The UK, not Scotland needs a Claim of Right.

September 4, 2013 3 comments

So on Saturday, Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats made a speech in Glasgow talking about the need to develop a new blueprint for a new constitutional settlement for a stronger Scotland within the United Kingdom.

Willie is right that a new constitutional settlement is needed but he is wrong as to who needs that new settlement.

It is the UK that needs a new constitutional settlement.

It is the UK that needs a Claim of Right.

A Claim of Right that says the British people are sovereign.

Historically, it has been the Scottish people who have been sovereign not the English.  Westminster has always been sovereign rather than the people Westminster sought to represent.

But that is the best thing about being in a union.

Scotland can take the best ideas from England & the rest of the UK and make them our own and the rest of the UK can do the same.

Scotland needs to lead in the UK for a new constitutional settlement not just for Scottish interests but for all of Britain’s interests as well.

The UK needs a Constitutional Convention that brings together wide-ranging views from across civic society and from all political parties.

It will be no doubt incredibly difficult to give balance to all sides of the debate and indeed all nations and regions of the UK, but that is my point.

A union that does not know or does not seek to know or understand how to best balance the interests of all is a union that is doomed to failure.

A union whose political leaders will do anything to appease one section or nation within it, whilst neglecting the needs of others is a union that is doomed to failure.

Our political leaders are at the moment throwing everything trying to keep the union together by trying to achieve a No vote in next year’s referendum.

Instead of proposing a bold, radical idea for a new political and constitutional settlement that will bring our systems of governance into the 21st century, our leaders prefer to tinker at the edges of a broken system. 

The Economy Grows!

October 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Today’s ONS figures show that the economy has grown by 1%.

This is good news. We’ve waited a long time to see growth in the economy.

It has to show there are some things going right with the current economic strategy since unemployment is down, inflation is down, deficit down.

The debt however is still rising but its supposed to keep rising. The government is only trying to get eliminate the structural deficit.

I hope like me, you enjoyed Andrew Neil defeating Ed Balls on today’s Daily Politics. Ed B was trying to reconcile his comments when he said he didn’t believe there to be a structural deficit before the recession when we can now see that is complete and utter balls.

Perhaps, like me you’d enjoy casting your eye over this article on Touchstone blog pointing out that policymakers and governments shouldn’t focus on the structural deficit, noticing how difficult it is to estimate the output gap and therefore the structural deficit.

That being said, we clearly can’t go on spending loads of money we simply don’t have but perhaps we need a new approach to how we tackle the economy.

But let’s be clear, lets all for the moment revel in the fact that the economy grew by 1% in quarter 3. We are now out of recession.

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Salmond digs himself a deeper hole!

October 25, 2012 5 comments

Today in First Minister Questions, Alex Salmond told the Scottish Parliament that Nicola Sturgeon had sought permission from Scottish Law Officers in order to tell Parliament on Tuesday that she and the Scottish Government were going to seek legal advice from the Law Officers over an independent Scotland’s position in the EU.

Yet, Alex Salmond said he did not have that legal permission so why in answer to a specific question posed by Andrew Neil did Alex Salmond say he had sought legal advice from Scottish Law Officers.

If he is not allowed to say whether he has sought that advice without permission from said law officers without breaking the ministerial code why then did he not say in reply to Andrew Neil: “I’m unable to confirm or deny that we have sought legal advice”. Unless of course he had asked and received permission from Scottish Law Officers over saying he had received the permission to say he had received advice when he hadn’t.

The full interview I’m talking about, can be viewed below. Alex Salmond saying he sought legal advice is at 10.40.

As you can see Alex Salmond is perfectly clear that he had sought advice from Scottish Legal Officers but was unable to publish that.

Alex Salmond is in a hole and he just keeps digging.

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The polling that should worry LibDem HQ!

October 24, 2012 5 comments

I’m not talking about the voting intention figures. Although, I do think that if Nick Clegg wants to make the LibDems 1 of 3 parties of government, we need to be polling around 20% between elections.

This post isn’t about those polls though.

Lord Ashcroft has had some polling done in Corby where there is a by-election on November 15th.

The poll does show we’ve lost a significant amount of support but at this point, we’re used to that.

What is worrying is who the voters said was the best party on key issues.

On growing the economy, creating jobs, cutting the deficit and the debt, the NHS, schools, Europe, crime, welfare and immigration, the LibDems hovered between 6-8%.

The only issue where the LibDems did well was on protecting the environment where 26% said the Liberal Democrats had the right approach.

This is only Corby voters so can’t be applied nationally. Ipsos-Mori did a national poll a few weeks ago and the results were practically identical.

If we are truly turning into a true party of government, those numbers should be a lot higher.

These figures correlate to the support that the LibDems are achieving in the national voting intention polls particularly with YouGov.

If we want to be 1 of 3 parties of government then the LibDems need to be challenging for the top spot in some of these categories.

These reports show how far away we are from being a true party of government.

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When Did The Scottish Liberal Democrats Become Authoritarian?

October 4, 2012 6 comments

I have been shocked and surprised by the actions taken by the Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader, Willie Rennie in recent days.

It all started when the Herald published an article, accurately reporting that Scottish Conference Committee and Scottish Lib Dem HQ (SLDHQ) refused to let Yes Scotland have a stall on the same commercial terms as everybody else.

The Liberal Democrats are generally praised by the media for being comfortable and relaxed enough to allow members to genuinely debate and pass policy motions including when we go against the wishes of the party leadership. If you look at our recent Federal Conference, Jo Shaw helped defeat the leadership on the issue of secret courts. If we look back to before the election, the leadership was defeated not once but twice on the issue of dropping one of our key policies i.e. our policy on scrapping tuition fees. All Nick & Vince could convince conference to vote for was a phasing out of tuition fees over six years.

What makes our party so great is that we can speak out, it is not only allowed but also encouraged for members to have their own opinions and to express them. Unlike the Labour & Conservative parties, we are not drones, who believe what they are told to believe by their party HQ.

It is because of that liberal democratic tradition in our party that I believed it went against liberal values of allowing people to make their own decisions and encouraging debate to refuse Yes Scotland a stall at conference.

Now like Willie Rennie, I am prepared to be “awkward” (Willie’s word) when it comes to standing up for liberal principles. If the issue really was one of capacity at the Vine Venue, which I don’t believe because I was there at last years Autumn Conference and the addition of a single, solitary stall should not have posed a problem.

So when Andrew Page approached me with a letter to the Herald that spoke out for liberal democratic principles, I was happy to put my name alongside the others. Andrew, himself was approached by someone who had voted for Andrew and the LibDems previously. This LibDem voter was himself exasperated that the party could do such a thing & it was the LibDem voter who drafted the original letter, which Andrew significantly shortened before approaching myself, Graeme Cowie, Allan Heron, Norman Fraser, Gerry McGregor & Alex Dingwall.

What truly shocks me, is the way Willie Rennie has since handled the issue. Instead of shrugging it off, telling us he’s heard our concerns and that as liberals it is a healthy part of being in a liberal democracy for members to air their grievances in public as well as in private. Willie Rennie has sought to assert his authority and control over us mere members. Rennie acted in a way ill-befitting a liberal leader.

Willie Rennie, today wrote a letter (see bottom for the full letter) to all those who signed the letter to the Herald, in part explaining the decision of the leadership and conference committee to refuse the application but also and more importantly to admonish those who expressed a different view from that of the leadership.

Willie once criticised Alex Salmond for running a tight ship and not allowing MSPs & members of his party to speak out, yet here is Willie now trying to exert the same kind of control over his party as Alex Salmond does.

Since when does a member of a liberal party have to run things through central office.

Not one person who signed the letter did so to undermine or disrespect Willie Rennie or the party. We signed the letter to stick up for liberal principles in the open.  Not one person in our chat about it, when Andrew asked if we should run with the letter thought of going to through the bureaucracy that is conference committee.

While Willie and others within the party think we should have gone through Conference Committee or HQ before sending the letter and aired our grievance in private, I disagree. Going about it internally would have achieved nothing as there would still have been a negative story about the party in the press saying how undemocratic we are. If people like me, don’t ever speak out when our party is in the wrong, nobody will listen to us when the party is doing the right thing.

I understand why HQ refused the application on political grounds. After all we as a party in October want the media to report about the Home Rule Commission report which should be out within the next fortnight.

That being said, I don’t see why we couldn’t have accommodated them at Spring Conference, we could have perhaps have offered them a fringe event that included a wide range of views on Scotland & the UKs constitutional future on the panel.

The problem I have is that it is far easier to defend decisions when all it takes to defend the decision is citing our values.

I can’t defend a decision such as refusing Yes Scotland a very small platform to be part of our internal democratic process at conference by citing our values.

Our values state we are a pluralistic, tolerant party.

The Scottish party when it comes to Scottish independence and the SNP are anything but. When it comes to this issue, the Scottish party are intolerant, petty and behave like children. I expect that from Labour & the Tories but not the Liberal Democrats.

Not one of us who signed the letter are rebels. We did not do it to undermine Willie or the party. The letter will only undermine Willie if he lets it. We come from different sides of the independence debate. We didn’t sign it because we thought Willie inaccessible.

Every single one of us signed it to stick up for liberal, open, pluralistic, democratic principles.

The Admonishment Letter in Full

Dear Nicola,

I am not sure what is gained from members communications with me through the Herald newspaper on our conference fringe line-up. You know that I have made myself accessible to all members in my time as leader to discuss any issue.

If you had shown me the courtesy of contacting me I would have explained our decision to you. It wasn’t easy and was finely balanced.

On the one hand, it could have shown that our party is relaxed with our policy position, open to it being tested at the heart of our conference and confident in the stated position of the vast majority of our members who support Scotland staying as part of the UK. We could also have banked the fee we could charge for the space.

On the other, it could have detracted from our messages for the conference. Even without some kind of stunt on the day their presence would have been a focus for the media. As we don’t get too many opportunities to promote our own message the last point is important.

It is the clear wish of members that we promote our vision of a federal UK. That is what I want our focus to be on as we unveil the Home Rule Commission Report.

In the end we decided not to offer Yes Scotland a space as we believed promoting our party’s views must come before commercial opportunity.

Whatever our response to their approach, it would have been made into a story by Yes Scotland. A rejection has been portrayed as not democratic. An acceptance would be used to indicate growing support for independence in the party. I’d rather not have anything to do with people who treat us like that.

It is a matter of deep regret for me that you have chosen to show me such disrespect in sharing your views with the media without speaking to me first.

Yours Sincerely

Willie Rennie MSP

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Nick Clegg: “Our Future is Ours to Make”

September 29, 2012 3 comments

Ah, the Great Leader’s speech. The main & last event of the Liberal Democrat party conference on Wednesday, was I don’t know how to describe it other than a muddled mess. It had great bits, don’t get me wrong. Parts of the speech made me when I watched it live, think Clegg is the man of the moment, the guy with the ability and determination to take on the vested interests and win.

Yet, at other times, his speech made me think “actually, you don’t get it. You’ll lead this party into opposition for another century and we as a party are blindly following”.

I finished watching being more conflicted about Nick’s leadership. With one hand, I want him to be Prime Minister, with the other I see him leading us to an electoral abyss.

The speech started off with a slight groan that he was going to be yet another politician to politicise the Olympics and Paralympics but I thought he handled it quite well.

The way he showed that behind each Olympian or Paralympian stood a coach. Behind that coach stood a team of physios and trainers. Each member of the team is using their individual talents to come together to do something extraordinary. Nick built on that theme by looking back at the riots and seeing that teams of individuals who came together to clean up Britain. Nick pointed to Maurice Reeves who started up his furniture store again and on the walls of the new store were pictures of young people with messages of hope.

I have to say this part reminded me of Obama’s “Yes we can” campaign of 2008. It also reminded me of his speech a few weeks ago where he tried to make the same message, that we all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. That we can build things together.

I was hoping that this would be a white British Obama speech, but I was disappointed because it quickly fell away into a muddled mesh of words that ended up being too much for political wonks. It failed to inspire either the activists. More importantly, it failed to show the electorate as a whole what we, the Liberal Democrats are about.

Nothing shows what a mess the speech was more than the ending. Nick paraphrased Grimond and Steel: “I see generations of Liberals marching towards the sound of gunfire.(Grimond) And yes, I see them going back to their constituencies to prepare for government. (Steel)”

Nick ended up finishing with: “That’s the prize. It’s within our grasp. So let’s go for it.”

To paraphrase the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons: Worst. Ending. To. A. Speech. Ever.

Despite the limp ending, what made me conflicted about this speech and about Nick’s Leadership as a whole was really the core message of the speech.

The speech was really about the Clegg project.

Clegg was telling us as a party, where he as leader wanted to take the party and how we were going to get there.

He was effectively trying to win back those people like myself who are critical of exactly where he is leading us as a party. Of course there are others in the party, who aren’t just trying to provide constructive criticism but who are actively calling for Nick to stand down.

It didn’t work though. At least not for me.

I’m on board with the aims of the Clegg project. I don’t want the LibDems to be a party of protest. I want the party to be one of 3 parties of government. Better yet, I want the party to be one of 2 parties of government.

So up to that point, I’m 100% behind Nick.

The problem I have with Nick and his leadership is his strategy of making us, one of 3 parties of government. Nick’s sell to the electorate is:

are you ready to trust Labour with your money again? And do you really think the Tories will make Britain fairer?

To use the colour analogy that Nick used in his speech. Nick wants the Liberal Democrats not to be yellow i.e. a colour that is incomparable to either red or blue. Nick wants to turn the Liberal Democrats, purple.

He wants to be Tory Blue enough so people trust us on the economy and Labour Red enough, so that we can be trusted to help the poor, the vulnerable and make Britain better.

The problem is we’re already there.

We’re being attacked from the right for being too red. We’re being attacked from the left for being too blue.

Nick might think that’s the perfect place to be but I say that has left us on 8% in the polls and leading us to become a party of perpetual opposition once again.

To use a slightly different analogy. If you go out on the pull with someone that looks completely different to you. Each of you will probably attract the attention of about half of the opposite sex (or same sex if your that way inclined). Now if you find someone who looks similar to you but slightly uglier to go out with you as well then you’ll find that the majority of the attention of the opposite sex comes to you. However, if the third person that you and your mate go out with is a slightly uglier version of your mate then the majority of the attention of the opposite sex goes to your mate. (This by the way can be much better explained by Dan Ariely here from about 11 mins in, I recommend you watch the link.)

The reason, I use that analogy is that for so many years we were seen as the similar but slightly uglier version of Labour. People looking at the Lib Dems and Labour would think that Labour were the far superior option. Therefore they would vote Labour.

Now we’re in coalition with the Tories, those voters who saw as the inferior Labour party have left to join Labour. The coalition is also now painting us, as similar but slightly uglier version of the Tories, so come 2015 who are they going to vote for? Us or the Tories, well its a no-brainer, they are going to vote for the Tories.

Nick has recently hired Ryan Coetzee (the former Director of Strategy for the DA in South Africa) who has an impressive record of building the DA vote share up from almost nothing to the largest party in a 7 party coalition that unseated the ANC. I’m interested in seeing what his strategy will be.

I’m particularly interested in seeing if he is capable of making the other parties look like similar but slightly uglier versions of the Liberal Democrats rather than the other way around.

One of the best lines of Nick’s speech was “Our Future is Ours to Make”. Indeed the future is ours to make, Nick. But what future will you make for the Liberal Democrats? I hope to see us as one of 3 parties of government but I fear your making our future one of perpetual opposition.

We Are What We Eat!

September 25, 2012 1 comment

This post was originally posted on Liberal Youth’s blogging platform The Libertine on the 25th of September 2012.

So said one delegate speaking on the Good Food Shouldn’t Cost The Earth motion at Conference on Sunday 23rd September.

Now that has some truth; what we eat has a significant impact on how healthy we are.

The motion before Conference spoke of how important it was to eat healthily, and for government to promote healthy eating behaviour and give us citizens the ability to make informed choices about what foods we consume.

It should have been an interesting debate but it wasn’t. The debate was sidetracked by the farming and agricultural parts of the motion to promote sustainable food production, as well as one speaker who devoted his whole speech to arguing for legislating for the “traffic lights” system to be used on all food labels.

I know Liberal Reform were keen to see this motion voted down because of the “consultation on fiscal measures such as the taxation of heavily sugared drinks” and the “adopting a timetable to achieve a minimum of 30 per cent organic food.”

I’m against those things for the same reasons as Liberal Reform are but I also have another reason which I’ll come to in a moment.

What surprised me most about a debate on a motion which was primarily about healthy eating to try and combat the problem of obesity and obesity-related diseases, was that exercise was not mentioned once.

Now, I’m borderline obese but incredibly fit. I’ve got a lot of fat on me but my gym says that I’ve got one of the highest, if not the highest, target in the whole entire club. That means, all the machines I work on are tougher for me than anybody else in the club.

I also had bloodwork done recently and all came back normal. In fact, as my GP remarked, that my cholesterol was excellent and that those levels were rarely seen in the West of Scotland. I don’t live in the healthiest parts of Scotland.

What matters most in healthy living is not necessarily what you eat but how your body processes what you eat.

Science is only just beginning to delve into this. Research being done in the UK by Professor Jamie Timmons is showing that with just 3 minutes of high intensity exercise a week, you can dramatically increase your body’s insulin sensitivity i.e. reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

Research being done predominantly in America is showing that if you ‘calorie restrict’ or fast at least 2 days a week, you can also reduce your risk of developing certain cancers, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

This research is showing that if you fast 2 days a week (by eating 500-600 calories on a fast day) or fast on alternate days a.k.a. alternate day fasting, then you can eat foods that are high in saturated fats or loads of sugar and not see any rise in cholesterol or blood glucose or any other health indicator related to those so called “unhealthy” foods.

As someone who tries to put the science to the test and uses it to improve my health, why should I be punished by taxing the foods and drinks I eat on feed days (non-fasting days) because other people are choosing not to regulate how their bodies process these foods?

A party that claims to make evidenced-based policy has just passed a motion that fails to even ask the question of “how do our bodies process the food we eat and how does that affect our health?” We failed to ask if there are there other ways of regulating how our bodies process, through exercise or other means?

When it comes to healthy eating and exercise, one size does not fit all, yet we as a party, have just passed a motion that tries to say that one size does fit all.

The party that claims individualism, has just passed a motion, claiming that when it comes to how our bodies process food, we are all the same. It was almost like I was watching the Labour party conference, instead of the Liberal Democrat party conference.

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