Saturday, February 15, 2014

Men, is your behaviour driving women out of politics?

Imagine you are in a meeting trying to make your case. How would you feel if, every time you opened your mouth to speak, somebody interrupted you before you had got to the end of your first sentence? Not just once. Every. Single.Time.
Imagine you are in a meeting, trying to make your case, but the decision has clearly been made by a small cabal of powerful men who have reached their own understanding over dinner and some booze the night before, at an event that you were not invited to.
Imagine you are in a meeting trying to do your job responsibly, but because your recollections or views don't fit in with what others want, they become aggressive, shouting you down, demeaning your abilities, decrying your right to suggest something different. You feel completely under attack, humiliated, your heart is racing, you can feel the tears stinging and try to suppress them because you sure as hell aren't going to give them the satisfaction of showing weakness.
These are just three examples of behaviour I've repeatedly experienced and witnessed while going about my Lib Demmery over the years, and it still goes on to this day. And virtually always, the aggressors are men, who would never behave towards other men in such a manner.
You will always to a certain extent get people who will take advantage of their position and power, but this is not what I'm talking about. That's kind of part of politics. I'm talking about those men who, whether consciously or not, treat women with less respect than they do men. It's almost as if they think we're interlopers. I would not for one moment think that this sort of behaviour is confined to the Liberal Democrats, or even active politics, but it's my own party I want to change.
Academic Mary Beard, who has been the victim of Twitter trolls, has given a lecture, reported in the Guardian, about the way women are treated when they dare to put their heads above the parapet and speak out. She says that from Homer to Twitter, prejudice hardwired into our culture leads to vocal women being treated as "freakish androgenes." Dealing with that can't be remedied by measures like all women shortlists alone:
But if we want to understand – and do something about – the fact that women, even when they are not silenced, still tend to pay a very high price for being heard, we have to recognise that it's more complicated and that there's a long backstory."
Women's interventions were often described as "strident" or "whining". "Do those words matter? Of course they do – because they underpin an idiom that acts to remove the authority, the force, even the humour from what women have to say. It's an idiom that effectively repositions women back into the domestic sphere (people "whinge" over things like the washing up); it trivialises their words," she said.
"Contrast that with the 'deep-voiced' man, and its connotations of profundity. It is still the case, I'd argue, that when as listeners we hear a female voice, we don't hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather we haven't learned how to hear authority in it."
What is her solution?
"We just have got to have a bit more onsciousness-raising, old-fashioned feminist consciousness-raising. How do we use language? Why does it matter? And how does it put women down?"
This isn't about robust exchange of views. Anyone in politics should expect that. And anyone in the Liberal Democrats should always relish reasoned debate and discussion as a way to learn as much as a form of combat. Nobody in any position of power within the party should expect their decisions to go unchallenged. No, my concerns relate to a specific issue with how some men behave towards women.
Sometimes they aren't even aware. In my first example, of the man who interrupted me every time I opened my mouth, I eventually took him to one side and, very gently, asked him why he did that. He didn't even realise he was doing it but when I gave him a whole list of specific examples, he started to get it and to his credit worked at changing his behaviour. Our working relationship improved vastly as a result.
So, what's the solution? Well, it's certainly not easy. It is a problem, though that we ignore at our peril. I've seen good women driven away from active politics out of sheer exasperation at the way powerful men exclude and demean them. Participation in politics should not require putting up with such behaviour and politics itself is better when it more accurately reflects the society we live in.
A start would be for us all to be much more aware of our behaviour and that of others. Men in powerful positions, have a look at your own behaviour. Do you exclude women, do you behave aggressively towards them in a way that you would never do to a man? If so, change your behaviour. Decide that you won't do that in future. It's not difficult.
The rest of us need to look out for women who are being treated like this and challenge disrespectful behaviour. Even if we don't agree with what they say, we should always support their right to be heard and treated with dignity. Let's tackle our everyday sexism.

Bluff, bluster and bullying says Salmond. Pot, kettle and black come to mind.

This post originally appeared on Liberal Democrat Voice
That the SNP would dismiss yesterday's announcement on currency by George Osborne should not come as a surprise to any of us.
Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have taken to the airwaves to complain of "bluff, bluster and bullying" by those nasty big boys from Westminster. It's actually quite brazen to sit there and say, having been told a very firm "no" that the answer was really yes. But their aim was to whip up fury amongst their own supporters, to incite an emotional reaction in those who don't like English Tories telling things like they are.
That was always going to be the huge risk of Osborne's gamble and the jury is still out on whether Danny Alexander and Ed Balls were right to agree with it. Those voters who are undecided, who instinctively might veer towards yes but are worried by the uncertainties of independence might be propelled back towards them in the face of what they might perceive as a reactionary and petulant manoeuvre. Except that doesn't quite work when one of the people agreeing this, Danny Alexander, is a highlander through and through.
From what I can see in my social media timeline, and I'm discounting people already involved in politics, those who were already committed to voting yes are outraged, those who were already committed to voting no are pleased and those who don't know are splitting fairly evenly. That's only a small sample of family and friends. It'll be interesting to see the first proper poll.
I am still in two minds about whether this is the right thing to do as I wrote the other day. I do, though, completely see the rationale behind being honest with the voters ahead of the referendum. It's really important that Scots know what they are voting for. I said then that Osborne needed to be logical, reasonable and measured in his tone. By and large, he was. In fact, he was quite cold and forensic. I'm not normally one for giving added publicity to anything that George Osborne says, but he summed up the whole independence debate quite well with this observation:
People in Scotland are being asked to accept two diametrically opposite things at the same time.
That with independence everything in Scotland will change
and at the same time nothing will change.
The SNP wants to bring about fundamental change, but are giving false reassurance to people that things will stay the same, they'll still use the pound, they'll still have the Queen and they'll barely notice independence. If that's the case, what's the point? Leaving the UK is a huge decision that will require changes in every aspect of our lives, and  will involve massive risk and uncertainty. To pretend otherwise is wrong. If Osborne's move yesterday gets more people realising that, then it will have succeeded.
The SNP's line has been that the UK Government is bluffing and they will still be arguing for a currency union because that's what'll happen in the event of a yes vote. They have refused to give out any details of their Plan B. The tone of the debate on Twitter has been of the "You can't stop us using the pound, na na na na na" variety. I've heard nationalists on discussion programmes also talk about using the euro or the dollar, like it's really easy to do and there is no downside.  Prominent pro independence folk like Jim Sillars and Dennis Canavan, neither of them every likely to be on message for the Yes campaign at the best of times, have repeated their calls for Scotland to have its own currency.
The Scotland Office's Scotland Analysis paper on currency looked at the four options considered by the SNP's Fiscal Commission and concluded that in every event Scots would be worse off out of the UK. Quelle surprise, I hear you say, but it makes sense. A new country doesn't have a proven credit history. How tough do individuals find it to get credit for the first time? Well, it's the same for countries, who generally have to pay a higher rate of interest. That feeds back to more expensive mortgages and borrowing costs for businesses for citizens.
Then of course there's the fact that if you just use someone else's currency, you don't have a proper central bank, or lender of last resort. It was quite scary to hear SNP minister Fiona Hyslop suggest on Brian Taylor's Big Debate today that the bank bailout in 2008 just benefitted the city of London. I was under the impression it protected the savings of ordinary people and their jobs, too. If there is nobody to give your banks liquidity when they need it, and they all do from time to time, a hitch quickly becomes a crisis.
You can't really accuse someone of bullying when you then infer that taking your share of the national debt is conditional. Trying to get your own way by threatening not to fulfil your obligations is not far off blackmail. All the nonsense being put about by nationalists that it's the UK's debt abd nowt to do with them will amount to nothing when lenders make an independent Scotland borrow at exorbitant rates, if they allow it to borrow at all. Starting life as a pariah state that doesn't pay its dues is not a good prospect. The idea that the SNP can just walk away from that debt is like me saying I'm not paying income tax because I've lost Child Benefit.
One of the great things about the independence debate is that we get Jim Naughtie back for our version of the Today programme a couple of days a week. This morning, he got closer than anyone else has done so far to getting Salmond to admit that there would have to be an alternative proposal at some point:
JN: Does that mean in the event of a yes vote you go into negotiations without another option in your back pocket?
AS: Well let me say for the third time Jim that the fiscal commission working group set out all of the monetary policy options for an independent Scotland but recommended the best one was a sterling area and that’s the one that we’re going to be articulating and that’s what you’d expect us to do….
JN: OK Alex Salmond says there is no alternative –
AS: No I didn’t say that Jim, I said
JN – I’m just checking
AS – Try again, I said the Fiscal Commission Working Group set out a range of monetary policy options for an independent Scotland…
Willie Rennie encouraged Salmond to get on with telling us his Plan B:
The penny has finally dropped. The First Minister has effectively conceded that the Sterling Currency union with the UK will not happen.
He pointed towards the options in his fiscal commission but he needs to tell us which one he’d choose.  Would it be the Euro or a separate Scottish currency?
The clock is ticking. With 10 days until Scottish Cabinet meets in the North East, the First Minister can’t turn up empty handed. I am clear that the only way to keep the UK pound, and all the benefits which come with it, is to keep the strong UK family of nations. Now that Alex Salmond is without his Plan A he has a duty to tell people in Scotland what his Plan B is.
If Salmond goes into the referendum without fully explaining his alternative, then he'll be asking the voters to pay the biggest game of chicken in electoral history. His comments to Naughtie suggest that he knows that even if he's not prepared to explicitly say so just yet. His original suggestion that they'd just wait it out till after 18th September has been exposed as bluff within 24 hours. If he wants examples of bullying, bluff and bluster, he could easily look in the mirror.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ruling out a currency union. Locking the horse inside the stable?

This post first appeared on Liberal Democrat Voice
The currency in an independent Scotland has been the subject of much frenetic debate in recent months. The Scottish Government's White Paper on independence is clear that their preferred option is to continue to use sterling within a monetary union with what would remain of the UK:
The Commission's analysis shows that it will not only be in Scotland's interests to retain Sterling but that - post independence - this will also benefit the rest of the UK.
Under such an arrangement, monetary policy will be set according to economic conditions across the Sterling Area with ownership and governance of the Bank of England undertaken on a shareholder basis.
The SNP has this unfortunate habit of thinking that just because it wants something to be the case, that it'll happen. In any relationship, the views of the other parties have to be taken into consideration. Over the past few months, expert after expert has said that Scotland would have to cede its newly won independence and submit its spending plans to the will of the Bank of England and would have arguably less influence over its fiscal policy than it does at the moment.
Just the other week, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, laid out the conditions which would be necessary for a successful currency union:
The euro area is now beginning to rectify its institutional shortcomings, but further, very significant steps must be taken to expand the sharing of risks and pooling of fiscal resources. In short, a durable, successful currency union requires some ceding of national sovereignty.
It is likely that similar institutional arrangements would be necessary to support a monetary union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK.
But despite all of that sage and expert advice, Alex Salmond told the FT that he has no intention of ceding any power at all over fiscal policy:
Mr Salmond said an independent Scotland would be happy to cede sovereignty on monetary policy but on fiscal policy it would only have to accept aggregate limits to state debt and borrowing.
He added on that the currency union might be the trade for Scotland agreeing to take on a share of UK debts:
In the interview, Mr Salmond refused to consider a “Plan B” on the currency, warning that refusal by the remaining UK to accept shared use of the Bank of England would free Scotland of any responsibility for the UK debt.
“You’ve got a negotiation where the UK government will want to persuade the Scottish representatives that they should take on a share of debt which is the legal liability of Her Majesty’s Treasury,” he said.
 So, you have a Scottish Government doing it's usual false reassurance and asserting that it'll all be fine despite growing evidence to the contrary. What should the UK Government do? Well, one option is to stand by while yet more experts demolish the SNP's arguments. The other significantly riskier option is to take the whole idea of a currency union off the table. This, we are told, is what George Osborne is going to do tomorrow, with the backing of Ed Balls and Danny Alexander.
Why the risk? It makes the UK Government sound reactionary, petulant and unwilling. This could alienate the very people that Better Together needs to vote No in September. These are the people who respond to the Yes pretty picture narrative. They will even say that it doesn't matter if we're poor as long as we're free. However unpretty not having a viable currency would be, Osborne's gamble runs the risk of sounding like more of the macho posturing we've had on both sides of this debate. It's not a good look. It feeds those who view the Union as some great oppressive tyrant.  But, and it's a big but, if a currency union just isn't going to work, is it not better for the UK Government to be honest about it? How would the voters in the rest of the UK feel about sharing its currency with a country that's just left that union? Would a government of any flavour be able to get that through the House of Commons? I can't see it. If it's a political, fiscal and economic non-starter, is it not best to say so now, rather than let Scotland vote yes on the basis of false reassurance. Saying no then would be locking the door after the horse had bolted. I just hope saying no now isn't locking the poor beast in the stable in the dark for months on end.
Bluntly, Scotland needs the currency union a great deal more than the rest of the UK. Nicola Sturgeon goes on about transaction costs for business. Well, the other UK countries may well be Scotland's biggest trading partner, but Scotland isn't the rest of the UK's, not by a long chalk. You have the 600 million people in the EU and US way ahead of our 6 million people, and nobody's seriously suggested we join the Euro for a while, or the dollar ever.
Reaction from the SNP so far has been either that the UK Government is bluffing or that it's bullying. Well, they can't have that both ways.
I'm still not convinced that this is the best tactic. A lot will depend on what Osborne actually says tomorrow. It's not the time for rhetoric and passion. If he's going to set out this stall, his language will have to be rational, reasoned and measured. He'll have to set it out very carefully and logically, with no rancour. He has a lot of convincing to do, and, let's face it, he is not the most popular politician as far as Scots are concerned. Already the execution of this has been incredibly cackhanded. If David Cameron had kept his mouth shut at that press briefing yesterday and just let Osborne make his speech on Thursday, we could have had the judgement done on his actual words, not conjecture, for 36 hours before. Cameron did this last year, too. He made some comment about the timing of the referendum not being an issue to journalists before it had been agreed between the Governments.

The SNP must now state their Plan B

One thing that's absolutely for sure is that the SNP has nowhere to hide now. They'll try, for a while, to just lob accusations of nasty Westminster bullies into the air but that won't count for much if, having been told they won't get their currency union, they don't produce an alternative.  Otherwise, they will be asking the electorate to play the biggest game of chicken in history. Currency is fundamental to everything we do, so we need to know exactly what's going to happen. It would have been wrong of the SNP to keep making promises it was in no position to keep on something as important as this. It's interesting that nobody really cared about the currency a few months ago, but now polls are seeing it figure quite highly.
So, everyone, to the tune of "Donald where's your troosers", Alex, where's your Plan B?
The three pro UK parties are taking a huge risk here. It will be some time before we see if it pays off, but I'd say it has a pretty good chance. That doesn't mean I have to like it, though.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Time to start educating children about their rights after figures show Police stopped and searched 500 under 10s

Shocking figures show that police in Scotland have stopped and searched 750,000 people in the last year. The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research report also found that 500 children under 10 were stopped and searched in 2010 alone.  This has caused concern from human rights and children's organisations.
Scotland's Children's Commissioner, Tam Baillie, writing in the Herald said:
On any reading, it is clear that young people are being targeted and there will be times when their rights are being infringed.
In a the country that claims to be committed to children's rights and wants to be the best country in the world in which to grow up, this needs to be addressed urgently.
The Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission was also worried:
The recent increase in the use of non-statutory powers of stop and search [i.e. where there is no reasonable suspicion of the person] is particularly concerning. According to Police Scotland these amount to 70% of the almost half a million searches conducted between April and December in 2013. Such an increased and extensive use of this form of stop and search power can, dependent upon the circumstances, be unlawful, be carried out without informed and freely given consent, and have a longer term adverse impact upon police and community relations. Scotland should not be repeating the mistakes and lessons learned in England and Wales, where the use of stop and search is reducing.
One person isn't worried one little bit, though. Step forward First Minister Alex Salmond who pretty much shrugged his shoulders and said "so what" when questioned by Willie Rennie today. You can watch the whole thing here from about 18:30. Willie asked Salmond if he was comfortable with that high number of searches on children who are hardly in a position to consent. The First Minister again showed that he really doesn't get it on civil liberties. As long as crime's going down, he's happy.
With a 1 in 8 chance of Scots being searched by Police, perhaps it's time to start educating our citizens and schoolchildren about their rights. Ultimately, if the Police are going to search you, they need to have reasonable suspicion of a number of things. Otherwise,you do not need to submit. The Citizens' Advice Bureau has a handy guide to your rights. Read and learn it now.
While there are still concerns about stop and search powers in England being disproportionately used on black and Asian people, which must be addressed, the total number is falling. Just think, in a country of 50 million people, there are just 1.1 million stop and searches, while in Scotland, with a population of 6 million, there were 750,000. The downward trend, coupled with falling crime, shows what can be achieved with Liberal Democrats in government. To be blunt, even Theresa May is more liberal on this than Alex Salmond. That's not a good look.
As well as Willie's question, Alison McInnes, our Scottish justice spokesperson said that overuse of these powers on children sends out the wrong message about what sort of society we are:
Overuse of stop and search, particularly towards very young people, sends the completely wrong message about the kind of society we want to live in. Scottish Liberal Democrats are committed to building a fairer society.
I've always said that I want to live in a liberal Scotland. So much about the SNP, not to mention authoritarian Labour, tells me it would be anything but if we were independent.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rennard: How is the party going to get through this?

I've had a post in drafts for the last 3 days about the fallout from Alistair Webster's statement but my heart has been so heavy that it's only now I feel able to complete it. I have to thank Lord Carlile of Berriew for his help in that regard. His statements across various media have been so unnecessarily aggressive, rude, bullish and, frankly, unhelpful to anyone that he's helped clarify my thoughts. There is also an irony about the man who so strongly supported the introduction of secret courts complaining about secret justice in this matter. To be clear, he and Chris Rennard have seen all the evidence. They and the women concerned should probably see the report.

What I'm going to say is as someone who has been broadly sympathetic to Chris Rennard in the almost 20 years I've known him and should be viewed in that context. I have no scores to settle and I've always had a cordial relationship with him.

This past year has been excruciating for me and for the party. There are people I care about on all sides of this. I may not be directly involved, but I feel like I've been emotionally boshed on the head with a sledgehammer. I shudder to think what it must be like for the people who have been at the centre of it all.

The party is in danger of pulling itself apart over this. On one hand, there are a growing number of people who feel that Chris Rennard should apologise as asked to do so by Alistair Webster QC before being admitted back into the Lords group. I was really surprised that the Scottish Liberal Democrats Executive agreed unanimously yesterday to back Nick Clegg's position on this. Although we confined our motion to that, there was a call to also condemn Lord Carlile for his deeply offensive public statements.

On the other hand, there are those who genuinely believe Rennard to be innocent and to have been found so by the enquiry. They are fiercely protective of him and view the complainants, as our friend Lord Carlile does, as "bad losers" or possibly even worse.

Chris Rennard has not been found innocent

In order to try and find a way through this, I think we have to bear in mind that Chris Rennard has not been found innocent. At best, Alistair Webster's findngs are more akin to the Scottish "not proven" verdict and the reaction of people on both sides demonstrate very clearly why such a verdict is entirely unsatisfactory. Let's look at what the QC said:
Let me be clear from the outset that the evidence suggests that Lord Rennard’s behaviour has caused distress to a number of women, so much so that they came forward several years after the events in question.
His final conclusion:
 My view, judging the evidence as a whole, is that there is a less than 50% chance that a charge against Lord Rennard could be proved to the requisite standard.
In my opinion, the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible. However, it is my judgment, considering all of the evidence collected, that it is unlikely that it could be established beyond reasonable doubt that Lord Rennard had intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way. Without proof of such an intention, I do not consider that such a charge would be tenable.
I stress that I am not finding that the evidence of the complainants was unreliable. I have specifically discounted suggestions made during the investigation that the incidents had been invented as part of a political campaign against Lord Rennard.
It is my view that Lord Rennard ought to reflect upon the effect that his behaviour has had and the distress which it caused and that an apology would be appropriate, as would a commitment to change his behaviour in future.
Not innocence, but evidence that suggests that Rennard's behaviour caused distress, that he should reflect on this, apologise and give assurances about future behaviour.

I agree with Stephen Tall's main conclusion - it's a mess. The party's processes have been found to be totally inadequate to deal with allegations of this nature and that must be remedied as soon as possible.

I think that the way in which Alex Carlile has interpreted this statement has been insensitive, inaccurate and utterly offensive. His manner is entirely dismissive of the women concerned and is especially inappropriate given that Rennard said yesterday via his speedily deleted Facebook account that he considered making an apology 3 years ago. In today's Daily Mail, he compares the party's processes to North Korea and Henry VIII's torture. He says that Rennard has been made ill over the last year. Is he therefore suggesting that the party should not even have investigated these allegations? Being under investigation is stressful for anyone.

Had Rennard accepted Webster's conclusion and issued a genuine, credible apology rather than forget about the second part of the statement, he could have been back on the path to better health and less stress. Instead, he chooses to threaten further legal action and dig his heels in, presumably on the advice of Carlile and others. That could have been an end to the matter, he could have been re-admitted to the Lords group and everyone could have moved on. That same stubbornness and single focus which contributed to his fantastic election winning success for this party has an altogether more (self)-destructive side now. Simply, when someone is told that there is evidence that their behaviour has caused distress, their first reaction should be to apologise for that distress, whether it was intended or not. He may feel that his previous vehement denials have painted him into a corner. Actually, I think a genuine apology would be well received and the courage it takes to issue it respected. Even now.

Privileged few closing ranks - not a good look

The idea that the Lords could let Chris back in without an apology was always hugely worrying for me. I wrote to Jim Wallace saying that such a move would be very damaging for our party. We, the party who are supposed to challenge vested interests, would see a privileged few close ranks to protect one of their own. If they do that, all the fantastic work that they do will be,  from then on,  tarnished. 

It may well be that the Lords will vote tomorrow to allow Chris Rennard back into the group, defying Nick Clegg's very clear statement that they should not without an apology. That would be really unfortunate. Even if they do bow to the leader's view and that expressed by the 120 party members (me included), they will be in mutinous mood which doesn't bode well for future relations.

The Lords have different motivations for the view they take. In fact, I think an analysis of them in a Venn diagram would be quite interesting. First of all, you have those who think they're living in a world of Benny Hill and Carry on films,where women's breasts and bottoms are fair game.This Facepalm Brigade simply don't get the concept of sexual harassment and think that it's all a load of fuss about nothing. It scares me that people with that sort of view make our laws, let alone that they're in our party. To be fair, these sorts of people exist in all parties and in wider society, but still. 

Secondly, and this is a group of people I think we need to treat with some sympathy, Rennard's actual friends. Some of them have known him well for decades. Some of them owe their entire careers to him. For various reasons, they have a strong bond with him and a fierce loyalty to him. Before you condemn them, think how it would be if your friend or your dad or your brother was in Rennard's situation. Of course you would support them in almost all cases and you would feel very protective of them and angry at anyone who wasn't. These are very human reactions and emotions and I think we need to cut those people a bit of slack. That doesn't give them the right to be offensive in public, and to be honest, most of them have either said nothing or been respectful, but I can see why they would want to vote to readmit someone they care about. It doesn't make it right to do so, though, because, as Liberal Democrat parliamentarians they also have a duty to the party. 

Thirdly, and this is where it's worth putting the effort in to build positive relationships with people, not all our Lordships have time for Nick Clegg and Tim Farron, not least for the way that they spoke about them during the doomed  process of trying to get Lords reform through. Then, they suggested that Lords just turned up and got £300 a day tax free and wasn't this awful? Actually, our Lords work bloody hard, seriously improve legislation and do a huge amount of good. Nick has recognised that latterly, but he's still not flavour of the month in the Upper House. 

Whatever their perspective, I really hope that they will see that they will harm the party if they allow Chris Rennard back without an apology.

So how do we get through?

There is an obvious path to peace.

It's not too late for Chris Rennard to apologise, and to do it well. I really think that he should call off Carlile, say no thanks to Chris Davies MEP's pledges of money to fund high court actions and just do it for his own sake as well as everybody else's.Those women should get the apology that they, according to the person who has seen all the evidence, deserve. Stephen Tall rightly pointed out that an apology extracted under duress wouldn't make any difference or satisfy anyone. What I'm suggesting is that he actually makes it sincerely. It takes a lot of courage to unpaint yourself from a corner, but it can be done. 

There's a report in the Independent on Sunday which states that Chris's supporters are saying that he can't apologise in case he gets sued. If you think about it, this is quite insulting to the women. This has never been about money. They were purely motivated by concerns about the safety of women in the party and its failure to treat allegations of sexual harassment seriously, pure and simple. Having said that, if that perception is a barrier to an apology, I wonder if it would help if they were able to say explicitly that they would not seek civil damages. 

However, and I've changed my view on this in the last 24 hours, I don't think it's appropriate, even with an apology to allow him back into the Lords group just yet. Not after the way his legal adviser has been talking all over the media, misrepresenting what Alistair Webster said. And the comparisons he's made to Henry VIII's torturers and to North Korea are really ridiculous. I mean, he's saying that an oppressive legal system which gives people no freedom and where political rivals face the firing squad is better than the disciplinary processes of the Liberal Democrats. That Henry VIII's people torturing in search of evidence is better than the admittedly imperfect procedure that's just taken place. Such statements make me question the credibility of  everything else that he says.

A time of contrition after all the bluster is now called for.

I think we also need to try and take the temperature down somehow. People need to try and be calm and temperate in their language. There are very strong emotions involved in this and we need to respect where others are coming from and frame our remarks accordingly. It is possible to have these differences without letting them overwhelm our ability to function and work together.

The four women have now filed an appeal against the process. I don't know the details of it, but we'll have to wait for due process on that. There may well be further evidence, further hearings and legal action in the public courts. 

The European elections take place 4 months on Wednesday. We all need to work together to get a decent result in that and the many sets of local elections also taking place. We need to get our focus back off this and on to the doorstep. That'll be a lot easier if the Lords do the right thing tomorrow, whether they want to or not. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The three dimensions to Alistair Carmichael's speech: a positive vision of the UK, incoherent nationalist ideas and future powers

This article first appeared on Liberal Democrat Voice
Alistair Carmichael's keynote speech and subsequent question and answer session in Stirling today touched three different dimensions of the constitutional debate, the last of which should cheer any Liberal Democrat heart. Up until now, roughly, the nationalist campaign has been all about painting a pretty picture of how all our problems would disappear if we controlled our own destiny, and in dismissing all searching for detail and questioning as scaremongering. The pro UK campaign has been about robust analysis of the SNP positions, but it hasn't even made my heart sing and I'm voting for them. It's been all head and fact and evidence based and worthy,  but it's not appealed to the emotions.  The parts of Carmichael's speech trailed overnight heavily emphasised what Scotland gains as being part of the UK, though. Were we about to see a change of emphasis?

The positive vision for the UK

It's not just about money, said Alistair. It's about what the 4 nations of the UK have built together. He said Scotland gets more out than it puts in which will no doubt have the nationalists in a tailspin of indignation - but the same is the case for all the countries which make up the UK, greater than the sum of their parts.
One of things of which I am most proud in the UK is that we’re able to absorb, to protect and to cherish differences: differences of culture, religion, accent, origin and much, much more.  
But let no-one underestimate what we share together and how that helps us succeed together.
Of course, our commitment to the UK family is not just about the facts and figures.
It’s also about the values and ambitions we share.
The hands that built the United Kingdom have created things of enormous value.
They strike a chord of pride within us and remind us all of what we can achieve together.
There was a long section about what we have achieved by working together, building institutions like the NHS.
And when the UK Parliament established the NHS, it did so to fight those evils within the entirety of our borders.
We faced the same problems, we felt the same outrage and we together we found the same solution.
Today, people across the UK family take enormous pride in a National Health Service, providing comprehensive health services, free at the point of use for all UK citizens wherever they fall ill within our United Kingdom.
The BBC was similarly praised, as were our UK sporting stars, cheered on by everyone across the UK in 2012.
Why, he asked, would you want to break this up when we have all this plus economic stability, more secure pensions, cheaper mortgages, a single labour market and huge international influence.

The incoherent nationalist idea of independence

In contrast to all this, independence, he argued, would be a massive risk, especially as the nationalist view wasn't either clear or actually deliverable. They were making promises that they were in no position to know they could keep. He looked back to 2007, when he said an independent Scotland would be the low tax, prosperous Celtic tiger. By 2011, the vision was for a Scandinavian social democracy with the White Paper a fudge between the two.
But here was the problem:
Even in the best of times, no-one can have a low-tax economy paying for Scandinavian levels of social provision.
If they could, Scandinavia – and others – would have done it.
To say that they will do so with the backdrop of an ageing population and reduced oil and gas revenues, only adds insult to injury.
He called on the nationalists to produce a full, true and costed vision of what independence would mean so that people would know what they were being asked to vote for.

Alistair Carmichael being interviewed by Brian Taylor"I am a Liberal Democrat and a Federalist"

The F word, federalist. He said it. He volunteered it. And not only that, but you should have seen the way his eyes lit up when he did. This is ground where he is very comfortable and he needs to take the chance to talk about the plans set out by the Campbell Commission. In response to a question, he said he supported home rule for all nations and regions of the UK if they wanted it.
He talked about how the Liberal Democrats had led the way in making the case for more powers. He particularly said that he wanted the debate to be as much about raising money as spending it.
As a fellow Liberal Democrat and federalist, I am delighted to see these ideas unashamedly in the mix again. I am, however, perplexed by those who say that they are federalists but would vote for independence if they didn't see a prospect of achieving federalism. How does that work? Independence is very, very different and much more risky.
One particular questioner took issue with his votes on the Bedroom Tax and against an investigation of food banks. This is a common tactic of the nationalist campaign, and, in fact, I saw the questioner afterwards but with her Yes Scotland badge on. Alistair handled it well, saying that the best way to alleviate child poverty was to get parents into work like the Coalition has been doing. He also said that the foodbanks vote was not about just foodbanks. There was stuff in there, like the unworkable energy price freeze that he didn't believe in and couldn't support.
This speech needed to show a bit of heart and soul to balance the worthiness and evidence base of the very academic Scotland Analysis series of papers. Alistair did that very well. The slight issue is that the Treasury's announcement about debt kind of brought technical stuff back into play on the same day and I suspect that the positive stuff might get lost in the main coverage. Teh soundbites we'll see are going to be more on the variant of "If the first act of an independent Scotland is to default on its debts, who is going to want to lend it money?" rather than the "Look at the lovely stuff the UK has made." variety.
The speech in full is available here on my own blog. It's worth a read to get the full picture.

Monday, January 13, 2014

In Full: Alistair Carmichael's New Year Speech - A positive vision of UK's achievements to contrast with the incoherent nationalist position

This is very long, but I thought it was worth posting in full. My analysis is here on Liberal Democrat Voice. 

You can never really get the full flavour of a 14 page speech into a blog post. It's not always worth reading the whole thing, but this is well written and definitely worth it. 

It is a real pleasure to be with you all here in Stirling University today to talk about Scotland’s future.

On 18th September this year we will take the most fundamental collective decision that a nation can ever be asked to take.

This is a once in a generation decision:

We have just over eight months to decide whether we stay in the United Kingdom family or go it alone. 

Eight months to choose between remaining part of this four-nation partnership that we have built together or to break away and to start from scratch.

That is our choice. 

That time will fly by – but I’m determined to the make the most of every minute.


Quite simply because I believe in Scotland within the United Kingdom. 

I believe in the contribution we’ve made over the last 300 years along with our friends and families across England, Wales and Northern Ireland: our common effort to create and share something bigger and that serves us all well. 

I believe in the benefits we get from being part of this larger shared community.

I believe this because I can see the evidence around me – at home in Orkney, here in Stirling, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle, right throughout the United Kingdom.

We all put something in and we are all getting something out: the UK is greater than the sum of its parts. 

Right now Scotland sees the benefit of this long shared history.

Right now, we get the benefits from natural resources like North Sea oil – but we are able to manage the volatility in production and price as part of a much larger and diverse economy made up of 60 million individuals rather than just five.

Our economy comprises four and a half million companies rather than 320,000 – a market with no boundaries, no borders, no customs - but with a stable UK currency that is respected and envied across the world; a single financial system, and a single body of rules and regulations. 

Because we share in these benefits, Scotland is best placed to succeed.  We are the wealthiest area of the UK outside London and South East, and we have achieved that as part of the UK. 

And right now, all of this supports jobs here in Scotland.

Jobs in industries as diverse as oil and gas, defence, food and drink and the new and emerging creative industries of the future.

Let us not forget we get more back than we put in. 

Public spending in Scotland is currently 10% higher than the UK average.

Yes, there are national differences across the UK – we are not a monolithic culture, thank goodness. 

That’s true of our economy and our society.

One of things of which I am most proud in the UK is that we’re able to absorb, to protect and to cherish differences: differences of culture, religion, accent, origin and much, much more. 

But let no-one underestimate what we share together and how that helps us succeed together. 

Of course, our commitment to the UK family is not just about the facts and figures.

It’s also about the values and ambitions we share.

The hands that built the United Kingdom have created things of enormous value.

They strike a chord of pride within us and remind us all of what we can achieve together. 

Together, we built a National Health Service.

When William Beveridge identified the five “Giant Evils” facing post-war Britain - squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease – these evils blighted every nation of our United Kingdom.

And when the UK Parliament established the NHS, it did so to fight those evils within the entirety of our borders.

We faced the same problems, we felt the same outrage and we together we found the same solution.

Today, people across the UK family take enormous pride in a National Health Service, providing comprehensive health services, free at the point of use for all UK citizens wherever they fall ill within our United Kingdom.

Together, we built the BBC - three letters that stand for excellence in broadcasting at home and around the world.

They invoke quality, depth and impartiality.

It is the product of our shared wish for a national broadcaster that can educate, entertain and inform.

It is funded by a flat licence fee that guarantees access to programming that is both UK wide and nation and region specific.   It serves local communities with a local presence in places like my own communities in Orkney and Shetland.  It provides national reporting and entertainment across the nation.   Around the world people look to the world service as a source of truth and impartiality.

It is unrivalled, unparalleled, and irreplaceable.

Together, we have built a formidable sporting culture too.

In so many sports, the nations of our UK family have different traditions, different strengths and different teams.

But while we maintain a strong pride in our teams for football, rugby and so much more –

We also maintain an enormous pride in the sporting clout that we represent together.

Whether that’s the British Lions, or next month’s Winter Olympics, or of course, our astonishing achievements in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

At those Games, the UK won a 29 gold medals.

And over the Games, as the tally went higher, so did our collective sense of national pride.

Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis, Andy Murray, Mo Farah, Katherine Granger.

Those outstanding athletes weren’t cheered on by parts of the UK, but by all of us.

They were our representatives.

They worked together, they competed together – many had trained together at facilities across the UK.

Their success fed our pride.

The NHS, the BBC, our sporting events, teams and heroes.

These are just a few of the things that bind together our family in pride and endeavour.

Shared values, shared effort, shared achievements.

Why should we now break these things up?

As separate states must.

When we have achieved so much through our common values and labour, wouldn’t we go on to achieve so much more?

The challenges we face today may be different but they are every bit as demanding as those we faced in the past.

Together, we can afford the subsidies that will bring about a renewables revolution in this country.

Cutting carbon emissions, tackling climate change, strengthening the green economy.

Together, we can make a bigger impact on global poverty.

Pooling our resources, we have grown our aid budget and become the second largest donor nation in the world today.

Together, we can rebalance our economy and become more prosperous.

Growing faster than any other G7 country, becoming the largest EU economy within perhaps just twenty years, providing the financial security that safeguards our banks and secures our currency. 

The motivation to prevent climate change, to protect the most vulnerable and to build a strong prosperous and sustainable economy. 

These values are common across the United Kingdom. 

And by staying together, we can build on those values to create a strong and secure future.

Why should we now break these things up?

2013 – the year of evidence

I don’t believe in the UK family because of dogma, ideology or nostalgia but because of what the UK means to us in the here and now and what it can deliver for us all in the future. 

For too long we have allowed to go unspoken the contribution that Scotland makes to the UK - and we have been equally silent on the benefits that we get from being part of it.

2013 was the year when the UK Government started putting the record straight.

We embarked on an analysis programme examining the facts, reviewing the evidence and making the case for Scotland as part of the United Kingdom in a series of detailed papers. 

Soon we will publish our first paper of the new year. 

It will examine the benefits for Scotland of being part of the UK in the EU and on the international stage. 

The UK is at the heart of all of the world’s most influential organisations. 

As part of the UK we are one of the founding members of the United Nations and have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council - helping to take decisions on major foreign policy and defence issues.  

As part of the UK we can use our influence to help others – whether to give our home-grown businesses access  to new export markets through our highly-developed embassy network; or providing support and assistance to other countries in times of crisis. 

Our paper will set out the facts about Scotland’s contribution and the benefits we get from being part of this world-leading partnership.

We’re talking about a complex, detailed piece of analytical work.

That’s because what we have in the UK is a product of years, of decades worth of cooperation and negotiation – both within the UK and with our neighbours. 

Academics, businesses and legal experts here in Scotland have read – and contributed to - the papers we’ve published to date.

They support the facts and the evidence we have presented. 

You’ll find no grandiose flights of fancy here - only the very facts of our United Kingdom:

·         our banks are safer; 
·         we have greater financial protection for savers and pensioners;
·         greater levels of competition delivering cheaper mortgages and insurance for families and businesses;
·         we invest in research, infrastructure and industry to remain at the forefront of new technological developments;
·         we have a single labour market which allows people to move freely within the UK for jobs; and
·         we use our international influence to make a positive difference.

The list can – and does – go on. 

Together these facts to make a positive case for Scotland in the United Kingdom.  

And throughout the remainder of this year we’re going to keep making that case.

But you don’t just have to accept the facts we’ve published, just take a look at some of the other contributions we’ve had so recently in this debate:

·         We have heard the supermarkets talk about the benefit of being  part of a single large economy where food and drink costs us, the consumers, the same regardless of the costs of production and distribution. 
·         We’ve heard the CBI – the organisation that speaks on behalf of business - say that the nations of the UK are stronger together and that Scotland’s business and economic interests will be best served by remaining part of the UK family
·         We’ve seen the body that represents accountants in Scotland continue to ask questions about the Scottish Government’s proposals for pensions – questions that remain after the White Paper’s publication
·         And we’ve heard legal experts describe independence as ‘a road to nowhere’.

It’s no surprise that the Scottish Government argue against all the evidence and the facts that we’ve presented - but their eagerness to shout down the experts from the worlds of business, academia and the law is worrying and regrettable.

Other side of the argument – not being honest

I don’t argue with the right of those on the other side of this debate to feel the way they do about the future of our country. 

But I do feel very strongly that those who want to break up our United Kingdom have a duty to listen to the experts and to make an evidence-based case of their own.

It is not good enough to adopt the politics of ‘he who shouts loudest’.  It’s not good enough to say, when challenged, “just because I say so”.

For most of 2013 the Scottish Government told us in response to almost every question put to them: ‘wait for the White paper’; ‘the answer will be in the White paper’. 

But what we got in November was heavy on rhetoric and light on answers.   It was a wish list without a price list. 

On the one hand we got a set of promises that the Scottish Government can’t deliver.

No matter what they say, it is not for the Scottish Government to dictate what deal a separate Scotland could negotiate with the rest of the UK.

As Scots we all have to ask ourselves if we choose to leave the UK, why would those we’ve walked out on want to continue to share the things we have at the moment precisely because we part of the UK?

If we stop contributing to the UK, why would we keep getting the benefits from being part of it? 

And that’s before we even start to think about the negotiations that would be required with all 28 EU member states, bilateral relations with countries around the world and international organisations.

Yet on the other hand we saw the Scottish Government promising things post-independence that they could be delivering today.

The Scottish Government chose to put the spotlight on childcare in their White Paper - something that it is within their power to do right now. 

Last week they finally acknowledged the folly of this approach and came forward with proposals to start the catch-up with childcare provision in the rest of the United Kingdom.  

In so doing they made the case for what we have – not for what they want.

The Nationalists like to assert that they have a vision for an independent Scotland and that their White Paper is its articulation.

It is not.

This is not a vision; it is a mirage.

Like all mirages, the closer you get the less real it becomes.

There is no coherence whatsoever in this nationalist document – or any other – about the kind of country Scotland would be if we were to leave the UK family.

This is not surprising.

The nationalists have long been skittish and evasive about the model for an independent Scotland.

They proffer whatever fits for any given audience at any given time.

Then switch it for something else when the moment suits.

Back in 2007 we were told that Scotland would be the free market Celtic Lion.

Roaring to the sound of banking deregulation, and echoing across the arc of prosperity to Iceland and Ireland.

By 2011 the tune had changed.

Now we would be a Scandinavian-style social democracy.

With social services and public spending priorities that looked east, not west.

The White Paper couldn’t decide which way to jump.

A promise to cut some taxes, and freeze others, clumsily grafted on to expensive commitments on nationalisation, public spending and a lower retirement age.

All based on a single, solitary page of numbers and the wilful omission of data from 2008 – the inconvenient year of the financial crash.

In every sense, it simply does not add up.

Even in the best of times, no-one can have a low-tax economy paying for Scandinavian levels of social provision.

If they could, Scandinavia – and others – would have done it.

To say that they will do so with the backdrop of an ageing population and reduced oil and gas revenues, only adds insult to injury.

There is no vision, just 670 pages of words.

All things to all people, big on rhetoric, low on facts, it offers no true picture of what kind of country Scotland would really become.

What currency would we use?

What terms of EU membership could we hope to achieve? 

How much would independence cost and just how would it be paid for?

It is for the nationalists to present a full, true and costed vision of what independence would mean.

If they refuse to do that, what are people being asked to vote for?


In 2014 my job – and the job of all those who believe in the United Kingdom – is to make the strong positive case for the UK and to make it loudly and proudly.

We can do that confidently, because our case is supported by the experts.   The substance of the argument is on our side and it has gone without meaningful challenge by our opponents. 

Now our job is to make sure that every voter is aware of these facts before they enter the polling station.

Because ultimately this isn’t a debate that will rest on the production of papers by Governments, however learned and substantial they may be.

This is a debate that must take place in the pub and in the bank – at the school gates and on the factory floor - our universities and in our supermarkets. 

This must be a debate in which we are all involved.

We cannot leave this to someone else and hope they get it right for us. 

We must not let anyone tell us what we can and cannot think or say.  

In this debate, everyone’s voice matters.

We all get one vote. 

The future of our country really is in our hands and we must take it, grasp it and decide for ourselves.

So my hope for 2014 is this: in September I hope that all of us who can vote, do vote. 

And I am confident that people right across Scotland will make the positive choice and vote no. 

The positive choice to stay part of the United Kingdom family.

The positive for a bright Scottish future as part of the United Kingdom.


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