Edinburgh was spoiled last weekend. Not only was there a Madonna concert and a performance of the Hitch Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy radio show (which I went to), but Business Secretary Vince Cable answered questions from Liberal Democrat members on Sunday evening.
Readers will be glad to see former Edinburgh West MP John Barrett, sufficiently recovered from illness and on his usual sparkling form, chairing the session.
Vince answered questions for well over an hour on subjects ranging from renewable energy to high executive pay to winning back disgruntled voters and members to regulating the banks and that Financial Times interview that everyone except Mark Pack seems to be interpreting as some silly season leadership grab.
I decided to ask six members of the audience for a brief assessment of the session and this is what they told me:
I thought it was useful and wide ranging. Of course, the subject of future leadership of the Party was in many people’s minds. It is clear to me that he is interested, which pleases me!
On one level Cable was disappointing. He was avuncular and charming but very discreet. He said almost nothing that he has not already said in print and he fielded questions on Party leadership and working with the Tories in diplomatic fashion. Not surprisingly he was most interesting about his own departmental issues, making comments that impressed by their moderation and pragmatism. He is clearly very much his own man and every so often he says something quirky that shows the difficulty in tying him down or defining him neatly. Interestingly he went out of his way to declare himself a social democrat and he certainly is well at ease with the concept of using the state in positive fashion for long-term economic planning.
I was impressed with Vince, but I always have been. I was thinking of leaving the Party after standing in the Council Elections but it's people like Vince, Willie and Michael Moore that keep me going.
I thought it was a very good meeting last night, with Vince on good form. Good to get an insight into the smaller print of potential legislation. He didn't always answer spot-on the issue, but was pretty good, and frank with his answers. He also looked 5-10 years younger than the last time I saw him, so I wonder what he's on and whether I can have some.
I thought the Q&A went very well. Vince is a thoughtful and clear sighted respondent. He gave a re-run of why and where we are. He has the ability to look to the long view, a capacity lacking in most politicians. He can also be disarmingly frank. I have never been a Social Democrat but two of our MPs, Vince and Charles Kennedy, stand head and shoulders above most others in their ability to cut through the fog of political chatter and weigh up the solutions available. Sunday reinforced my view that Vince's opinions are important to our party.
I was as impressed by Vince as I have been on previous occasions. He has the advantage of having lived and worked in Scotland, so I feel he understands more about the political landscape here than some others. I very much appreciate him giving us the opportunity to have the Q & A session with him - I don't think that Tory or Labour Secretaries of State would ever do this, and he fields the questions very well.
With this sort of feedback, it's hardly surprising that Vince has such a high approval rating - 80% in the last Lib Dem Voice survey. On his performance I'd suggest that the sooner he does one of the party's new "webinars" the better, even if the powers that be would insist on calling it "Cable Tv."
If you want to read more about the questions Vince answered, you can read my summary here.