Monday, April 30, 2012

About: Iris Walker

Iris Walker came to the first training session we had for Council candidates last Summer and I immediately thought she was brilliant. Full of enthusiasm, keen to learn and put into practice what she was told and totally embedded in her local community in Westhill, Aberdeenshire, she's a dream candidate. She, along with people like William Sell from Aberdeen, Allan MacBain and Nicola Prigg from Ayrshire, George Boyd in Midlothian, Kate Stephen from Inverness and Craig Duncan in Dundee, is part of an impressive new generation of talented people who will hopefully be Liberal Democrat Councillors come Friday lunchtime.

Iris is from Elrick, Aberdeenshire and is closely involved in her community council, as well as being active in the CAB and a local housing association. It was on housing that she made her first speech at Conference in Inverness earlier this year - and a passionate, eloquent and moving speech it was. 

You can see from Iris' Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as her blog, that she has a very intuitive grasp of what people are interested in and she is genuinely looking for people's views on local issues - for her it's all about a dialogue, not a broadcast, between her and local people. 

On the Aberdeenshire Lib Dems' website, she talks about her vision:
 "Local-led groups provide the 'social glue' that shapes the day-to-day life of a community and councils must work with them as equal partners, ensuring decision-making is made at a local level. If elected, my priorities would be to support, and promote inclusion of and co-operation with local groups, individuals and businesses. Also I want to push for more affordable housing for local people, and to rid our towns and countryside of the eyesore of litter pollution that has become all too prevalent"
If you live in the Westhill area, please go and give Iris your first preference this Thursday. 

About: Peter Barrett

This is another part of my series of posts about my friends who are standing for election this week.

I've known Peter Barrett who's standing in the Perth City Centre ward pretty much since I came back to Scotland. Despite the fact that he spends most of our interactions taking the mickey out of me, I have a lot of time for him. Maybe it's because he reminds me a little bit of my Dad 20 years ago, I don't know.

I've known him as a hard-working councillor, Scottish Party Campaigns Officer, boss and election agent and he has been formidable in each one of these roles. He's passionate about fairtrade and was instrumental in ensuring Perth and Kinross achieved and retained fairtrade status.

Once Peter starts to work on an issue, he doesn't let up until its sorted. He was once described in the local newspaper as the "Saviour" of Tay Street in Perth, having protected it from being turned into a car park. Not once but twice he has been instrumental in making sure that the lovely South Inch was kept free from an incinerator. While I've never lived in Perth, my parents and sister lived there for 10 years, so I know it very well. I took my niece Laura for walks in that park, so I'm extremely pleased that it's been spared the ruining presence of an incinerator.

It's on housing where he's made a huge difference, though. When he took over as Housing Convener in Perth and Kinross in 2007, homeless provision was pretty dire. He has transformed the service and wrote about what he'd done for Lib Dem Voice about 18 months ago. Since then, he's made sure Perth and Kinross has met the 2012 homelessness target early.

He's a feisty, tenacious character who does a power of good work for the people he represents. If you live in Perth City Centre, give him your first preference - and if you know anyone who lives there, tell them to do the same.

Willie Rennie: Every area deserves a local Lib Dem champion

Willie Rennie has been all over Scotland over not just the past four weeks, but ever since he was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats last May. His motivation and enthusiasm has been a fantastic support to activists everywhere.  In the last month alone, he has supported 47 campaigns in 18 Council areas from the Borders to the Highlands.

As the campaign nears its close, he's been talking about the Party's record in local Government, where we're in administration in 13 authorities, more than any other party.

He said:

Together with our excellent candidates I have been listening. We’ve been listening to concerns, taking up requests for help and responding to enquiries on our positions at Westminster, Holyrood and on the local council.   I’ve learnt a lot. “I have been especially encouraged that people value the hard work of their local Liberal Democrat council and candidates who are champions for their community. “Every area deserves a councillor who will stick up for them, listen, report back and work with them to get a fair deal.
 “That’s what Liberal Democrats do best. “Our local teams of councillors also have a record of action on the council – creating jobs to boost the economy, protecting the environment by boosting recycling, providing nursery education to give children the best start in life and high quality care for elderly people because they deserve it. 

People in Dunfermline will see the lovely new Dunfermline High School, campaigned for for years and delivered by the Liberal Democrats, in Edinburgh, homelessness has been cut, as has crime and social care improved and increased. In Perth, Peter Barrett has ensured the Council met its targets on homelessness ahead of time. In the Highlands, local services have been protected by the Liberal Democrats despite the financial challenges presented to local Councils and the effect of the Council Tax freeze.In Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Labour left the place in a right financial mess and in both cases it's been the Liberal Democrats in the administrations who led the way in taking the tough decisions to sort it out.

The SNP were crowing yesterday because a poll put them in the lead at 35% for these elections. That's a full 9.7 point fall since the Scottish elections last year. Not much to boast about, to be honest. In contrast, we've gone up in the poll from 6.6% last year to 10% which shows steady progress. Of course, it's real votes in real ballot boxes that will count on Thursday. Until then, there's a power of work to be done.

Liberal Democrats stand for sustainable people centred local services which give control to communities. The SNP leader in Glasgow, Alison Hunter, said that "Everything the SNP does is a stepping stone to independence." Liberal Democrats just want to give people better schools and better housing and sensitive social services, quality services that meet their needs. No other agenda.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

When will the SNP come clean on all their dealings with the Murdoch Empire?

The SNP claimed last August that they were being perfectly open and above board about their dealings with the Murdoch Empire when they released details, supposedly, of all their administration's meetings with all media.  At the time, Stewart Hosie said:

“The SNP is leading the way in transparency over meetings with the media. The SNP Government has published the most transparent list of meetings between ministers and the media and is the only Government to publish our correspondence with News Corporation.  All of it shows that everything was perfectly proper and reasonable, and about promoting Scotland.” 

The remainder of that article talked about how the SNP was putting in a Freedom of Information Request about the Labour Party's dealings with Murdoch.

A month before, on 11th July, the Scottish Liberal Democrats had put in an FOI request of their own, asking for details of all meetings between Scottish Ministers and Officials and News International Representatives. The reply received in September  (copied below) directs them to the disclosures made in August.

That's all well and good, and it allowed us all to express our astonishment at the number of times Scottish Ministers had met Murdoch associates.

Except we now know different, don't we?

That was in February 2011. Strangely, that meeting between Geoff Aberdein and Frederic Michel is not documented in the SNP's open and transparent disclosure. This is a meeting at which the offer was made that Salmond would call Hunt "whenever we need him to". Aberdein had also been sent to try to manipulate a tv debate ahead of the Scottish elections to the form suiting the SNP. The SpAd and the Public Affairs guy had clearly each brought a back scratcher to the meeting. 

So, what else haven't they told us? 

At a very minimum, they now need to publish details of all contact, in whatever form between SpAds and News International. 

Adam Smith, Jeremy Hunt's adviser, had to resign because he was effectively passing insider information about the quasi-judicial process to an interested party. Geoff Aberdein was not in the same situation but he was offering the services of the First Minister of Scotland, pitching him in as a cheerleader for Murdoch with the apparent quid pro quo at that time being a mere hour on Sky News in the format they wanted. Sky News, of course, was one of the channels involved in the bid. It doesn't matter that neither phone call nor debate took place. The fact that such things were agreed in the first place was at the very least reprehensible.

Today's Independent on Sunday says that Jeremy Hunt misled Parliament three times, one in March 2011 and twice last week.  That article provides compelling reason, if there wasn't before, for an inquiry into whether the Ministerial Code has been broken. I hope that our Ministers within the Government are trying to talk sense into a recalcitrant PM. The Government should be bending over backwards to do the right thing. Look what's happened when Liberal Democrat Ministers have been embroiled in controversy. David Laws resigned within 24 hours, although I have huge sympathy for his situation and wish he could have kept his job. Vince Cable had responsibility for the BSkyB takeover removed from him and handed to someone who had equally strong views, although on the other side of the argument. The Tories, on the other hand, tried to shore up Liam Fox for far too long when it became clear that his position was untenable, and now refuse to conduct even the most basic inquiry into Hunt's behaviour. Liberal Democrats shouldn't be tarnished by this - but we are because Nick Clegg went along with the absurd position that Leveson would sort it all out. Nick would have been better advised to say nothing. 

I expect that it's only a matter of time before Hunt resigns. The longer it takes, the worse it's going to be and the more incomprehensible the decision not to institute an inquiry will appear.

Alex Salmond's decision to brazen this one out, gambling that the Scottish people will see it all as a Holyrood bubble argument, has huge risks. His argument that it was all about Scottish jobs is spurious in the extreme. His questionable association with the rich and famous, along with his apparent nonchalance about really getting in there and tackling the underlying causes of poverty is damaging to his reputation and his claims to be on the side of ordinary Scots. He knows he's on dodgy ground on this, otherwise why would he have been all over the place when Willie Rennie tackled him before even the most recent revelations. Is it really ok to have your First Minister play down the News International role in phone hacking to ingratiate himself with media moguls who might say something favourable about him? The most disappointing thing for me is that Alex Salmond doesn't see that one company owning so much media is harmful.One company able to promulgate its own views through owning multiple newspapers and tv channels is unhealthy - particularly when you look at how they do it in the US. Fox News, anyone? The whole episode shows me that Alex Salmond, doesn't have a liberal bone in his body. I wonder if he's thought about what controls to secure impartiality, broadcasting through an election for example, he would put in place in an independent Scotland. I think we should be told, frankly. 

The Murdochs have now managed to compromise two current Governments as well as the previous Labour Government, right to the very top. Coming on top of MPs' expenses, this doesn't do much to restore people's faith in politics and the political process. The challenge for Liberal Democrats within the Government is to make sure that things like lobbying reform (though what do you do when a Government minister turns effectively into a corporate lobbyist?) and party funding are sorted as well as Freedom of Information both north and south of the border strengthened. We need to make ordinary people feel that we are bringing them into the loop, not keeping them outside a bubble. 

Andrew Wiseman's E-mail on Conference security

As you know, I've written at length about my opposition to any sort of accreditation system for party members at our Federal Conference as I believe it represents an illiberal intrusion into private life by the Police which will not make any one person safer. In fact, it's even worse than last year, because we have to put in our past addresses too, which I don't remember having to do last year. What information will they be wanting next year? Details of all our families and friends?

I submitted my views to the Federal Conference Committee consultation and this is the reply I received from FCC chair Andrew Wiseman yesterday:

Many thanks for responding to the consultation by FCC. Apologies for the 'standard' response but as you will appreciate we had a lot of replies and I wanted to advise everyone that responded of where we have got to.
Federal Conference Committee met on Monday to consider the question of conference security.

As we said in our article of 14th April 2012, the police have requested that we adopt a similar system of accreditation for conference that was used for Birmingham last Autumn.  

That system would involve conference attendees submitting certain pieces of information at the time of registration, such as their past addresses and passport number.  That information would be used to assess whether the person registering is who they say they are and whether they pose a serious security threat to conference.  If so, the person concerned would not be accredited.  The vast majority, however, would be.  Those who were accredited for attendance in Birmingham would be recognised by the system, unless they had asked for their data from last time to be deleted, and minimal checks would be required.

As before, safeguards would be put in place were accreditation to be adopted.  These include an appeals procedure whereby the final decision as to whether someone could attend conference or not would be taken by the Party and not the police.  It would also include the facility for the data to be deleted in respect of anyone who wanted it.   What data remained would be held on a standalone system, not linked to the main police computer system.  People who have changed identity would be able to apply for accreditation under their current identity and would not need to reveal their former one.

The FCC recognises that accreditation is highly controversial within the Party.  A motion was submitted about it to Birmingham Conference and, whilst an amendment that would have refused to adopt accreditation in the future failed, conference did ‘condemn’ the system that was in use at that time.

When we called for views on the accreditation proposal for Brighton, many responses were received.  We would like to thank everyone who took the time and trouble to send us their opinions.  Many were in favour of accreditation but many were vehemently opposed to it.

At our meeting on Monday, representatives of LGBT+ attended to tell us about the particular problems with accreditation that face people with previous identities.  We are very grateful for the time they took to do that. 

Senior members of Party staff also attended.  Over the past two weeks, they have talked extensively to the Party insurers and to staff at the conference venue in Brighton.

Following careful consideration, FCC does not think that the case for accreditation of party members is presently made out, but recognises that there are other complex issues around it that need to be addressed.  We are committed to holding conference without it if we possibly can.  

We have therefore decided to delay opening registration for Party members (and only Party members) whilst further negotiation takes place with the police, other Party Committees, the owners of the conference venue and our insurers.  If we possibly can avoid using accreditation though, we will.  We will provide further information as soon as we are able to do so.
Andrew Wiseman
Chair, Federal Conference Committee
The accreditation battle is not over yet, by a long chalk, although this delay is welcome. I think that FCC urgently needs to get our Parliamentarians to question this advice with the Home Office. The other party committees mentioned need to have the courage of their convictions and do all they can to avoid our Conference again being tarnished by an unwarranted invasion of our civil liberties.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Have you ever seen a Government consultation pushed in your face quite so much?

I've just done a Google search for yesterday's report into conditions at Cornton Vale which I know is going to make horrendous reading. What is it going to take for Kenny MacAskill to do something about this? The sooner he's got rid of and replaced with someone competent and knowledgable like Angela Constance, the better.

But that's for a later post.

I found what I was looking for and clicked on the link. Immediately, a pop up window came up reminding me about the Scottish Government consultation on the independence referendum which closes on 11 May and giving me a link to it so I could do it there and then.

A brief look round the Scottish Government website shows that there is little chance of escape from the consultation. It appears to be the only thing being consulted on at the moment, which I find unusual.

It's clearly the SNP's biggest priority, but extra resources must have gone in to trying to get a response to this consultation. And, so far, with all that effort, with just 2 weeks to go, they've only had "over 10,000 responses." The SNP has more members than that! And there were pushing 50,000 for the Equal Marriage consultation.

I will be responding because I want to make sure that my views, which are clearly  not going to be in accordance with the Scottish Government's on several major issues, namely question and votes for 16 and 17 year olds, are taken into consideration.

I just found it distasteful to have the consultation thrust in my face quite so brazenly when I was looking for something else when I've never had that for any other consultation.

I don't mind them bringing in one of their key manifesto pledges but I do object when it seems to be at the expense of everything else, especially a crucial humanitarian issue.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

SNP Sleaze continues as MSP caught using public funds to promote council candidates

It's not been an easy few weeks for the SNP. Even before yesterday's revelations from Leveson, Alex Salmond was squirming when Willie Rennie confronted him over his close ties to Rupert Murdoch which led to him playing down the phone hacking controversy when writing for the Scottish Sun on Sunday.

They've also had to expel one of their MSPs, Bill Walker, who was accused of domestic violence against 3 former wives. Worse, last week's Sunday Herald reports that Deputy Leader Nicola Sturgeon's office, although not Ms Sturgeon directly, had been told of the allegations a full three years before he fought the Dunfermline seat.

Now, there are question marks over the SNP's conduct at all levels during the Council campaign. On one hand, the local Government minister, who is also the SNP's election co-ordinator announced that the Government was giving £40 million to councils to offset cuts in Council Tax Benefit, breaking the rules about making such announcements during the pre-election "purdah" period. On the other, they were quite happy to delay other politically sensitive announcements because of the election, such as that on the Northern Isles ferry contractor.

On top of all that,  it appears that a Highland MSP has been using public funds to promote SNP Council candidates  who are also members of his staff.

Note the Scottish Parliament logo in the bottom right hand corner of this advert for his constituency surgeries from the John O'Groat Journal. If this was funded by Parliamentary expenses, then it should not be giving star billing to SNP Council candidates. If it was funded by the SNP, it should not include the Parliamentary logo. Either way, they've made a mistake and it needs to be rectified. I understand that Highland residents have complained about this to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body although no response has yet been received.

Have you ever heard of such unprecedented promotion of Parliamentary staff in an advertisement,  particularly one which is laid out in a style which reeks of party branding in terms of colour and fonts used?

In this second picture, you can see that the advert for a surgery falls directly below a report announcing the selection of Gail Ross for the Wick ward.

As one of these adverts was on sale on 22 March, the day election expenses kicked in, we'd expect, of course, to see its full cost split between the three candidates mentioned in their returns. But then it may well be an impermissible donation to their campaigns. It looks like they may be in some hot water. While Gibson claims that they were published before Highland Council's purdah period, this has no relevance to the electoral timetable and, frankly, we've already seen that Purdah only counts for the SNP when it suits them

Former Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott has written a letter of complaint to both the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament and the Returning Officer of Highland Council to ask for this to be investigated. He said:
The SNP seem to think they have the right to bend, twist and break all the rules now that they have a majority in the parliament. Using public funds to buy votes is something you would expect from corrupt dictators rather than in a modern, democratic Scotland.
Strict rules exist to ensure the governing party cannot use public office for party political gain, but appointing Derek Mackay as their election coordinator while he is local government minister shows just how far they are willing to go to rig results.
Mr Mackay must be suspended from his post and an immediate investigation launched into the SNP misuse of public funds.
The SNP have been caught red-handed misusing public funds to rig the election. In using his position as an MSP to promote his staff while they are SNP candidates,  Mr Gibson has made it a hat trick of SNP election scandals.
There seems to be an outbreak of sleaze affecting the SNP at the moment. The way they have behaved since winning their overall majority last May has caused much controversy. They seek majority control over a number of councils next week. If this is how they abuse majority power, voters may baulk at the prospect.

How Vince avoided Murdoch - an example of appropriate ministerial behaviour

Today's Guardian carries a report by Patrick Wintour which shows the frustrations of the News Corporation camp as they tried and failed to develop the same sort of close relationship with Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable as they had with Jeremy Hunt and Alex Salmond.

The article outlines several fruitless attempts from senior figures within News Corporation to arrange a meeting with Cable to discuss their proposed takeover of BSkyB. Vince at that time had quasi-judicial responsibility for that decision.

My favourite part of the article is the response of Giles Wilkes, Vince's Special Adviser, on being asked "when would be good for you?" for a meeting.
"Let us assume it is when a Google of Vince Cable, News International and Sky does not turn anything up. I am sure we are both interested in staying within the proper bounds of conduct."
Compare and contrast to Alex Salmond's adviser who was apparently telling Murdoch's Head of Public Affairs that "he (Salmond) will call Hunt whenever we need him to".

You can read the article in full here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Willie Rennie: Murdoch says "Jump", Alex Salmond says "How high?"

Willie Rennie, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has said that First Minister Alex Salmond has been sullied by James Murdoch's revelations at the Leveson Enquiry.

Amongst e-mails filed for the Enquiry to consider, one from Frederic Michel, News International's Director of Public Affairs, about a meeting with Alex Salmond's advisers on 15 June 2010.

It's on Page 80 here.

So, it seems that not only was Salmond apparently prepared to call Jeremy Hunt to lobby on behalf of News International's takeover of BSkyB, but there seemed to be a bit of a deal in the making about persuading Sky News to hold a Holyrood election debate with just two of Scotland's four political leaders.  Alex Salmond would clearly have wiped the floor with Labour's  Iain Gray in a head to head as he did virtually every week at First Minister's Questions but was much more vulnerable to the Tory's Annabel Goldie and Liberal Democrat Tavish Scott.  I wonder if the advisers approached any other broadcasters to try to make this happen and, if they did, whether the response was as positive.

Willie Rennie called for  an urgent investigation into the circumstances behind this exchange. He said:
It is difficult to understand why the First Minister has allowed himself to be sullied to such an extent.
When the troubled media mogul said jump, it is clear that Alex Salmond was quick to say ‘how high?
We need an immediate investigation into the circumstances which led to such an outrageous exchange taking place.
Alex Salmond will do anything to split Scotland from rest of UK, even cosy up to a disgraced media tycoon.
This might be a good time to remind readers of two things.

The first comes from the beginning of March when I reported how Willie Rennie took Salmond to task over the First Minster's downplaying of the Murdoch Empire's role in the phone hacking scandal which led to the Leveson Enquiry. This came in the same week as Rupert Murdoch tweeted his support for Scottish independence. Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times, tweeted that Murdoch's support for independence was revenge on the UK Government for setting up the Leveson Enquiry. Salmond is usually full of bluff and bluster but on this occasion he fidgeted, he could barely string a sentence together, his head was down.

The second is this article in the Guardian from July last year which showed that the Liberal Democrats conducted their relationship with the Murdoch empire in a different manner:
According to one account from a senior party figure, a cabinet minister was told that, if the government did not do as NI wanted, the Lib Dems would be "done over" by the Murdoch papers, which included the now defunct News of the World as well as the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.
So, to recap:
  • Alex Salmond's adviser tells Murdoch's Public Affairs chief that he'll lobby the UK Government for the Corporation. And let's not kid ourselves that Hunt would take a call from a mere adviser;
  • Alex Salmond, writing in the Scottish Sun on Sunday, played down the phone hacking scandal;
  • Rupert Murdoch tweets his support for Scottish independence.
All a big coincidence?

Tonight I can't quite get out of my mind the idea of Alex Salmond singing to Rupert Murdoch that old James Taylor song, You've got a friend:

You just call out my name and you know wherever I am, I'll come running

FCC's dramatic vote - who voted against immediate accreditation?

Word reaches my ears of an intelligent, calm and rational debate at Federal Conference Committee last night as they discussed the pros and cons of whether to accede to the request of Sussex Police to use an accreditation system for those registered for this year's Autumn Conference.

Don't get me wrong. I am not in favour of accreditation. I think it's wrong and illiberal and my opposition to it is absolute. However, I am pleased to hear that the matter was discussed in passionate but realistic terms, and not using the lazy and destructive arguments (ie terrorists want to kill us)  proposed by some supporters of the system in the Conference debate last year.

There is a perception that FCC meekly acquiesced to the Police request last year and are well on their way to doing so this year. I don't think that's quite true - and Andrew Wiseman, who as chair takes most of the flack has been proactive behind the scenes in trying to find a solution with the Police that does not involve such illiberal and intrusive measures. While FCC have maybe not done themselves any favours in the presentation of all of this, I think we need to recognise that they are trying to get the best and most liberal outcome.

The meeting heard from 3 members of LGBT+ on their concerns. Zoe and Sarah have both blogged about their experience and they both seem to think that they were listened to. Certainly the arguments they made were very persuasive.

After two hours of discussion, the meeting voted between two alternative propositions. The first was to open registration with accreditation. The second, pulled together by Arnie Gibbons, was a six point plan which covered further discussions with the Police, the importance of the Conference motion, the need for further evaluation of the risks as regards things like insurance and venue acceptance as Jeremy Hargreaves tweeted to some random bloke from Ham Common and involvement of other party bodies. I'd have added in a seventh which would involve getting our Parliamentarians to persuade the Home Office to withdraw its advice on accreditation. After all, when Danny Alexander wants Government Departments to save as much money as possible, having the Home Office meet the costs for checks for tens of thousands of people across Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat conferences, which aren't going to make any single person safer, is a waste. I still think it was a good all round effort by Arnie, though.

Arnie's motion won the day by just one vote. Those  voting for it were Arnie himself, obviously, Justine McGuinness, Jeremy Hargreaves, Geoff Payne and Lucy Care, the FPC representative. I send each of them a big hug and lots of thanks.

This is by no means the end of the battle against accreditation, but I'm glad that FCC have made a very sensible decision in the short term. We'll just have to see what happens next. Watch this space.

SNP clown around while Lib Dems offer better schools, housing and safer streets

Normally when my husband leaves for work in the morning we exchange a few brief words about our plans for the day or some other mundane domestic matters. Party Election Broadcasts don't feature that often in our early morning conversation. Usually because I'm half asleep. This morning Bob was full of the SNP's broadcast  for the local elections - and not in a good way. When I watched it for myself, I saw his point. The whole thing is bizarre.

I take from it that in that the SNP want to see a Scotland where people take in parcels for their neighbours, water their plants, eat fish and chips and put their rubbish out. In fact, it was the rubbish that attracted Bob's attention, because he thought that the woman was putting normal rubbish in a recycling bin, which is one of his greatest pet hates. As it happens, I think he's wrong on that one because recycling bins are most often blue, but never mind. Oh, and I almost forgot - they want to see clowns giving toys to little girls in gardens. Bob asked if that was Alex Salmond's cameo role. I know plenty people who are petrified of clowns - it's quite a common phobia, apparently, so maybe not the best thing to include.

The broadcast was silent on the SNP's record in local Government, or their vision for decent local services. They highlighted a few priorities, but most of them were national. They might say that keeping 1000 extra police was local - but they are the ones who said during last year's Holyrood elections that they would have 3 or 4 police forces across Scotland and who now intend to merge them into a single force with scant local accountability.

"More jobs for young people" would hardly pass the SMART objectives test - although they will be assisted in this aim (shared by everybody) by Nick Clegg's £1bn youth contract. 

I wouldn't normally flag up the opposition's work, but I'll make an exception here. I just find it astonishing that there's no mention of schools, social care, housing. None of the people in the SNP's broadcast seem to in poor housing - unlike in the real world where they've slashed the social housing budget. Here in West Lothian, the cuts in classroom assistants are making the school day much more confusing and difficult for many kids. You are never going to cover much ground in 2 minutes, but slick production values. loads of money and a catchy tune just seem to be a bit of an insult to the electorate to be honest. If I were an SNP councillor, I'd be a bit annoyed that the good things they've done in local government weren't being showcased. And, to be fair, they have done some good stuff and they do have some hard working local councillors who serve their communities well.

Compare and contrast with the Lib Dems' effort, produced on a fraction of the cost, cos we're not funded by huge handouts from millionaires,  but brimming over with what it means to have the Liberal Democrats in charge locally - investment in schools, the first council houses being built in a generation - and homelessness targets being met early in Perth and Kinross and the Edinburgh Guarantee providing jobs for young people. With more time they could have added in outstanding record on recycling and social care delivered in Fife by Liberal Democrat Councillors Tony Martin and Tim Brett. Isn't that what these local elections are about?

Anyway, have a look at both videos. Ours first:

and now the SNP's

Which do you think captures the spirit of these elections?

Monday, April 23, 2012

What I said to FCC on Conference Accreditation

So, there I was, in my parents' living room on Saturday afternoon and suddenly the awful realisation hit me.

I'd been urging everyone else to respond to the Federal Conference Committee's hasty consultation on the Sussex Police's request for an accreditation system for our Autumn Conference in Brighton.

I'd blogged on it, twice, for sure, but not actually sent the e-mail off.

So, as soon as I got home, I sent the following e-mail to them.

Dear FCC

Before I get into the substance of my argument, I’d like to say that I do have some sympathy for the dilemma you must be in. You feel acutely the burden of responsibility for the safety of everyone attending Conference and a natural fear of going against professional advice is understandable. However, I hope to persuade you that there is no case for an accreditation system as there is no evidence that it will make anyone safer.
I do believe that it was possible to anticipate the Police request and it would have been better if you had consulted at Gateshead to avoid a hasty one week consultation in the middle of local elections across the Country. 

I find the case for accreditation very weak. I have been unimpressed with the arguments of some in favour of accreditation who have tried to scare us by telling us terrorists wanted to kill us all. That would be why we put our belongings through airport style security at the door, then. I find that line of argument lazy and insulting and I don't want to hear any more of it. Let's face it, I have enough of an instinct of self preservation to want to get home to my family in one piece, as well as all my dear friends who will be there. Any assertion that we would be putting staff at the venue at risk by refusing to implement an accreditation process is utterly ridiculous, especially when Conference goers are filling a variety of venues outside the security cordon for almost a week.

When professional advice is as easy to pick holes in as the Sussex Police’s, I don’t think FCC should have any qualms about rejecting it. Let me explain:
Two senior officers of Sussex police attended an FCC meeting in late March and outlined the reasons they are asking the party to use accreditation. It is their clear view that party conferences, including ours while we are in government, attract people who wish to cause serious harm and violence to conference-goers (and also to those working in the venue and other residents of Brighton, whom they also have a duty to protect).
For sure. Although this is not new. I grew up in the 70s and 80s when the IRA committed a number of violent atrocities. One such was the murder of Conservative MP Airey Neave by car bomb in the underground car park to Westminster. I've been to Parliament a few times now and all I've had to do is have a photo taken for my pass and go through security scanners.

My contention is that an accreditation system does not of itself make anyone safer. Every single major atrocity has been committed by people who were who they say they are and who had the correct paperwork.
This includes large international terrorist organisations, but also individuals who are able to make bombs or other equipment. They gave some examples of lone individuals who have caused serious violence, or attempted to, ranging from the 1984 Brighton bombing to the Norwegian gunman at a youth political event.
I will never forget waking up to the horrific scenes of the Grand Hotel in ruins when the Tory Party conference was bombed by the IRA in 1984. It was horrible, even from 700 miles away. That bomb was planted weeks before the event. Are hotels in Brighton having all their guests accredited by the Police months in advance? I suspect there would be an outcry if they were. The answer, of course, is no, they aren't.

As far as the awful events in Norway are concerned, physical security at the camp would have prevented Breivik from getting onto the island and carrying out his murderous plan.
Because of the particular attraction that major public events which are heavily covered by the media have to people who want to cause serious violence, they believe that in order to protect the security of everyone at conference, attendees should go through accreditation.
Attendees at football cup finals, the Grand National, the Olympics, pop concerts, festivals, Wimbledon or Pride don't have to go through Police accreditation. I went with my sister and niece to see Paul McCartney in Liverpool last December and the Police did not have to approve my trip. Why should our Conference be any different? The security services want the power to snoop on all our private communications. The Police wanted to bang people up for 3 months without charge. Those requests were unreasonable because they infringed civil liberties, as this one is.
The police are extremely clear, as are FCC, that preventing any other difficulties or embarrassment for the party are not part of their remit. They are focused only on specific information which might indicate that someone may pose a serious security threat to other conference-goers.
Anyone can join the party for as little as £12 and can then attend conference as a party member.

It weighs heavily on my mind that people were barred from attending conference last year because they didn't pass accreditation. These people could easily have been completely innocent. I don't think it's the business of anyone in the party, no matter how much I trust them, and I do trust Tim Farron, Andrew Wiseman and Tim Gordon, should have the right to ban a member from attending conference without proper evidence that’s gone through the testing of the criminal justice system. It's a really serious step to take. Especially when it doesn't stop any member of the general public with malevolent intentions from standing in the security queue. You don't need to be accredited to do that. The Sunday morning at Gateshead, I joined the queue half way up the hill to the Sage.

Just as an aside, we had five Cabinet Ministers at our Scottish Conference in Inverness and the Northern Constabulary didn't see fit to ask for any of this. Why should it be different at UK level?

I do not think accreditation is a sensible way of managing risk to people attending their conference. I don't see how one single person will be made safer by this demand. It is an unreasonable and illiberal request. There is not a shred of evidence that it would prevent an atrocity and it is so fundamental to our values as Liberal Democrats that the Police should not be able to determine who attends Conference or engages in the political process that I urge you to reject it out of hand. You will be able to find alternative insurance.

I appeal to you to have the courage of their liberal convictions and find a way through that does not involve an accreditation system that is absolutely wrong in principle.

I will be publishing this separately and I have no objection to you doing so if you wish to publish consultation responses in the interests of transparency.

Thank you for hard work you do as a Committee. I appreciate the difficulty of the situation you find yourselves in.


Caron Lindsay

PS: This is an extract from the speech I would have made in the debate in Birmingham last year if I’d have been able to get there in time.
 Now, I have a very strong personal interest in this conference being safe and secure. Some of the people I care most about in the world are here. My beloved family are 400 miles away - I want to return to them in one piece. I am also one of the most over anxious people on the planet.

Despite that, I do not see how this expensive accreditation system is going to make one person safer. It seems to me to be a wasteful exercise in bureaucracy. We have airport style security on the way in and lots of vigilant security people around the place. That's enough to protect us. Nobody is going to be able to get in here with anything that could cause harm.
Those of us who were around the last time an atrocity was carried out at a party conference will remember the feeling of numbness and shock and nausea  as we watched events unfold. That bomb, though, had been planted a month before.
In recent acts of terrorism, everyone involved has had the correct paperwork.
There is simply no need for accreditation. And since when did we fall for the line that the Police say they need it? They said that about 90 days detention as well and as a party we didn't flinch in our opposition to that.
The FCC will say that it all comes down to insurance. I am far from convinced that this is the case. My understanding is that they've gone to the usual provider who has said that if we don't take police advice, it'll invalidate our insurance. They tell us that if we don't accept accreditation, there will be no Conference.
I think we need more imagination here.  If festivals can get public liability insurance when they have, frankly, even more A-listers than we have wandering around, then I'm sure we can find someone who is prepared to see that the physical security arrangements suffice.
 Today, FCC makes its decision. Let's hope that they reject this illiberal and ineffective idea.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bob's day out at Record Store Day at Underground Solu'shun, Edinburgh

My husband is passionate about his music in the same way that I'm passionate about the Liberal Democrats, Doctor Who and Formula One. Over the past few months, he's been transforming our conservatory into a music haven, complete with pulsing, flashing lights. He has the sort of equipment that I look at in total awe. It looks, to be honest, that it has more to do with flying the TARDIS than music, but he's loving it.

He has always had a massive record collection and the move to CDs and digital download has only served to increase his desire to accumulate yet more vinyl.

Yesterday was his equivalent of the Doctor Who Convention, or the Monaco Grand Prix - the fifth UK Record Store Day. He was actually queuing outside Underground Solu'shun in Cockburn Street at 8am. I've only ever been in the shop once, when Bob was really ill. I have not got the first clue about Bob's music. My taste, if you can call it that, rarely ventures outside the genres of camp and cheese. Anyway, I went in and asked the guy behind the counter to help me. He sent me away with a pile of records and Bob loved every single one of them.  Talk about knowing your customers.

Anyway, Bob had a lovely day, listening to the DJs in the afternoon, one of whom, Fudge Fingas,  had been in Russia not long ago and came home with quite a haul, including loads of pressies for us.There had even been a famous face in the shop - author Ian Rankin had popped in for a browse.

Here's a wee video he took which captures the atmosphere.

The serious point about this is that small, independent shops like Underground Solu'shun have to be encouraged. Otherwise, we'll all end up listening to sterile, samey downloads. It's the same thing as encouraging independent bookshops and breweries. We need the originality and diversity these places provide. Record Store Day  provides a way of showcasing what these shops have to offer.

And look at Anna's and my pressies:

I feared that the Voulez Vous would have been distorted out of all existence, but it was actually extremely good and true to its proper Abba roots.

Bob had a great day - but he also lives out the maxim that a record store is for life, not just for Record Store Day. He's in there every week.  So, readers, make it your challenge for the rest of this year to buy more stuff in small independent shops and help them to thrive.

Support Austin Rathe and Graeme Littlejohn in the London Marathon

If you're a Liberal Democrat who's been elected to anything in the last few years, chances are that you'll owe something to the efforts of either Austin Rathe or Graeme Littlejohn. Austin works in the Campaigns Department at Lib Dem HQ in London and Graeme is the Scottish Party's Director of Communications.

Today, we can give them something back in return for their unfailing hard work for us. At the moment, they'll both be shivering nervously in Blackheath awaiting the start of the London Marathon.

Both are aiming to raise £2000 for causes very close to their, and our, hearts. Graeme's father passed away in 2010 and he's running in his memory to raise funds for Alzheimer Scotland. Austin is racing for the British Heart Foundation in memory of our friend Andrew Reeves who so suddenly died last June.

As I write,both are slightly short of their target. Graeme has £35.42 to go and Austin £285. Surely to goodness the combined forces of Liberal Democrats across the country can raise at least another £320 to get them both over their targets. It's the very least we can do to these hard working individuals who, in their spare time, act to help others.

It's not just the four or so hours today. It's the months of gruelling training in horrendous weather leading up to it. It's the pain, the determination that they've put themselves through that we should all recognise - and all of this at the same time as working horrendous hours for the party.

Now is the time to back our boys.

Sponsor Austin. Sponsor Graeme. Do it now and let them get a nice surprise when they cross the finish line.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What do I have in common with Neil Armstrong, Jo Nesbo, Paddy McAloon, Polly Toynbee and Tony Blair?

Not a lot, you might imagine. I've certainly never been to the Moon, or been paid a fortune to write ill-informed nonsense for a national newspaper (some might say I do that for free here..), or written a gruesome bestseller, or started an illegal war. And I certainly was never part of an alternative English rock band.

But despite all of that, I still managed to be mentioned in the above illustrious company by Lib Dem President Tim Farron. In a cracking interview in the New Statesman, he praised this humble blog. When asked who his favourite blogger was, he said:
Caron Lindsay - a fantastic blog written by a great Scottish Liberal. 
I should add that Liberal Democrat Voice also got a mention for being "a brilliant place if you want to know "what the Lib Dems think".

But all this is irrelevant really because the rest of the interview shows exactly why he's so popular in this party. His mind works in some strange ways, certainly, and you'll need to read the whole thing yourselves to find out where all the others fit in. You'll find some surprises. His dinner table would be interesting, that's all I'm saying. I wonder how that conversation would go.

Tim is really good at grabbing at the heartstrings and articulating our gut instincts as Liberal Democrats. He's asked about the saddest things he'd heard at surgeries and as I read them I was transported right back to the days I did them with Willie Rennie when he was MP for Dunfermline. That sense of injustice, the desire to keep working until you find a solution for people, he got it absolutely right.

Saddest thing: Too many to mention.  Mostly housing related issues, families in desperate poverty, stupid and cruel immigration decisions that separated loved ones. They break my heart but these are the things that keep me going – when you get someone re-housed or help someone get their personal debts under control, it makes the job worthwhile. I can take or leave the Westminster village nonsense, but the casework and the community campaigning stuff always motivates me.  When someone comes up to and says "Thanks Tim - you got me and my mum re-housed" it really cheers you up.  Making a difference is what keeps me going and why I got into politics in the first place.
 He says he doesn't want to be Prime Minister - which is probably an essential requirement for that job, but to "stand up for those people who can't be heard." Actually, I'm always banging on about how we need to sort housing out once and for all, to make sure that there is enough decent quality affordable housing for ordinary folk. I'd like to see him given the chance to do it. 

This brings me to his performance on last night's Question Time where he came across really well. He might have been sidelined a bit by David Aaronovitch and George Galloway tearing lumps out of each other, but his common sense to word ratio was pretty near to 1:1. Sayeeda Warsi, who earlier this week had accused Tim of treating the coalition like a bad episode of Come Dine with Me, gave him ample opportunity to show the differences between Lib Dem and Tory.

One such example was the idea that parents whose children habitually skipped school should have their Child Benefit docked. Tim was quick to describe that as "counter productive and morally repugnant", talking about the link between under achievement and poverty and getting in an explanation of how Nick Clegg's Pupil Premium was helping poorer kids. 

Tim is very good at getting the Liberal Democrat message across. The next thing is to get him out of the usual political media hangouts and onto programmes that ordinary people watch - let's get him on This Morning and the One Show and interviewed in Woman's Own and the like.

Lib Dems who point goes from Daily Politics to Daily Mail

A website set up as a bit of fun during the local elections has leapt to fame in the past two days, despite not being updated in over 10 months until yesterday. Lib Dems who point showcases, as it says on the tin,  photos of all manner of Liberal Democrats pointing at all manner of things, like graffiti, potholes and litter as we are prone to do on leaflets up and down the land.

The reason for yesterday's update was the fact that the site was featured on the Daily Politics in an item about our prospects in this year's local elections. You can see the whole item here.

And that's not all. In today's Daily Fail, the site is featured again. Nice to know that their journalists keep up with the latest developments.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

#F1 should not be in Bahrain this weekend

There is no way that the Formula 1 circus should be going anywhere near Bahrain this weekend. The report published by Amnesty International contains grim evidence of unfair trial, arrest, police brutality and torture. The last cases they document took place in mid February, a time when the Bahraini Government was trying to portray a benign image of new found respectability.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is a human rights activist serving a life sentence for taking part in last year's protests. A life sentence. And if he's not released soon, that life might not have much left to go given that he is currently around 60 days into a hunger strike. 

Amnesty has found that those members of the security forces who violated  these prisoners have not been punished for their actions.

F1 spent last weekend in China. The human rights record of the Chinese Government is pretty diabolical. I don't like the sport going there. However, the F1 crowd's brief visit didn't, I think, cause any extra repression or lives to be lost. The situation is different in Bahrain. The Police are armed with live ammunition and will most likely shoot first and ask questions later if they think something's going to embarrass the Government. Ex Met officer John Yates is out there advising them and what he told the Guardian makes chilling reading. That regime will do heaven knows what to keep the streets quiet. Unfortunately we know from the Amnesty Report that heaven knows what involves sexual assualt, beatings, sleep deprivation and electric shocks and blindfolds. Oh, and people's families being threatened too.

That's why I'd like someone to go and give the exceptionally lovable current world champion Mr Vettel a clip round the ear with the Amnesty Report and tell him and anyone else daft enough to say the same, that Bahrain is not like Brazil. The area around Interlagos is a bit dodgy and people have had trouble getting to the circuit - Jenson was robbed a couple of years back, but this is a whole world of brutality away from that.

Already, Force India staff have come closer than anyone would ever want to a fire bomb and the Police have been firing stun grenades at protesters. This violence is a direct result of the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone's decision to go there and they should all be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Let's just hope that nobody, civilian, team or circuit personnel is seriously hurt or worse as a result of that foolish decision.

Elisabeth Sladen - a year since she died

There have been few people in the public eye whose death has actually moved me to real, sorrowful tears. The passing of Elisabeth Sladen, who played Doctor Who's Sarah Jane Smith was one such event. She had been a childhood heroine not just to me but my daughter, who's a keen Doctor Who and Sarah Jane Adventures fan.

In her memory,  there are three things I want to share with you.

First, the tribute to her I wrote last year.

So after a hard day’s envelope writing last night, we headed back to my sister’s where my niece Laura was cooking her risotto – which,  I have to say, is one of the most delicious, punchy, garlicky, creamy, pretty things I’ve ever eaten.  In the olden days families used to gather round the piano for a sing song, or the ladies of the house would play the instrument in genteel and cultured fashion while everyone listened or danced.  The modern day equivalent is singing along to songs on You Tube. Songs from musicals and Disney to be exact. “How do I know that he loves me?” from Enchanted is sure to become a modern classic, and my sister’s and my rendition of For Good from Wicked is quite simply beyond compare.
Having such fun in the real world limited my options for dipping into Twitter, although I did share a little of our revelry with the world in passing, not checking at all what was happening to anyone else. I am very grateful to MiMi (@meemalee), though, for making sure that I couldn’t ignore what everyone was talking about – their shock at the news that Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who had died from a cancer she’d kept very private.
Sarah Jane Smith was the feisty journalist accompanying the Doctor when I first started watching in 1974. I absolutely loved her. She was clever, fearless, kind and pretty. I was literally heartbroken when she left in 1976 and to this day I’ve wanted a pair of those stripy dungarees she wore in her final episode.
Lis Sladen was wickedly funny, approachable and lovely in real life. In the late 90s we used to go to a Cult Tv holiday weekend in November each year in Norfolk and she came along for a couple of years. She brought along her husband and daughter, too and made a family weekend of it. I’ve mentioned before on here that somehow it seemed wrong that Sarah Jane Smith should be smoking, but it was often in smokers’ corner that I came across her and she was always friendly.  It’s her husband Brian Miller, and daughter Sadie, now a woman in her mid twenties I thought of first last night. They will be devastated but I hope the genuine love people had for Lis, of which we’ve seen loads in the last few hours, will at some point in the future make them smile through their tears.
The character of Sarah Jane had a renaissance in 2006 after  Russell T Davies brought her back and reunited her with David Tennant’s Doctor and then gave her her own spin off series which is briliiant. Action roles for women beyond their thirties are few and far between, but here was a middle aged single parent middle class woman with an alien supercomputer in her attic, a son cloned by aliens and a group of teenagers who helped her save the world again and again. The last series where she worked with Matt Smith’s Doctor for the first time, and played alongside another former companion, Jo Grant, seems poignant now. As does the last storyline where apparently an ill Sarah Jane left – although she hadn’t really, she’d been kidnapped by a sadistic alien and was kept in a basement till the kids rescued her.
It is not a coincidence that my daughter has Elisabeth as a middle name – as a tribute to her paternal grandmother Betty and to a talented actress who was the perfect female role model for several generations.  She loves Sarah Jane and is sad today.
I really want to get the DVDs out and spend the day reading what folk have written about this lovely woman on the internet. I shall have to delay that indulgence until I get home at the weekend.
Andrea Gill @msNoeticat on Twitter, summed it up best this morning when she said:“To those who don’t get the fuss about Lis Sladen, all you need to know is generations grew up in love with her, or wanting to be her or both. “ I’m grateful that both I and my daughter had the good fortune to be influenced by her and her character’s warmth, wisdom, compassion and curiosity.

Secondly, the wonderfully appropriate tribute to Lis made by CBBC available here on You Tube.

Finally, the lovely and poignant interview with Lis's daughter Sadie, whom I last saw as a 12 year old at a Cult TV Convention when Lis's autobiography was published.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Labour put down amendment which would have given Tories tax cut for richest they wanted - and which Lib Dems stopped

I realise that Parliamentary shenanigans and point scoring isn't everybody's cup of tea, but it's worth pointing out that Labour today squandered a relatively good position going into the first PMQs of the new Parliamentary term. Ed Miliband had an open goal ahead of him given controversy over the pensioners' tax allowance,  "pasty tax" and charity tax relief yet he and his strategists still managed to misunderstand parliamentary procedure to a ludicrous extent. He's just lucky that more excitable members of the Tory benches didn't take their chance to have some fun. 

Miliband looked not to Labour big hitters of the past for inspiration, but to a tv political satire. He could have pulled words from Barbara Castle or Michael Foot or Tony Blair. Instead, he pulled them from foul mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It, describing the Government's recent performance as an omnishambles. It's not been the best, for sure, but Labour have singularly failed to capitalise on the Coalition's woes.

Since the Budget, Labour have squealed long and loud about how wicked the Coalition is, particularly on cutting the 50p tax rate to 45p. They had the chance to vote against it in March, indeed Ed Balls promised they would, but, as Mark Pack's handy infographic shows, not one of them did. 

They had another go today, but they put in an amendment which, if it had passed, would have set the top rate of tax at 40p. This, bizarrely, would have been exactly what the Tories wanted all along, and which Liberal Democrat ministers stopped. In fact, Osborne only got to cut the rate to 45p because Liberal Democrats insisted  taxes were raised on the wealthy which would bring in 5 times the saving.

Let me explain. The Finance Bill clauses put forward by the Government were as follows:
Clause 1 – Income tax
Charge for 2012-13 and rates for 2012-13 and subsequent tax years
(1) Income tax is charged for the tax year 2012-13, and for that tax year.
(a) the basic rate is 20%,
(b) the higher rate is 40%, and
(c) the additional rate is 50%.
 (2) For the tax year 2013-14.
(a) the basic rate is 20%,
(b) the higher rate is 40%, and
(c) the additional rate is 45%.
The Labour amendment was to delete 2(c) which, if passed, would have left us with no additional rate. What they should have done was to put in an amendment deleting Paragraph 2 in its entirely meaning the tax rates for 2013-14 would have had to be discussed at a later date.

The Government won the vote comfortably, by 67 votes, but what would have happened if a few of our more mercurial right wing Tory friends had decided to vote with Labour to abolish the 45p rate?  The Labour front bench would have been drowning in egg yolk.

That wasn't Labour's only mistake of the day. Their promised amendment on tax reliefs didn't even make it into the debate.

If they can't get the basic parliamentary procedure right in opposition, what chance have they in Government? They've been calling the Government incompetent, but this display hardly inspires confidence.

The Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Treasury Committee, Stephen Williams, had this to say about the day's events:
“It is worrying that the two Eds don’t understand the fundamental principles of our tax system, despite having worked in the Treasury for many years as Gordon Brown’s backroom boys. 
“It took them 13 years to introduce a 50p rate and then they only did so shortly before a general election. Now that the local elections are coming up, suddenly they care about it again and put down ill-thought through amendments that remove the top rate altogether.
 “Labour’s biggest tax change was to remove the 10p tax rate hitting people on low and middle incomes while Liberal Democrats are giving nearly 25m basic-rate tax payers an Income Tax cut and have lifted more than a million people out of paying Income Tax altogether. At the same time, we’re making the rich pay their fair share by cracking down on loopholes and excessive tax relief.

What have Scottish Liberal Democrat Councillors done for you?

This isn't an exhaustive list, but it showcases some of the excellent achievements of Liberal Democrat councillors in administration across Scotland over the last five years.

Scottish Liberal Democrats are part of 13 coalition administrations across Scotland.

This includes running the big councils of Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Edinburgh and the Highlands.

We also help control Fife, Perth and Kinross, Angus, Argyll and Bute, Dumfries and Galloway, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire and Borders.

Over 150 councillors have a strong record of delivering for their local communities.

Over the last five years Scottish Liberal Democrat councillors have delivered for local communities across Scotland, including:

-          Edinburgh – 30% reduction in crime through focussing on community neighbourhood policing, the Edinburgh Guarantee helping young people back to work, building a better future for our capital.
-          Fife – household recycling above 50% making it one of the greenest councils in Scotland and judged to have the best care services in Scotland.
-          Perth & Kinross – building the first council houses in a generation and the 1st council to meet the 2012 homelessness targets and doing it ahead of time
-          Aberdeenshire – prioritised spending on education despite tough times with new schools built and have won awards for stewardship of council.
-          Aberdeen – Lib Dems have brought the budget back from the cliff face where Labour left it and are now held up by Audit Scotland as an example for all to follow
-          Highlands - Liberal Democrats have met the challenge of tough times with a radical new charitable trust to protect services and, by careful work with NHS Highland, Liberal Democrats have helped elderly people and children who need better care.
This is a record we can be proud of. Particularly in the likes of Aberdeen and Edinburgh where Labour had done what they did at UK level, and left a right financial bourach. Jenny Dawe wrote about that on Liberal Democrat Voice a while back. As soon as she took office as leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, she was taken aside and told that there was, in Council terms, next to nothing in the reserves. Under her stewardship, finances have been restored to a healthy level. It all goes to show that, as we've shown at UK level, we don't run away and hide and sit on our hands when confronted with difficult situations. 

Liberal Democrats see this election as a chance to deliver more for local communities, unlike the SNP. Allison Hunter, SNP Leader in Glasgow, recently confirmed what we've always thought - that "everything the SNP does, is, of course, a stepping stone towards independence".

Nick Clegg wrote in this week's Sunday Times, and sadly, this doesn't seem to be available online, about how the SNP duck out of big, controversial decisions wherever they can. They've certainly been less than helpful in Edinburgh on the trams, although they did vote for them in the end. He wrote:
We also know from experience that if the choices facing the SNP do not fit in with that separatist agenda, they walk away rather than face up to their responsibility as elected representatives. In Aberdeen they refused to reorganise local schools and build necessary new ones - it was too difficult. In the Highlands, the SNP refused to take the necessary steps that led to more than £4 million being reinvested in public services. It was the same in Edinburgh when they turned their back on a new model for service delivery that would protect local services and in Argyll and Bute they didn't have the bottle to even consider important decisions.
For the SNP, independence is more important than home helps in Aberdeen, or school children in Inverness or the jobless in Edinburgh. I don't think any service or council should be used as a stepping stone towards independence.
The SNP are going all out for majority control on councils - but voters, having seen what they're like with majority control at Holyrood, might well be more cautious about choosing them. In the run up to the Scottish Parliament elections last year, they said virtually nothing about independence. Since they got their majority they've gone on about virtually nothing else. They have, against the advice of much of Scottish civic society and every other party at Holyrood, put through an unenforceable, illiberal, ineffective Sectarian Bill. They have  gone against the spirit of what they said in their manifesto (which suggested 3 or 4 Police forces) and decided to merge Scotland's 8 Police forces into a single force which gives way too much power to the Justice Secretary. And their First Minister has cultivated a rather worrying relationship with Rupert Murdoch. Willie Rennie took him to task on this last month and the normally blustering First Minster was literally flailing because he knew he didn't have a defence.

Liberal Democrat councillors and candidates are truly local champions, from Eileen McCartin in Renfrewshire to   Rick Kenney in Galashiels to Nick Noble in Thurso,  Angela McLean in Conon Bridge and Iris Walker and William Sell in Aberdeenshire. Peter Barrett in Perth and Kinross and Paul Edie in Edinburgh and Tim Brett in Fife have between them slashed crime and homelessness and vastly improved social care, making services better and more responsive to individual need. 

That's what Liberal Democrats do and is what we offer across Scotland on May 3rd. 


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