Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Orange bookers beware: Liberal Futures publishes The Little Yellow Book

First, there was the Orange Book. Then Liberal Democrat Voice published the Tangerine Book. Now, tomorrow, Scottish based Liberal Futures will publish The Little Yellow Book, a collection of essays on Liberalism in Scotland today edited by former MSP and Education Minister Robert Brown and Nigel Lindsay (no relation). It aims to move beyond the Orange Book of 2004, and to articulate a Liberalism of the people that speaks to modern Scotland with a mission to make our country a more equal and buoyant one. 

Liberal Futures was established last year to promote thought and policy development among Scottish Liberal Democrats in 2012 and beyond. It was originally called Liberal Vision but recently changed its name to avoid confusion with the English organisation which has quite different aims. 

The Little Yellow Book was developed out of ideas discussed at a conference last June and contains essays by prominent and academic Liberal Democrats currently working in Scotland, including former MSP Elspeth Attwooll, John Aldridge, Ben Colburn, Murray Leith, Ross Finnie, Gillian Gloyer, Denis Sullivan and Paul Coleshill, as well as the editors themselves. It is deliberately named after the famous Liberal Yellow Book of 1928 which did so much to reinvigorate the Party before the 1929 election. It calls for a more rigorous sense of public and personal ethics and for a strengthened concept of the public interest, ideas that are central to Liberalism. Itdiscusses ways in which these ideas can be applied in practical politics today.

Essay subjects include:

·         Liberalism for the people – the Orange Book challenged
·         A New World Order – lessons from the Arab Spring
·         Crisis in Ethics – the failure of leadership
·         Effectiveness in the public sector

The Little Yellow Book runs to 176 pages and includes a Foreword by Willie Rennie MSP.  It can be ordered from booksellers or through Amazon (quoting ISBN 978-178035-266-4) at the cost of £9.50. 

For a limited period including the Inverness conference, The Little Yellow Book is available at the special launch price of £8.00. It can be bought during the Inverness conference, and at the Social Liberal Forum / Liberal Futures fringe meeting in Inverness where it is to be launched. It can also be ordered by post prior to the conference at this price, plus 50p p & p per copy, (cheques made payable to "Liberal Futures") from Nigel Lindsay, 4 Church Road, Bo'ness, West Lothian, EH51 0EL

This book aims to shape thinking on how Liberalism in Scotland should develop over the coming decade but with its range of subjects it will be of interest to many south of the border as well.

My pick of the Scottish Conference Agenda

This weekend, Scottish Liberal Democrats gather in Inverness for their annual conference. This is the second most important event to take place in the city this year (the most important being my sister's wedding on 8 April).

I'm particularly looking forward to it as I was brought up there and the venue, Eden Court Theatre, is within a few minutes' walk of virtually everywhere important to me as a child. The Cathedral where I was christened is next door, my Grandma's round the corner, my primary school a wee bit further down the road. I also get to save on accommodation costs by staying with my sister and her family.

Every Council seat in Scotland is up for election in May so the Conference will be a good launch pad for the campaign. It's also new leader Willie Rennie's first Spring Conference speech, a chance for him to map out where he wants to take the party over the next year and remind us of how the small but strong Liberal Democrat voices in the Scottish Parliament have made their mark. Willie Rennie's campaign to reverse college cuts bore some fruit in the recent Budget, the Campbell Commission leads the way on developing thinking on further devolution as opposed to independence, we've stood up against draconian and ill-advised anti-sectarian measures and pushed for action on the scandalous neglect on women prisoners. Rennie's task for the weekend will be to show a vibrant, forward thinking party that's indispensable on the Scottish political scene. He will want to show how the influence of the Liberal Democrats in the UK Government is vital to the Scottish economy.

Highlights on the agenda include:

Keynote speeches by all five Cabinet ministers: Danny Alexander, Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Ed Davey, and Michael Moore as well as President Malcolm Bruce and, of course Willie Rennie.

Debates on fuel duty, prison rehabilitation (where I hope to be proposing the amendment which specifically deals with women prisoners), housing and youth unemployment, tackling high interest credit companies like payday loans.

Fringes on the Arab Spring, human rights, alcohol harm, victim support, RNIB Scotland's manifesto for the local authority elections, devolution/independence, land value taxation, Liberal Democrats and the Coalition from Social Liberal Forum (Scotland) and the Council elections.

Training on being an election agent, getting the most out of your time on the doorstep, making the most of media and social media and making sure your voters turn out for you. The Party's also launching a mentoring scheme with an event loosely based on a speed dating session. That should be fun. There's also 1 to 1 campaigning advice available from Mark Alcock on the ALDC stand and leaflet design advice on the PagePlus stand.

Social scene Saturday night has the annual dinner and the usually hilarious, unmissable Liberal Youth Scotland quiz.

Speaking ahead of the Conference, Willie Rennie highlighted the record of the Liberal Democrat ministers on the economy:

"Scotland’s economic strength stems from the UK being on firm fiscal ground. “After the mess that Labour left behind, Liberal Democrats in the coalition government are delivering the economic stability we need to deliver jobs and growth. “Giving over one million Scots a tax cut is a real help to many families. I am proud that it is Liberal Democrats who have driven that forward and continue to press for more help during these tough times. “I’m delighted that all the Liberal Democrat Ministers will be at conference to underline the difference they are making for Scotland and the UK.  “With the SNP fixated on independence, Liberal Democrats are getting on with the job of the here and now and getting the economy back on track.”
 The full agenda can be viewed here. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Nick Clegg writes about his efforts to improve mental health in the Sunday Express

Nick Clegg has long championed mental health issues and he made sure that an extra £400 million has been put into the most effective talking therapies. That's already made a difference to over half a million people. 

Yesterday he wrote about his initiative in the Sunday Express:
Too often these experiences are swept under the carpet – dealt with behind closed doors. Britain is an open and compassionate nation, but we Brits are a private people too – often preferring to put on a brave face rather than ask for help.
So three cheers to the Sunday Express for tackling Britain’s biggest taboo. Over the coming months the Crusade for Better Mental Health will lift the lid on this hidden suffering.
It’s an important wake up call: Reminding us that improving the nation’s mental health is everyone’s business. And not just because it’s the single biggest cause of disability in the UK. It also costs us over £100billion a year when you add in time off work and the benefits bill. Plus itcosts us all when prisoners with untreated conditions go on to reoffend. 
Last year I launched the Coalition Government’s mental health strategy with my colleague, Paul Burstow. Our aim is simple but ambitious: For too long mental health has been the poor cousin in the NHS. We want to put it on a par with physical health so everyone gets the support they need.
It is to be hoped that Express newspapers and all tabloids will adopt a more sympathetic attitude to people in the public eye who clearly are suffering from addiction or mental health issues. I won't be holding my breath.
Let's just hope that their reporting lives up to Nick's words. I'm glad to see him writing in tabloids - another example of good work from our press people.

You can read the article in full here.

Only 12 days left to have your say on UK Government independence referendum consultation

In January, you might remember Michael Moore, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland (never get tired of hearing that one) launched the UK Government's consultation on the proposed independence referendum. That was the night that Alex Salmond turned diva and marched onto the evening news programmes to give away the date he'd been keeping to himself.

Michael Moore's consultation seized the initiative from Alex Salmond and forced him to start coming up with some answers. Hopefully we'll get the process sorted out soon and then go on to have a positive and passionate debate about the actual issues.

There are 9 questions in the document. I haven't answered any of them yet, and if I don't do it soon, it'll get forgotten amid all the excitement of Scottish and Federal Conferences over the next two weekends.I would be very annoyed if I missed the chance to have my say. This post is a good excuse for me just to get on with it. So, here we go:

1. What are your views on using the order making power provided in the Scotland Act 1998
to allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a legal referendum in an Act of the Scottish Parliament?

I think it's essential to do this. The Scottish Government clearly has a mandate to hold a referendum but I know, and I think they know too, that if they just went ahead and did it themselves, it would be open to legal challenge. Frankly, in these challenging economic times, I don't want to see my household's taxes being blown on a costly, protracted legal battle over the legality of a referendum that is completely unnecessary. I expect the UK and Scottish Governments to agree on the outstanding questions about the process so that we can just get on with discussing the issues.

2. What are your views on the UK Parliament legislating to deliver a referendum on

For me, it's really important that the actual legislation for a referendum should be introduced by the Scottish Parliament. The UK Government should not take control over something that it doesn't want to happen. It should devolve to the Scottish Government, in recognition of the mandate it achieved last May, the powers to hold the referendum. However, the Scottish Government should also listen to concerns of the UK Government with regard to legality and fairness and the two sides should come to a mutually agreed solution in a mature way.

3. What are your views on whether the Scotland Bill should be used either to:
i) give the Scottish Parliament the power to legislate for a referendum; or
ii) directly deliver a referendum?

The purpose of the Scotland Bill is to devolve more powers to Scotland and it should be left at that. The referendum issue is completely separate and I think for it to be tagged on as an afterthought to the Bill would be a mistake. 

The Section 30 Order seems to me to be the most sensible mechanism to use to achieve the end of a fair, legal and decisive referendum.

4. What are your views on the oversight arrangements for a referendum on Scottish

I think that the independence referendum should be treated like any other election and should be overseen by the usual, independent, impartial authorities.

The very idea that the Scottish Government could appoint its own Referendum Commission feels intrinsically wrong to me. The neutrality of this body could be called into question and it would also be expensive to set up when there's imply no need.

5. Do you think the Electoral Commission should have a role in overseeing a referendum on
Scottish independence?

The Electoral Commission is good enough to oversee every other election in the UK. I don't see why this one should be any different. They have the knowledge, experience, reputation and credibility to do the job. I would want them to be directed to report to the Scottish Parliament, though. 

6. What are your views on which people should be entitled to vote in a Scottish
independence referendum?

The franchise should be the same as for a Scottish Parliamentary Election.

My ideal scenario would be for the UK Government to legislate for votes at 16 for all elections in time for the next UK wide election in June 2014, for the European Parliament. 

I do not believe that there should be a unilateral inclusion of 16 and 17 year olds as a one off for the referendum for two reasons. Firstly, how awful would it be to be able to vote on Scotland's future in the Autumn of 2014 and then to have that vote taken off them in the Westminster election of 2015, just a few months later. 

The  Scottish Government also don't intend to canvass 14 and 15 year olds in the Autumn of 2013, so we would be in the bizarre situation where some 16 year olds, who were 16 at the time of that Canvass would get a vote yet younger 16 year olds would not. That would be extremely unfair and wrong. 

7. What are your views on the timing of a referendum?

I'm relaxed about timing. I'm more concerned about the atmosphere of the campaign rather than the timescale. If there was actual hard, independent, compelling evidence that the uncertainty over Scotland's future was causing harm to the economy, then I would expect the Scottish Government to move their plans forward. I don't think, however, that they should be compelled to do so. The UK Government is concerned with making the referendum decisive, legal and fair. Timing does not seem to me to be relevant to any of these three criteria. If the Scottish Government fails to act if there was such evidence, then that would be up to them and they’d have to take the consequences.It is, however, their mistake to make, not the UK Government's to prevent.

If the UK Government was to legislate for votes at 16, then a later date would be required for this to be implemented in time.

8. What are your views on the question or questions to be asked in a referendum?

My personal views like with neither independence nor the status quo, so I might be expected to want more than one question to give me greater choice. However, having looked into this in greater detail, I believe that anything other than a single yes or no to independence question could produce an inconclusive result. Professor Matt Qvortrup recently gave examples in the Times newspaper of multi-option referenda which had done just that. The day after the Referendum, Scotland needs to be very clear what it has voted for. If you have three options, it's clear that two could attract more than 50%.

As a fervent supporter of additional powers to Scotland, I reluctantly accept that this referendum on independence is not the appropriate forum to explore that further devolution. However, I would like to see a defined process in place to give the Scottish people a say on what sort of further powers they want. I would prefer this process to be set up in advance of the referendum as I do not believe that vague promises will carry much weight without being underpinned with legislation.

9. What are your views on the draft section 30 Order?

The Draft Order delivers a referendum on Independence on the same franchise as any other election with a single yes or no to independence question supervised by the Electoral Commission.

I note that it has an expiry date by which time the Referendum must take place. I am not convinced that this is necessary. I can understand why some people might want an end date for fear of a "neverendum" if independence is rejected but if the people of Scotland elected a majority of MSPs who had pledged to hold further referenda, then it's important to respect that choice. I think a devolution of the power permanently with the caveats about the franchise, question and supervision is sufficient to ensure fair play in the future.

So there you have it. What do you think? You need to send completed responses to or by post to Referendum Consultation, Scotland Office, 1 Melville Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 7HW by Friday 9th March.

Whatever you do, make sure you have your say.

Surely the SNP won't hold Independence Referendum in the school holidays?

The Sun on Sunday reported yesterday that the independence referendum would be held on Saturday October 18th 2014. 

I am not sure that this would be a particularly appealing front page splash for a launch issue. I mean, I'm not sure people care too much about the actual date. I wonder what's going on - did the Sun just make it up or was it a deliberate endeavour by the SNP press office?

Whatever, 18th October is inappropriate to start with.

You can't have a referendum about the whole of the future of Scotland during the school October break. 

Another thought that's occurred to me is that students will just have moved to their new city for college or university or may have moved flat. Will they all have had time to get themselves on the Register at their new address. I would have thought the cut off date would be sometime around 20th September which would be cutting it a bit fine. And, yes ,they could apply for a postal vote at their old address, but it's adding extra hurdles into the process. 

I suspect that this never was the real date and is the result of some off the cuff speculation by a journalist or press officer who doesn't have to think about school terms.

I quite like the idea of changing the day to a Saturday, though. Just not that Saturday or any other that's in school holidays.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lynne Featherstone writes about equal marriage

Lynne Featherstone graces the pages of the Telegraph yesterday. I'm sure that some of their more socially conservative readers choked on their English Breakfast tea, but her article is definitely worth reading. The photo of Lynne the editor has chosen, of her pointing her finger, stern faced during a speech, will no doubt have added to their angst.

It's all about the forthcoming consultation on equal marriage. What she says is very sensible.

The fierce debate over the past few weeks has shown people feel very strongly about marriage. Some believe the Government has no right to change it at all; they want to leave tradition alone. I want to challenge that view – it is the Government’s fundamental job to reflect society and to shape the future, not stay silent where it has the power to act and change things for the better.
I believe that if a couple love each other and want to commit to a life together, they should have the option of a civil marriage, irrespective of whether they are gay or straight.
Scotland has, of course, already has its consultation on equal marriage and we are awaiting the Scottish Government's response. Up here, the Government included the option to allow religious organisations who want to conduct marriage ceremonies for same sex couples to do so. There is not even the slightest whimper in favour of compelling them to do so from the most fervent supporter of equal marriage.

The Equality Network up here co-ordinated around 23000 positive responses to the consultation. It took some effort, but hopefully the same effort will be put in south of the border.

This is yet another good thing that the Liberal Democrats have brought to the Coalition.  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Are you fit to work?

How do you know if you're fit to go to work?

You would think, wouldn't you, that being able to get ready and out, get yourself to your place of work, work your shift and get home again would be just ever so slightly relevant, wouldn't you?

Most people's work shifts are at least 4 hours long, so given everything else, you need to have at least six hours' stamina in the tank, and much more if you do anything physical.

Everyone's situation will be variable and unique to them, and if they're very sick, they're likely to have a whole load of professionals around them who will know them and their capabilities well.

As a result of the changes brought in by the last Labour Government (and ever so slightly, but not enough, improved by the Coalition thanks to the influence of the Liberal Democrats), everyone on sickness and disability benefits is being put through an assessment process, sub-contracted out to a company called ATOS. I have never heard anyone have a good word to say about ATOS. Not once. A reputation like that takes some building.

I don't have an objection in principle to an assessment process, but I'd like it to be one that doesn't cause people unnecessary stress. I don't believe that we're anywhere near there yet. Bear in mind that seeing in stark black and white the extent of your health conditions and how they limit you is pretty painful in itself. Most of the time people try to push through the barriers of mental and physical disability and get on with as much as they possibly can. Having to fill in a form that seems full of traps and pitfalls and bears little relevance to the world of work just compounds the problems.

And this, dear readers, is the Bad Boy in question, the form most people have to complete. This is the form that someone behind a desk at ATOS uses to decide whether you are ill or not. I expect most of you looking at it will be reasonably fit and healthy. Imagine being confronted with this, with a time limit by which you have to complete it or you lose your benefit, when you're undergoing Cancer treatment, or dealing with Parkinsons, or coming to terms with the fact that you have MS, or depressed or stressed or anxious.

So what are the questions. Well, you have to say how your illness affects you on a day to day basis. If you're not used to organising your thoughts on paper, a big box to complete is quite scary.

Then you're asked about various physical and mental capabilities.

When I was ill for a long time with Glandular Fever, there was no way, at its worst, I could have got from my bed to the bathroom, let alone to work for a whole day. Yet if I completed this form, I'd feel like a fraud because I could have done virtually everything within it. On some days, I could walk 50 metres, although I would have struggled with 200. I could pick up a pound coin, turn the pages of a book, walk up my stairs most of the time if I'd been able to get down them. When I had the energy I could communicate with people, and most of the time I didn't upset them.

I could set my alarm clock (although my husband still can't work the Sky Plus, and he's reasonably healthy so I'm not sure what that proves), I could put the washing machine on no bother, although it could take me half a day to get the energy together to sort the clothes into loads.

So, any decision maker would see that I could do everything and would most likely tick the box that said "get your backside down the job centre, you scrounger". And I think there is that culture, that mentality, within the DWP. Everyone I know who has ever claimed benefits say that they are made to feel like a criminal when they do so. It's hardly surprising that so few have confidence in an assessment process that seems designed to have them marked as fit for work.

In reality, though, for a good while, I was as likely to be physically able to get to work as I was to fly to the moon and back before Elevenses. Even after I went back to work, there were days when I drove myself beyond my limits and, literally, collapsed in a heap. For months, I literally didn't have any life at all outside work and slump. If being ill and being isolated and stuck at home had been bad, that was worse.

But enough of me. Imagine someone with Angina who suffers intermittent heart attacks, who can't go to sleep  without being put on a special machine in case they stop breathing, who's confined to a wheelchair as a result of 20 years of ME, who has severe depression and anxiety, who's been in this situation for several decades, who requires 24 hour care. Can you just imagine how stressed out they must feel at the thought of filing in these forms? They'll have seen the news about the inefficiency of the system, how so many sick people are marked as fit for work. They'll be petrified about losing their benefits. And if they aren't, their family certainly will. I'm not making this scenario up, by the way. It's a real one happening to a friend of mine right now. She's given me permission to give the outline details on here. A properly functioning assessment process would clearly put her husband in the support group. A compassionate benefits system would give her far more support as a carer too but we won't go there at the moment.

There has to be a more respectful, dignified way of assessing people. The system introduced by Labour was appalling, relying in the first instance on the opinion of an ATOS employee. The Coalition's willingness to implement the recommendations of Professor Malcolm Harrington as he makes them is a step in the right direction, but they aren't there yet. An assessment process that takes no account of the realities of travelling to and completing a day's work with a fluctuating condition is in my view fundamentally flawed.

I know that Steve Webb and Jenny Willott have done lots of work on this and are pushing in the right direction, but we are not there yet. The assessment system is still making too many wrong decisions and people simply do not have confidence in it. The family I mentioned above are going through real torment at the thought that they might lose their benefits. I strongly suspect that they won't, but it surely can't be fair to put them through such anxiety in the meantime. A form that asked more relevant, realistic questions combined with a more helpful and positive culture within the Department of Work and Pensions and ATOS would help. When we see people like Sue Marsh, who's in and out of hospital the whole time, whose immune system is basically borked, for want of a better word, and who's in constant pain, having her ESA taken off her, you can do nothing else but question the fairness of the assessment system.

Sue writes on her "Diary of a Benefit Scrounger" blog about her daily struggle to keep going. This week she's faced the prospect of another admission to hospital. Read her account here.

Nick Clegg has done more than any other Government Minister I can remember to speak out about mental illness and provide real money to help people access the therapies they need to get better. This is so much better than people just being parked on benefits for years and left. What he's done will give people their lives back. That's such a valuable thing for him to have done. I have no doubt that we have stopped the Tories doing some even more horrendous stuff on welfare reform, but I can't accept or support either the one year time limit on contributory ESA or an assessment process that seems to have little relevance to the realities of work.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Is Lib Dem HQ doing secret experiments on party members?

Bear with me. I know the headline comes out in green ink, but this is seriously not as irrational a question as it might sound.

I base my theory on a conversation with a friend of mine who was complaining bitterly about the over-long subject line on Tim Farron's e-mail yesterday. You know, the one about the tax cuts Nick Clegg wants for the lowest earners. (BTW, if you haven't signed the petition on this, please do so here).

"Over long subject line?" I said, "Are you having a laugh?" Because, you see, mine said "Sneak Preview." I discovered that hers had said "An extra £60 in your wages each month - preview our Party Political Broadcast". You kind of run out of breath before you get to the end of that.

Why would they do that unless it was some weird experiment as to how many people opened and clicked through on each different subject line? I'd be willing to bet my secret stash of chocolate and my new Paul McCartney album that it would be the short and snappy line that was more effective.

It would be rudimentary if they weren't keeping tabs on which style of e-mail worked. Mark Pack and I had a small difference of opinion on Simon Hughes' e-mail last week.  This week's from Tim rightly attracted a whole load of praise from Mark - and his seems to have had a third variation, "Sneak Peak". I wonder if he and I were just being geeky and obsessing too much, though, because the increases in signatures for the petition each week were pretty much identical.

I think we would all agree that there has been a huge improvement in the information sent to members since the dire early days of the Coalition. Helen Duffett has worked wonders in the year she's been Internal Communications Manager. I am fairly certain that nobody who works for a political party thinks they'll ever  reach the summit. Things are constantly changing and we are always having to think of new ways to up our game.

For me, the thing I want to see most is more effective rebuttal. I'm sick of untruths about the Coalition's actions becoming established truth because we haven't quickly enough got our side of the story out there. We've taken lots of hits on welfare reform and not all of them are deserved, for example. We need to give our members more effective material to use on the doorstep. It helps in confidence if you feel that you have something positive to say. They'll get there, I'm sure, but I just wish it was a bit quicker.

It all makes you wonder, though, what other experiments are HQ running on us?

PMQs - Tragedy, Comedy and the Continuing Saga of the Family Bone

I'm not used to learning anything from the weekly pantomime that is Prime Minister's Questions. Sadly, though yesterday's session brought  me the news of the death of Marie Colvin, the veteran Sunday Times reporter whose often heartbreaking reports from war zones I've been reading most of my adult life. Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband paid tribute to her work, the latter calling her brave, tireless and an inspiration to women in her profession. More tragedy followed as Sajid Javid, the MP for Bromsgrove, asked the PM to join in with sympathy for those killed and injured in the bus crash involving children and staff from Alvechurch School.

It amazes me how seamlessly the Prime Minister, feeding off the querulous atmosphere in the Chamber, can go from talking about a very tragic situation to throwing verbal brickbats at the Opposition and in particular its leader.

Having said that, he seemed to go a bit easy on Ed Miliband yesterday. He didn't take the obvious temptation to throw in a quote from Alex Hilton's blistering criticism of the Labour leader with every answer, merely choosing to end their exchange with the stinging:
“You are not articulating a vision or a destination, you’re not clearly identifying a course and no-one’s following you…My problem is that you are not a leader.”
This was after one of Ed Miliband's better performances. He'd led on the NHS, castigating the PM's health summit for including few health workers and following up with increasingly specific questions on the commissioning of care, citing HIV services at Homerton Hospital as an example. This didn't suit Cameron's agenda, which was to talk about people who'd not published Risk Registers in the past. He had one A Burnham, Labour's health secretary in mind.

John Bercow intervened several times during their exchange. He implored MPs to strive to be "tranquil and statesmanlike." At noon on a Wednesday? A tad ambitious for them, so his later remarks seemed to be obsessed with pulling up MPs for not referring to each other in the third person. Which of these offends you more - hearing someone being addressed as "you" or seeing a bunch of mostly men behaving like a baying mob in the Mother of Parliaments?

However, there were moments of decorum, mostly provided by Liberal Democrats. Julian Huppert secured the PM's backing for the Times'  Cycle Safe campaign. Mike Crockart was not so lucky when he asked if the PM had been persuaded by his trip to Edinburgh last week that this was an ideal location for the Green Investment Bank.

Every time Conservative Peter Bone gets up to speak, he throws in some family anecdote. Usually he refers to something Mrs Bone has said to him, but today his young son took centre stage for apparently asking whether Nick Clegg was a goodie or a baddie. The House erupted in laughter as Cameron joked that there was only so much detail he can take about the Bone household. He didn't say Nick Clegg was a goodie, though. For that, Liberal Democrats can be grateful.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Liberal Democrat MEP McMillan-Scott gets European Hunan Rights Portfolio

Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, Edward McMillan-Scott, re-elected as one of the European Parliament's 14 Vice Presidents last month, has again been allocated the portfolio for Democracy and Human Rights.  He has also been given a new responsibility, for Transatlantic Relations. He  was put forward by the liberal Group in the European Parliament and is the only British MEP on the Parliament's Bureau, responsible for its management, organisation and finances. 

He has a long record in campaigning for human rights and democracy support. He was the first outside politician to get to Cairo after the fall of Mubarak and has been back to the region six times since, promoting liberal, secular forces. Last week, he met activists from Homs in Syria, the scene of such heartbreaking violence, who had come to appeal for support. He recently wrote in the Yorkshire Post  about his worries that the spirit of the Arab Spring is fading.

He told a senior delegation of the American Chamber of Commerce last week that his new portfolio will allow him to build bridges between legislative powers across the Atlantic Ocean, with a well functioning European Parliament's Liason Office in Washington, and mutual visits from Congressional and European Parliamentary delegations. He addeed  that these are fascinating times to begin this responsibility with elections in November and an extensive range of contacts necessary on democracy building and human rights worldwide.

Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne has welcomed the news of Mr McMillan-Scott's appointment:
“I am delighted at Edward’s re-election. He has proved a passionate, determined and highly effective campaigner for human rights and democracy.
“As the British Foreign Minister responsible for human rights and a fellow Liberal Democrat, I am greatly looking forward to working with Edward to pursue this agenda, which is so central to the enlightened interests of the UK and Europe as a whole.
“With the Arab Spring continuing, and tentative steps towards political reforms in Burma, the presence of strong and credible voices, fighting for human rights and democracy at home and abroad, is absolutely essential.
“I am convinced Edward is the right man to help ensure that we maximise the collective weight of the European Union in defending and promoting human rights and democracy.”

Lib Dem Conference Protester charges are dropped - but after he'd spent 10 days in jail

Remember way back in September I was not chuffed to hear that student Edd Bauer had been packed off to jail for unfurling a protest banner on a bridge near the ICC in Birmingham where our Conference was going on?

Well, today his case came up before the judge in Birmingham and, in what sound like farcical scenes, were dropped because the prosecution could not offer any evidence.

To put someone through five months of stress, not to mention the time in prison when he was subjected to violent attack, for, essentially, nothing is really not acceptable. Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming had actually gone to Court to give evidence on Mr Bauer's behalf.

West Midlands Police and CPS got this case badly wrong - and the Federal Conference Committee should not go to Birmingham again until they can be assured that a more liberal approach will be taken. We've all had our agendas for Federal Conference this week - this might be something we might want to bring up in the Reports session.

We're a party of Government. We're going to attract protesters. As long as they conduct themselves in a manner that doesn't harm anybody, they have a perfect right to do that. We've all done it ourselves - and some of us still do.

Out for Sport - a research project on homophobia and transphobia in sport

Scotland's Equality Network, building on the success of its Equal Marriage campaign is now setting about tackling homophobia and transphobia in sport.

It pains me to think that there are some LGBT people who feel that they either can't participate in sport, or don't reveal their sexuality because they are worried that everyone, from their team-mates to fans or sponsors would give them grief for being who they are.

Stephen Glenn has written about homophobia in sport, including this post about comments made by an agent after the last World Cup. Football has done itself no favours by giving the 2018 World Cup to Qatar, not a place that's friendly to LGBT people. FIFA head Sepp Blatter then carried on digging by suggesting that gay people could "refrain from sexual activity" while they were there.

I have no idea how my favourite sport of Formula One would cope with an out gay driver. I'd like to think that no sponsors would throw hissy fits and that the teams would all be fine about it and I'll assume that would be the case until I have evidence to the contrary. And if that contrary happens, whoever is responsible will face my wrath. And that's not pretty.

There's no doubt that there are barriers for LGBT people who want to take part in competitive sport at all levels so it's good that the Equality Network is aiming to break these down. The first stage of their campaign is to gather information by way of a massive research project, by way of a survey which can be completed here at Out for Sport.  Now, they managed to channel over 20,000 responses to the Equal Marriage consultation. How good would it be for them to have as many responses to this.

It will literally take you 10 minutes to complete. They're calling it the "most expansive research project to date on homophobia and transphobia in Scottish sport." Go on - do it now before you forget.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A sneak preview of the new Liberal Democrat PPB - Nick Clegg on Lib Dem tax cuts

Now, when I say "sneak preview", I mean, of course, as long as you don't know any Liberal Democrats on Facebook or Twitter else you will have seen this eleventy zillion times already. It's a preview of the forthcoming Lib Dem Party Political Broadcast to be broadcast tomorrow night.

Party President Tim Farron sent out an e-mail to all Liberal Democrat members with it in too - and a very well constructed e-mail it was too; it was short, minimalist, to the point with a link to the petition calling for Lib Dem tax cuts to be fast-tracked and a whopping great link to register for Conference that was so glaringly obvious I missed it at first. The only thing I have to bitch about is that there's nothing to bitch about. Damn him.

Anyway, enjoy. My earlier post from this morning, done before I'd even seen this video, still stands - don't think sums of money, think what that sum of money represents but there's good stuff starting to come out of the Bubble.

All that schmoozing with Rupert Murdoch pays off for Alex Salmond

Up until last August, Alex Salmond had met senior figures in Rupert Murdoch's now toxic empire some 25 times. His power schmoozing clearly had an effect.

 In 2007, Ian McWhirter rightly had a right go at the Sun for its Holyrood polling day front page of a noose and the words "Vote SNP today and you put Scotland's head in the noose". A charming bunch, they are, down at Wapping.

In 2011, the delighted chuckles of SNP activists as the Sun endorsed Alex Salmond as first minister (although not independence) could be heard for miles around.

And now Eck seems to have got the full house with the head of the Murdoch empire seemingly endorsing independence.

The Murdoch press endorsing independence would not be insurmountable by any means, especially these days, but it certainly doesn't help those of us who want to see the UK continue, albeit in a different form.

Willie Rennie said that this was the endorsement that any politician dreads, but I can't imagine there will be too many glum faces in the SNP,  High Command or grassroots. In fact, I know there isn't. Social networking sites are full of their glee.

This just highlights the need for those of us who want a future for the UK, in whatever form, to get our acts together on a positive, exciting, enthusiastic and passionate campaign, the better. There's been more signs of cohesive joint working recently, and Willie Rennie the other day offered to share the preliminary thoughts of Ming Campbell's Home Rule Commission with the other parties.

He said:

“As the debate around Scotland’s constitutional future gather’s pace, I believe it is the right time to discuss what further powers Scotland should have whilst at the same time remaining a strong and influential part of the United Kingdom family.
“The Prime Minister and Johann Lamont have signalled that they believe Scotland should have further powers and we need to have a debate about what those extra powers might look like.
“As a Liberal Democrat, I believe in Home Rule for Scotland. That’s why I have set up the Home Rule Commission chaired by Sir Menzies Campbell to debate and discuss what Home Rule would mean for Scotland.
“I want to make sure that our Home Rule proposals include contributions from for many different sections of society. That’s why I am asking the other political parties in Scotland, including members of the SNP opposed to independence, to join us in discussing Scotland’s future.
“In order to make sure we get the best deal for Scotland, we need to look beyond party lines and make a positive case for stronger devolution for Scotland but within a strong United Kingdom.
"I want to see a Parliament that raises what it spends so Scotland can determine our own destiny on the domestic agenda. That would give us more autonomy whilst retaining the benefits of sharing risk and opportunity with the rest of the UK.
“We must not leave Scotland’s future to be dictated by one political party who want us to opt out. I look forward to working with colleagues across the board to get the best deal for Scotland.”

It's typical of the consensual, engaging, constructive manner he's always had in politics and a clear effort to take the lead in setting the scene for a positive pro-union campaign. We can't allow a mega rich tycoon who's presided over questionable practices at his UK tabloids, to make the running.

Have the Liberal Democrats really cut Income Tax?

Well, yes, of course we have. And it is us - remember, Tory manifesto = tax cuts for rich dead people and those in possession of a marriage certificate, Lib Dem manifesto = tax cuts for lowest and middle earners. As Louise Phillips points out in the Huffington Post, we've managed to achieve that without giving way on Tory plans to cut tax for the rich or the married.

The amount of money you can earn before you start paying tax has gone up by £1000 since the Coalition took office in May 2010, giving basic rate taxpayers around £200 a year back in their pockets and taking 91,000 Scots and almost a million  people across the UK out of paying tax altogether. But do people really know about that?

Just because it's been written on every Lib Dem leaflet (and if it hasn't been on yours, I seriously want to know why), doesn't mean that this huge achievement has permeated the public consciousness. We're not alone. I've just been reading Jodi Kantor's book, The Obamas and she wrote about similar problems experienced by the Obama Administration. America's low and middle earners had no idea he'd cut taxes, either.

The thing is people don't feel richer. Far from it. Although inflation is down from its 5.2% high, prices have risen by way more than incomes, there's been the VAT increase (which Labour would have done, too. No choice after they cocked the economy up as spectacularly as they did) and fuel and energy price hikes to contend with. There's no way people feel like someone's just handed them a couple of hundred quid because it's been swamped.

That money, though, may well have paid for, say, a month's Council Tax, or filled a wee Micra with petrol five times, or a month and a bit of a train season ticket, or a couple of week's groceries. I wonder if we need to show what we have effectively paid for rather than talk about the abstract of money back in your pockets. People just don't feel that there's any there.

We need to get people to think what £200 means to them and to realise they'd have had to find that if it hadn't been for us. And then we need to get them engaged in campaigning for the extra £750 we are trying to win for them if we get the tax threshold raised to £12,500. Getting this petition on the No 10 website to 100,000 signatures would be a start, because that would secure a parliamentary debate on the issue.

People in work have had an extra £200 from us - we need to make sure that they can visualise what we did for them.We've not won that battle yet. I am not yet sick to death of hearing Liberal Democrats talking about it on the tv, although they certainly seem to be making more of an effort. They get extra Brownie points from me if they can do so without using that horrendous phrase "hard working families" or any variation of it.

Do you have any ideas about how we can better promote what we are doing in Government generally?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lib Dem Dingwall calls for decisive action on Labour intimidation allegations

Glasgow City Council was one of the few places Labour retained a majority administration in the Scottish local elections of 2007. Those elections were the first run using the Single Transferable Vote system, introduced for local government during the second Labour/Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive coalition. If the truth be known, there was not much love for the move on the Labour benches, but they had very little choice after the 2003 Holyrood election where they lost 6 seats while the Liberal Democrats had maintained their position and therefore increased their strength within the Coalition.

Today the Labour group in Glasgow is in meltdown. The hostile undercurrents which had been festering since the deselection of a number of sitting Councillors last year, came to a head,  during the debate on the Administration's budget. Six Labour Councillors voted with the opposition at the end of a dramatic afternoon which saw the Budget passed with a majority of just two votes.

Now, there's the possibility that the rebel group will formally contest May's elections as "Glasgow Labour"
On top of all that, allegations of intimidation during the Budget Debate have been made. Cllr Anne Marie Millar, one of the former Labour Councillors, says that Labour's Cllr Gilbert Davidson threatened her disabled son's job at a Council owned organisation if she voted against the Budget. Cllr Davidson is no stranger to controversy. Although no charges were ever brought, he was briefly suspended from the Labour group 18 months ago in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.

It's also interesting that some of the rebel councillors come from Glasgow Pollok,  the constituency of new Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Alex Dingwall told Liberal Democrat Voice that he was calling for an urgent investigation into the allegations of intimidation:
"The allegation that a member of the Labour Council Group threatened the employment of Anne Marie's disabled son requires urgent investigation. It is completely unacceptable for such a threat to be made or for anyone to be placed under such duress. It was clear to everyone that Anne Marie was deeply distressed by this and as a Council committed to tackling bullying and harassment in the workplace Gordon Matheson must now lead by example and take decisive action on this matter."
It's not pretty to see an administration fall apart so publicly. It does, however, make the elections in Glasgow extremely interesting. What effect will a split Labour vote have on the SNP's ambitions to take over the City Council and the five Liberal Democrat Councillors who are defending their seats? The drama surrounding Scotland's largest local authority is set to continue.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why did David Cameron make me cry?

Well, it wasn't actually him, to be honest. It was as I was watching him being interviewed on BBC Newsnight Scotland last night, with the Forth Rail Bridge in the background that I started to wonder if he was in Orocco Pier, the hotel, perhaps the very room, where Andrew and Roger Reeves were married last January. Twitter seemed to confirm that he was.

As many of you will know, Andrew died very suddenly of a heart attack on 3 June and is missed every day by his huge legion of friends and family.

It made me think how he'd have been laughing and joking and blogging about the PM being in the same  room as his wedding. He literally wouldn't have shut up about it all day. That thought had barely penetrated my consciousness when I started blubbing.

This Monday would have been his 44th birthday, so it's been quite an emotional time anyway. People left some lovely messages on his Facebook wall that had me welling up on the day.

When I looked further on the Orocco website, I found a testimonial from him about their wedding.
My second thank you is to the team at the Orocco Pier; Leonie for the initial discussion and persuading me to book and then running the evening part of the big day; Claire, the events manager for just being bloody amazing from the day she returned from her own honeymoon right up the weekend before, guiding us through every possible eventuality; Robin for being a rock on the day, from the meeting the Monday before right through to leaving in the evening, made me completely relaxed; The kitchen team including the porters (the often forgotten part of the team) - the food was as amazing as everyone in Edinburgh told us it would be; The waitresses and bar staff - you were all wonderful, including getting the food round a tight space THANK YOU, each and everyone of you from the bottom of our hearts, the day was amazing and we will remember it forever. 
It's so very typically Andrew, remembering even those members of the team who do their hard work behind the scenes. As someone whose early career had been spent in the catering industry managing station cafes and mingling with celebrities at the Royal Society of Arts, he knew what he was talking about.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shirley Williams talks about barriers facing women in Politics and Business

On one of these election results programmes from 1979, Shirley Williams had to put up with the ignominy of being told she was "very pretty" by Sir Robin Day. I never heard him say the same thing to male politicians, funnily enough. Can you just imagine how Harriet Harman would have reacted? Shirley was very gracious at the time but I'm sure she must have inwardly raised her eyes to heaven as every woman involved in politics does frequently.

Yesterday, Shirley talked to the Guardian about the clubbish, boyish nature of politics and the barriers facing women in the business world. It's well worth a listen.

Simon Hughes urges Lib Dem members to sign petition calling for tax cuts for lowest paid

Simon Hughes has sent out an e-mail to Liberal Democrat members asking them to sign thi petition, started by Liberal Democrat activist Tracy Connell, calling for the Government to raise the tax threshold faster along the lines suggested by the Liberal Democrats.

It says:

Please sign this to persuade George Osborne to fast track the Lib Dem policy to increase the income tax threshold to £10,000 in the next budget, and hence take thousands more people out of tax and put £700 back in people's pockets.There are measures that can be taken to pay for this including the clamp down on tax avoidance and a mansion tax.Please support this and help the Lib Dems to help the lowest paid and middle income workers in this country.

Last year I had a major strop about another Simon e-mail sent in the wake of the disastrous Holyrood election and less than positive local election results in England which began "it's a good month to be a Liberal Democrat."

Since then, he's redeemed himself many times. He apologised incredibly sincerely at the time and, anyway, it's simply not possible to stay angry with Simon for long.

It's been very clear that lessons have been learned in internal party communications in the last while. There are clear signs that it's possible to get people talking in plain English as opposed to Bubble Speak. I think Mark Pack is being a bit hard when he criticises Simon's e-mail.  When I read posts or blogs, I always read them to the end before clicking on links. My head would be fried if I did anything else. Then I go back and click on the links I choose. On this one, I didn't sign the petition because I'd signed it already and I'd seen the relevant website, but if I hadn't, I'd have done it. The fact that signatures have more than doubled in 24 hours are encouraging. I'm hoping that as members share that e-mail, these numbers will continue to rise. We need 100,000 signatures to get this debated in Parliament and we're a long way short of that.

I did, however, smile with approval when I saw that the e-mail also included encouragement for people to sign up for Conference with the relevant link. It's really important that we advertise these events at every opportunity.

So, if you clicked on the first link in this e-mail, you will not have read this, but if you've persevered this far, you might like to sign the petition and encourage everyone you know to do the same.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

So, what was Jo Swinson doing in Private Eye?

You always take a bit of a sharp intake of breath if you see one of your lot mentioned in Private Eye. However, this time, our Jo Swinson is the hero of the story. The current issue drew my attention to her most recent victory over cosmetics giant L'Oreal although the article isn't available online. The Advertising Standards Authority recently banned another advert from the company, the third complained about by Jo. It featured actress Rachel Weisz and the ASA concluded that:
Although we considered that the image in the ad did not misrepresent the luminosity or wrinkling of Rachel Weisz’s face, we considered that the image had been altered in a way that substantially changed her complexion to make it appear smoother and more even. We therefore concluded that the image in the ad therefore misleadingly exaggerated the performance of the product in relation to the claims “SKIN LOOKS SMOOTHER” and “COMPLEXION LOOKS MORE EVEN”.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.11 (Exaggeration).
Jo talked about the Campaign for Body Confidence among other things in a recent interview with the Guardian. The interviewer clearly had an agenda that body image was trivial in relation to the other issues going on at the moment. It's as if they didn't appreciate that unrealistic expectations of young people, especially young women, hold them back, stop them getting up and getting on in life  - and that's the last thing we need in tough economic times.
Jo talked about why her work was so important:
 "But [airbrushing] is a very important issue. It's important because it has an impact on health. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has said very clearly that they think excessive retouching – and I would talk about this in a much wider context anyway, because it's not just about retouching cosmetics adverts, it's about the whole range of body image pressure on men and women – but this kind of culture creates a huge amount of pressure on people, and that can lead to self-esteem problems. At extreme ends, we have rising rates of eating disorders, and we [also] have a much larger section of the population that engages in what they would call disordered eating rather than eating disorders. And then, from an educational point of view, there's research that shows young people are less likely to participate actively in class on days when they're not feeling confident about their appearance."
You can read the whole interview here.

The Love Equally March in pictures #equalmarriage

Yesterday over a thousand people marched from the Edinburgh University down the Royal Mile to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood to make the case for the law to be changed to equalise the marriage laws for same sex and heterosexual couples. There was a healthy delegation from Liberal Youth Scotland who, generously, didn't mind elderly hangers on walking with them.

It's worth bearing in mind that those opposing marriage equality could only manage 200 people just before Christmas at their event.

At Holyrood, in the shadow of Arthur's Seat, the crowd was addressed by Green MSP Patrick Harvie and SNP MSP Marco Biagi as well as representatives from the Humanist Society of Scotland (did you know they perform more marriages in Scotland than the Catholic Church) and the Unitarian Church.

It was great to meet up with Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume at Holyrood too.

Here are my images of the day, including the one that made both LYS President Sophie Bridger and I cry. I know I'm soft hearted and cry at anything, but she's a lot more grown up.

Sophie and Kavya in costume

Arriving at Holyrood

Two girls on friends' shoulders - captures the happy spirit of the occasion

Marco Biagi MSP speaks

Patrick Harvie MSP speaks

There were many bright and colourful banners around

Lib Dem MSP Jim Hume catches up with LYS

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tories complain that Osborne is "kow-towing" to Liberal Democrats on marriage tax break

The very idea of a tax break for people just because they choose to get married is one which will make the skin of just about any Liberal Democrat crawl.

The Coalition Agreement with the Conservatives allows us to abstain in any vote. That's not actually enough for me - voting against, particularly in the light of welfare reforms, would be the only acceptable course of action to me. I mean, you can't take benefits of someone sick and disabled and give them to a couple earning in excess of £100,000 a year between them just because they are married and maintain any perception of fairness.

So far, we've done better than voting against. The very idea hasn't even been put before Parliament despite the Conservatives being very keen on it. The Telegraph is reporting that George Osborne has ruled out introducing such a tax break in the budget, which has angered Conservative MPs. The Chancellor is being accused of "kow-towing" to the Liberal Democrats.

The article goes on to mention that Danny Alexander is keen on ending higher rate tax relief on pension contribution and moving to increase the tax threshold to £12,500 by the end of the Parliament showing that the Liberal Democrat's first priority is the lowest paid.

The Telegraph wants its own readers to be horrified, but the article is music to my ears.

Don't forget the Love Equally March in Edinburgh on Valentine's Day

At 2:30 tomorrow afternoon, a crowd will gather at Bristo Square in Edinburgh and will march to the Scottish Parliament where a rally will be held in support of equal marriage.

The Love Equally march is being organised by the Official Scottish Youth Parliament and supported by, among others, NUS, Liberal Youth Scotland and the Equality Network.

It's a bit of a pity that Valentine's Day falls in the middle of the Parliamentary recess, so there won't be many MSPs around, but it does fall in the middle of the school holidays and was a factor in us deciding not to go away this week.

There are rumours that certain members of the Liberal Youth Scotland Executive will be dressing up. It's worth going along just for that.

Hope to see you there.

Boris and Ken - The Crime File

Thanks to Mary Reid for sharing this one - a beautifully produced, down to the coffee stains, crime sheet listing assorted horrors and gaffes committed by Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone.

Just as well there's someone better......

If you live in London,and you want to help London elect a credible Mayor with fresh ideas for London, here's how to help Brian Paddick's campaign. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

So, how much are half a dozen Creme Eggs?

Well, from this picture my husband took in Morrisons yesterday, it depends which shelf you buy them from.

On the more prominent top shelf, you can buy 3 for £1.55 or, on special offer, 6 for £2.50. Wow. What a bargain.

Except, if you look on the lower shelf, you can buy a box of 6 for £1.50.

Supermarkets do this sort of stuff the whole time, quite blatantly and unashamedly. It's pretty sneaky, though and it deserves highlighting.

Thankfully, their ploys are not working in this case given that the bottom shelf is a lot emptier. But every single packet they sell from the top represents pure profit for them.

Anna hates it when we take her shopping and make her work out which is the best value for money - the next generation needs to be up to speed on the sneaky tricks of corporate giants, though.

Swinson highlights SNP chaos over votes at 16 for the referendum

You would think that the SNP would have had all its plans for the referendum totally thought through. After all, this was a manifesto pledge in 2007 so they've had at least five years to work out the detail of it all.

Instead, since Mike Moore launched the UK Government's consultation, the SNP has increasingly looked like it's making up its policy on the hoof.

Thankfully, many of the process issues between the UK and Scottish Governments are on their way to being resolved. It looks very much as if the referendum will be in Autumn 2014 as the SNP want, and it will be supervised by the Electoral Commission (reporting to the Scottish Parliament) as everyone except the SNP wants.

However, two main issues remain. The SNP, despite being in favour of independence alone, are desperate to get a question on a third option, devo max,  onto the ballot despite shedloads of evidence, including from their own constitutional expert, that this may not give a clear result. I say this as someone who, given the chance, would vote for devo max. Almost half of Liberal Democrats asked by Liberal Democrat Voice, agree with me. I just think that there is more than one way to skin that particular cat. I saw Mike Moore tell a party meeting on Friday with great passion that this is about more than a choice between independence and the status quo. If independence is rejected, there must be an ongoing process of devolution.

The final issue to be resolved is that the SNP say they want 16 and 17 year olds to be able to vote in the referendum.Now, to make sure that people who turn 18 are able to vote the day they turn 18, 16 and 17 year olds are included in the annual canvass. So, if you're going to be 18 on 30th November, you will have been put on the electoral roll published on 1st December the year before with the date next to your name.

Liberal Democrat Scottish Deputy Leader Jo Swinson has found out that they don't intend to include 14 or 15 year olds in the canvass the year before the Referendum. So, if you turn 16 any time between the publication of the register and the referendum, you will not be able to have your say. That's just not fair.

The Electoral Register for the Referendum will be published on 1 December 2013 for the poll in Autumn 2014. The data for it will be collected in the canvass in Autumn 2013 and will include anyone who turns 16 on or before 15 October 2013. If all 16 year olds are going to get the vote, it needs to include anyone who turns 14 on or before that date.

Frankly, though, why change the qualification on age for just one election? It doesn't feel right. I want to see votes at 16 for every single election.. I doubt that the SNP would be quite so keen to extend the franchise if there were polls showing 16 year olds were against independence. You can't go about altering electorates for the gain of your own cause.

Jo Swinson said:
"The plans are chaotic. It's no longer votes at 16 but votes at sixteen and three quarters.
 "This is a skew-whiff plan that is poorly thought out and if implemented would create considerable resentment between those 16 year olds who would have a vote and those who wouldn't.
"This shows why the franchise should not be fiddled with just for the referendum.
"Liberal Democrats support votes at 16 but at for all elections, not just the ones the SNP choose.
"The SNP should drop their skew-whiff plans."
Nice use of "skew-whiff" as well. Feels very retro.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rennie and Swinney on the Budget - a masterclass in doing politics better

This week saw the passage of the Scottish Budget. For the first time, John Swinney had the ability to draw up his figures, tell his overall majority to vote for them and barely involve any other parties in the Scottish Parliament.

He could have done that, but he didn't. He actively sought input from the other parties. It takes two to tango, though and in the event the only other person who wanted to get onto the dance floor (why, oh why, did I start on that line of thinking? I feel sick already) was Willie Rennie.

By doing so, he was able to make the budget better, getting extra funding for colleges which reversed about half of the cuts imposed by the SNP Government and more money directed towards tackling youth unemployment. I go on about housing all the time, so I was pleased that he'd pushed that issue and secured extra investment from the SNP.

I am glad we voted for the Budget. In all honesty, I really don't like abstaining. You're either for something or against it and you just have to make that judgement call. Labour and the Tories sat grimly on the sidelines and achieved nothing. Every single year, the Liberal Democrats have managed to secure more money for our priorities - usually to do with education and the economy.

What was noticeable was the praise John Swinney had for Willie Rennie in his summing up speech, saying that:
The most realistic speech today came from Willie Rennie, who made the fairest contribution to the debate. He gave an account of the financial pressures that the Government is under and acknowledged that they arise out of the settlements that have been decided at Westminster. He marshalled the issues about which he had been concerned and had made representations to me during the budget process. He was dealt with in the budget process in exactly the same way as every other party was dealt with, so, on the basis of what he said, none of them can have any complaint about the process.
Mr Rennie's speech was the type of contribution that Parliament should expect from an Opposition politician, because he did not turn up, moan about the reductions in public expenditure, and demand funding for a bottomless pit of commitments, which is what the Labour Party and the Conservatives have done today.
I'm sorry, but I really can't resist mentioning that the turning up and moaning approach is exactly what Swinney's colleagues do in Westminster, and the SNP in opposition in the first eight years of the Holyrood parliament pretty much opposed everything, noisily.

Another important issue raised by Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur was that of the Air Discount Scheme for the islands and northern Scotland. With my experience of living in Caithness, I know exactly how important that is. Swinney has agreed that SNP cuts to the scheme should be looked at again and so the two Liberal Democrats will, I'm sure, continue to make the strongest representations to have work related air travel included.

Willie Rennie also highlighted on Good Morning Scotland yesterday that there was £20 million in the Budget specifically for improvements to women's prisons. This is well overdue, after the damning reports on Cornton Vale.

The SNP know fine that Willie Rennie speaks his mind - he's agreed to support minimum alcohol pricing and now the Budget and spoken out against the dreadful Sectarian Bill. He's genuine and he doesn't play silly games.

Both Rennie and Swinney come out of the Budget process with remarkable credit. Ok, so we didn't get everything we wanted. but our vote was a positive step to doing politics a bit better. I think it's the sort of politics people want to see - honest, genuine and constructive.

Here's the e-mail Willie sent to party members on Budget night:

Dear Caron
I am sending this short note to update you on the outcome of the Budget voted on in the Scottish Parliament today. My colleagues and I have been in detailed discussions with Scottish ministers for some time to secure improvements to the Budget. Today saw some fruits from that work. As a result the Liberal Democrat MSPs were able to support the Budget. It’s not perfect by any means, but good enough to vote for. You may have seen in the news that the Scottish Government has produced, at the eleventh hour, extra money for colleges to reverse their proposed cut in student support and increase the money going into colleges. You will know that, week after week since September, I have challenged the First Minister and his government to do the ‘right thing’ for colleges. I have even shown him where he has the extra money available from the UK Government to make it happen. This year is the year when Scotland’s colleges need us most, and we need colleges most. They give opportunity for all, they tackle social inequality and they work for every community. That is why Liberal Democrats put them front and centre for support in this Budget. That pressure has paid off. Thousands of students will benefit. I am also pleased to say that we have had some success in persuading the SNP to increase investment in affordable housing. This is something that many party members have asked me to give high priority to. The same is true for early intervention which has been a longstanding campaign for our party. It doesn’t stop here. Our challenge over the months ahead is to make sure that the Scottish Government is fully focused on tackling the economy and unemployment. I will keep you up to date as we go forward. Best wishes,
Willie Rennie MSPLeader, Scottish Liberal Democrats


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