Munguin said...

I’m getting the impression from the people who comment on your blog that you are not the well rounded and fair Lib Dem you masquerade as but rather as a nodding-dog apologist that refuses to see the woolly mammoth in the room. The commenters on your blog (i.e. those above) are all critical, even the Lib Dem. Does that not tell you anything? I see I only got a rise out of you because my style is more direct, I prefer plain speaking Caron, I thought you would value that.

Caron said...

Munguin, I wish I had time to reply to every single comment left. Sometimes to do so would be just to feed a troll, and I've always doubted whether that's a worthwhile use of my time.

Sometimes, life just gets in the way and there aren't enough hours in the day.

But you're wrong that I never reply to comments.

I do my best.

I don't want gushing praise - and as a good liberal I relish proper debate that gets somewhere and at least gets some mutual understanding going. Just trashing people for the sake of it isn't my bag.

Tris, Willie lost his seat. He was elected to represent the same region in the Scottish Parliament. It happens. It would never, ever have crossed my mind to call Margaret Ewing a failed MP when she was elected to the Scottish Parliament. I miss her very much - she was a good woman.

What happened in Dunfermline was due to the national swing - and getting an 8% swing from Labour on a night when everyone was clinging to them like they were some sort of security blanket really wasn't that bad.

And, just remind me, how many seats did the SNP say they were going to win in 2010? And how many did they actually win?

Munguin said...

I’m sorry Caron but the “I’ve got a life” excuse just wont cut the mustard. Either your blog is part of your life and you make time for it or you don’t. I really don’t think you should employ that gambit for what is bad manners pure and simple.

It is my experience that you do not respond to comments in any consistent way. Even when the comments are constructive and deserve to be engaged with you often don’t so that wont hold water either. You seem to be forgetting that I do read your blog and its comments and I know that every commentor is not a “troll” as you suggest.

Caron said...

Munguin, sometimes the commenters on my blog agree with what I am saying, sometimes they don't. You can't judge from a single post.

I'm well aware of the situation my party's in. I don't agree with every decision the Coalition Government has made, but I know that our people in the Government are decent people who are doing good things - and that if they weren't there, the Tories alone would be a million times worse. That's what keeps me going.

If you go through my posts, you'll find that I've said nice things about people in all parties as well as call them out when I disagree with them. That's balance.

Caron said...

My blog is a huge part of my life. You don't know enough about my life to judge me on how I use my time. I do the best I can. I read every single comment & appreciate them and respond to as many as I can.

Munguin said...

Well thank you Caron for acknowledging that you do in fact answer comments in a selective fashion.

tris said...

Caron, I didn't say that Willie Rennie was a failed MP. Not once ever. I don't really think that he was. Most small party winners at by-elections lose their seats back to the big parties at the general election. Rennie was, in that case, like John Mason.

As for the fiasco that was Alex's vision of 20 seats... pffffffffff. I hate to sound smarter than the FM, but I never believed that for a second... not any more than I believed that the Tories would get 11.

Caron said...

CH, you made a comment about a poll on Scotland Bill and I deleted it by mistake. Could you please send it again.


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