Thursday, November 28, 2013

It's all kicking off in Calderdale...aka how to beat your Labour opposition in 140 characters

Recently, Alisdair Calder McGregor was selected as the Liberal Democrat Candidate for Calder Valley. His articles on Liberal Democrat Voice on the energy price freeze and the living wage have been widely read and well received.

Last night, he ended up having a Twitter conversation with his Labour opposition and the excellent Jennie Rigg made a Storify thingy. BTW, I have shamelessly nicked the photo of Alisdair form her blog. I hope she doesn't mind.

The reason I'm putting her Storify thing up is because I think we can sometimes be a bit too timid around Labour people. Remember this is the party who started an illegal war, introduced control orders, wanted to lock people up for 3 months without charge, whose Chancellor knew fine they'd have to raise VAT if they'd won the election, who wanted to have us arrested for taking photos of buildings and profiled as potential terrorists if we had a vegetarian meal on a plain. Oh, and they left us with no money and thought it was ok to leave a letter bragging about it.

Alisdair sliced through all of that, explaining what liberalism was all about to him and how we had not much time for either authoritarian party.

Read, enjoy, remember. We need to be doing this sort of thing a lot more in the next 18 months. Or 17.5 months.

3 ways you can try to save #isamuaza's life

I am reeling from the fact that a government with Liberal Democrats in it is on the brink of crossing a major humanitarian line. Not content with standing by while Isa Muaza starves himself to death in protest at his treatment within an immigration detention centre, tomorrow morning they are planning to deport him. He can barely stand, and as this report from the Guardian states, he has numerous health problems. If he survives the flight, what are they going to do to someone in such a weakened state? Dump him in the arrivals lounge and head back home? What reputable airline would do that? This one, Air Charter Scotland, apparently.

Lord Roger Roberts wrote a heartbreaking post on Liberal Democrat Voice yesterday describing his visit to Isa, who has now not eaten for 90 days, and making the case for clemency.
Even before this protest began – and before he ever came to the UK – Isa Muaza was a deeply vulnerable person. He fled Nigeria fearing for his life at the hands of the terror group Boko Haram, a group he says have already killed several members of his family and as he told me yesterday, if returned this week he will have no one to meet him off the plane. He is penniless, blind and incapable of standing on his own. In his current state this on its own is a death sentence.
In deporting Mr Muaza on Friday the Home Office seems to be seeking to avoid another death in immigration detention. But the Home Secretary cannot – and should not – escape responsibility for her actions. In this case, for forcibly detaining a man the system so evidently could not care for. Those held in the thousands of beds in immigration detention centres across the UK are some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Striking out at them is not the sign of a strong immigration system, but a desperately weak one.
So what does a fair society do when faced with someone on hunger strike? There are some people, like Theresa May, who think it's just a way of playing the system. For three months? To the point of a long drawn out horrible death? For me, it's the sign of a very sick system that nobody going through it has any confidence in it to treat them fairly.

We need to be working on prevention. Isa originally started his hunger strike because his clinical and dietary needs were not being met. Taking someone's liberty is drastic enough. We don't need to have their dignity too. If someone is being detained, which should not be a common thing at all, they should have all the support and health care that they need and the respect as a fellow human being that they deserve.

We generally are pretty helpless in these situations, but that doesn't mean we should sit and do nothing. There are times when we should make our voices heard and this is one of them. Here are 3 things you can do:

1. Sign Julian Huppert's and Roger Roberts' e-petition.

2. Tweet or email Air Charter Scotland and ask them not to transport Isa Muaza.

3. If you are a Liberal Democrat party member tweet or email Tim Farron, Party President, to ask him to continue to press Nick Clegg to intervene. He has met with Nick's team today and urged them to do so and he has also signed Julian and Roger's petition. The more people he can say are annoyed about this, the stronger his case will be. Although, bluntly, it shouldn't take us being annoyed to move Nick to action on this.

We already knew that the asylum system was inhumane and put people through horrid indignities while not giving vulnerable people enough time to get representation and present their evidence properly. It was bad enough under Labour, and the Conservatives have, seemingly unchecked, made it worse. What are we there for if not to stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves? We need to start making a tangible difference, and soon, to the way people are treated. It's already bad enough that a Liberal Democrat minister has been restricting access to Legal Aid so that women can't get legal representation, for example, if they are trying to get a place in a mother and baby unit. That's heartbreaking enough, but we're talking about a matter of life and possibly imminent death here.

Liberal Democrats are there to protect people from the excesses of the state. I accept that there are limits to what we can do when we make up just a fifth of the Government and I know that Labour and Tories have no such concern, but we need to do it firstly because nobody else will and secondly because it's right.

Nick Clegg is wrong on EU benefits - his words and actions don't match up. We might save peanuts, but we lose so much more..

So, all these EU citizens from poorer countries coming here and claiming benefits. A huge problem? Actually, not so much. My Liberal Democrat Voice co-editor was bang on the money yesterday when he said:
So, for all the uproar and shouting, 94% of overseas nationals entering the UK do not claim out-of-work benefits within six months – c.6% do, compared to c.13% of UK natives. That’s not nothing, but it puts the issue into perspective, doesn’t it?
That’s also the most charitable explanation I can come up with for Nick Clegg’s decision to go along with the Tory proposals, describing them as “sensible and reasonable”. If he’d said the proposals were “blatantly populist but unlikely to have much effect beyond further stoking the public perception that immigrants are to blame for all our ills” he’d have been closer to the mark.
 Regular readers will be familiar with my "Lock me in a cupboard with a bottle of gin" list of things that I really cannot stand about this coalition. Things already on it include time limiting Employment and Support Allowance, the Bedroom Tax, secret courts and cuts to legal aid. There is, of course, also a list of fantastic stuff we've done, like the Scotland Act, ending child detention for immigration purposes, giving extra money to disadvantaged kids in school having a health minister who knows what he's doing about mental health and a pensions minister who has given the biggest cash rise in the state pension and put them on a fairer and more secure footing. But every time something else goes on the Gin List, the glow of the Good List diminishes.

I'm not saying that Santa Claus will be putting a lump of coal in Nick's stocking this Christmas, but I am well displeased with him for agreeing to Cameron's benefit restrictions. It will save the UK peanuts, but we will lose so much more. If you look at the big picture, what you see is the liberal voice you thought you could depend on to challenge the awful UKIP/DailyMail/Tory anti immigrant rhetoric ceding ground. It's all very well for Nick to say on Call Clegg that he's speaking for the majority of British people, but if the majority of British people are wrong, misinformed and have a view that's contrary to our core values,he should be challenging them to think differently. He should be pointing out where their facts are wrong and giving them evidence to the contrary.

What he shouldn't be doing is giving the forces of xenophobia and conservatism the sort of shot in the arm that was in his email to members last night:
Let others flirt with the prospect of European exit in order to pander to the right. We remain passionately committed to staying in the EU for the sake of British jobs, security and influence in the world.
That does not mean that we are indifferent to the need to reform the EU. On the contrary, pro-Europeans urgently need to reclaim this territory. Otherwise we surrender this debate to the populists and xenophobes – the people who want to pull up the drawbridge and pull Britain out of Europe.
For that very reason I am urging all pro-Europeans to back the changes to the access European nationals have to UK benefits announced by the Coalition Government today. It is precisely because I want Britain to remain an open and outward facing nation that I am delivering these reforms.
Freedom of movement is a cornerstone of the European project and millions of Brits benefit from it every year. But years of mismanagement of the immigration system have undermined people’s confidence in it and this loss of faith must now be addressed. That is the only way to preserve this nation’s warm and welcoming nature. If we are to protect the right to move and work in the longterm, we must ensure it does not become an automatic right to claim benefits.
The trouble is he is legitimising the populists and xenophobes by ceding our ground to them. He says one thing and does another. It's just not right.He might use moderate language, but he will be associated forever with David Cameron's more bombastic approach. That is not what you want from an advocate of liberal values.

Sarah Teather, who has been consistently critical of the coalition's immigration policies, had this to say:
Once again we have an immigration policy announcement that has nothing to do with reacting to fact and everything to do with reacting to anti-immigration rhetoric-driven polling. Instead of providing political leadership and tackling immigration myths, these proposals target a problem that doesn't exist while stoking public anger and distrust towards foreigners.
Politicians are often far too afraid of talking about the benefits to the UK and its residents of being part of the EU project, which has freedom of movement at its heart. Over 2 million Brits live in other EU countries with tens of thousands of British citizens claiming benefits in their host countries, a fact many opinion formers seem to conveniently forget.
Reading today's proposals you would think that all EU nationals have unfettered access to the benefit system and that people from all over Europe are flocking to the UK in their millions in order to abuse our hospitality. Yet the reality is far different.
EU migrants already have to have to go through a process of registration before being able to claim benefits, which in itself takes several weeks and requires a fixed address. Plus the Government's own data shows that EU migrants are far less likely to be claiming out of work benefits than UK citizens.
If Nick is looking at a problem about immigration that actually needs solving, he would be well advised to look at what's happening to Isa Muaza at the behest of his cabinet colleague Mrs May. The Home Secretary is about to deport a man who is close to death, who hasn't eaten for 90 days in protest at the inhumane conditions we keep those who seek sanctuary in our country. The medics say that he isn't fit to fly, and even if he survives the journey, what's going to happen to him when he lands in Nigeria when he can't stand and can barely speak? I feel such utter shame and fury that my government is behaving so unethically and immorally.

The party is going to be debating immigration at Spring Conference in York in March. If you feel that we need to have a liberal immigration policy, please register here and come along to have your say. If your local party hasn't had its AGM, go along and stand to be a voting rep. If there are spare voting rep spaces, make sure that you organise that soon as the cut-off date will be some time in January.

Now is not the time to be running scared of the Daily Mail. There are more than enough people clamouring to put an illiberal point. Nick needs to get on the stage and loudly proclaim the liberal argument. He is not doing so at the moment. And it's abundantly clear that if he won't, nobody else will. There are vulnerable people who need us to stand up for them. If we let them down, we let ourselves down too.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In full: Willie Rennie's speech in Holyrood independence referendum debate - Scotland is unique and the stakes are high

Willie Rennie and the recently ennobled Jeremy Purvis wer ein fine form today.  Jeremy whipped Pete Wishart's backside on Politics Scotland this afternoon, pointing out that it isn't that long since the SNP were talking about banishing all vestiges of the British state. Of course, in order not to scare too many horses, they are pledging to keep the pound and the Queen now.

Purvis added that the only differences between the National Conversation document produced a few years ago and the White Paper is where the SNP disagrees with its previous position, for example on membership of NATO.

He simply asked why we would want to create barriers in a union that was working and in which we were playing our part. 

And then Willie Rennie just knocked Alex Salmond out of the park in the independence debate at Holyrood this afternoon. 

It's not that Alistair Darling has done a bad job or said anything particularly wrong over the past 24 hours. He can't help it if he comes across a bit like a head-teacher who's moonlighting as an undertaker. The pro-UK case needs smiles and optimism and normal language and humour and passion to go alongside the boring bits. Purvis and Rennie delivered all of that today. Here's Willie's opening speech from the debate in full. 

It is day two of the happy clappy sect – nationalists for the white paper. Starry eyed optimism.  Worshipping the god of positivity. Alex Salmond – the patron saint of blind optimism.
I loved the optimism on childcare.  It’s what I have been asking the First Minister to endorse week after week after week after week.  But only when it can aid his campaign for independence does he listen.
They are letting down a generation of young people if they don’t act now with the powers of devolution they once trumpeted but now deride.
The childcare package was one part of a wider offer that insisted there would be no downsides to independence.
In the white paper there was not one single example of anything that may even be slightly difficult.
This omission is quite striking.
It makes you wonder why all states in the world are not immediately breaking up based on the compelling case put forward yesterday. Perhaps now the white paper is out the independence revolution will engulf the world.
I can’t think of any examples of modern, successful countries that have broken themselves up.
The former soviet bloc nations or the war torn countries of Africa were hardly modern, successful countries with much to lose. Hardly examples for a modern, successful Scotland to follow.
The Scottish independence movement is not normal.
So Scotland is unique and the stakes are high.
And yesterday’s white paper didn’t move us on.  It didn’t reduce the risk. It didn’t help answer the serious questions raised about this colossal step.
The First Minister said that Scotland is better prepared for independence than any other country in the world.
But being prepared normally means being prepared for all eventualities.
So let’s look at some of the possibilities.  I want to establish if the SNP have even considered what happens if their assertions about what will happen – don’t.
What if the remainder of the UK says we can’t use the pound as part of a currency union?  Is there a back up plan?
What happens if we form a fiscal pact with the UK but they insist we can’t borrow or spend any more?
What happens to the Clyde if the MOD orders go elsewhere?
What happens to funding of our Universities if the UK funding dries up?
What happens if the UK doesn’t want to buy our energy?
These are serious and reasonable questions that most people would have hoped the SNP would answer in the white paper. But none of these reasonable options have even been considered – and they are not sharing them with us.
The SNP believe they are right on everything and everyone else is wrong.
It’s based on an assumption that the UK will agree to every single demand from a newly independent Scotland.
The SNP believe that people in the UK will take orders from us even though we will have spent three years condemning them before declaring we want to be independent from them.
If we slam the door in their face they may just lock it from the other side.
And that is just the UK.
The SNP expect other countries of the EU and NATO will take our instructions too. It seems as if Scotland will be a new super power.
At least the SNP have admitted that membership of the European Union will not be automatic. But that opens up many more questions:
What if other EU countries make it difficult to join?  We know that many have their own separatist movements that they oppose.
I am not sure if putative Foreign Secretary Angus Robertson has delivered his instructions to Germany, Spain, Italy or France.
And whether he or any of the Government’s ministers has had any answers, views or responses to those orders.
So what if just one of the 27 countries of the EU says we can join the EU but that there will be no rebate?
What if just one insists that we join Schengen and have open borders with the EU?
What if one says we can join but only if we start on the path to the Euro?
It just takes one to say no and Scotland could be out in the cold or forced to agree to conditions they have previously rejected.
Because independence is a colossal step that is not normal we need the answers to these serious but reasonable questions.
Perhaps the SNP can use today to start answering.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

First reactions to #whitepaper on independence and three initial questions from me

For months, years, even, whenever we've asked questions about independence, after we've been accused of scaremongering, we've been told to wait for the White Paper.

Well, that wait is over as the White Paper has now been published - or is it? Scotland's Future, it's called. That's profound. We have a future? That's kind of inevitable. It doesn't promise a bright future, or a happy one.

On the big questions of the day, such as the three on pensions, currency and cost posed by Alistair Carmichael two weeks ago, we are really none the wiser. We know what the SNP wants to happen in a perfect world, but everyone who has ever done anything in life knows that you can't, in fact, shouldn't get everything you want.

Obviously I haven't read all 670 pages, but I've had a good scan through and, frankly, I'm not hearing much I hadn't heard before. I'm variously annoyed, frustrated and uninspired.  The idea that we have to wait until independence to get decent childcare in place is a cynical ploy to attract women's votes. Why cynical? The SNP Government has all the powers it needs to put that in place now. And why doesn't it? 

Because, as Nicola Sturgeon said this morning, they want women back at work to pay taxes to an independent Scotland and not to the UK Treasury. Ah, so it's not about the kids and what's good for them, then. They are letting down every child who's two now or will become two before 2016.

Willie Rennie, who's been at them for a long time to deliver similar childcare to that which Nick Clegg has introduced in England had this to say:
It's difficult to believe the SNP wish list on childcare as the Scottish Government has the worst arrangements on the British Isles. In England thousands of two year olds have a nursery place today but the Scottish Government say children here will have to wait three more years.
Delaying better childcare until after the referendum won't convince families that the Scottish Government fully understands the urgent need for early education.
The SNP have the power to deliver better childcare now but their message to our children is: you will not get what you need until we get what we want.
In any event, that sort of policy can't be guaranteed as it will only stand a chance if the SNP are elected the government of an independent Scotland.
Alistair Carmichael was unimpressed, too:
This was their chance to level with people. They have chosen a different path and people will judge them on that.
For years we have been promised that all the answers on independence would be in the white paper. The big day has finally arrived and we have 670 pages that leaves us none the wiser on crucial questions such as currency, pensions and the cost of independence.
Rarely have so many words been used to answer so little.
People will draw their own conclusions that the Scottish Government have deliberately sought to ignore the uncertainties and difficulties of independence. We are simply expected to believe that everything will be perfect after we leave the UK.  We are asked to accept that ending a 300 year United Kingdom will be straightforward. We are told it will all be alright on the night.
We know that the terms of independence would  need to be negotiated with many countries including the rest of the UK and the EU. An honest assessment of the challenges and uncertainties of leaving the UK would have seriously helped the debate between now and September. Instead we have been given a wish with no price list. Today was their chance to level with people. They have chosen a different path and people in Scotland will judge them on that.
It is astonishing that the Scottish Government can sit in private discussing the costs of independence and then refuse to share those figure with the Scottish people. John Swinney’s leaked paper said it would cost £600m every year to run an independent tax system but today we saw nothing about that.
It looks more and more  like the Scottish Government will continue to keep these things private. If they had convincing answers then today really would have been the day to share them with everyone.
From now until September 18 we will keep making the positive case for the UK. It works well for Scotland. It gives us the best of both worlds. It offers us a better future. We will fight hard to preserve it against those who have been obsessed with independence for their entire political lives but now seek to disguise it.

My (first) three questions:

The White Paper mentions that "many" of the 30,000 UK Government civil servants will get jobs in Scotland's civil servants. What exactly does that mean? Who will lose their jobs and in what departments?

My passport's up for renewal. If I buy a new one from the UK Government for no small amount now, will I have to do the same for a new Scottish one in two years' time. Similarly, what about my driver's licence?

Apparently, an independent Scotland will share in the UK's Green Investment Bank (delivered by Liberal Democrats), the Royal Mint, the Monarchy, NHS Blood and Transplant, and Research Councils among other things. How so? Have they asked?

A risky strategy

The White Paper talks about a new constitution for Scotland binding the powers of the state. This is very strange coming from a government which treats the Freedom of Information Act like it is an optional extra and whose reaction to being found wanting on the European Convention on Human Rights was to insult the people making that decision.

Alex Salmond knows that every economic and practical argument points to it being best for  Scotland to stay in the UK.  What he hopes to do is to make it a fight between his Governnent, which he'll portray as fighting for Scotland against a nasty, unreasonable Westminster Government. It's desperate and divisive. You can see that from one revealing comment he made when asked about the division of assets between Scotland and the UK. He made it sound like he'd pick and choose which assets of the UK he kept and which liabilities he'd ditch, as if the rest of the UK would have no say in the matter. And he expects to conclude negotiations in 18 months? Will Scots really want that sort of confrontational, uncertain post yes vote strategy?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

If Ruth Davidson's speech on equal marriage doesn't win some sort of award, I'll be upset

It's not like me to hand out praise to a Tory, let's be honest.

I don't have much choice, though. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson's speech in Holyrood's equal.marriage debate last night had me blubbing actual, proper tears.

It was magnificent; well constructed, persuasive and heartfelt. In a week when the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address has got us thinking about our favourite political speeches, this one has certainly got under my skin. Watch it here.

The bit that had me blubbing was this one:
Last year, the University of Cambridge conducted a huge body of research called “The School Report”. The researchers spoke to hundreds of LGBT pupils from across the UK who were open about their sexuality. The majority said that they were the victims of homophobic bullying and that it happened to them in their schools. More than half of the respondents deliberately self-harmed. Nearly a quarter had attempted to take their own life on at least one occasion.
These are our children and they are made to feel so much guilt, shame and despair. We have an opportunity today to make it better for them. At the moment, we tell these young people, “You are good enough to serve in our armed forces. You are good enough to care in our hospitals. You are good enough to teach in our schools. But you are not good enough to marry the person you love and who loves you in return.” We tell them that they are something different, something less, something other, and that the dream and gold standard of marriage does not apply to them. They do not get to have it. That apartheid message, that “same but different” or alien quality, and that otherness is reflected in every hurtful comment, slander, exclusion and abuse, whether it takes place in the school playground, on the factory floor, or in the local pub.
That is why the bill matters to those people who will directly benefit from it, such as those couples who are eager to commit their relationship in marriage and who should be allowed to do so. More than that, it matters to the future nature of our country. We have an opportunity today to tell our nation’s children that, no matter where they live and no matter who they love, there is nothing that they cannot do. We will wipe away the last legal barrier that says that they are something less than their peers. We can help them to walk taller into the playground tomorrow and to face their accuser down knowing that the Parliament of their country has stood up for them and said that they are every bit as good as every one of their classmates. They will know that their Parliament has said that they deserve the same rights as everyone else.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Reprise: A 13 year old writes about same sex marriage. MSPs please take note. #itstime #equalmarriage

This is a re-run of a post from May which I published around the time of the Westminster Same Sex Marriage Bill debate. As Holyrood prepares to vote on its own bill tomorrow, I thought it would be worth putting out there again. I'm going to send it to my MSPs and ask them to vote in favour of the Bill tomorrow. 

I had a bit of a proud Mummy moment last night when I discovered that at the time, an RE teacher had republished it, saying it was a very good read. 

Unfortunately, and to her great disappointment, Anna won't be with me at Holyrood tomorrow. That inconvenient school thing kind of gets in the way, but she'll be with us in spirit. 
Anyway, here it is as I wrote it then with some typos cleaned up:

Yesterday Anna told me she'd received full marks for a school essay on same sex marriage. She had been told to write a persuasive essay on any subject of her choice, so she wrote about something she feels really strongly about. With her permission, I'm publishing it below. It would be nice if MPs read it. She is not always tactful, and she challenges deeply held beliefs - but she's pretty perceptive and shows off both compassion and a passionate sense of justice. If you read no further, at least read her conclusion:
A place where same gender couples are treated as legally equal to heterosexuals is a place one step closer to destroying homophobia before it destroys many more lives.
Here's the whole thing:

Marriage can be an important milestone in a person's life, so naturally unmarried people of all ages fantasise about their own wedding - them and their beloved, the perfect bride and groom, committing to each other. Their parents crying through the ceremony, so proud of their baby. No fear of being disowned, nobody to call their relationship "unnatural", "illegitimate" or even morally wrong.

In 2015, same sex marriage is set to be introduced in Scotland, giving any two individuals, regardless of gender the right to get officially married instead of the "separate but equal" option of civil partnership. While this idea has rounded up a lot of support, those who disagree with it are perhaps the most vocal.

The number one reason for an individual to hold "traditional" (read: homophobic) marriage values is that their religion forbids it. The the infamous Leviticus 18:22 that may homophobic Christians love to call on. "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind. It is an abomination." Upon hearing these words, every rational human being should be able to constantly pick out the holes in this flawed and overused quote. The first being that the Bible is a very old book that was not originally written in English and this particular verse can be translated in several different ways, eg elderly men not lying with young boys. The second is that some of the laws of the Old Testament are invalid. The same people who condemn homosexuality are rarely seen forcing victims of rape to marry their rapists (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) or killing those who work on Sundays (Exodus 35:2). While the Bible can provide solace and teach some wonderful lessons, some early books are not to be taken word for word.

However the most important reason religious arguments fall apart in this case is this: In the UK, we are not a theocracy. While everyone has the right to use their religious beliefs to govern their own life, it is not fair to use your religion to restrict someone else. It is not an exercise of religious freedom to try and prevent marriage equality. If you disapprove of same gender marriages, the noble thing to do would be to let those involved in such marriages live their lives in peace. Your homophobia cannot be justified by religion, your bigotry is no less awful with a quote from a holy book.

Unfortunately, religious reasons are just a small section of the motivation behind people's closed-mindedness. One of the other frequently used arguments is perhaps even more preposterous, even more illogical, and it is this: most couples of the same gender cannot have children. 

While this can tie in with religious arguments "Go forth and multiply, Genesis 9:7) it is often just used on its own. It is difficult to see why this argument is so often used without a religious statement when  a simple look at some statistics render it entirely invalid: over 900 million people in the world are starving. There are over 15,000 children in care in Scotland alone. In a world with so many people and not enough resources, or rather not enough co-operation from wealthy countries to share said resources), surely having a child is not the sole reason a marriage is formed - and f people who cannot have biological children wish to adopt, they are helping an already existent life instead of creating a new one.

Discussing whether a couple can have children or not in relation to marriage equality makes even less sense when you consider the real facts. A menopausal woman or infertile person can still get married, the possibility of a child is never picked on in these cases. Besides, many couples marry and do not desire children, whereas many children re born to unmarried parents, proving that marriage and reproduction are by no means mutually inclusive.

This argument falls apart again when you realise that just because the two people of the same gender cannot get married to each other, they are not immediately going to leave each other to enter a heterosexual relationship and have children. The two people will stay together anyway so allowing them to marry will not prevent the births of any children.

Many will say that as civil partnership exists as a near identical alternative for couples of the same gender, granting them the right to marry is not necessary. While it is true that the same benefits are granted to couples in a civil partnership, marriage holds certain emotional and cultural significance and connotations. Young children dream of one day getting married, not getting "civilly partnered". 

Another reason it is harmful to separate them into two different institutions is that many people will try to delegitimise a civil partnership by saying it is not a true marriage and does not count. This could be very hurtful to the civilly partnered couple and would give people more reason to say bigoted things about how same gender couples cannot truly get married and therefore their relationships do not count.

In any case, the concept of "separate but equal" has proven itself to be a flawed argument many times throughout history. Separate does not mean equal. Calling it equal is something only the accepted, privileged people can say safely, while the other group feels inadequate, like their "equal" separate thing is a rip-off of the original.

There is one argument in particular that does not even try to hide its utter and blatant homophobia and the people who use it do not seem to realise how harmful the thing they are saying is. I am of course referring to the argument that marriage equality would "promote the homosexual lifestyle" and make people accept same gender couples as normal. This argument is often used by closed minded people who cannot grasp that how people are able to express their relationships does not revolve around one individual's personal views.

This argument, along with "gay people are disgusting and unnatural" has no basis. All these arguments can be easily exposed as illogical with no back-up for the argument whatsoever. I could just as easily say that society's unwavering acceptance of marriage between one man and one woman suggests a "heterosexual lifestyle" and give no reasons why this is a bad thing but still oppose such marriages.

Apart from the obvious homophobia, this argument perpetuates that sexual and romantic orientation is a choice and excludes bisexual people in same gender couples.

In conclusion, marriage equality is certainly a good idea because it would improve the general quality of life for same gender couples while those it does not directly affect would suffer no ill effects. It would make the institution of marriage fairer and contribute to reducing prejudice by normalising same gender relationships. The only arguments against this are from self-centred individuals who cannot respect the rights of other people to be treated equally. A place where same gender couples are treated as legally equal to heterosexuals is a place one step closer to destroying homophobia before it destroys many more lives.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nick Clegg on Andrew Marr: Tories want tax cuts for the wealthy, I want to put £100 back in workers' pockets

Nick Clegg was on Andrew Marr today talking about his wish to see the Government raise the tax threshold by a further £500, putting £100 back in people's comments. If you agree, by the way, sign the petition here.

Without any hint of rancour or peevishness, he put a lot of effort into demonstrating that the Tories favoured tax cuts for the rich while the Liberal Democrats favour tax cuts for ordinary people. He listed the Tory plans - cutting inheritance tax, cutting the top rate of tax, marriage tax breaks, that the Liberal Democrats opposed.

Again he looked relaxed and confident, and also a bit like he'd been messing with the Strictly Come Dancing spray tan machine. What's going on there, I wonder?

I was much happier with his language on the community tensions in Sheffield as well - it was much more consensual and his point on the need for dialogue was not lost this time. He also was absolutely clear that he wasn't going to see any group of people villified.

And, finally, on the age of consent controversy, he said he wouldn't favour a reduction to 15 but talked about the need for much better sex education.

Why, though, do journalists never ask the questions you want them to? An extra £100 to basic rate tax payers is fine but I'm not sure I want it to be the pinnacle of our ambition. It makes the extra £2000 we'd promise for the next Parliament look uninspiring - although you have to see that in the context of more help with childcare, more nursery places for the most deprived two year olds and the like. What worries me, though, is that there are single income households where less than £10,000 is coming in. They won't get that extra £100 and they are really struggling. What can be done to help them?

Here's a storify thingy of mine and others' tweets.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Actually, Nick, there might be something in this vouchers for breastfeeding thing

Nick Clegg was asked yesterday, on his LBC phone in, what he thought about the plan to give women in deprived areas £200 in High Street shopping vouchers. This was one of these questions which he had to answer by instinct because he didn't know the detail and to give him credit, he said a lot of the right things. He talked about how no mum should feel pressured to breastfeed, but those who do should get the support they need. Whether he knows on a practical level what that actually means, though, is not clear.
He was unambiguous about one thing, though
Needless to say, it's not going to be Government policy to pay mothers to breastfeed.
I actually think that the benefits of breastfeeding, particularly in deprived areas, are so clear that it is worth trying anything that works.  Given Nick Clegg's commitment to tackling inequality, too, he might be very interested to find that research shows that a poor breastfed baby has better long term health chances than an affluent formula fed baby. If I had to pick just one of my many ramblings on various subjects for him to read, it would be this from last year following the UNICEF report that showed that the NHS could save £40 million a year by supporting breastfeeding and in particular this quote from research:
Breast fed children from lower socio-economic groups had better outcomes than formula fed children from more affluent families.
However, when resources are tight, I think that there are three very practical things  that come ahead of the vouchers scheme. I was on Radio Scotland's Call Kaye on Wednesday talking about them, and you can listen here to "Caron from Bathgate" at about 45 minutes in.

Good quality support

When I hit trouble early in my breastfeeding career, it was the specific support I received from La Leche League that sorted me out. I could so easily have given up because my local midwife and health visitor, lovely though they were, just didn't have the detailed information I needed to get through. Nor could they come out and sit in my house like LLL's Louise did. When I started supporting women myself, I found that some health professionals didn't know things I considered to be basic. Things are better now, but women often still can't access the help that they need.


Guilt seems to go and in hand with motherhood. When you're tired and upset and things aren't going well, you can blame yourself and think that you are the only one in the world who's going through it. You worry constantly that you are failing your baby. Attending a support group means that you meet others who are going through the same thing. Some will still be struggling with it. That group dynamic, led by someone who has some good evidence based solutions to offer in an informal and friendly environment, can do wonders.


Ante-matal breastfeeding classes are extremely useful in informing and preparing parents for what they might expect. Like all problems, the sooner you recognise it and intervene, the easier it is to resolve. If you can give people an idea of how to know if the baby is getting enough milk - and there are some very graphic leaflets around showing you exactly the size and colour of the emissions necessary to indicate that - they are more likely to call you in earlier.

I'd take it further, though. I've come across so many women whose families have undermined their breastfeeding. If their baby doesn't sleep, or cries a lot, breastfeeding gets the blame. They are told, often with the best of intentions,  that their milk isn't good enough or that the baby is hungry. I think there needs to be an ad campaign, or a class targeted at grannies to update them on current research, evidence and effective ways to support the new mother in their family.


Our culture has some very strange ideas about what breasts are for and how they should be portrayed. It equally has some very strange ideas about how babies behave and what they need. The baby that sleeps for four hours and only wakes up to be fed exists only between the wishful thinking pages of a text book. It's going to take a long time to achieve that and it will take getting many more mothers to breastfeed before we accept it as normal. That's why the vouchers scheme might be worth a shot. I'm looking forward to seeing how the pilot turns out. There is a very strong argument for putting as much money into encouraging breastfeeding as it takes to transform the health of our most disadvantaged babies.

So, who's been briefing against Tim Farron, then?

The Liberal Democrats' spell in government has been characterised by very little hostility and disunity on a personal level. Whatever arguments there may have been behind the scenes have not spilled over into the pages of the press very often. That's actually quite remarkable given the pressure we are under as a party. Sure, we've had our disagreements on policy, with more to come, but we've kept it civil.

Politicians have been secretly briefing the press about what goes on behind the scenes as long as there has been politics. I remember being shocked when, as a very young and naive political activist, I overheard a very senior figure doing just that. This stuff fills newspaper columns, but when it gets personal, and toxic, it becomes a massive problem.

There have been two recent examples of unpleasant, personal unattributed attacks, and both have come from the establishment side of the party. First of all, we saw the clumsy, inept and inaccurate hatchet job done on Vince which apparently sparked an enquiry in leader's office. Now, the Independent tells us, "one figure very high up in the party" has crossed a big line with a pretty vicious personal attack on Tim Farron:
Which bit of the sanctimonious, god-bothering, treacherous little shit is there not to like?
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown spent years doing that sort of stuff about each other. So did John Major's "bastards". That ended well, didn't it?

This sort of stuff undermines the efforts Nick has made in terms of his relationship with the party in recent months. He's put loads of time and effort into it, from phoning and writing to activists and members to thank them for their efforts to putting in lots of appearances around the country (and the Conference fringe) and chatting to members in a relaxed, friendly and funny way.  When people within the leadership bubble attack those who are very popular within the party, it really doesn't help. He needs to tell them to wind their necks in, and fast.

Tim Farron has taken his role as President extremely seriously. The President is supposed to be the grassroots' Ambassador to the Leadership and he's performed that role extremely well. I can't think of another politician who engages so well with their party members.  As a member of the Federal Executive, I've seen how effectively he works and how prepared he is to listen to people. He has also, on things like nuclear power and the economy, helped the leadership get stuff through Conference, so it's not like they never get anything out of him. As well as that, he's a superb and pithy media performer who's fought Nick Clegg's corner in many a television studio.

To have this come out on an important weekend for Nick Clegg is highly unhelpful. Nick's on the Andrew Marr show tomorrow where I am led to believe he's going to have something new and interesting to say. That's where the focus needs to be, not on someone associated with him detracting a popular figure.

They didn't learn after the Vince debacle. Let's hope that this is the last we see of this type of briefing. 
When this party pulls together, we are magnificent, as we saw in Eastleigh. That's how we need to be  all the way through to 2015.

Another couple of quick points from the Independent piece. They mention that Tim has been denied ministerial office. As party president, it would have been completely inappropriate for him to have been a minister at the same time, so that's a deliberate thing.

There's also his description of party activists:
Your average activist is an environmental, social liberal. If anything, the people who have stayed with the party are hard core: and you know what hard-core liberal democrats are like.
So much better than cockroaches, don't you think?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Carmichael: 3 questions the SNP must answer on currency, pensions and costs after independence

In the beautiful surroundings of Bishop's House in Inverness, Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael gave his first keynote speech. The whole thing is published below the cut, but here are the highlights:
  • The Highlands and Islands have never been better represented in Government - a boy from Colonsay and a boy from Orkney in the Cabinet.
  • How you vote in the referendum does not determine how Scottish you are - once you start mixing patriotism and politics, you quickly get into dangerous territory.
  • The UK's greatest hits. He said it wasn't a list of them, but it so was. And pretty compelling, too.
  • 3 questions for the SNP:
  • What's your Plan B if we can't have a currency union between Scotland and the rest of the UK?
  • How much more will pensions cost us if we leave the UK?
  • How much will independence cost?
I get the feeling these 3 are the start of many. Overall, it's a strong speech delivered with humour, passion and sharpness. He's put the Nationalists on notice that he's going to be very specific with them. They won't get away with squealing about who they want to debate, or how Scottish anyone is.

The trio of questions, he clearly thinks, are things the SNP will not be able answer in anything like a satisfactory manner. The currency issue affects every single one of us every day. It affects the value of our mortgages. What will be the value of the pound, the euro or the Salmond in our pocket?

Scotland's demographics show an ageing population. How will it pay for pensions. Are we not safer with the economies of scale the UK offers - 60 million people pooling resources is bound to be better than 5 million, after all?

And the cost. A new passport office, financial, broadcast, energy and business regulators, foreign office, embassies, army, broadcast, energy and business regulators and many more things will have to be funded. Some are one-off set up costs, but the SNP tells us we can have a land of milk and honey with no tough financial decision making at all. Cos it'll all be fine. That's not remotely sustainable.

I also get the impression that any answer involving the word "scaremongering" or their usual casual "it'll all be fine" type faux reassurance will be demolished pretty quickly. Alistair debates Deputy First Minister on 27th November. I can't wait. They are both very good debaters and it should be good.

What was missing?

There was no way he was going to get all the important stuff into one speech. In the future, though, I want to hear the "f" word from him, though. We heard the excellent Secretary of State for Scotland today, but we need to hear our Liberal Democrat in the Cabinet telling us  what sort of Scotland he wants to see, unfettered by our Better Together partners. Of course we're not going to get everything we want in any pre 2015 joint declaration, but our position on more powers,working towards a federal UK is distinctive and we need to showcase that.  Willie Rennie has tended to make the running on the future powers, but we need to hear a cohesive Liberal Democrat position from Alistair, Danny, Nick. Federalist hearts need to be set racing.

I think he also needs to talk about the need for more liberalism. Let's look at Scotland's main political parties. On one hand, you have the illiberal, authoritarian, centralising SNP who think nothing of casually quadrupling pre-charge detention in an afternoon, or removing one of the pillars of Scotland's justice system, corroboration, without giving any evidential safeguards, who have centralised and diminished our police and fire services. On the other hand, you have the illiberal, authoritarian, centralising Labour Party who were at least held back from doing their worst by Liberal Democrats in coalition for 8 years but care more for collectivism than freedom.

I get that we need to have clear messages that focus on the benefits of the UK over independence. That's the main flavour of the whisky, if you like, but there's room for some background notes which tug at the heartstrings of liberals and federalists too.
Here's the speech in full. It's long, but worth it:
Pleasure to be here in Inverness today – as an MP of 12 and half years I’m used to making speeches, but this is my first keynote speech as Secretary of State. In terms of where and when to make it I gave my office only one instruction – it was not going to be in the central belt!

It is an enormous pleasure for me to be here in the city of Inverness, capital of the Highlands. This is a city that has seen enormous growth and change over the decades and is now home to many businesses in a wide-range of fields, but which is still identifiably a Highland community in its feel.

This seat is home to my friend and colleague Danny Alexander. I have been privileged to work closely with Danny over the years and we have both been Ministers in this coalition Government and he has become an enormously influential voice for the Highlands.

When Danny speaks, people in Government listen - and Danny takes every opportunity in his job to speak up for the Highlands.

Now in Cabinet a boy for Colonsay who represents Inverness sits across the table from a boy from Islay who represents Orkney and Shetland. The Highlands and Islands have never been better represented in Government.

I am very proud to take up the role as Secretary of State for Scotland particularly at the current time. Right from the start I got to see how quickly the labels get put on you on this job.
Their labels as a ‘bruiser’ or any of the rest of it are all a predictable part of how the press covers politics. Not all labels are so benign and I have gone from being a Viking warrior to being a ‘supposed Scot’ all in the space of four weeks.

The latter description was, I suspect, designed to provoke. It certainly did tell us something about this debate – that I’m not alone in experiencing.

Not content with trying to divide the UK, the supporters of independence also seek to divide our fellow Scots - depending on their voting intentions in the referendum.

I tell you this - once you start mixing up politics and patriotism you can quickly get into dangerous territory.

I am proud to be a Scot and come from a family that as far back as we can trace, have always lived in Scotland.

My father is a native Gaelic speaker and as a child and a young adult I competed at local and national Mods.

I was educated in the Scottish state sector and studied Scots Law at the University of Aberdeen and qualified as a solicitor in Scots law. I have held a commission as a Procurator Fiscal Depute – one of the great ancient offices of the Scottish legal system.

Since 2001 I have represented a Scottish constituency in the House of Commons.

I look forward to Hogmanay as much as Christmas Day.

I drink malt whisky and I’m partial to the occasional Tunnocks tea-cake.

What else do I have to do for these people to regard me as a “true” Scot as opposed to being a “supposed” one?

No one has a right to question my Scottishness or anyone else’s come to that.

Polls would suggest that most people in Scotland want to remain part of the United Kingdom. Many others do not.

A few weeks ago, in yet another effort to have a debate about the debate rather than having the debate itself, Alex Salmond called on David Cameron to debate independence. He wanted, he said, to see the Prime Minister “argue against Scotland”. Not, you note, “against Scottish independence” but “against Scotland”. In the nationalist mindset it seems to be the same thing.

Let me be clear: You are not a better Scot if you support independence. Nor are you better if you don’t.
Being a part of the UK doesn’t undermine our Scottishness – our identity as Scots is not and never has been at threat.

This is not a debate about patriotism – It is a debate about our constitution and about whether or not we should continue to work togetheracross the United Kingdom, or whether we should go it alone.

A lot of airtime gets devoted to what independence would mean for Scotland – and rightly so - there are plenty of questions, I’ll return to just some of those later.

But before we make a choice about our future, it is worth reminding ourselveswhat it is we have right now as part of the United Kingdom.

The nationalists like to take us right back to 1707 and even further to Bannockburn. Don’t get me wrong - history is important: but our recent history is just as important as the more distant. That recent history has been one of collaboration, of partnership, of working together.

I’m not going to turn this speech into ‘the greatest hits of the UK’ – but I will say this: we have achieved a great deal working together. And I don’t think those of us who believe in a strong Scotland within a strong United Kingdom spend enough time talking about that.

So next time someone asks ‘what has the UK ever done for me?’ I want you to remember this….

Together our economy is stronger and more secure.

We have a domestic market of 60 million individuals rather than just 5.

We have 4.5 million companies rather than 320,000  – with no boundaries, no borders, no customs, but with a common currency, single financial system, and a single body of rules and regulations.

I am in no doubt: businesses right across Scotland have no wish to change this system.

I put it like this: we have a stronger place in the world with a great and wide network of embassies and diplomatic offices across the globe – supporting our businesses overseas and looking after Scots abroad.

As part of the UK we are a major player on the international stage: with significant influence in the EU, UN, G8 and other international institutions.

We can and do make a real difference to people in other parts of the world in times of trouble, as our work in the Philippines is showing right now.

At home the benefits of our United Kingdom can be seen not just in the make-up of families like mine and many others right across the UK, but also by the more than 700,000 Scots who live and work in other parts of the UK and the 30,000 people who travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK each day to work.

All of us benefit from a common passport, a single tax and national insurance system, meaning that people as well as goods and services can move freely. 

Where it makes sense to have decisions taken in Scotland by the Scottish Parliament responsibility has been devolved to Holyrood. It is a constructive and positive approach.  Devolution within a United Kingdom really does give us the best of both worlds.

Week two of the job and the crisis at Grangemouth petro-chemical plant landed on my desk. That illustrated well what the best of both worlds gives us: working together John Swinney and I could bring together the resources of government to secure the future of the plant more effectively than we could working separately.

That is why at the start of this year we embarked upon a detailed programme of work to examine Scotland’s position in the UK today and to make clear the choices that would face all of us if the UK family were to break up. 

These papers have been detailed and evidence based and together set out a detailed case that shows every part of the UK makes a valuable contribution and that together we are greater than the sum of our parts.

When we go to the polls next year we’ll be asked the question: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’. We’ll be asked to put our cross in a box saying yes, or a box saying no.

That simple act – will be replicated right across Scotland from the highlands and islands, to the borders; in our great cities and our rural communities.

Each of us will be asked the same question. And when we answer – we will all do so on the basis of what is best for us as individuals, for our families and for our communities, now and in the future.

And the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom can be seen in our future as much as our past:
There are the challenges we already know about: by pooling our resources we are better placed to meet some of the demographic challenges that we will face in the future.

Funding pensions through contributions from the working populations of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland is more sustainable than simply trying to fund our ageing population in Scotland alone: you don’t need to be an expert economist to work that one out.

Then of course there are things that we can’t predict:
Fifteen years ago the idea of broadband roll out across the UK, including our remotest areas would have sounded like a pipe-dream.

And yet here we are, with UK wide funding helping to join us up and bring us all closer together.Twenty per cent of the UK broadband budget is being spent here in Scotland – that’s more than any population-based share – and we can do this because we pool our resources across the UK.

We need to ask ourselves: what will the next broadband be? And will it be more sustainable to fund it by clubbing together as the UK or doing our own thing in a separate Scotland?

It is this past, present and future United Kingdom that we need to think about when we go into the polls next year.

But right now attention is turning to the Scottish Government’s White Paperwhich will be published in just less than two weeks. And rightly so.

This is after all a long awaited document.

Whilst we have published our analysis – on the legal implications of independence, on financial services, on the economy, on the challenges of an oil fund, or on the currency – what we’ve so often heard in response is ‘wait for the White Paper’.

The First Minister tells us that this Paper will resonate down through the ages and Nicola Sturgeon has said it will answer all the questions -  boy does it need to.

But before we get to the detail let’s start with ‘The ‘why?’  Why do the nationalists want independence?
Since signing the agreement with the Prime Minister over a year ago to ensure that we would have a referendum, the answer to ‘why’ seems to have become less clear, rather than more.

In the few areas where the Scottish Government have sought to offer any answers, they – ironically - seem obsessed with UK wide solutions. According to them:

We will leave the UK…but have a shared currency and keep the Bank of England working as lender of last resort;

We’ll leave the UK…. but continue to share a UK welfare system;

We’ll leave the UK….. but still get UK warships built in Scottish yards;

We’ll leave the UK…but still share a single set of financial regulations….

The logic of the Scottish Government’s position has left many scratching their heads in puzzlement.
But in truth it is just part of a pattern we see from the Scottish Government. They are doing this to offer false reassurance. Independence would prove very different in practice and the SNP know it. Right now all they are proving is that they are prepared to say anything and promise everything to try to win votes.
But let’s be generous and leave that most fundamental question of ‘why become independent’ to one side for a moment.

The Scottish Government have another duty in the White Paper: to explain how independence would work and what it would mean. This is an important decision for us all. The details matters. We cannot be offered a prospectus of ‘it will be alright on the night.’

Now we know that for many issues all the White Paper can do is provide a wish-list of what the Scottish Government might like to secure in negotiations:

An independent Scotland would need to sit down at the negotiating table with the rest of the UK – who would then be a separate state from us.

Sit down with the member states of the EU and the Allies of NATO to thrash out an enormous amount of very important detail.

In each case an independent Scottish state would be pursuing its interests, just as the other states would pursue their interests.

So the Scottish Government should take the opportunity in the White Paper to tell it straight about the fact that many important issues will need to be negotiated and they need to be upfront that there can be no guarantees in advance.

But that does not excuse the First Minister and his team for dodging some fundamental independence questions that they can answer.

The White Paper must be frank on a few fundamentals of independence if they are serious about bridging the credibility gap that exists with their plans.

Today I am posing three very straight-forward questions that need to be answered if people in Scotland are going to get any closer to knowing how independence will work and what it might mean for them.

Let’s start with the Pound in our pocket. Or, to be precise, the UK pound sterling in our pocket.

This is fundamental.

The First Minister is fond of saying that the Pound is as much Scotland’s as it is the rest of the UK’s. It is now, but if Scotland decided to leave the UK, we would also be leaving the UK currency.

Public international law is clear: the UK would continue. The UK’s currency would continue and the laws and institutions that control it like the Bank of England would continue...for the continuing UK
But if Scotland became an independent country, we would need to put in place our own currency arrangements; new currency arrangements.

The First Minister says he wants a currency union with the rest of the UK.

The UK Government – and plenty of others – have pointed to the challenges of currency unions between different states. You only need to look at the Euro area to see that everything can appear fine in year one, and how quickly circumstances can change.

And there are examples of currency unions that have failed. When Czechoslovakia broke up the Czechs and Slovaks tried it. It lasted 33 days.

The bottom line is that a currency union may not be in the interests of Scotland or the continuing UK and it is highly unlikely to be agreed – not because of any malevolence, but because it wouldn’t work.

It would be very foolish for anyone to vote for an independent Scotland on the basis that they will get to keep the pound. It’s high time that the Scottish Government stopped claiming that a currency union is a given and instead answer this first question: will the White Paper set out a credible Plan B on currency?
Pensions are another fundamental building block of any state.

The UK and other developed countries are facing rising pension costs because of ageing populations. Independent forecasts by the ONS confirm that the demographic challenge Scotland faces is greater than the rest of the UK.

We will have more elderly and retired individuals receiving pensions compared to those of working age who are paying taxes.

So my second question is will the White Paper set out how much more pensions will cost each of us in the future if we leave the UKand leave behind 90 per cent of the people that are currently paying into the larger UK pension pot?

Finally, the overall price tag of independence is something we never hear anything about. John Swinney’s private paper to his Cabinet colleagues said a new tax system alone would cost more than £600m each year.

Setting up a new Scottish state from scratch will not be cheap. The White Paper must tell us how much it will cost us to set up.

But in truth it’s not just the one off set up costs we need to think about.

In public we see the Scottish Government promising more and more ‘goodies’ for an independent Scotland. But people aren’t daft: we know that every goodie has to be paid for.

So I want to know how much we are expected to pay to go it alone as an independent state.

Rather than making empty promises, the White Paper has to tell us how an independent Scotland would fill the black hole.

Ok – I’ll admit – that’s more than three questions – trust me I could ask plenty more.

But what I’d really like to hear are the questions you want to see answered when you open up the White Paper.

Because this must not be a document that Governments alone pore over – as much as Alex Salmond might like it, this isn’t a debate between the UK and Scottish Governments.

An independence debate that is the sole preserve of the politicians will be a sterile and unrewarding experience. I want people in all parts of Scotland to have a voice.

I want to hear from business, from voluntary groups, from trade unions, from churches and charities.
And I want to hear from you.

Indeed, despite the approach of those Nationalists who question the right of ‘supposed Scots’ like me to speak out, this is a debate that each and every one of us has a right to be involved in: we each have a voice in this debate.

So, now, I want to hear yours.


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