Wednesday, 24 September 2014

£20 to "have my say" on the referendum campaign? No thanks.

I've had a couple of e-mail from the party today that have made me rather irate.

The first is from the Scottish Lib Dems, who have invited me to "a Members’ Forum ... at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Glasgow. This special event will be open to all members and gives everybody the opportunity to have their say on the referendum campaign, its outcome and the future. Similar events held after elections in the past have had big attendances and have had a real impact on the direction of the party. The Forum will be chaired by Scottish party leader Willie Rennie and will include contributions from Sir Menzies Campbell, Michael Moore and Alistair Carmichael, who will be able to update members on events at a UK level."

The price for this? £20 (a modest £10 for concessions).

In response, if the party is genuinely seeking feedback on the referendum, the campaigns and their ramifications - and if it is being honest in its aim to attract a "big attendance" - the notion of requesting members to pay for the privilege of expressing a view is perhaps self-defeating.

I'd also suggest it is a trifle insulting to the many who have campaigned tirelessly and passionately for over two years. The party needs to conduct an open and democratic conversation, one that is involving and engaging, rather than what is essentially a closed-door fringe event with knobs on. Those people need to be heard, their views, observations and hopes should be taken into consideration - but this is hardly the forum in which open and meaningful dialogue can take place.

No doubt Menzies Campbell, Michael Moore and Alistair Carmichael will be worth listening to, but as an exercise in engagement this is sadly lacking. It is little wonder that the SNP membership has overtaken ours this week - they offer the many activists who have been involved with Yes Scotland, many of whom have been inspired and energised by the previous two years, a new outlet for their political expression, inviting them to share in a new conversation to move Scotland forward; we, on the other hand, hold ticketed member-only events with party grandees.

I won't be going. It's not just the question of the £20 admission charge I struggle with, but the very thinking at the heart of it.

Some have asked me why I take to blogging and social media to make my political points. I think I'll let this e-mail answer that question for me...


Caron Lindsay said...


I don't think that's very fair. We never have an event like this without making a charge. Conference isn't free - and we did a Members' Forum, Autumn and Spring Conference special deal for £70 which is pretty good value. You certainly wouldn't find any of the other parties having a free event like this.

Money is pretty tight and we need every penny to make sure we get the best result next May.

Andrew said...

It's not about the "event", Caron.

It's about having an open conversation with members after the referendum.

We haven't heard anything about any kind of conversation the party wishes to have with members on either the referendum campaign or Scotland's constitutional future - apart from this of course.

My point is that an event which is for paying attendees is not going to help facilitate what is actually needed at this time.

By all means, have such events to help bring in the money. But by their nature they will exclude many members and activists. This seems all about raising funds and not about inviting members to "have their say".

So, while doing this, let's also create a wider forum in which members can bring their views, and through which the party can be better informed.

Anonymous said...

At £20 a head in a Crowne Plaza this isn't going to be making much money.

Meetings have to take place somewhere, and space isn't free. If the attendees aren't going to cover the cost of the event like room hire and refreshments, then who will?

The cost could perhaps be reduced by holding it in the upstairs room of a grotty pub, but it'll never be free, well, unless you hold it in somebody's front room — are there few enough Lib Dems in Scotland now that that's a possibility?

Andrew said...

I think we're missing the point here.

By all means, have "an audience with Menzies Campbell et al" and charge people whatever for the privilege.

But this cannot be the party's means of listening to the membership.

A genuine exercise in listening requires a more open forum. So far, this has been the only invitation the party has sent out to members to "have their say" - it's that I'm disappointed in.

On the same day, there is a dinner in the same venue to raise money for Jo Swinson's re-election campaign. Tickets are £45. I don't object, because it's not making a claim to be interested in giving members "a say". It's being exactly what it claims to be.

I'm not claiming that all Lib Dem events should be free. But that any conversation the party has with its membership should be. That's a significant distinction.

Anonymous said...

I'm not claiming that all Lib Dem events should be free. But that any conversation the party has with its membership should be

So what venue are you proposing for this discussion, that will not charge for rent of the space?

Or is the idea that the party should pay from party funds? Well, seeing as those funds come from party members in the first place, that just means that the same people end up paying anyway, just indirectly.

Nothing is free in this world. If the party hosts a meeting to listen to its members, then its members are going to pay the costs of that meeting, either directly as a one-off charge or indirectly via their subscriptions.

There's no other way to have a meeting, unless, as mentioned, there are few enough of them that they can meet for free in a member's front room (Scottish Liberal Democrats, that might be true nowadays).

Andrew said...

I'm not proposing MEETINGS. It's that mindset we have to get away from!!!!!

We've just concluded a two year conversation in which hundreds of thousands of people, many new to politics, have been engaged and energised.

The Lib Dems can use the best of technology and opportunities (that, for example, the SNP are using) to have a conversation with members, supporters, former voters, communities...a conversation that can inform and direct the party...and one in which ANYONE who is interested in talking to us can be involved. The one-off meeting is NOT the most effective forum in which to do this, for obvious reasons...

Do you HONESTLY believe that closed members-only meetings at conference are the best way for the party to find out what its supporters really think?