Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Yes Scotland denied stand at Scottish Lib Dem conference

I observed in The Herald this morning that the Scottish Liberal Democrats have denied Yes Scotland's application for an exhibition stand at the party's conference in Dunfermline on 27th October.

On one level this was unsurprising and consistent with the party's attitude towards Yes Scotland.  But, on another, it is inconsistent with our fundamentally liberal values, our respect for pluralistic democracy and our desire to facilitate political debate.  

I am not entirely sure who made this decision, but if either conference committee or the leadership feels that the party needs protecting from the evil rhetoric of Yes Scotland it demonstrates an insecurity and fear that is not befitting a party of our history and character.  Personally, I would welcome Yes Scotland attending - as I would Better Together.  There is nothing to suggest that we should agree with the aims of an organisation in order to allow it to exhibit at our conference - after all, at Labour conference this week there is a heavy "no to HS2" campaign presence in spite of HS2 being official Labour policy. 

If Labour can do it, why can't we?

There are some Scottish Liberal Democrats who favour an independent Scotland and it is wrong to deny this reality.  More importantly, while there  is undoubtedly a majority within the Liberal Democrats who are opposed to Scottish independence, I doubt whether there are any who do not favour a fair and transparent debate about the issues ahead of the 2014 vote. 

Therefore, to deny Yes Scotland the opportunity to disseminate information to conference delegates is a shocking misjudgment and totally contrary to fundamental Liberal Democrat values.  I hope that for the sake of the party and for democracy, this decision needs to be reversed immediately.

I for one would love Yes Scotland to attend our conference.  I would personally welcome the opportunity to debate with them, as also I am sure would so many of our fellow members.  

Or is conference now a debate-free zone?


Caron Lindsay said...

I certainly have no objection in principle to having them at our Conference. Their money is as good as anybody else's as far as I'm concerned. Now, I don't think, is the right moment, though.

The centrepiece of our day in Dunfermline is the launch of the Home Rule Commission setting out our vision. That needs to have its moment in the sun. We're debating that, not independence.

It's been amusing to see people like SNP strategist Stephen Noon say that we're trying to shut down debate - our party has had that debate and has never come close to having more than a tiny proportion of members who support independence.

Party members will do what they like in the referendum campaign. Most will be in favour of the sort of vision the Campbell Commission outlines, a federal UK with power devolved to the lowest possible level. A smaller number will campaign for independence. That's fine.

My understanding is that they were told "not now" not "no". There are another three, if not four conferences before the referendum they could have come to and might yet.

However, fact that they have gone mumping to the press was depressingly predictable - and doesn't make it easy for us to work with them in the future. They're acting like the enemy, not a neutral exhibitor.

Oh, and no to HS2 were at our conference in Brighton.

And lest that you should think that we don't allow people in who don't agree with us, The Hardest Hit are holding a fringe. I'm looking forward to hearing what they have to say. This is a follow up to the highly successful RNIB fringe on welfare reform that I spoke at last year.

Andrew said...

If they were told "not now", then our "spokeswoman" should have said exactly that. She is reported as saying "we do not believe in independence".

If she's being misreported, I hope the party complains to The Herald for misrepresenting its views. I'm sure the Herald would be delighted to issue a correction indicating that Yes Scotland are welcome in the future.

And I too believe in federalism, just as our party as supposedly done for the last 25 years. I just don't believe we have any idea of how to implement it. Given our history of non-delivery, independence seems to me to be the surest way of securing many of the benefits of that elusive federalist settlement.

Caron Lindsay said...

Independence is best way of securing federalism? Eh? Talk of turbocharged sledgehammer to crack a marshmallow.

But the party doesn't believe in independence. Our policy is for a federal UK. I don't see why we shouldn't let Yes in at some point, I agree that this Conference wasn't the right time for it, but I really can't get exercised about it either way.

I think that they are playing this up in the press entirely for political reasons. You are always one of the first to have a go at Willie Rennie if he says anything in the remotest disagreement with the SNP because you accuse him of playing politics. You don't seem to apply that rule to the SNP.

Stephen Noon is, after all, one of the SNP's chief strategists and he's the one who's been playing this up on Twitter.

cynicalHighlander said...

Federalism is a non starter in the 21st century as power and most major infrastructure projects have been built to make London more powerful over all other regions making any spreading of power impossible. If a direct link from the Euro tunnel had been directed due North with spurs off shooting either side would of benefited all not just London and the South East, too late now. London is sinking under the weight of over development built on soft clay and with rising sea levels its long term future is suspect.

After the Labour conference today decked out in Tory blue and supporting right wing policies shows that the game is up on this unequal Union no matter how much squealing the Scottish main Unionist parties do. The 60+% who want more powers are going to have to balance jam tomorrow(privatisation, means testing, nuclear weapons etc) with no guaranties or Independence as there is only going to be one question. No brainer.

Andrew said...

"Independence is best way of securing federalism? Eh?" Caron, please read what I said. I didn't say anything of the sort. I said that (given federalism is a complete non-starter) independence is a MEANS OF ACHIEVING SOME OF THE BENEFITS of federalism. There can be no denying this; what I might imagine is many Lib Dems would consider the risks too great.

Independence would give Scots more freedoms that does the status quo. Until very recently I too would have advocated a federalist solution, and if I'm brutally honest I'd still prefer it, but we have to be pragmatic as well as idealistic. In 25 years the Lib Dems have never advanced much of a practical federalist policy and during 8 years in government in Edinburgh and 2 1/2 years in government in London, we haven't made much in the way of progress on this front.

if it was a crime to be a federalist party, there wouldn't be a great deal of evidence with which to convict us, the preamble to the constitution aside.

Of course the SNP are playing politics with this. That doesn't mean that I think the decision was right, and I certainly didn't find this on twitter, or hear from Stephen Noon (I had no idea even who he is).

If you're right Caron, that we simply didn't want it at this time, our "spokeswoman" missed an opportunity. Instead of just reiterating the "we don't support independence" line, as if that justified the exclusion, she could have explained that we're more than happy for Yes Scotland to exhibit at a future conference. Just think what the media would have made of that - it would also have surprised the SNP!

Andrew said...

And sorry Caron, I don't "have a go at Willie if he says anything in the remotest disagreement with the SNP". That's a ridiculous oversimplification, and a statement that drips with disdain.

I criticise Willie when he appears to authorise stupid and offensive cartoons. I've criticsed him for accepting CARE interns. Most recently I've suggested he's misled conference (which is the subject of a complaint to the federal party). But not for disagreeing ever so slightly with the SNP line.

Caron Lindsay said...

Actually, there was quite a bit of disdain there.

You've not even bothered to find out Willie's take on this before you trash him.

He's the most accessible leader we have ever had. You know fine he would have discussed it with you and given you his take on it all.

That's what annoys me. I've often been in the position where I disagree with the leaders and I say so, but I at least try to work out or find out where they're coming from, to try and walk a mile in their shoes.

I just think you continually show disrespect and disdain for Willie because you are never prepared to even try to understand where he's coming from. It's not a particularly balanced approach and one that plays into the hands of the SNP.

I look back to the days when I disagreed with Tavish on many issues, from the referendum on independence, to minimum alcohol pricing to Megrahi. I said so, but I always tried to show some respect to my own team.

We now know for sure what we strongly suspected when Yes Scotland asked for a space - they were looking for an opportunity to trash us in the press either way. They would find some way to manipulate the event to their advantage and make themselves the story. They'd have done it on the day of our conference, taking all the headlines away from the Home Rule Commission or they'd do it now, 3.5 weeks out. Frankly, I'd prefer it out of the way now.

Andrew said...

Well, we could have made sure that there was also a strong Better Together presence. That would have been interesting. I personally would have liked to question some non-Lib Dem Better Together reps about their views of the Home Rule Commission. It wouldn't necessarily take headlines away from the main focus. In any case, allowing Yes Scotland a stall (presumably limiting them to a specified number of exhibitors) would not in itself lead to the kind of situations you obviously fear.

I wouldn't want to give any organisation free reign to undermine the conference agenda either, but it shouldn't come to that. A stand that most delegates would probably either ignore or go to just for an argument and point out the errors of Yes Scotland is hardly much of a threat. As you've said before (especially in regards CARE interns) the party needs to be better at extending the hand of tolerance.

As more my views on Willie, I feel you've completely misrepresented them. I actually think a lot of him and, contrary to your view, I have actually appraoched him about key isues. Most recently I asked him how much the party paid for the independent expertise commissioned by the Better Together parties - but so far no reply (that is a few weeks ago). The thing is, when I contact Willie I am not entirely sure whether I am getting through to him or his staff.

I contacted Willie about that wretched cartoon. I've asked him about things he's reportedly said. I've also discussed some of the problems I feel the party has as a whole. I once contacted him to say how well I thought he'd done at FMQs when Salmond tried to play silly political games. I think he's got the toughest job a Scottish Lib Dem leader has ever had and I don't envy it. On balance, I think he's doing moderately well.

But there can be no excuse for that ridiculous association of the SNP with the English nationalists, which marred an otherwise pretty good speech at conference. Similarly, that cartoon was disgraceful and should never have been put out. There are other smaller issues as well which have betrayed the same attitude - that we're driven more by dislike of the SNP than we are our liberal values.

As for "finding out Willie's take on THIS before I trash him.." Hmmm. Where do I mention Willie? Where have I "trashed" him?

As for what "plays into the hands of the SNP"...I think the Scottish Lib Dems should know the answer to that one. They've been doing it for years. More silly cartoons and smears will do far more damage than my criticism of them.

I would like to put on record that I think Willie is doing a reasonable job (better than should be expected) in the most difficult of situations. I like and respect him far more than I do our esteemed leader in Westminster. Willie understands Scotland, he understands the party's problem and he understands the need to be actively seeking ways to enhance the party's profile and relevance.

He just needs to pick his fights a bit more carefully.

Caron Lindsay said...

Andrew, there is no way Yes Scotland would have come to our Conference and meekly stood behind their stall. They would have made themselves the story somehow.

And, actually, I don't think you give Willie a fair go at all. Did you contact him on this issue before you trashed the decision? Did you contact Clifton Terrace? Did you contact the Conference Committee? Did you actually bother to find out the other side of the story before kicking off? Before writing to the papers in disparaging terms?

I know that the answer to these questions is "no". And that's why I'm annoyed.

The thing about this, Andrew, is that I can imagine you going absolutely stratospheric if CARE, or Scotland for Marriage were allowed a stall. Why all the fuss about Yes Scotland.

Anonymous said...

Caron needs to ask herself whether she wants the Liberal Democrats to survive in Scotland. If so, she will have to accept that it is the home of all liberals and social democrats and not just unionist liberals and social democrats. She and others will have to see that support for the tory-led no campaign and support for liberalism are two different things and that it is possible to support one and not the other.

It is not in the best interests of the Liberal Democrats to drive liberals that support Scottish independence out of the party and into the SNP and Caron and her ilk should stop acting in that way against the interests of the Liberal Democrats. It is people like Andrew Page that are acting in the best interests of the party by showing us we still have a place here and long may he continue!

Andrew said...

OK, Caron.

The letter wasn't about "kicking off" per se. it was correcting the assumption, made by the press, that the Liberal Democrats are a party of knee-jerking autocrats who will do anything to stifle debate.

I didn't contact anyone, other than put the matter to some Lib Dem friends. I know some of them did contact Willie.

There is a fundamental flaw in this thinking. Whatever action we take, Yes Scotland are going to be there. They will be outside the conference venue, making their presence felt as the details of the Home Rule Commission's recommendations are being debated. Refusing them a stall will do absolutely nothing to stop Yes Scotland trying to make themselves the story. I feel by showing a willingness to engage we might have made ourselves the story. That might be naive of course.

"I can imagine you going absolutely stratospheric if CARE, or Scotland for Marriage were allowed a stall." Sadly Caron, you don't know me at all. While I would definitely make a fuss if the party forged active links with these groups, a stall at conference is not demonstrating even approval. In fact, I'd love to see Scotland for marriage there. There are a few points I'd like to make to them.

Only yesterday, outside Labour conference, I defended a homophobe (leader of the "Christian Democrats") and his right to make his points. I didn't find him offensive, just pitiful. In addition to telling him that I'd fight for his right to express his views, I also told him that his party and his church would be better advised to talk about poverty and social justice rather than worry about equal marriage.

Real freedom, as George Orwell so effectively put it, is the freedom to say that two plus two equals five.

Point taken about the timing, but given that Yes Scotland are going to do everything they can to do something to coincide with the Home Rule Commission's announcement, we could at least have stolen some of their thunder with an unexpected gesture.

As for my view on Willie, please read again my analysis of his latest speech. Other than the attempted SNP-English Democrats association (which I still can't quite believe) I was nothing other than complimentary. And, you see, this is what's so irritating. It could have been a brilliant speech, but was undermined by an unnecessary smear. And that is sadly typical of so much that has happened in recent years.

Willie is the most personable leader we've had since Malcolm Bruce, and that really is saying something. The difficulty he has is getting his message out. It's hard when you're leading a party of 5 MSPs, and the media focus is on Nick Clegg at Westminster. But I've no doubt he's making progress, albeit understandably slowly. As said before (in my own view) he needs just to be more selective in choosing his fights and tone down some of the anti-SNP talk. We can't be defined by that as a party, in the same way that we should never have allowed ourselves to be defined as an anti-Tory party.

cynicalHighlander said...

I always that debate was about seeing all sides of an argument and by dismissing Independence totaly limits ones ability in debating governance in any meaningful manner, the worst of all worlds for the population at large.

I don't think the Yes campaign will go down this road.

Andrew said...

Cynical Highlander - I saw that poster (via your link) too. I don't see much wrong with it to be honest. It's stating a verifiable fact. I'm sure Labour won't take too kindly but there's nothing wrong with debating how the tax system should work, or in playing up this achievement (and it is an achievement).

Agreed, arguments are multi-dimensional. I would suggest that intellectually dismissing a particular route forward is often right (e.g the SNP dismiss the Union, the Lib Dems dismiss centralisation) but it is always important to respect and accept the views of those who think differently. Some of the most heated discussions I've had in the last couple of years have been on such things as alcohol pricing and welfare, issues which divide every party to one degree or another. That disagreement is positive if it leads to healthy discussion.

Scotland is having a discussion about its future. That discussion is not best served by those on either "side" resorting to tribalism.

Juteman said...

You can't win this argument with Caron.
Whilst you have taken a liberal view on independence, she has nailed her colours firmly to the unionist mast. Or should that be past?
She knows she has no future in Scottish politics after independence, so has to ride the horse to the finish line.

Andrew said...

I don't necessarily want to win an argument with Caron.

This relative non-story has gained legs by the way some people have responded to the publication of the letter. That itself is regrettable.

I don't really want to say a great deal more about it.

There is not a singular liberal view on independence. I believe my own view is both liberal and pragmatic, but I won't necessarily accuse those who think differently of being illiberal.

I want Caron and the Liberal Democrats to have a future post-referendum, whatever the result. That is why I think that some attitudes are self-defeating.

What I really take exception to are people resorting to pathetic simplicities such as I "have a go at Willie if he says anything in the remotest disagreement with the SNP". In fact, on such issues as Scottish Water, the police force, the judiciary and the non-meeting with the Dalai Lama, I've agreed with Willie, not the FM.

I just want to be understood!

cynicalHighlander said...

e.g the SNP dismiss the Union

Since the union has been disfunctional for decades and cannot be repaired because of its very nature.

Did you realise that the City of London is a separate sovereign state(tax haven) as the queen cannot enter whenever she wishes. She has to enter through the Temple Bar, which has to be mocked up as the original is no more, and then pageantry takes place in how she is received through it. Will any Unionist do something about this tax haven in the centre of London, no and this is where the Better Together funding comes from as they are awash with money.

cynicalHighlander said...

Independence is a PEOPLES choice not a political one and this is what the MSM and unionist politicians cannot get their heads round as they want the limelight. That is why the Yes campaign has been taken out of a party control and put in the hands of private individuals. Until the MSM and the Better Together campaign understand this the debate will continually be polarised along party lines sad for democracy.

RevStu said...

"Real freedom, as George Orwell so effectively put it, is the freedom to say that two plus two equals five."

Um, you might want to check that quote for a fairly crucial error...

Andrew said...

OK RevStu...I know that in 1984 Winston Smith wants the "freedom to say that 2 and 2 are 4", as opposed to the party orthodoxy of "2 and 2 are 5". My point, not being a direct quotation, is that real freedom is the ability to stand against the prevailing orthodoxy. As Orwell did actually say "orthodoxy is unconsciousness".

RevStu said...

In my capacity as worryingly obsessive 1984 freak, I feel compelled to point out that the Party orthodoxy is NOT that 2+2=5, but that 2+2= whatever the Party says it is at the time. It can be 3, 4, 5, 6, any other number, or multiple numbers at once...

Anonymous said...

Andrew you have a fan here.

I joined the party to promote social and liberal values like free tuition fees and federalism.

I now find myself listening to people defending £9k a year fees and defending the British State at all costs (whether or not an independent Scotland could be more liberal than the UK).

Like you, I see federalism as the way forward. Like you, I can't see it happening in my lifetime. Possibly like you, I see the referendum as a choice between independence and the UK - and I will make my decision based upon which option is most likely to uphold liberal values (not on any preconceived Scottish or British Nationalism).