Sunday, September 30, 2012

Conference: the good, the bad and the ugly

Now that I've had some sleep and recovered from the fun of Federal Conference in Brighton, I thought I'd share with you some of the highs and lows of a thoroughly enjoyable five days.

The Good

When Shami beat Paddy:  You don't often see Paddy Ashdown being completely bested in an argument, but Liberty director Shami Chakrabati managed it with aplomb. Paddy said in his speech to a packed Liberty fringe meeting  that secret courts were fine as long as everything was overseen by a Judge. Shami went for him. She said she knew she was abusing the chair, but it was her meeting and she'd do what she liked. She demolished his arguments to the great satisfaction of the room. At that point, it should have been clear to the leadership that they had absolutely no chance of winning the vote the next day.

The secret courts debate: This debate showed the Liberal Democrats at their best, getting to grips with a difficult subject. The leadership had lined up popular MPs Julian Huppert and Alistair Carmichael to put their case. Carmichael's speech was well-crafted and had exactly the right, reassuring tone, but Conference was never going to be persuaded. There were no speakers on the side of the amendment who weren't in Parliament. In contrast, there were some passionate and persuasive speeches from motion proposer Jo Shaw, whose remarks were published in full on this site on Friday, first time speaker Ruth Edmonds and Jo Hayes among others. Bridget Fox said that if secret courts had been allowed, she would never have been able to clear her name when she was reported to the Standards Commission.

Jo Swinson's speech: Jo's debut platform speech as a minister was a statement of intent as to how she was going to make the workplace more equal and working life more fulfilling for people.
She said:
I feel incredibly lucky to be doing a job I love, as MP for my home seat of East Dunbartonshire. I’m also really enjoying the new Ministerial post with all the exciting challenges it brings.  But like most people in this hall I expect, I know what it’s like to have a job where you’re clock-watching, or feeling unfulfilled.  I have worked in a fast-food restaurant where the cries of “how many bodies do we have on the tills?” made me realise I was less a valued member of staff and more a production machine.  I have worked in the Disney store, where even for someone with my cheery disposition, the enforced perma-smile was too much to bear.  And I have worked for a local radio station, where the great charity work we did at the grassroots was measured by the parent company solely in terms of positive column inches, which was so demoralising for the team.
Without a doubt, I know that I have been at my most productive, creative and effective when I have relished going to work. It’s only natural.  When employment has risen significantly but GDP has not, we do need to ask the question, are we doing all we can to unleash the potential of our most precious resource – our people?
It was practical, relevant and emotional as she mentioned her 99 year old Nana at the end. It even had a Doctor Who reference. You can read the whole speech on my blog here.

Citizens UK thanking us for delivering on our pledge to end child detention for immigration purposes: I wrote about this colourful and emotional event last week. Citizens UK are now running campaigns to get employers to pay the living wage and on restraint purposes during deportations.

Assisted dying debate and Dignity in Dying fringe: Our decision to press for legislation on medically assisted dying came at the end of a harrowing, emotional and high quality debate. Speakers gave accounts from their own personal experience of caring for sick and dying relatives. Ian Swales and Lorely Burt were two MPs who spoke in favour. The fringe run by Dignity in Dying two days later looked at where we go from here. Particularly moving was the account from the family of a doctor who had the best possible palliative care as she died, but who still suffered terribly.

The Bad

The economic growth debate: I wish Conference had been allowed to have a full debate on the economy. The Party's Federal Conference Committee chose Liberal Left's amendment rather than one which would have been much harder for the leadership to defeat. The atmosphere could have been electrifying.

The family wasn't complete: I know at least 20 people who didn't go because of the system of police accreditation just in my circle of friends. They were missed.

 The Ugly

The weather: Saturday was glorious, but then the coast was lashed by wind and rain. I am not a slight person and I was almost blown over. Funnily enough, the weather calmed down after Nick Clegg's speech. If that was all it was going to take, we should have moved it forward to Sunday afternoon.

The media: Their desperation to find someone willing to trash Nick Clegg was palpable. They found virtually nobody willing to do so. And when they couldn't get what they wanted, they just made it up. Nottingham's Alisdair McGregor was quoted in the Financial Times (who should know better) saying, about Paddy Ashdown's appointment as General Election Chair:
 He doesn’t just march towards the sound of gunfire, he will raise the dead.
What Alisdair actually said, and I know this because I was standing next to him, was "He doesn't just march towards the sound of gunfire, he runs."

 The Frivolous

I managed to escape to Peter Andre's coffee shop and I can report that the chocolate milk shakes are delicious.

Jo Swinson's speech to #LDConf in full

On Wednesday, Jo Swinson made her first platform speech to Conference as a Minister. She spoke about the need for work to be fulfilling and told how she would introduce the right for all to request flexible working and would introduce a parental leave system which would allow parents to split leave in the way that suited them when they became parents. 

This was one of the speeches of Conference for me - it was practical, relevant and even had a Doctor Who reference. I liked the fact that she talked about making the work environment fulfilling because we spend so much time there. She talked of her own experiences working in fast food and retail where she didn't feel valued as an employee. She's clearly so well matched to her ministerial portfolio.

Anyway, here's the whole thing. Enjoy! 

Conference, time is precious. I can say that, as I’m now officially the Minister for Time. Yes, my weirdly wonderful set of responsibilities bequeathed from Ed Davey and then Norman Lamb includes our time zone.

In fairness, they couldn’t give it to the department’s Lords Minister, he’d only demand his own Tardis.

It’s funny to think about how much of our lifetime we spend doing different things:
Handily, someone has done the research.

Apparently, we spend one hundred and fifteen days laughing – that’s six minutes a day, presumably somewhat more when The Thick of It is on telly.

There’s twenty weeks on hold, listening to muzak while waiting to speak to a human being in a call centre.

Six months of our life queuing, presumably this figure is UK-specific.

And eighty-seven hours of our life waiting for Simon Hughes to arrive at an event.

Ok, I made the last one up, but it feels like it sometimes!

But the really scary one is this – we spend almost 100,000 hours of our life at work – that’s the equivalent of eleven and a half years.

It’s a huge proportion of the time we have on this planet, and it impacts on so much more than just our bank balance: our health, our relationships, our aspirations.

Of course, as Employment Minister I’m all too aware that for too many people right now, the challenge is to find a job, any job. The impact of unemployment, especially when people are young, is still felt decades later.

That’s why Nick Clegg was right to fight for the Youth Contract, to invest £1bn in wage incentives, training places and more apprenticeships.
We were right to end Labour’s ridiculous rules whereby people were penalised for getting experience to make themselves more employable by losing their benefits.

And it’s why, like Stephen Lloyd, Mike Crockart and other Lib Dem MPs, I have been running a local employment initiative in my constituency, Get East Dunbartonshire Working.

Bringing together employers, training providers and government agencies to detail the assistance that is on offer to help businesses take on new staff.

But unemployment is not the only problem. There are also large numbers of people in work, but uninspired.

From the graduate who has kept their part-time student job but feels their career is going nowhere, to the employee stuck in a rut in the same job for years, feeling undervalued and unchallenged.

Yes, we must tackle unemployment. And we must also improve the working environment for people who have a job. This isn’t just a nice thing to do.

In the current economic circumstances we simply can’t afford not to maximise the full potential of our workforce.

I feel incredibly lucky to be doing a job I love, as MP for my home seat of East Dunbartonshire. I’m also really enjoying the new Ministerial post with all the exciting challenges it brings.

But like most people in this hall I expect, I know what it’s like to have a job where you’re clock-watching, or feeling unfulfilled.

- I have worked in a fast-food restaurant where the cries of “how many bodies do we have on the tills?” made me realise I was less a valued member of staff and more a production machine.

- I have worked in the Disney store, where even for someone with my cheery disposition, the enforced perma-smile was too much to bear.

- And I have worked for a local radio station, where the great charity work we did at the grassroots was measured by the parent company solely in terms of positive column inches, which was so demoralising for the team.

Without a doubt, I know that I have been at my most productive, creative and effective when I have relished going to work. It’s only natural.

When employment has risen significantly but GDP has not, we do need to ask the question, are we doing all we can to unleash the potential of our most precious resource – our people?

Of course the arguments for improving the world of work are rooted in strong liberal tradition.

There’s a wonderful example of this in my part of the country – New Lanark, now a world heritage site.

Inspired by the liberal philosophy of Bentham, in the 1800s Robert Owen proved that commercial success went hand in hand with valuing workers. In his textile mills, he provided free medical care, the first infant school in the world, and adult education. He reduced the working day to 8 hours, but increased production.

John Stuart Mill developed the thinking, writing of the benefits of workplace democracy and co-operative associations. He rejected the pitting of workers and owners against each other and he highlighted “The emancipation of women, & co-operative production” as “the two great changes that will regenerate society”.

These enlightened challenges laid down in the 19th century still have relevance as we seek to shape a modern vision of the 21st century workplace that can deliver prosperity.

As a Business Minister, I see three big opportunities for the UK labour market.
First, inclusivity – we must draw on all of society’s talents.

Second, engagement – we must harness the energy of employees to build better businesses.

And finally, entrepreneurial spirit.  Not everyone is an employee and we must nurture the business creators of tomorrow.

So first – inclusivity. 

In recovering from the most serious economic downturn for decades, it’s a no-brainer that we need to draw on everyone’s skills and potential.

Making it harder for people to play an active role in our economy because they are women, or have a disability, or are parents, is a shocking waste of talent.

For instance, we need to seize the game-changing opportunity that the Paralympics have given us to improve the employment opportunities of people with disabilities. It gives us a chance to make the business case for employing people with disabilities, and we must do it.

Too often they have faced prejudice, stigma and ignorance in the recruitment process. For more than twenty years, the Employers’ Forum on Disability, who I used to work for, have recognised the business opportunity that many are missing.

One in five people is either disabled, or close to someone who is.  So there is a strong case both in terms of tapping into the creative talents of resilient individuals, and better understanding a significant portion of customers.

And the benefits of a more balanced and diverse workforce are clear.

Another example is the wealth of evidence from around the world that shows that company boards that are more gender-balanced perform better. Following the Davies report commissioned by Vince Cable, we have seen the largest ever annual increase in women on boards – though incidentally not in the Cabinet.

But it’s not just about women at the top.  It’s about being able to unlock the potential of women across our economy, at all levels.

Technology has transformed the ability of people to communicate and work in different ways. Yet our working practices are often rigidly stuck in a time warp that values slogging away in a standard pattern of hours, rather than whatever works to get the best results from the individual. 

We should enable mums and dads to choose how they share time off after their baby is born.

We should allow carers the flexibility they need to juggle their responsibilities and their job.

We should help parents stay in work by promoting meaningful part-time roles, including at senior levels.

This Coalition Government is dedicated to revolutionising the way we work:

·         Introducing shared parental leave.
·         Sharing best practice and challenging outdated assumptions about part-time work.
·         Extending the right to request flexible working to everyone.

Because inclusivity and flexibility aren’t just for parents, or carers, or people with disabilities.  These changes help everyone to work in a way that suits the realities of modern life. 

And this benefits employers too – through reduced turnover, greater productivity and fewer working days lost.

The second opportunity is engagement.

Conference debated this very issue on Monday, highlighting the benefits of mutuals, employee ownership and workplace democracy.

I want to build on the excellent work that Norman Lamb began on employee ownership.  We should champion the role of co-operatives, mutuals and alternative business models like social enterprises in rebalancing our economy.

But a business doesn’t have to be owned by employees to engage employees.
one in four employees is a member of a trade union.  For all the media headlines about strikes, they do good and vital work: resolving disputes, training and education, protecting the vulnerable.

There are lots of other good examples too of employee involvement in decision-making.  Ideas from the shop floor saving businesses money.

And engaging employees makes good business sense. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, happy employees are more productive, more creative and make more sales.

Organisations that work to engage employees and improve their wellbeing get better results.

Finally, we need to nurture entrepreneurs.

Because the workplace is not just about employees – many people are self-employed, and we need to encourage more people to start businesses.

Here again, we are missing a trick with the talents of women.

There are less than half as many women entrepreneurs as men. If we could get women to start up businesses at the same rate as men, we’d see 150,000 new start-ups each year.

I hope we can use the wonderful Olympic spirit as inspiration across a range of fields, not just sport.

Jess Ennis, Kath Grainger and Ellie Simmonds are wonderful role models.

They prove that ruthless determination and desire to win at all costs are not exclusively male traits, nor should they be.

Seeing such strong women succeed challenges cultural stereotypes about what is feminine behaviour.

I want us to translate this energy into women entrepreneurs too.  We’ve recruited thousands of business mentors, we’re investing £2m in rural businesswomen, and in the autumn I will be bringing forward fresh ideas on how to improve women’s access to finance.

So conference why is all of this important?  It’s important because the most successful societies draw on the widest pool of talent.  I have a dual role as Minister for Business and Minister for Equalities. 

Many people tell me they’re incompatible.  But conference, we know they are inseparable.
New measures for growth must go hand in hand with continued measures to promote equality.

There will be some who cry “we’re in a recession, we can’t afford to do this.”
But the truth is, we’re in a recession, we can’t afford not to do it.

We need to reap the benefits of more balanced boardrooms, and a more motivated, engaged workforce. It makes good business sense.

And it is my liberal agenda within the Business Department.

A Conservative Government wouldn’t see this as a vital part of getting our economy back on track.

And Labour don’t understand that empowering employees is about more than a one size fits all solution.

Conference, there’s one person watching today who for me, symbolises the great strides we’ve made.  My Nanna, who is 99 this year, was born into a Britain where women couldn’t vote. 

They were expected to know their place, and a woman’s place was in the home.
She has lived through two world wars which saw women enter the workplace en masse.

A women’s rights movement that saw women gain control over their bodies.
And the first ever woman Prime Minister.

Now her granddaughter is responsible for employment relations in Britain.  And I want to take us on the next stage of that journey.

A modern workplace revolution.  An inclusive, engaged workforce.  An inspired new generation of entrepreneurs.

We spend so much time working. 

Until now, we’ve had to contort our lives to fit an outdated model.  But we need to create a new model.  A model that works for modern lives.

And if it works for modern lives, it will work for business too.

HERE BE SPOILERS: Review of The Angels take Manhattan

Well, that's it, then. The Ponds have gone. There will be spoilers later on so don't read any further if you don't want to know what happens.

You know how soft I am, so it will come as no surprise to you that I bawled my eyes out at the end of last night's Doctor Who. Amy and Rory have been fantastic companions and the relationship between them and the Doctor, complicated by the revelations around River Song, have made fantastic viewing. I'm not so convinced that it really was time for them to go. I could have had them round for a year or two yet.

Steven Moffat promised he was going to break our hearts. That's one promise that's not going to need an autotuned apology. He fulfilled it in every possible way.

The scene was Manhattan, where the weeping angels controlled a building called Winter's Quay. Rather than the weakened specimens on the Byzantium, who broke people's necks then disturbingly used their voices to communicate, they were back to their original form in Blink, where they sent people into the past and lived off their potential life energy. It's a very weird concept.

Rory's a bit like Ianto Jones from Torchwood in some ways. There was more than a trace of irony for me that he was off fetching coffees when he was zapped back to 1938 by an angel. The Doctor and Amy knew what was going on because the Doctor was reading a trashy detective novel which we later found out was written by River using the pen name Melody Malone.

The weeping angels were creepy enough, but there was something very sinister about River saying "Hello, Daddy" in the same slightly lascivious tone as she says "Hello, Sweetie"to the Doctor.

As Rory is zapped again by weeping angels, in space rather than time, River and Amy have a conversation that really annoyed me. First of all, River spoke about the Doctor as if he were an emotionally immature child who couldn't cope with the idea that people aged and warned her against showing him signs of ageing because it would remind him that he must lose her. Well, excuse me, he's 900 years old and, yes, it's sad that he can't keep those he loved round him forever and his life involves a fair bit of grief, but there's no point in trying to protect him from it in such a patronising way.

She might well have fallen in love with someone "with the face of a 12 year old" but there are worse things than women ageing. We're only talking a few wrinkles in both of them. In the normal course of events, both could still have had decades with him. If I'm being generous, Moffat might well have been weaving in our double standards on ageing (men are allowed to, women aren't) into the story. The alternative is that he was just showing his own prejudices.

Taken by the Angels to Winter's Quay, Rory finds an elderly version of himself about to die. Joined by River and Amy, the quartet realise that young Rory will be caught and zapped further back in time so that he dies in 1938...unless he can outrun them, creating a paradox. This he decides to do by jumping off the roof to prevent the Angel in the Statue of Liberty getting him. The scene where Amy decides to jump with him is so emotional. There is no way she's going to risk being without him. My daughter thought it was Moffat trolling the Sherlock fandom. If you don't know why, watch the series. It's brilliant.

You know that they haven't really got away with it when the family is reunited in the cemetery. There's still too much off the episode to go and you know they have to part. Rory is found by an Angel who's survived the paradox somehow and very unobtrusively sent back. Despite being willing to sacrifice himself, to jump off a big building not knowing whether it'll work, he never got so much as a thank you or a proper farewell scene.

As Amy allows the angel to take her too, not knowing if she'd definitely be reunited with Rory for certain but desperate to at least try to live out her life with him, Moffat uses the "fixed point in time" line to make the ending final. I'm not sure why Rory and Amy couldn't have found some way of getting out of New York and finding their way back to River and the Doctor. Instead we find out from the gravestone that they are by now both dead of old age and that they lived out their days together.

Presumably River is going to be able to continue to see them with her time vortex thingy - and she has to get the book to Amy anyway.

And, of course, River gets to continue her life with the Doctor. We know how that ends and so does he. I liked the "you can't have two psychopaths in the TARDIS" line to explain why this is no conventional marriage.

It strikes me that there is potential for a whole new spin-off series covering Amy and Rory's life in New York. If there are angels in the city that never sleeps, there's bound to be other alien life forms who need either zapping or understanding. As an aside, you have to wonder how they'll cope going from iPad to manual typewriter, in the days before tv was in every house, and laundry was done mainly by hand.

The person I feel sorriest for is poor Brian. We've only got to know Rory's dad in the past few episodes. We know what he was like with those cubes. Will he be scouring the earth looking for Rory and Amy? Will the Doctor think to go back and tell him what's happened?

We know that Amy and Rory were thinking of stopping their adventures with the Doctor and living out their lives in their little blue house. Fans will be glad that they weren't killed or separated. Amy chose Rory twice over her daughter and her raggedy man. If it had all gone wrong, she risked the first time simply death, the second a lifetime of isolation from everybody she loved.

The Angels take Manhattan is the best episode of a strong series so far. Ironically, I had saved Karen Gillan's We'll take Manhattan, in which she plays 60s model Jean Shrimpton, to watch.

Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill have given us hours of pleasure over the last 3 years. Let's hope they have great success in their future careers, and have time to hit the convention circuit, too.

Herald reveals SNP's savage Police cuts

When I was on Brian Taylor's Big Debate on Friday, one of the questions was on the 3000 civilian jobs expected to go after the creation of the single police force.

My answer was that it was hardly responsible government on the part of the SNP to say they'd meet their extra 1000 police officers pledge while cutting back office jobs. What's the point of having those extra officers if they're stuck in the office filling in forms and doing the intelligence work themselves. Years of work have gone into creating a civilian support structure so that bobbies can be out there on the beat catching criminals and the SNP are just discarding that.

They've been dead sleekit about the whole Police re-organisation. Their 2011 manifesto was very woolly on the subject and when they were pressed, Kenny MacAskill hinted that around 3 or 4 police forces would remain.He was clearly hedging his bets as every police force outside the major cities were against a single force and there was considerable concern in local communities about it. The minute the SNP got their majority, they reverted to centralising type and went for a single force.

MacAskill wrote to all police staff promising no compulsory redundancies and no changes to terms and conditions of employment last October. If today's Sunday Herald report is to be believed, both of these promises are not worth the paper they are written on. Special payments to police officers look to be under threat as well as £300 million in cuts over the next three and a half years.

Liberal Democrats have opposed a single force from the start. I wrote about it way back in January 2011. Apart from the fact that it will concentrate way too much power for law enforcement in the hands of two people, the Chief Constable and the Justice Secretary, there's going to be less local control over policing. You can't have one force properly meeting the diverse needs of communities from Stromness to Elgin to Kelso to Glasgow. It seems that our concerns are now being proven right.

Willie Rennie is quoted in the Herald article saying:

These cuts are even worse than we feared and what was set out in the outline business case. The costly upheaval of centralising our local police forces will have a big impact on the effectiveness of the police.
It is vital support staff that are to pay the price for the SNP's costly reorganisation. For years we have worked to create police forces with the right level of support staff to help our front-line officers do their jobs. The SNP are reversing that good work to pay for their obsession with centralising control. The Justice Secretary must come before Parliament to explain himself.
The thing is, if we can't believe a personal letter to staff from the Justice Secretary, how on earth can we believe anything else the SNP says to us about how independence will turn out? They're making all sorts of claims, EU membership being the prime example, that they have no evidence to substantiate and when someone tries to get to the truth under FOI legislation, they blow our money to maintain secrecy.

Again, as I said on the Big Debate the other day, the SNP have to remember that they have to govern for the next two years. People need healthcare, decent education and jobs. The Police cuts, and the broken promises associated with them, will be beginning to bite by the time the Autumn of 2014 comes round. I could do with knowing what exams my daughter is going to be sitting in 2015 sooner rather than later, and so could she. It might be all about independence for the SNP, but for the rest of us, life and its challenges and milestones go on. I was never going to vote for independence anyway, but if they screw up secondary education, nobody will have any confidence in their constitutional claims.

Friday, September 28, 2012

In which I was on Brian Taylor's Big Debate

So, I'm lurking outside the conference hall on Wednesday morning just before Jo Swinson's speech when my phone rings.

The unfamiliar voice from the blocked number announces herself as a producer from Brian Taylor's Big Debate.

She asks me if I'd like to come along on Friday as it was in Livingston.

I wonder if they are struggling for audience members and are ringing round the usual suspects.

Then she says "as a member of the panel."

I just about jumped out of my skin.

Well, I can hardly complain about lack of women on panels and then refuse to do one when I'm asked and available,  can I?

So, that's the story of how an ordinary mum from Livingston found herself on the panel of a popular radio show along with Youth Employment Minister and my local MSP Angela Constance, Labour MEP Catherine Stihler, Colin Borland of the Federation of Small Businesses and Ross Martin of the Centre of Scottish Public Policy.

I arrived at Howden Park Centre just before 11:30 and sat with the other panellists. My mouth was dry and I was trembling with fear.

I think I managed not to screw up majorly - although the words got garbled en route from brain to gob a few times.

I did enjoy it though. I need to be a little more assertive about butting in next time, if they should ever let me back on.

I am incredibly grateful for all my friends online and on the phone who kept me sane and reassured in the run up to the event. That's even the one who, when told what I was about to do chose not to say "you'll be great." Instead she just burst out laughing. I'm also really thrilled with the friends who would never normally be seen dead listening to a political debate, will never get that hour back again and who were very kind about my performance.

It's here if you want to listen.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The SNP and the English Democrats

On Tuesday, in his speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton, Willie Rennie called on conference representatives from south of the border to make the case for keeping the union together and not just give the stage to the English nationalists. He said:

Weve already heard from some English nationalists that they want Scotland out.  They dont value our United Kingdom. These are the allies of Alex Salmonds SNP in their fight to break up Britain. They are working together, attending each others conferences and sharing ideas. But despite what you may have heard most people in Scotland dont want to leave. We want to stay but its not guaranteed.
 So I want to hear your voice in the debate about the future of the UK. I want you to show that the rest of the UK values Scotland and our partnership together. I want the moderate, reasonable, open and welcoming voices from outside Scotland to be heard. You can speak up for what the UK means for you. Whether its the National Health Service designed by an Englishman, delivered by a Welshman. Or its the BBC founded by a Scotsman for the whole of the UK not just Scotland. Or the state pension introduced by Lloyd George; a Liberal Mancunian with a Welsh accent. Speak up for what Scotland means to you.
It could be intellectual, with the Scottish Enlightenment giving us great thinkers like James Hutton, David Hume and Adam Smith. Or it could be as simple as having loved ones from Scotland and caring about the country our children will grow up in. Whatever you value I want you to make your voice heard. Promise me you won't leave the debate to the extreme views of nationalists. 

It came as a bit of a shock to me to learn that there were links between the SNP and the English Democrats. Now, before I even start, let me get one thing absolutely clear. I don't for a second think that the SNP and the English Democrats share much in political outlook, apart from a desire for independence for Scotland. The English Democrats have a pretty nasty bunch of policies that wouldn't have much, if any, traction in Scotland or among any parties represented in Councils across the country and the Scottish Parliament.

What do I mean? Well, have a look at the actions of the English Democrats'  Mayor of Doncaster. HE has cut funds for LGBT events and translation services as the BBC reported three years ago. The party as a whole want an end to multi-culturalism and to "stop mass immigration."

While the English Democrats see marriage and family in very narrow terms, the SNP is introducing equal marriage in Scotland. The values of these two parties are poles apart.

The English Democrats would be more than happy to see an independent Scotland and so share that goal with the SNP. However, their rationale is quite different. It's not so much a desire to see people given the right of self determination, but rather that they think we're basically leeching money off the English and should be cut adrift. It's pretty greedy, really.

So, we've established that there's no great meeting of minds between these two parties. Why on earth, then, did Angus MacNeil, the SNP MP for the Western Isles, think it was ok to go to the English Democrats' Conference? And why was it ok for the SNP to entertain them in Edinburgh? As this blog post from their chairman Robin Tilbrook makes clear, Plaid Cymru won't touch the English Democrats with a bargepole. And Tilbrook isn't happy about it. In contrast, though, Tilbrook has kind words for the SNP:
This is in stark contrast with our friendly relations with the Scottish National Party. We have been pleased to welcome the SNP’s Angus MacNeil MP to speak at a recent Annual Party Conference and our Vice Chairman was welcomed by leaders of the SNP in Edinburgh and her hand was shaken, during a BBC Newsnight programme, by Alex Salmond.

Is it me, or is this a desperate attempt to make themselves sound mainstream and credibility by attaching themselves like limpets to the Scottish party of Government?

Following his attendance at the English Democrats' conference, Angus MacNeil went a bit Twitter happy with them for a while. On no less than 11 occasions between October 2011 and February 2012 that we know about, McNeil shared things written by the English Democrats on social networks. To be sure, none of them were in support of their more questionable policies, but it's indicative of a friendly relationship with people with whom it isn't really wise to be friends. It's a sign of very poor judgement on the part of those members of the SNP who have been so keen to make friends with them. I think it would be wise for them to borrow Plaid Cymru's bargepole. If the English Democrats supported a Liberal Democrat model of a federal UK to the absolute last letter, I'd feel queasy about sharing any physical or online platform with them, however remotely.

I think that quite a lot of SNP members would be concerned to think that their senior figures were hanging around with people like the English Democrats, in much the same way that Salmond's closeness to Murdoch made them cringe.

The English Democrats don't really take kindly to having the spotlight shone upon them. Their piece on Tilbrook's blog about Willie's comments is headlined Tummy upset and "mentally ill" Willie Rennie.

Willie Rennie's central point is that people with liberal values who live in England shouldn't think that the Scottish independence referendum isn't anything to do with them. They can add to the mood music, share the good things about being part of the UK. It's important that these voices are heard.

Why do men think it's ok to get their Nuts out in public?

I don't know much about the man who sat two seats along from me on the flight home from Gatwick last night, but he made me deeply uneasy. I know that he's a Rangers fan, and that he's on Twitter, although I don't know his user name, and that he doesn't see women as equals in society. How do I know the third fact? Because he spent a large part of the hour long flight reading, although that's probably the wrong word, the lads' magazine "Nuts." This is not the first time that's happened recently. On a train journey to London in June, the guy in front of me was reading an actual proper porn magazine which made me feel really icky indeed.

Since when did it become socially acceptable to publicly ogle photos of half naked seductively posed women? The equivalent would be me sitting there openly looking at pictures of men's naked backsides - or worse. But we never see that. The ogling is all very one-sided. It's only women's bodies which are public property. To all the men reading this, how would you like it if you were in that position? I was travelling with a male friend who was equally disgusted with the display.

If men (I could say people, but who are we trying to kid here?) want to look at this stuff, then there's very little I can do to stop them, but for heavens' sake, can they not do it in the privacy of their own homes?  When men ostentatiously read stuff like this in public, it's like they're making a huge statement that they see women as simply being there as window dressing, as decoration, as pleasure enhancers rather than their equals. They clearly feel that they have a right to own all the public space. I felt it was so rude of him and it made me feel uncomfortable. Now, I don't have the right to be protected from being offended, and nor am I asking for it, but I think I have every right to express my displeasure at such insensitive and crude behaviour. I am kicking myself today for not saying something to him at the time. This post will have to do. I'd love it if he read it and responded - I'd really like to know why he thought it was ok. On a plane, when you're all crammed in like sardines, what you look at, you share with the rest of your row whether they like it or not. Surely some sensitivity is required.

I must admit my friend and I had a discreet giggle and raised a few eyebrows between ourselves about the spectacle that was going on beside us.We mostly spent the flight chatting quietly.  We were both incredulous, though, when to add insult to injury, this man gave a deep sigh and put on his headphones as though we were disturbing him.

It's good that we have become more relaxed about some of the things we do in public - I mean, when my husband was a little boy in the 50s, it was frowned upon to eat in the street. However, I think that casual browsing of pornography lite is going too far. Do you agree?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Nick Clegg's speech in full #ldconf

Analysis later but for now, here's Nick's speech in full.
This summer, as we cheered our athletes to gold after gold after gold, Britain remembered how it feels to win again. But more importantly, we remembered what it takes to win again. Whether from Jess Ennis or Mo Farah, Sarah Storey or David Weir, the message was the same: we may be the ones on the podium, but behind each of us stands a coach.  And behind the coach, a team. And behind the team, the organisers, the volunteers, the supporters. And behind them, a whole city, an entire country, the UK nations united behind one goal.

What a contrast from a year ago when England's cities burned in a week of riots. When the images beamed to the world were not of athletes running for the finishing line, but the mob, running at police lines. When the flames climbed, not from the Olympic torch in east London, but a furniture shop in south London. A 140 year-old family-run business, which had survived two world wars and countless recessions, razed to the ground. Of course, even then, amid the smoke and embers, we saw our country's true character when residents came out onto the streets to clear up the mess.

And we saw it again this summer when the Reeves furniture shop in Croydon re-opened in new premises, the walls decked with photos of young people holding up messages of hope. And who put those pictures up? Young volunteers from Croydon and an 81 year-old man called Maurice Reeves, who, like three generations before him, ran the shop before handing it over to his son. Maurice, your example should inspire a generation.

You see, what Maurice has shown - what our Olympians and Paralympians have reminded us of - is that, for most people, success doesn't come easy or quick. That's what our culture of instant celebrity obscures: that real achievement in the real world takes time, effort, perseverance, resilience. The war veteran: a victim of a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, competing at the Paralympics. The businessman: a victim of an arson attack in south London, serving his customers again. The millions of people up and down the country, who, no matter how heroic or mundane their battles, keep going, keep trying, keep working, whatever life throws at them.

These are the qualities that will see our country through these tough times. And these are the qualities that will guide our party through tough times too. So let us take our example from the British people as together we embark on the journey ahead. Our party: from the comforts of opposition to the hard realities of government. Our country: from the sacrifices of austerity to the rewards of shared prosperity. Two journeys linked; the success of each depending on the success of the other. Neither will be easy and neither will be quick, but it will be worth it. And be in no doubt. If we secure our country's future, we will secure our own.

We live at a time of profound change, almost revolutionary in its pace and scale. Here in Britain, we are faced with the gargantuan task of building a new economy from the rubble of the old. And of doing so at a time when our main export market - the Eurozone - is facing its biggest crisis since it was formed. And while the European economy has stalled, countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, India and China continue to grow, and at a phenomenal rate.

The potential consequences of this shift in power, should we in the West fail to respond, cannot be overstated. Our influence in the world, our standard of living, our ability to fund our public services and maintain our culture of openness and tolerance - all are in the balance. For power would move not only away from the liberal and democratic world, but within it too; from moderates to hard liners, from internationalists to isolationists, from those committed to the politics of cooperation to those hell-bent on confrontation. If history has taught us anything, it is that extremists thrive in tough times.

So yes, if we fail to deal with our debts and tackle the weaknesses in our economy, our country will pay a heavy political price. But the human cost would be higher still. Not only would we fall behind internationally, we would leave a trail of victims at home too.

So to those who ask, incredulously, what we - the Liberal Democrats - are doing cutting public spending, I simply say this: Who suffers most when governments go bust? When they can no longer pay salaries, benefits and pensions? Not the bankers and the hedge fund managers, that's for sure. No, it would be the poor, the old, the infirm; those with the least to fall back on.

Labour may have thought it was funny, after crashing the economy and racking up record debts, to leave a note on David Laws' desk saying: "there's no money left". But it's no joke for the most vulnerable in our society; the people Labour claim to represent but let down the most. So let's take no more lectures about betrayal. It was Labour who plunged us into austerity and it is we, the Liberal Democrats, who will get us out.

It's easy to forget sometimes that the debate we're having in this country is playing out across our continent. It's a debate between those who understand how much the world has changed, and those who do not. And between those who understand the need to adapt to those changes, and those who baulk at the size of the challenge. And the fate of every European country - ours included - will depend on the outcome.

In the coming years, some countries will get their own house in order. But some will not. Those that do will continue to write their own budgets, set their own priorities and shape their own futures. But those that do not will find their right to self-determination withdrawn by the markets, and new rules imposed by their creditors, without warning or clemency. That that will never happen to us is often just blithely assumed; the comparisons with Greece, breezily dismissed. Yet it is the decisions we take - as a government, as a party - that will determine whether we succeed or fail. For the first time, the future is ours to make.

Our journey from austerity to prosperity starts, of course, with economic rescue; dealing with our debts and delivering growth. If you listen to Labour, you could be forgiven for thinking that austerity is a choice; that the sacrifices it involves can be avoided; that if we only enacted Ed Balls' latest press release we'd be instantly transported to that fantasy world where there is no "boom and bust" and the money never runs out.

But the truth is this: there is no silver bullet that will instantly solve all our economic problems. Some of our problems are structural, others international. All will take time to overcome. We are dealing with an on-going surge in global energy, food and commodity prices. An existential crisis in the Eurozone. And a banking collapse which, more than four years on, is still blocking the arteries of our entire economic system.

Ranged against these forces, the idea that if government just deregulated a bit more as Liam Fox proposes, or borrowed and spent a bit more as Ed Balls proposes, we would, at a stroke, achieve strong and lasting growth, is just not credible. In my experience, if you're being attacked by Liam Fox from one side, and Ed Balls from the other, you're in the right place.

You see, what is needed - and what we're delivering - is a plan that is tough enough to keep the bond markets off our backs, yet flexible enough to support demand. A plan that allowed us, when the forecast worsened last year, to reject calls for further spending cuts or tax rises and balance the budget over a longer timescale. A plan that, even at the end of this parliament, will see public spending account for 42 per cent of GDP - higher than at any point between 1995 and 2008 when the banks collapsed. And a plan that, because it commands the confidence of the markets, has given us the room to create a Business Bank, provide billions of pounds of infrastructure and house building guarantees and an £80 billion Funding for Lending scheme - the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world.

Of course so much of this is about perception. People keep telling me we should be doing what Barack Obama did with his fiscal stimulus. What they don't tell you is that much of what the President had to legislate for, we are already doing automatically. So let's not allow the caricature of what we are doing go unchallenged. If Plan A really was as rigid and dogmatic as our critics claim, I'd be demanding a Plan B, and getting Danny and Vince to design it. But it isn't. Which is why you were right, earlier this week, to overwhelmingly reject the call for us to change our economic course. We have taken big and bold steps to support demand and boost growth. And we stand ready to do so again and again and again until self-sustaining growth returns.

Of course, arguments about economic theory are of no interest to the millions of people just struggling to get by right now. The home-help whose earnings barely cover the cost of childcare. The builder who knows the company will be laying people off, but doesn't yet know if he'll be one of them. The couple who want to buy their first home but can't raise the money for a deposit.  To them and to all the other hard working families just trying to stay afloat, I say this: the Liberal Democrats are on your side. You are the ones we are in government to serve. Not with empty rhetoric but real practical help. That is why we promised to cut your income tax bills by raising the personal allowance to £10,000. So you can keep more of the money you have worked for. So your effort will be properly rewarded. So the task of making ends meet is made that little bit easier.

At the last budget, we made two big announcements: that we were spending three thousand million pounds increasing the tax-free allowance, and just fifty million pounds reducing the top rate of tax while recouping five times that amount in additional taxes on the wealthiest. I insisted on the first. I conceded the second. But I stand by the package as a whole. Why? Because as liberals, we want to see the tax on work reduced, the tax on unearned wealth increased, and the system as a whole tilted in favour of those on low and middle incomes. The budget delivered all three.

But let me make one thing clear: Now that we have brought the top rate of tax down to 45p - a level, let's not forget, that is still higher than throughout Labour's 13 years in office - there can be no question of reducing it further in this Parliament. All future cuts in personal taxation must pass one clear test: do they help people on low and middle incomes get by and get on? It's as simple as that.

At the next election, all parties will have to acknowledge the need for further belt tightening. That much is inescapable. But the key question we will all have to answer is who will have to tighten their belts the most? Our position is clear. If we have to ask people to take less out or pay more in, we'll start with the richest and work our way down, not the other way around. We won't waver in our determination to deal with our debts. But we will do it in our own way, according to our own plans, based on our own values. So we will not tether ourselves to detailed spending plans with the Conservatives through the next Parliament.

Colleagues, we should be proud of the fact we have delivered fairer taxes in tough times. We should be proud of the fact that we're taking 2m people out of income tax altogether and delivering a £700 tax cut for more than 20m others, and should never miss an opportunity to tell people about it. But as we do so, remember this: our tax cuts, like our extra support for childcare, for schools, for pensioners - these are not stand-alone consumer offers. They are part of a broader agenda of economic and social reform to reward work, enhance social mobility and secure Britain's position in a fast changing world. In short, national renewal. That is our mission. Our policies either serve that purpose, or they serve none at all.

One of the things about governing is it forces you to confront the inconvenient truths oppositions choose to ignore. Like the fact that, over the last 50 years, our economy has grown threefold, but our welfare spending is up sevenfold. Or the fact that, to sustain our spending, we are still borrowing a billion pounds every three days. Or that, as a result of that borrowing, we now spend more servicing the national debt than we do on our schools. In combination, these three facts present us with a fundamental challenge: to not only regain control of public spending, but to completely redirect it so that it promotes, rather than undermines, prosperity.

How we do that - how we reshape the British state for the economic challenges of the 21st century - is a debate I want our party to lead. For there are only two ways of doing politics: by following opinion, to get yourself on the populist side of each issue, or by leading opinion, and standing on the future side of each issue. The first brings short-term rewards, of course it does. But the big prizes are for those with the courage and vision to get out in front, set the agenda and point the way.

So let us take the lead in building a new economy for the new century. An open, outward looking economy in the world's biggest single market. A strong, balanced economy built on productive investment, not debt-fuelled consumption. An innovative, inventive economy driven by advances in science and research. And yes, a clean, green economy too, powered by the new low-carbon technologies. Britain leading the world.

But I have to tell you, we will not succeed in this last task unless we can see off that most short-sighted of arguments: that we have to choose between going green and going for growth. Decarbonising our economy isn't just the right thing to do; it's a fantastic economic opportunity. The green economy in Britain is growing strongly right now, bringing in billions of pounds and creating thousands of jobs - in wind, solar and tidal energy; the technologies that will power our economy in the decades to come. Going green means going for growth. But more than that, it means going for more energy that we produce ourselves and which never runs out; it means going for clear air and clean water and a planet we can proudly hand over to our children. Going green means going forward.

So let the Conservatives be in no doubt. We will hold them to their promises on the environment. Of course, there was a time when it looked like they got it. It seems a long time ago now. When the Tories were going through their naturalist phase. The windmills gently turning; the sun shining in. As a PR exercise, it was actually quite brilliant. Until, at last year's party conference, they went and ruined it all, admitting that you can't in fact "vote blue and go green". Well of course you can't. To make blue go green you have to add yellow, and that's exactly what we're doing.

As we plot our path from austerity to prosperity, we need to remember that nothing we do will make a decisive difference if we don't make the most important investment of all: in the education and training of our young people. For we will only fulfil our collective economic potential, if we fulfil our individual human potential. Yet the legacy of educational inequality in Britain is an economy operating at half power, with far too many young people never getting the qualifications they could get, never doing the jobs they could do, never earning the wages they could earn.

The true cost of this cannot be counted in pounds and pence. Yes it's a huge drag on our economy, but more than that, it is an affront to natural justice and to everything we Liberal Democrats stand for. Because if you strip away all the outer layers to expose this party's philosophical core, what do you find? An unshakeable belief in freedom. Not the tinny sound of the Libertarian's freedom - still less the dead thud of the Socialist's - but the rich sound of Liberal freedom, amplified and sustained by the thing that gives it real meaning: opportunity. The freedom to be who you are. The opportunity to be who you could be. That, in essence, is the Liberal promise.

And that is why this party has always been - and must always be - the party of education. Because just as there can be no real freedom without opportunity, so there can be no real opportunity without education.

Every parent knows how it feels when you leave your child on their first day at school. That last look they give you before the door closes behind them. The instinct to go with them, to protect them, to help them every step of the way. That's how we should feel about every child. That's the responsibility we have to every parent. To support them at every stage: from nursery to primary, from primary to secondary and from secondary to college, university or work.

That's why we're providing more money so the poorest two-year-olds, as well as every three and four-year-old, can now benefit from pre-school education. Delivering our Pupil Premium - £900 per child next year - so the most disadvantaged children get the more intensive, more personalised support they need. And why, when they leave school, we're providing scholarships, bursaries, grants, loans, apprenticeships and wage subsidies, to help them go on learning or start earning.

But extra resources won't make a difference unless matched by greater ambition. Which is why money must be accompanied by reform. Reform to ensure all children can read and write. To make schools focus on the performance of every child. To turn around failing schools, and put more pressure on coasting schools. And yes, reform to replace GCSEs, not with an O Level, but with a new more rigorous qualification that virtually every child will be able to take, and every well taught child will be able to pass.

And to ensure they do, I can announce that from this year, we will provide a new 'catch-up premium' - an additional £500 for every child who leaves primary school below the expected level in English or maths. If you're a parent whose child has fallen behind; who fears they might get lost in that daunting leap from primary to secondary school; and who is worried by talk about making exams tougher, let me reassure you. We will do whatever it takes to make sure your child is not left behind. A place in a summer school; catch-up classes; one-to-one tuition; we are providing the help they need. So yes, we're raising the bar. But we're ensuring every child can clear it too.

I am proud of the resolve we Liberal Democrats have shown over the last two and a half years. We've had some real disappointments: tough election results, a bruising referendum. But through it all, we have remained focused, determined, disciplined. It hasn't always been easy, and, when we've made mistakes, we've put our hands up. But we've stuck to our task - and to the Coalition Agreement - even as others have wavered. The received wisdom, prior to the election, was that we wouldn't be capable of making the transition from opposition to government. The choices would be too sharp, the decisions too hard.

The Liberal Democrats, it was said, are a party of protest, not power. Well two years on, the critics have been confounded. Our mettle has been tested in the toughest of circumstances, and we haven't been found wanting. We have taken the difficult decisions to reduce the deficit by a quarter and have laid the foundations for a stronger, more balanced economy capable of delivering real and lasting growth. But conference, our task is far from complete, our party's journey far from over.

I know that there are some in the party - some in this hall even - who, faced with several more years of spending restraint, would rather turn back than press on. Break our deal with the Conservatives, give up on the Coalition, and present ourselves to the electorate in 2015 as a party unchanged. It's an alluring prospect in some ways. Gone would be the difficult choices, the hard decisions, the necessary compromises. And gone too would be the vitriol and abuse, from Right and Left, as we work every day to keep this Government anchored in the centre ground.

But conference, I tell you this. The choice between the party we were, and the party we are becoming, is a false one. The past is gone and it isn't coming back. If voters want a party of opposition - a "stop the world I want to get off" party - they've got plenty of options, but we are not one of them. There's a better, more meaningful future waiting for us. Not as the third party, but as one of three parties of government.

There's been a lot of discussion on the fringe of this conference about our party's next steps; about our relationship with the other parties; and about what we should do in the event of another hung parliament. It's the sort of discussion politicians love - full of speculation and rumour. But I have to tell you, it is all based on a false, and deeply illiberal, assumption: that it is we, rather than the people, who get to decide. In a democracy, politicians take their orders from the voters.

So let's forget all the Westminster gossip and focus on what really matters: not our relationship with the other parties, but our relationship with the British people. Imagine yourself standing on the doorstep in 2015 talking to someone who hasn't decided who to vote for. This is what you'll be able to say: we cut taxes for ordinary families and made sure the wealthiest paid their fair share. We put more money into schools to give every child a chance. We did everything possible to get people into work - millions of new jobs and more apprenticeships than ever before. And we did the right thing by our older people too - the biggest ever cash rise in the state pension. But most importantly, we brought our country back from the brink and put it on the right path.

Then ask them: are you ready to trust Labour with your money again? And do you really think the Tories will make Britain fairer? Because the truth is, only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted on the economy and relied upon to deliver a fairer society too.  And to help get that message out there, I can announce today that Paddy Ashdown has agreed to front up our campaign as chair of the 2015 General Election team. I must admit, I'm not quite sure I'm ready for all those urgent e-mails and 5am phone calls. But I can't think of anyone I'd rather

Fifty, sixty years ago, before I was born, small groups of Liberal activists would meet up to talk politics and plan their campaigns. Stubborn and principled, they ignored the cynics who mocked them. They simply refused to give up on their dreams. They refused to accept that Liberals would never again be in government. And they refused to accept that Liberalism, that most decent, enlightened and British of creeds, which did so much to shape our past, would not shape our future. We think we've got it tough now. But it was much, much tougher in their day. It was only their resolve, their resilience and their unwavering determination that kept the flickering flame of Liberalism alive through our party's darkest days.

At our last conference in Gateshead, I urged you to stop looking in the rear view mirror as we journey from the party of opposition that we were, to the party of government we are becoming. But before we head off on the next stage of our journey, I want you to take one last look in that mirror to see how far we've come. I tell you what I see.

I see generations of Liberals marching towards the sound of gunfire. And yes, I see them going back to their constituencies to prepare for government. It took us a while but we got there in the end. These are the people on whose shoulders we stand. They never flinched, and nor should we. We owe it to them to seize the opportunity they gave us, but which they never had. Taking on the vested interests. Refusing to be bullied. Refusing to give up. Always overturning the odds. Fighting for what we believe in, because we know that nothing worthwhile can be won without a battle. A fair, free and open society. That's the prize. It's within our grasp. So let's go for it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Willie Rennie tells Liberal Democrats: Liberal values need to be at forefront of independence debate

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie gave his keynote address to the Brighton Liberal Democrat Conference this morning. Seeing him speak after  MIke Moore, you can see how their vastly different styles complement each other. 

Mike is statesmanlike and reasonable,Willie will get in there and say things  that  are uncomfortable for our opponents to hear.  I know that  there will be many SNP supporters who weep into their beer when they think of Alex Salmond cosying up to  Murdoch,  or pandering to the Chinese  over the Dalai Lama's visit, or see their  MPs cosying  up to the English Democrats.

Willie's speech was a call for liberal values, not exhibited by the First Minister and some of Salmond's colleagues, to come to the fore  in the run up to the independence referendum.

While he had harsh words for  those who associated with the likes of the English Democrats, who similarly want to break up the UK and espouse some pretty unpleasant policies to boot, he was also quick to point  out the benefits of working constructively together to deliver things lke equal marriage and mminimum pricing for alcohol. I was frankly surprised  to see his call for minimum pricing across the UK was applauded as the murmurings I've heard from English Lib Dems on  the subject have not  been universally suppotive. 

I thought  his speech was very good - and he wasn't at all phased by the lectern suddenly sinking  a few inches in mid sentence as it adjusted to his height. 

You'll have to forgive the formatiting. The technology isn't playing  ball  with me. However, you have the whle thing here and I'll pretty it up later. 

Last year people were writing us off. Perhaps even some people here, supporters, wondered how a group of five MSPs, cut by two thirds in the elections, could make any impact on the Scottish political scene. 
Although our opponents will always deride us they are privately fizzing that the Liberal Democrats will just not disappear. 

Well I am not at all sorry to disappoint them.  

As history shows, we have a bit more staying power than that.

Scotland is a tolerant and liberal, understanding and compassionate country. People are generous and value fairness.

Those popular values have given us the strength to argue the liberal case with confidence.

And that is the case I will continue to lead.

Well make the liberal case.

Unlike Alex Salmond who does not.

He likes to court the rich and the powerful.
The cosy relationship that he has fostered with those with vested interests runs counter to the values that Scotland holds dear.

He was asked to write a guest column for the first edition of the Sun on Sunday. In it he said that News International was not the only company involved in phone hacking. 

He used the argument that many mothers will use when defending their errant son he wasnt the only one, others did it too.  

Alex Salmonds defence of Rupert Murdochs empire revealed a politician prepared to do anything to get the support of the media - even if it meant betraying the phone hacking victims. 

Dozens of innocent lives made a living hell. It was wrong, wrong,wrong

We saw the same in the summer. The Dalai Lama came to Scotland. 

We learnt that the Chinese Government was going round telling everybody not to meet him. 

People in Scotland didnt listen to them or bow to their pressure. 

Except for one man. 

The First Minister.

He submitted to pressure from the Chinese in a way that I am so proud that our Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg did not.  

It seems that whether youve got a billion pounds or a billion people, the First Minister will do whatever you want. No questions asked. 

That isn't liberal government. 

If you live outside Scotland you may not have a vote in the referendum but you do have a voice.

As we approach the referendum, the danger is that the voices on the extreme will dominate the debate.  
Weve already heard from some English nationalists that they want Scotland out.  They dont value our United Kingdom.  

These are the allies of Alex Salmonds SNP in their fight to break up Britain. 
They are working together, attending each others conferences and sharing ideas.
But despite what you may have heard most people in Scotland dont want to leave. 
We want to stay  but its not guaranteed.

So I want to hear your voice in the debate about the future of the UK.  
I want you to show that the rest of the UK values Scotland and our partnership together.  
I want the moderate, reasonable, open and welcoming voices from outside Scotland to be heard.  
You can speak up for what the UK means for you. 

Whether its the National Health Service designed by an Englishman, delivered by a Welshman.
Or its the BBC founded by a Scotsman for the whole of the UK not just Scotland.
Or the state pension introduced by Lloyd George; a Liberal Mancunian with a Welsh accent. 
Speak up for what Scotland means to you.
It could be intellectual, with the Scottish Enlightenment giving us great thinkers like James Hutton, David Hume and Adam Smith.
Or it could be as simple as having loved ones from Scotland and caring about the country our children will grow up in. 
Whatever you value I want you to make your voice heard.  
Promise me you won't leave the debate to the extreme views of nationalists. 
We dont want Scotland to break from the rest of the UK but we do want to change it;
To deliver home rule with more powers so that Scotland can determine its own destiny on the domestic agenda whilst sharing the risks and rewards with the rest of the UK.
Thats why Sir Ming Campbell will be reporting back next month from his Home Rule Commission.  
It wont be fiscal autonomy or devo-max.
It will be Fiscal Federalism as set out in the Steel Commission.
Mings report will open the dialogue on more powers with the voters and between the parties.
We can expect it to recommend powerful tools for Scotland within the UK for fairness, for business and to tackle inequality.
I encourage Labour and the Conservatives to start their discussions to develop a new accord to put to the country in the 2015 general election.
And if Scotland decides to stay in the UK theres a role for the SNP.  
They can work with others to deliver the new accord.  
No matter what the result in the referendum, parties of all stripes will need to work together to deliver more powers, more decisions, more responsibility at home.
If we are able to build a consensus endorsed at the general election we can promptly move to deliverHome Rule for Scotland inside a strong United Kingdom. 
And we wont need a referendum to deliver it either.  
We didnt need a referendum for the Calman proposals and we wont need a referendum now. 
Even though independence dominates Scottish politics, there is still an enormous amount of other work going on.
And a lot of it shows the great strength and value we all get from different governments working and sharing across the United Kingdom.
Different governments will set the pace on different policy areas. We all benefit. 
For example, how to tackle Scotlands unhealthy relationship with alcohol. 
Our ground breaking Scottish legislation on minimum pricing on alcohol is something we worked with the SNP to deliver.  
There is a close link between price and consumption and consumption and harm.  
I am pleased the UK Government is consulting on this and I hope they take the bold steps to deliver this change.
We are also pleased to be able to work with the SNP on giving churches and others the freedom to conduct same sex marriages if they wish to do so.  
Equal marriage is a mark of a modern, tolerant nation  a nation that values all no matter what their sexual orientation
I am so proud that it is the Liberal Democrats that are moving to deliver equal marriage across the UKtoo.
And Scotland can learn from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Listening to the nationalists you would think that problems across the UK can only be solved ifeveryone just does what they say
But it's not just one-way traffic. 
The Coalition Government is moving to give 40 per cent of 2-year-olds access to early learning. In Scotland it is just a tiny number.
I have shown the Scottish Government how they can find the money to increase early intervention work.
Those children in Scotland are not getting any younger. If they miss out on early education this year, they miss out forever.
The Scottish Government can learn from the United Kingdom right now. 
Everyone in the UK benefits. 
The United Kingdom is stronger as a result of different governments setting the pace on different policies. 
What we can do in Scotland and what we can do in the United Kingdom make Scotland a more liberal place to live and work.


Related Posts with Thumbnails