Saturday, August 31, 2013

In full: Willie Rennie: We need a new Claim of Right to deliver a powerful Scotland in the UK

The full text of Willie Rennie's speech in Glasgow today in which he called on the party leaders to develop a joint declaration on future constitutional change after a no vote for independence. 
One of the reasons that people have given support to the Liberal Democrats in Scotland is our steadfast support for a powerful Scottish Parliament.  The Scottish Parliament exists, in part, because of the efforts of Liberal Democrats and Liberals.
In 1879 William Gladstone addressed an audience of thousands in the newly built St. Andrew’s Hall only a few hundred metres from this very hall.  It was part of the famous and victorious Midlothian Campaign in which he first extolled the virtues of local power and Home Rule.
We can almost hear the echoes of history.
But I want to talk about making history.
When Ming Campbell first stood for election in North East Fife in 1979 it was just after the devolution referendum. The prospect of a Scottish Parliament seemed a long way off.
But now, today, we have a Scottish Parliament and a new chance to take it forward.
Almost a year ago Ming and I launched our party’s proposals for a more powerful Scottish Parliament, within a federal United Kingdom. We set out how the Scottish Parliament could gain new powers and responsibilities ahead of changes across the rest of Britain.
Since we published Federalism: the best future for Scotland things have moved on.  
The leaders of the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour have taken big steps with their parties.
Think tanks, academics and non-party organisations have drafted proposals as well.
I acknowledge all of this effort.
But I invite party leaders to take this to the next level;
To work together to show we will deliver what most people want: a powerful Scotland within the United Kingdom.
If I think back to the giant constitutional leaps of the past, they needed parties to work together.
The 1989 Claim of Right and the cross-party Constitutional Convention took time but laid a strong foundation for our Parliament.
And think, too, back to Calman.
After the Calman Commission report was published there was an agreement to implementation from every party, followed by agreed wording in each party’s manifesto for 2010. That’s how it happened. That’s how the greatest transfer of fiscal power for 300 years was agreed.
These two things delivered the goods. I am now seeking a third agreement to send a clear signal that we will deliver a third stage of powerful democratic reform.
This is about how we come together and how to agree a natural destination, the principles of reform.
Reform Scotland has called such a move a “Glasgow Agreement” – a natural progression, and improvement, on the Edinburgh Agreement. I would sign up to that.
We need a joint leaders’ statement before the referendum; a “declaration of right” or a “new claim of right”, committing parties to deliver reforms to bring a stronger, more accountable parliament.
It will send a powerful and clear message to those who want a better Britain.
And give confidence to any who doubt it will happen. We can show that reform will happen with the support of the people, secured at the 2015 General Election.
Two years. Two powerful votes.
A vote in favour of the UK in 2014 and a vote for a more powerful Scottish Parliament in 2015.

For Liberals a vote in favour of Scotland remaining part of Britain doesn’t mean no change to Britain. We want Britain to be better, work better and Scotland to play a full part in its success.
In some sense September 19th 2014 is a more important day than September 18th, the referendum day itself. All parts of Scotland, however they voted will need to come together. Part of this will be the confidence that if there is a No vote, the process will already be underway to secure a stronger Scottish Parliament.
This is democratic change.
It will deliver what most people in Scotland want, a powerful Scotland within the United Kingdom.
It is also a process of change that Liberals, from the 1960s and Russell Johonston, David Steel, Malcolm Bruce, Charles Kennedy, Jim Wallace and Ming Campbell have led.
I will play my part in leading for our party in the opportunities that present themselves.

This is, from a Liberal perspective, a stronger Scotland and stronger communities. We should shout loudly about how we all benefit from that.
I believe that the three significant advantages of our partnership with the rest of the United Kingdom are economic strength, social equity and global clout.  Although these have ebbed and flowed over the three hundred years of our partnership they remain strengths that have benefited people across the United Kingdom.
These strengths have enabled Scots to achieve more and I believe that independence would hold Scots back.
Whether it be individual Scots who have made it on the world stage.
Or everyone who has benefited from the creation of the welfare state, pension or NHS
Or the financial security we have through the diverse economy and industries that pay taxes
there is little doubt that there are advantages to the United Kingdom.
A country that is so caring for the sick that it invents the National Health Service is a country I want to remain part of.
A country that has such financial strength that it can bail out the banks in a crisis is a country I want to remain part of.
A country that is so compassionate that it has the second largest international aid budget in the world is a country I want to remain part of.
If we opt for independence it does not mean that we stop producing people who achieve and thrive but I believe that it is easier to reach your potential working together as part of the United Kingdom.
But we are restless, we are reformers, we want a better Britain.  A better Britain with power resting where it is best exercised.  A better Britain with home rule.
As Liberals we have a natural suspicion of unhealthy concentrations of power whether that be in government, business or elsewhere.  We believe power is best exercised locally as it leads to connected and more responsive decision making.
For us Home Rule means a massive transfer of financial and constitutional power to the Scottish Parliament and thereon to local communities.
But we do not believe that constitutional change with Home Rule is an end in its own right.  It is the means to the end.  It’s because we want to transform society for the better. 
I want to give every child the best start in life to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty.  Not only will it enrich their life but also enable them to contribute to the common good of the nation.
I want to tackle the challenges that our environment faces with global warming and energy. 
I want to enable our society to endure with the ageing population.
That other great Liberal Beveridge had five evils: Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness, Disease. 
I believe the great challenges of our age are as big as those evils: poverty, the environment and a population getting older with fewer young people to support them.
It’s why I am a strong supporter of education especially early education before the age of three to give kids a hand up out of poverty.
It’s why I am strong supporter of renewable energy and opponent of desperate attempts to resuscitate failing coal mines.
And it’s why I am in favour of voluntary action with an enabling state that builds community capacity to sustain our standards of living.
I want to tell you some good news. 
With the support of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust I have created a special project to support our campaign for Home Rule.
I have agreed with the Trust that this two-year project will develop plans to utilise the tax powers that we will secure in 2015 and through our Home Rule plans by 2020. 
In that time we will be able to set out a strong vision of how Home Rule for Scotland – a Liberal Democrat idea – can tackle the challenges of our age and move Scotland to be a more socially just and sustainable place.
I want us to set the pace, develop the ideas and win the campaign for the new Scotland.  Our country needs us to look to the long term – and that is what the Liberal Democrats will do.

I am sure when Gladstone addressed the crowds at the St. Andrews Hall he would be pleased the legacy of his Midlothian Campaign would endure to now. But he would be disappointed that we had not yet delivered that change.  I am determined that we will not be the generation that lets him down.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"The Government won't let my husband into UK - while they talk about bombing the bejeezus out of his neighbourhood!"

This morning, Christine Gilmore wrote an article on Liberal Democrat Voice about why she believes intervention in Syria is critical. She has a different perspective than most of us as she has lived in Damascus. She moved there in 2010 to do her PhD at the university. While she was there, she met and fell in love with Ziad, whom she later married.

Sadly, she had to leave Syria, and her husband, behind in October 2012, because it was getting too dangerous for her to remain there. She has since been trying to get him a spouse's visa to come in to this country. She meets all the qualifications under the new, family rules (of which I am no fan), but the Home Office rejected the application on a technicality. Another application has been submitted, but her husband's situation is becoming increasingly perilous. She told me:
Now the problem of course is that there has been a serious escalation in the war in Syria particularly in and around Damascus. Ziad my husband lives only 15 mins away from the chemical weapon attack sites. One day later there was a huge car bomb near our house. Just yesterday his car was sprayed with bullets and he was detained. I still don't know why. He says he is under threat from the regime who may not now allow him to leave the country. 
She spoke to BBC Radio Leeds earlier this week - listen all the way through as there are several segments with her in which she talks about the danger of her husband's situation and, poignantly, says there are times when she loses hope of seeing him alive again.

Surely the Home Office should be doing something to help UK citizens' families and spouses on humanitarian grounds. As Christine says herself:
Does the UK Government not have a duty of care to the Syrian spouses of UK citizens? Given the imminent military intervention should they not help get them out the country or at the very least speed up their visa decisions? Given Cameron's determination to 'protect civilians in Syria' why can he not start by protecting Syrians with proven ties to the UK? I am not asking for special measures to circumvent the rules (in any case I meet the visa requirements) but simply for my government to stop dragging its feet in determining his visa case in this emergency situation. If my British citizenship, and indeed British values, means anything I beg my government to do something to help my husband get out of there.
There is something inherently unfair about bureaucracy keeping a spouse in danger, particularly if the same government is about to add to that danger. Christine can't be the only person affected like this. I hope that one of our MPs will ask the Government to help these loved ones of UK citizens.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syria: what do Liberal Democrats want?

Last night Liberal Democrat Voice brought you Nick Clegg's view on Syria, which can be summarised as follows:
  • if we stand idly by we set a very dangerous precedent
  • the use of chemical weapons is a repugnant crime
  • we will not stand idly by when chemical weapons are used in complete breach of international law
  •  Government “is not going to act outside the remit of international law”
  • we want to stand up for the standards and norms in the civilised world
In the last couple of days Paddy Ashdown and Sir Menzies Campbell, two of the most respected voices this country has on foreign affairs, have been saying slightly different things. It's almost like it's being cleverly choreographed. Paddy is slightly in favour of action, Sir Menzies slightly against. In the Times on Monday (£), Paddy said:
What has happened in Damascus is a challenge to our humanity. It is also a challenge to our system of international law. If the international community will not now find the means to make it clear that we will not tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction, like poison gas, for the mass murder of innocent citizens, then the fragile structures of international law that we have painfully erected these last 20 years will be undermined, and the threat of the future use of weapons of mass destruction will be widened.
What sort of intervention does he want to see? Well, he doesn't really say, but he says what he doesn't want.
Here what is needed is something proportionate, consistent with international law, closely defined and tightly targeted on the crime. So no to no-fly zones — even if they were militarily possible. And no to arming the rebels too — even if that was wise (which, by the way, neither is). It means something sharp, quick, specific and punishing. And preferably — strongly preferably — legitimised by a UN Security Council Resolution.
On the other hand, Sir Menzies, while being equally measured in his comments, reminded us that intervention in Iraq didn't end well. Speaking on the BBC News Channel yesterday, he said that any intervention must have clear objectives and understand the potential consequences. He said that he was not persuaded that military action is the right thing to do.

From what I can glean, the predominant feeling in Liberal Democrat circles, amongst those is intense anxiety. This is entirely appropriate. Nobody should ever contemplate something like this without calculating the human cost. Whatever we do or don't do, people will die. What is the least worst option?
This is no six month debate like Iraq. We are hurtling towards a decision which will have long term and serious consequences and Parliament will vote tomorrow on a motion which is as yet unseen. We can expect that action will follow swiftly thereafter, given that the Commons is being recalled just two working days early. Why the haste? You can understand that nobody wants a repetition of the scenes in Damascus last week, and the longer it's left, the more likely it becomes.

Nick Clegg has a lot of work to do if he wants to persuade an anxious party to go along with any military action. The major concerns that I can see are:

Is it legal and what?

There's no chance of UN backing, but, as Jonathan Fryer argues, the "responsibility to protect" might cover that:
 As I said in a live interview on the al-Etejah (Iraqi Arab) TV channel last night, the justification for the UK, US, France and maybe Germany taking such a step, along with sympathetic Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, without UN approval, would be the relatively new concept within International Law, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), about which I have written extensively. This asserts that if a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own people, then the international community has a responsibility to intervene on humanitarian grounds, providing there are reasonable prospects of success.
We have Nick Clegg's assurance that action will be legal, but we must see the basis for that argument and we must know why it's being done, with the evidence spelled out in words of one syllable.

Is there an international consensus in favour?

My sense is that people are pretty much opposed to a unilateral action involving just Britain and the US. They want to see broad international support for action. This is one area where the slowly turning diplomatic wheels and the perceived need for speed to prevent further atrocities clash. Our European liberal partners are not so reticent. ALDE's Guy Verhofstadt wants Assad out:
Europe should show to Assad that it cannot accept in any way his crimes against humanity. We should be united in this. This intervention should not be a loose coalition of the willing but a strong cooperation between the US, the EU, Turkey and the majority of the Arab countries. We should also work together in a strategy to get Assad out as this is the most important obstacle for peace talks.
Together we should discuss how to arm the Free Syrian Army, how to implement a no-fly-zone to protect the Syrian people and how to deal with the growing number of Jihadis. Such a common and effective strategy will only be possible if the EU speaks with one voice. I call on the High Representative to convene a new urgent meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. Also, I have called on my colleagues in the EP Conferce of Presidents to meet for an urgent discussion on Syria.

What are the objectives and exit strategy?

Do we know what we are doing and have we thought it through properly, and have we taken account of the fact that according to a poll in today's Sun that we're facing public opinion of 2:1 against? I suspect that's not a million miles from where the Liberal Democrats are.

As I said yesterday, I am seriously struggling with this. My instinct is against, but where military action is proposed, it almost always is. I wasn't happy about the Falklands War when I was 14. I see where Nick Clegg is coming from, and I am prepared to listen to what he has to say. I just hope that Parliament steps up to the plate tomorrow and properly goes through the issues with as fine a tooth comb as time permits. We need a measured, cautious, serious tone.

Mike Crockart, by the way, has emailed all the people signed up to his email newsletter to ask for their views. He said:
The Prime Minister has said that MPs will vote on a 'clear motion'. It is likely that the motion will consider whether Britain should take military action against the Assad Government.
I appreciate that people across Edinburgh West hold strong views on the situation in Syria and I wanted to contact you to ask that you share your thoughts on the matter with me.
Others may have done similar - please add any you know of in the comments.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Struggling over Syria

I am really struggling with the question of what to do in Syria.

On one hand, you have an evil and brutal regime who has no problem with gassing its own people. It didn't just get evil after the Arab spring, though. It's Amnesty report from 2007 tells of torture, imprisonment on political grounds and other human rights abuses. There is no doubt that repression has gone off the scale in the last two years, though, from the murder and destruction in Homs to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime last week.

As well as the humanitarian angle, Paddy Ashdown argued in favour of limited intervention to tackle the breach of international law in yesterday's Times (£).
We can either acquiesce and so set the precedent that, even in the face of the most egregious breach, probably since the UN was founded, of that part of international law which protects the rights of citizens, no action will be taken if a great power wishes it so. In that case the UN and all it stands for will be hugely diminished as an effective organisation for the future. Or we can take unilateral action ourselves. In which case the UN will be damaged, too. Tough choice.
My instinct? I would hate it, but on balance I judge the second to be preferable to the first. Action taken with the aim of underpinning international law, even if it in the end doesn’t, is better, it seems to me, than no action with the certain consequence of undermining it. Look at what followed Abyssinia in 1936.
He argues that if one lot get away with using weapons of mass destruction, others might think they can do it too.
 If the international community will not now find the means to make it clear that we will not tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction, like poison gas, for the mass murder of innocent citizens, then the fragile structures of international law that we have painfully erected these last 20 years will be undermined, and the threat of the future use of weapons of mass destruction will be widened.
If those arguments sound compelling, there are some equally persuasive arguments against. The first is that the rebels are not necessarily going to be any better. As Jonathan Fryer, who expresses his view that the momentum towards some kind of intervention seems unstoppable, says:
 Yet still Assad and his thugs continue to try to pound the people into submission. The situation is complicated by the fact that this is not a fight between good and evil, however. Evil the Assad regime certainly is — and has been for over 40 years — but the disparate rebel forces contain some pretty unpleasant characters and radical groups that seek to impose an alien, fundamentalist creed that is alien to the modern Syrian secular society. But things have now reached a stage at which the world cannot just sit by and watch a people and a country be annihilated.
My worry is that by intervening we could actually make things worse, not just for the Syrian people, but across the whole region. Russia and China have shown on many occasions that they are not remotely bothered about human rights, so it's no surprise that they will not sanction any UN action. But surely we need to get broad international agreement to action. It would be foolish, post Iraq, for the US and UK to act unilaterally. We need support for action from the EU and others in the region.

Paddy says that we should continue to work on Russia and China too, but he specifies more what he doesn't want to see than on what action he considers appropriate:
Here what is needed is something proportionate, consistent with international law, closely defined and tightly targeted on the crime. So no to no-fly zones — even if they were militarily possible. And no to arming the rebels too — even if that was wise (which, by the way, neither is). It means something sharp, quick, specific and punishing. And preferably — strongly preferably — legitimised by a UN Security Council Resolution.
I'm not convinced that there's anything we can do that will stabilise the situation in Syria in the long term. In the short term we might actually make it worse, put more innocent lives at risk.

I think it's ok for the military to be asked to come up with options. It's a sensible step in the circumstances.

Nothing, however, should be done without parliamentary approval. That is critical. If that means recalling Parliament, then that must happen. And the opposition must be willing to properly scrutinise, and certainly to do a better job than Iain Duncan Smith's Conservatives did over Iraq in 2003. The problem is that the opposition is no stranger to wars of dodgy legality. If it hadn't been for Iraq, and their history of opportunism over the past 3 years, I'd have said that Douglas Alexander was taking the right line but Iraq did happen and because of their shamelessness over the past 3 years, I can't be sure that they aren't just playing games.

As I write, Sir Menzies Campbell has just gone on the BBC News Channel to say that he's not convinced yet that there is a need for military action. He was clear that Parliament and people should have as full a statement of the legality and objections of any action as possible. In many ways he said what's in my mind. He also said that he didn't like Obama's use of red lines, because it's just inviting people to exceed them to see what you do.

I'm happy with what I'm seeing from Liberal Democrats. It seems cautious, measured and reasonable and I'm certain that Nick will be taking the same line within the Government against a seemingly more pro-action Conservative party. I think it's fair to say that this will be a significant test for the Coalition.

In Ming and Paddy, Nick has advice from two of the most credible statesmen we have. That has to be a good thing. If he is going to sanction military action, though, he's going to have to be very sure that the Government can justify its legality, that it is both clear in its objectives and it's probable that those objectives will be met, and that it will not make the international situation or the situation for the Syrian people worse. And as Ming pointed out, these things can be done with the best of intention but may have consequences that we don't foresee.

That's a hell of a decision, and I'm glad I'm not making it. I would always be cautious about military action even if the justification is clear and it was legal. What if our intervention got rid of Assad and the other lot turned out to be even more brutal and repressive? It's happened before. What if something goes horribly wrong and we kill a whole load of civilians?

To get a bit insular now, this is a time when Nick Clegg and party members need to listen to each other. My Lesson from the Coalition was that the leadership and the membership needed to try and work up a bit more empathy, to do that walk a mile in each other's shoes thing. I have a hell of a lot more confidence in Nick's input into this process than I have in Cameron's but he has to make sure that someone is explaining whatever position he takes to our members. Communications have been a bit slack over the Summer. Now is the time to ensure they are much more effective.

As I'm writing, things have moved on again. It's just been announced that David Cameron has recalled Parliament to discuss and vote on a Government motion. That means that they think they know what they want to do. We need to see that motion and the reasoning behind it as soon as possible.

I wonder if this means that our Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael will be returning early from his trip to Cameroon where he's on a VSO project to provide legal advice to vulnerable people there.

These developments don't do anything to help my feelings of unease. To be fair, I don't think you should ever be relaxed about these matters, but I can't help feeling that we are hurtling towards intervention. I need my Parliament to step up to the plate and have a reasoned, measured, factual debate on Thursday. I don't want to hear, simply, that Assad is vile. Anyone can see that. I need to know what is being proposed, why the Government thinks it would do good now and in the future. All with evidence, please. I want the opposition to scrutinise what is being said constructively and forensically. The debate needs to elucidate whether action is legal and advisable. I know that Liberal Democrat MPs will think very carefully about their own positions.

Day 9131 in pictures

Yesterday was as wonderful as it's possible for a day to be. The weather was perfect, sunny and hot, as our Silver Wedding day journey took us from the heart of vegetarian Edinburgh, to revisiting the scene of the crime wedding reception in South Queensferry to Carnivore Central, otherwise known as the Champany Inn near Linlithgow.

We had thought we might take in a show on the last day of the Festival, but neither of us wanted to be inside on what might be the last scorcher of the year. We did, however, stop off at the scene of our first Edinburgh date, Henderson's restaurant for an early lunch:

I had mushroom and tarragon soup and their trifle which I've always loved, and Bob had salads and their dried fruit, ginger and sour cream, which he's always loved.

In the shadow of the Forth Rail Bridge. By the way, viewing platform or not, we will always keep our feet on the ground.

Then we headed to the Champany Inn for what turned out to be our best  meal out ever.

The Bar Area

Pink Champagne

Our table. That wine was deliciously smooth.

Bob's not that much of a steak fan, so he had cod and chips. Anna had a small sirloin - small being 12 oz - which she polished off along with some mushrooms, potato dauphinoise and all but one of the delicious chips. 

This was mine. The Porterhouse. Sirloin with an undercut of fillet cooked rare to medium rare. Clearly I wouldn't be able to manage it all, but I have found Steak Nirvana. Bob cooks steak beautifully, but this was even better than his

Steak sandwich for my lunch today..

When it came to pudding, I was really conflicted. Anna went straight for the chocolate tart with raspberries, Bob for the Stilton. I, on the other hand, had a dilemma between the famous cheesecake with rhubarb 3 ways and a mint and earl grey delice with pink grapefruit sorbet. I knew I'd love the former, wasn't so sure about the latter, but knew it was more seasonal. Which would I choose?

I couldn't resist the lure of the Earl Grey. On its own, the mousse was way too sweet. With the sorbet to balance that, it was perfect.

We were very well looked after by the staff, who were attentive but not intrusive. It was a truly special experience. When you book something like that you get a bit nervous about whether it'll live up to expectations. This actually exceeded them and it was the ideal way to celebrate our quarter century of marriage. All in all, I feel very lucky to have had such a wonderful time with my family.

The next landmark, I guess, is 10,000 days which should happen around the beginning of 2016...

Monday, August 26, 2013

9131 days ago....

..... at around this time, this happened...

I can scarcely believe that a whole quarter of a century has elapsed.

I was incredibly lucky to find, while still (only just) a teenager, a loving life partner with kindness, patience, wit and tolerance sufficient to cope with the position of the Liberal Democrats in our lives. Thanks, Bob.

My sister made us laugh on our wedding day. At the age of 13, she was bridesmaid, and was knocking back what she apparently thought were glasses of orange juice and were in fact Buck's Fizz, which enabled her to share some of her delightful joke collection with us.

She made us laugh today, too - and may this act as a warning to all of you to check before you click on those online card sites:

We knew she'd made a mistake because we got an accompanying postcard:

We are heading in to Edinburgh for a mooch round the Festival while Anna's at school and then this evening, we are going here for a very posh meal. 

I should also add that it was lovely that the first person to send us congratulations via Twitter this morning was Lynne Featherstone. She, of course, laid the foundations for the same sex marriage bill and in 2039, there will be couples celebrating the 25th anniversary of their marriage thanks to her.

A few weeks ago, we were discussing with some Liberal Youth types what the world was like when we got married. They raised their eyebrows at a world where there were no mobile phones, no internet and only 4 tv channels. In turn, we raised our eyebrows when Bob's Auntie Patsy told us how in 1952, the year she got married, running water and electricity was installed at the highland farm house where she grew up.

Now, I certainly don't want to put any pressure on the lady, but it would be just a little bit cool if Tian Tian could do the honours today.....

Some previous anniversary posts:

Last year, we went to church to stand in solidarity against the Catholic Church's day of rage against equal marriage. 

Three years ago, I was talking Kylie

Our marriage seems to have outlasted the You Tube accounts I featured in this post four years ago. 

And five years ago, a post on what a completely rubbish wife I am. Nothing's changed in that time...

Friday, August 23, 2013

If you haven't replied to the consultation on Scotland's same sex marriage bill, DO IT NOW!

At almost the 11th hour, I have submitted my views to the Scottish Parliament's Equalities Committee which will be considering Scotland's Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill.

The deadline is today, so you really need to get on with it. The "other side" will make sure that they get their point of view across so it's really important that the Committee hears from those in support.

It really won't take you long to complete the forms. I had a lot of help (and credited it so on my submission) from what LGBT+ Liberal Democrats had to say. I pretty much copied verbatim what they said on transgender people and the spousal veto. I am really grateful to Dave Page and everyone else from the organisation who helped pull this together.

If you live in Scotland and you want to have your say, you can answer as many or as few of the questions as you want, just by filling in this form here.

The Equality Network, whose brilliant Equal Marriage campaign, have also submitted their views which may inspire you.

And while we're on the subject, you probably need to be made to smile. It is Friday after all. I've shown the Equal Marriage Campaign's beautiful video, It's Time before - but this is something you really can't watch too often. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Edinburgh Fringe Review: Chris Kent: Second Fix

The Festival's almost over and so far I've only managed to see two show, as different from each other as you could possibly get. On Tuesday at the Book Festival, I saw American political predictions pundit Nate Silver. My review of that will be on Liberal Democrat Voice later today.

Yesterday, I went in with Bob and Anna for a mooch around Bristo Square, and make a visit to the excellent crepe and waffle stand in the Gilded Gardens. Banana, toffee and flaked almond is my recommendation.

As ever, there were hundreds of people handing out fliers. It was a smiley Irish woman who persuaded us that we needed to go and see Chris Kent's Second Fix comedy show. She may not have been entirely accurate in what she told us - that the material was suitable for a 14 year old. It was only after I'd bought the tickets that I realised that they said "Strictly 16+". Oh well. She's been watching The Thick of It. I figured there weren't any more swear words for her to learn.

We filed into a tiny, superheated room. I made a beeline for the seat next to the air conditioning machine, but I'd be lying if I said that it made the place anything less than tropically hot. Chris Kent, though, saved our lives. If he'd been laugh a minute, can barely catch your breath before the next side splitting fit of the giggles, frankly, we'd have used up the oxygen in that airless room in about 10 minutes and would all have been dead. He was, however, amusing, charming and, unlike many comedians I've come across, actually seemed to like his audience. I got the impression that we weren't there just to be the butt of jokes. His style was relaxed and conversational, but he ably diffused the drunken hecklers behind us.

His routine covered subjects like cheese, night terrors, giving up drink for a year, ice poles (just mentioning something cold helped a little bit in that room) and his experience of coming down with Mumps during last year's Festival. When he mentioned NHS 24, I worried that he was regale some horrendous experience, but, no, they turned out to be the good guys.

I'd go and see him again and Bob and Anna enjoyed it too. The show takes place daily at 4:30 pm in the Wee Room of the Gilded Balloon, Teviot.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Malcolm Tucker vs the Daleks

Bob, Anna and I gathered round the tv in our holiday cottage to watch the Doctor Who special last Sunday. 

I probably owe Zoe Ball an apology after being so critical of her choice as presenter. She did a very good job. In fact, it was Rufus Hound who let the side down, making two factual errors in his comments. First of all he said that Bernard Cribbens' Wilf Mott had knocked 3 times to cause the death of Tennant's Doctor and then that Peter Eccleston was the 9th Doctor. It's like he was trying to give the lie to Ball's claim that nobody in the studio knew who the new Doctor was.

I was still fairly convinced that it was going to be Capaldi - it would have been very stupid of the production team to let that speculation build as it had. By the time of the announcement, everyone had the idea of Capaldi firmly in their head and anyone else would have been a disappointment. He has the versatility, skill and authority as one of our best actors to play the Doctor. We know how well he can do both comedy and drama. If you haven't watched Torchwood: Children of Earth and seen his portrayal of Home Office official John Frobisher, watch it now. 

I had one wobble, though. When Matt Smith was interviewed, he said that the new Doctor had come up to him in the street and congratulated him on his debut performance, saying "Well done, mate." I couldn't really imagine Capaldi saying that. Maybe I had got it wrong after all.

My favourite part of the whole programme was when the new Doctor said he hadn't played the Doctor since he was 9 years old. It's good to have a genuine fan, who knows what it's like to grow up being petrified and enchanted in equal measure. 

It seems that Capaldi was the first choice of the production team and the only person to be seriously considered. I like the fact that we're going to have an older Doctor again, for the first time since the series came back in 2005. Maybe we'll get an older companion, too, particularly an older female in the style of Liz Shaw. That would be a novel departure for the new series. So far we've had companions who had few prospects before the Doctor came along to rescue them, companions who fancied him, companions he fell in love with. I'm not saying we should dispense with Clara, although it will be interesting to see how Jenna Louise Coleman and Peter Capaldi work together, just that I want to see something a bit different.

Capaldi has become so associated with Malcolm Tucker in the minds of those of us who watched The Thick of It and the various gifs of Tucker swearing at daleks and the like have been very amusing. It will take time for us to stop waiting for a sweary outburst, but we'll get there. I will, though, be very disappointed if Tucker's Law doesn't get some sort of oblique reference in the script.

One consequence of Capaldi's appointment is that Anna is very keen to watch The Thick of It. After two nights, we're at the end of the first series and she loves it. She seems to have the idea that this is how Government works, though. That's probably more scary than any dalek.

There are two episodes of Matt Smith's tenure to go, though. I want to enjoy every minute of them before thinking about next year's series, though.

Friday, August 02, 2013

What the hell are the Home Office playing at - and why are Liberal Democrats letting them get away with it?

So, it seems that officials from the Home Office have been showing up at tube stations in London and demanding to see proof of people's immigration status. That would be non white people's status, by the way. The Independent has more...
Witnesses who saw the operations in London claimed the officers stopped only non-white individuals, and in Kensal Green said that when questioned, the immigration officials became aggressive.
Phil O'Shea told the Kilburn Times: "They appeared to be stopping and questioning every non-white person, many of whom were clearly ordinary Kensal Green residents going to work. When I queried what was going on, I was threatened with arrest for obstruction and was told to 'crack on'."
Another witness, Matthew Kelcher, said: "Even with the confidence of a free-born Englishman who knows he has nothing to hide, I found this whole experience to be extremely intimidating. They said they were doing random checks, but a lot of people who use that station are tourists so I don't know what message that sends out to the world."
This is horrible. The idea that people are being asked for their papers as they go about their business and if they can't provide them, they are bundled up in a van, to be another statistic in a Home Office tweet, is horrible. I strongly suspect many of them will be innocent anyway - I mean, who thinks they have to take their documents with them if they are simply taking a tube ride?  Tube stations are pretty cramped anyway, so being confronted with a dozen burly Border Force types is going to be pretty intimidating.

And what if you are arrested in full public view, maybe in front of your neighbour, or the local shopkeeper, or the woman who does your eyebrows? They aren't going to necessarily know when you've been released, with no action taken, by the Home Office. They may well assume that you have done something wrong.

So why are the Tories doing this? The obvious answer is to say that they are pandering to UKIP, being seen to be doing something about this vast underworld of illegal immigrants the Daily Mail says we have. But I think that there may be more too it. They're not just trolling us, they are trying to toxify us. If they can get our voters thinking that we have abandoned our belief in civil liberties, then that's a job well done for them. They know we'll be guilty by association and the nice liberal minded people who read about it in the Independent in some of our rural England Tory facing held seats might just decide to vote Labour, or Green, or stay at home come 2015. If our voters do that, then the Tories could win some of our seats.

This is where Nick Clegg really needs to kick off. Tim Farron has already said the right things as he usually does:

We need Nick to be obviously fighting the civil liberties corner and being robust about it. The Tories don't care for civil liberties, but they have a vested interest in tarnishing our USP. We can't let them do it.

What bothers me is that there's too much emphasis on what our "electoral market" thinks. Nick's done quite well in the past few days saying what sorts of things need to happen on immigration, like exit checks and spoken out against these god awful vans. However, the language he's using is still a little too "crackdown" rather than "fairness" for me. When things like the vans or the tube station checks happen, every liberal collectively retches. However, you'll get a part of the electorate, and some of them might vote for us, feeling in some way reassured that something is being done. We talk of the importance of policing by consent. What happens if a good proportion of people consent to policing of others by intimidation? For me, it's back to first principles every time. We're liberals, and we don't agree with that sort of thing. Nick,I am very politely asking you to get your arse into gear and get these heavy-handed, authoritarian Tory tactics stopped. Now would be nice. Thanks.

Oh, and if you are fizzing mad about this, and you haven't already, for the love of goodness join Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary. They are brilliant. It'll be the best tenner you ever spent.

The unveiling of the new Doctor goes primetime

Sometimes you just wish that secrets could be kept. The surprise of a reveal of the new Doctor's face at the end of the Christmas special would have been immense. But, sadly, all it would take would be a tweeted picture of a new actor in the vicinity of the Roath Lock studios in Cardiff to tell the world. I wish they'd tried, though. They managed to keep Catherine Tate's appearance in the 2006 Christmas special secret, as she told us the other week. 

I am a bit gutted that Matt Smith is leaving. While I've been unimpressed with some of the things Stephen Moffat has made him do, I love the zaniness, eccentricity, hint of darkness, narcissism, emotion and gangly originality Matt has brought to the role. It took me precisely two episodes to have me writing a letter of apology to David Tennant for forsaking him. 

I've loved the dynamics he's had with his companions, from Amy and Rory to Vastra and Jenny - although I'm less than impressed with the way he treated Strax in the Christmas special. I don't care how miserable he was feeling, that level of abuse is just not on.And I've developed a lot more sympathy with River since we've found out her story.

From the ironside daleks to the Pandorica, to that lovely episode written by Richard Curtis featuring Vincent Van Gogh, to dinosaurs on a spaceship, the pathos of The Girl who Waited to losing Amy and Rory to the weeping angels to facing his demons at Trenzalore, it's been a fantastic 3 and a half years. 

The announcement of his departure did actually hurt. At least with Tennant we had more than a year to get used to the idea. With Eccleston, we had the whole series. With Smith, we have just two episodes.It's kind of heartbreaking.

And because of the necessity of filming the regeneration scene, the new Doctor has to be around when the Christmas special is filmed.If they had more than a shoestring to work with, they could film the scene with several just to keep us guessing. So, it was announced at midnight that a special live programme would be held to unveil the Doctor on Sunday night. 

This displeases me for two reasons. First, I'm on holiday and there isn't much in the way of signal, so I'm not going to be able to say much about it. Secondly, why Zoe Ball? I've nothing against the woman, but she's going from not being Claudia on It Takes Two to presenting a Doctor Who special when she's had nothing to do with the programme. Could they not have got Catherine Tate to do it, or Karen Gillan? Or Neve McIntosh? I wish Lis Sladen was still around to ask.

And as for the identity of the new Doctor, the smart money seems to have gone on Peter Capaldi. Malcolm Tucker vs the Daleks. I know who my money would be on. Capaldi is a very talented actor and, at some point, we'd would stop waiting for the tsunami of profanity. But the smart money was on Paterson Joseph the last time and they completely surprised us with Matt Smith. Who knows?

Neil Gaiman said that he was more inclined against a famous actor being cast in the role because of the baggage they come with. I loved the last paragraph of his article though, because this is what we all hope for, and secretly fear won't be the case:
I want to see The Doctor. I want to be taken by surprise. I want to squint at a photo of the person online and go “but how can that be The Doctor?”. Then I want to be amazingly, delightedly, completely proven wrong, and, six episodes in, I want to wonder how I could have been so blind. Because this is the Doctor. Of course it is.

Ignored by David Ward

Recently, David Ward, Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East was suspended from the Party Whip until the eve of Conference in Glasgow over tweets which under some interpretations could question the right of the state of Israel to exist.

On their own, they would probably have sparked an email rebuke from Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael. Sadly, though, this is the latest episode in a long running saga, ever since David's ill-considered comments about "the Jews" on Holocaust Memorial Day this year. He was wrong and subsequently apologised and agreed to work with Simon Hughes and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel to agree proportionate language, although there were news reports of him refusing to undergo such training. The papers were full of it at the time and Nick Clegg was confronted with a "what are you going to do about this?" question every week on his Call Clegg show on LBC.

Ward's July tweets and subsequent suspension therefore came at the end of a six month process. I felt that there had been a huge effort on the part of Alistair Carmichael to sort this out without resorting to such drastic action. More than anything, I felt that he had made it more difficult for those of us who feel that the Israeli Government has a great deal to answer for. We have to be very careful about how we criticise them. . It's to the advantage of that Government if they can frame the debate around the alleged anti-semitism of its critics rather than its own actions. Giving them wiggle room plays their game the way they want it played.

There is also the very obvious point that until both sides are actually talking to each other, nothing is going to change. Any solution is going to require a real commitment from both sides to make peace. And I do believe that it can be done. Who ever would have thought that South Africa could get to where it's got? When I was growing up, a brutal regime committed terrible atrocities. Nelson Mandela had every reason to hate them, but he worked with them to build a new South Africa.It took both sides to show willing. Look at Northern Ireland, with all its history. Again as a child growing up watching violence followed by intemperate language and hatred, it was hard to imagine how that could ever be sorted. Where there's a will, it can happen.

Liberal Democrat Voice asked its members' forum what they thought of the situation and their response was, to me at least, a clear message from a majority of respondents that they want David back in our parliamentary party AND that they want him to moderate his language. That's kind of where I am and that's why I decided to try to strike up a conversation with David on Twitter the other day, in response to another tweet on this vexed subject:

I thought that that was a strange comment. David Ward is in a position to do so much good. It's a huge privilege to be in Parliament and to be able to influence national and international affairs. Why would you spend your time, then, simply inflaming an already heated situation. Why not try to sort it? What good does that sort of comment put into the world. So I waded in.

He didn't reply. He doesn't have to. Who the hell am I after all? But the comments I had from other people showed that it actually was possible to discuss Israel/Palestine on Twitter in a way that illuninates.

It takes a special person who can build up a seat like Bradford East and win it for the Liberal Democrats. His biography on his website speaks of decades of service to the community. I've never met him, but I know plenty who have and they think he's fantastic. I want to see him fight and hold that seat for the Liberal Democrats in 2015 because he's done very many things that I agree with, not least rebelling on those aspects of the welfare reforms that many of us find difficult and unjust. He has a petition against that ghastly spouse's visa income requirement, too.

So, please, can we have the solution that's best for the party? That's David Ward back properly in the Liberal Democrats and using language which will move things on rather than hold them back. Nobody's expecting him to stop criticising the Israeli government, but he just needs to be a bit more careful about how he does it.


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