Sunday, September 29, 2013

Well, of course Mark Darcy had to die...

In between working on Susan Leslie's campaign for  the Dunfermline by-election campaign, I have spent the day in mourning. And if you tell me that you can't mourn the death of a fictional character, I will simply respond that you have no soul.

Bridget Jones author Helen Fielding has revealed that she has killed off her hero, human rights lawyer Mark Darcy. Bridget is now a widowed single mum with much younger boyfriend. And if you think I'm being silly about it, you should know that it's the second most read story on the BBC website.

I wonder if Mark Darcy would have been quite as popular if he hadn't been played so perfectly by Colin Firth. Who can forget that wonderful fight scene with Hugh Grant to It's Raining Men? The success of the first film was down to the marriage of Firth's acting, Sharon Maguire's novel directing, and Helen Fielding's writing.

That Darcy is gone, though, shouldn't really have come as a surprise to us. We should have sussed it as soon as Fielding let us know that she was writing another book. Surely Bridget would have learned her lesson in the Edge of Reason. There's no way that Mark and Bridget would split up. It just wouldn't be credible and even if they did, it would just be a re-run of EoR. Boring.

No, if the Bridget Jones story is to become a trilogy, Darcy had to die. It was the only way. Yes, I'm sad and I think it's a course fraught with danger, but of course I'm going to buy Mad about the boy when it comes out in just 11 days' time. Why wouldn't I?

But why do I say fraught with danger? Well, I made the stupid mistake of reading Bridget Jones on a train. If you read a book that is laugh out loud, tears down the face hilarious, you need to do it in private or people look at you as if they are terrified of you. Edge of Reason wasn't quite as funny, but it was still on the light side of light entertainment. This book might well have a toyboy and nits and all the usual sorts of scrapes, but it's going to have real pathos and sadness intertwined all the way through it as we find out more about Darcy's demise. There is a risk that this book will try comedy and tragedy and fail at both. It can't be the Bridget Jones we know and love, can it? It's supposed to be frothy and frivolous and I don't see how it can be. I can't wait to find out, though.

Grumps and the Wicked Witch are back in business

Susan Leslie's campaign in the Dunfermline by-election is off to a flying start. I'm sitting in the office in the town centre working on emails and phone calls and sending people out with leaflets and canvass cards. It's quite emotional being back here, having spent 4 years as part of Willie Rennie's team when he was the MP. I am proud of what he and Jim Tolson did for the area and for the people of West Fife.

Our office was always so busy and people knew they could rely on us to fight as hard as we possibly could for them. They remember that time, too, as Willie and Susan Leslie knock on doors, welcoming them warmly.

While the Labour & SNP candidates argue about where they live or about apologising for Bill Walker, Susan's talking about things people care about like the local hospital. The SNP have not delivered much for Dunfermline: understaffed hospitals mean long waiting times and 1200 local college places have been lost. They could do so much more to ensure young people have apprenticeships and learning opportunities. And Alex Salmond says decent nursery education for 2 year olds, delivered in England for 40% of the poorest children by the Liberal Democrats, isn't a priority for him.

This campaign sees me reunited with my old friend Derek Barrie. I love him to bits. Don't tell him that, though. I'm safe saying it here because it's on the internet, where he never goes. He hasn't even read the post I wrote on his 70th birthday last year.

Derek was the party's chief of staff when I was Campaigns & Candidates Convener. together with Iain Smith, we did our best to support candidates across Scotland in the run up to the 2005 general election and beyond. He is the organised one and I am the Mother Hen. We might bicker like anything but we do work pretty well together.  Although calling me the Wicked Witch of West Lothian is a right cheek.

So, if you have some free time, or even if you don't just come anyway, get yourself over to Dunfermline to join in our lively, busy and fun campaign. We have an excellent, friendly & feisty candidate, a good record of delivering for this town and cake. And gluten free Jaffa cakes.

It is good to have the old team reunited and to see new faces in the Dunfermline HQ. People are coming to help Susan because they've been impressed by her.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Actually, ASDA, apologising for that "mental patient" Hallowe'en costume is not enough

So, ASDA thought it was a good idea to put up a gruesome Hallowe'en outfit and bill it as a "mental patient's" outfit.

Gee, thanks. That sort of stereotype of people with mental health problems is why I lost my teens to Depression and a good bit of my 20s to Depression and Anxiety. If it had been easier to talk about these things, maybe, just maybe, I'd have had the help I needed sooner. Encouraging such awful and inaccurate stereotypes is offensive and irresponsible

What gets me is that more than one person must have seen that before it went live. Why did it not ring alarm bells with them? It just shows how deeply prejudices are engrained and how much we still have to do to challenge the stigma of mental illness.

But, anyway, it's fine now. ASDA have apologised and donated a sum to a mental health charity. Actually, not, it's not. They deserve to take some punishment for ever having done it in the first place. It dawned on me that a day's boycott is the very least that they deserve.

With Scottish Mental Health Awareness Week beginning on 4th October, it dawns on me that Saturday 5th might be a good day to ask people not to shop there.

Tesco and Amazon, too, have been guilty of the same sort of thing, so they can share the pain, too. And anyone else who thinks it's ok to cast people with mental illness in that way, making it more difficult for them to seek the help that they need. You worry how your family, your friends, your employer would react enough without these stores planting the ridiculous idea that you're about to run amok with a meat cleaver.

There are times when saying sorry isn't enough, and this is one of them.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Go home poster vans still up in Glasgow despite the best efforts of Liberal Democrats

We know that Liberal Democrats within the Government have said that there will be no repetition of the Go Home poster vans which were sent to drive round certain boroughs in London.
We also know that there will be no repetition of the Go home posters displayed in the Glasgow UKBA office, again thanks to Liberal Democrats within the coalition. Sadly, though, these posters have not been taken down as some asylum seekers I met earlier this week at the Liberal Democrat Seekers of Sanctuary fringe meeting on Monday were able to verify on Tuesday afternoon.

Speaking at Monday's meeting, Nico, from Zimbabwe, told us that when he saw the posters he felt like he wasn't welcome in this country.

How good would it be if these posters could be taken down early? They only have two weeks to go, but that's two weeks too long in my opinion.

We know that Michael Moore, Secretary of State for Scotland, wrote a strongly worded letter to Home Secretary Theresa May asking for the posters to be taken down. I believe the word "distasteful" was used. A measure of the strength of feeling is that Scottish leader Willie Rennie has, unusually, signed an SNP MSP's motion on the subject. Lord Greaves has also made known his feelings on the subject to the Home Office.

Setting the Record StraightThe Liberal Democrats for seekers of sanctuary fringe was very well attended. We enjoyed a delicious Indian buffet in the India Quay restaurant. We heard from several people who have fled persecution to come to this country.  Nico, mentioned above, came here from Zimbabwe at the age of 25 in 2000. His case has been going on for so long that the Zimbabweans can't trace him on their identity database which was set up after he left. This has led the Home Office to refuse his application for asylum. Currently, he's waiting to be evicted from his flat as he isn't entitled to live there even though he's appealing the decision. Imagine not knowing from one day to the next if you are going to have a roof over your head. Nico has no income, is not allowed to work and has to rely on charity for food.

I also spoke to Khalil who was granted leave to remain. He's been in the UK for two years and was destitute and homeless to begin with. He was a human rights journalist in Kurdistan and told me how, after 10 people were killed and over 400 injured at a pro Tunisia/Egypt rally during the Arab Spring, he fled. Initially his application for asylum was refused because he was told that he could go and live in Basra or Baghdad.

The meeting also heard from Roger Roberts who compelled us to speak up for those people. He had also produced a leaflet which he asked us to distribute. Called Setting the Record Straight,it takes down some of the most popular misconceptions and myths surrounding migration. There is an accompanying Facebook page and Twitter account.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

No new nukes #ldconf

This morning Conference debates defence, including the future of our nuclear deterrent. The main motion incorporates the idea of ending continuous at sea deterrence. There is an amendment calling for no renewal of a nuclear deterrent at all.

It should come as a surprise to precisely nobody that I will be voting for the amendment. I cannot in all conscience stick my hand in the air in support of buying weapons of mass destruction whose only purpose is to kill innocent civilians. I just can't do it.

It seems obvious to me that if we spent our billions on humanitarian aid in the world's flash points, then that would have a much greater impact on world peace than keeping a nuclear arsenal, no matter how small. Bottom line is I don't want a nuke with my name on it killing hundreds of thousands of people.

That is the exact point I asked Shirley Williams during her Q & A at Scottish Conference on Saturday. 

Another worry I have is that if we go for abandoning continuous deterrence, what effect would it have on an international crisis if we started loading them onto a sub. It's bound to ramp things up and even provoke a pre-emptive attack of some description.

I am not hugely hopeful that that the amendment will pass, but I have to support it. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The #talknottech campaign is go! F17 must be referred back or defeated #ldconf

This will be quick - I need to catch a train in 20 minutes and I'm still at kitchen table with towel round my head.

Remember how I told you about how Federal Conference Committee had bizarrely rejected a very sensible amendment which would have given us a great debate on internet porn?

Well, FCC rejected the appeal on that amendment too. So the #talknottech campaign needs to move up a gear. We want decent sex and relationship education to be a the heart and soul of any policy on this. Filters will not solve and may actually harm by blocking sites that give information on, say, LGBT issues and sexual health. Even if they are part of the solution, they mustn't drive our action. We can't build policy round technology and then think we've fixed the problem. And that is what F17, motion and amendment, does.

If you agree, LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, Alisdair McGregor and lots of lovely people are hatching plans on Twitter and behind the scenes to spread the word round conference.

Please join in - and spread the word.

We'll use the tech to help spread the word, but most people won't be online at Conference, so we have to talk to every single voting rep.

Let's get to it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Laura: 21 moments for 21 fabulous years

I love my wonderful niece Laura. 21 years ago today, she appeared on the scene 6 weeks earlier than expected, in the middle of a Liberal Democrat Conference. So I have to nip home this evening from a Liberal Democrat Conference for an early family dinner, before heading back for the Liberal Democrat Voice Awards (Castle 2, Crowne Plaza, 10-11:30 pm, host of stars, dress code imaginative, you know the drill by now).

We never found out about her birth for two days. They didn't have mobile phone then, or the internet.

I thought I'd share with you, not in any sort of order, not even chronological, 21 delightful snippets of life with a cute baby who grew up into a wonderful, if opinionated, but highly intelligent, kind and compassionate young woman. I am not going to post any current photos of her because she deserves her privacy, but this was her as we first knew her:

1. That first view of her in her incubator, wearing just a nappy, and sometimes not even that as she had jaundice and was getting phototherapy. That was pretty much it. Auntie/niece bonding took place before I even noticed.

2. A toddler. In pink pyjamas. Singing "Can you feel the love tonight?" from The Lion King

3. Snuggling with a very snuggly 6 week old baby while watching Bill Clinton win the 1992 election.

4. It was crazy, but necessary, for the only member of the family who hadn't had chicken pox to look after Laura when she came down with them. She had been going to start nursery that day and got the Chicken Pox and her lunch box confused. And, yes, she shared them with me. She had 42 spots on her entire body. I had 42 on my right shoulder. But those were special days filled with ice cream and fun. 

5. Her Uncle Bob pretty much did her bidding. He played whatever part she demanded, and the parts she demanded were not in any way glamorous. He was her prisoner, or her horse. Funnily enough, Anna and her friend Molly, years later, used to make Bob be their horsie and put blankets over him and confine him to a pen.

6. A curious 6 year old asking an elderly aunt if her husband of almost six decades had been "sprinkled yet" at his funeral tea. Said wonderful elderly aunt thought this was hilarious.

7. The "Fook Nick Clegg" incident. Exactly one year ago. Strong drink had been taken. I heard giggling from the kitchen and realised that my phone had disappeared at about the same moment as a voice asked me who was the most famous name in my contacts. I was there in a flash, but that question was a red herring. She'd already put up a Facebook status that read as follows:

I love that my friends knew it was nonsense.

8. Heading into Edinburgh with her a couple of days after the above for her first day of Freshers' Week. She was pretty nervous, but made friends almost immediately and flew through her first year. I am a very proud auntie.

9. 2009. Nightmare year for both Laura and I, both independently catching Glandular Fever. Both of us were horrendously ill in different ways. There was that day when she lay on one sofa, I lay on another and we both just groaned. But we both got there in the end.

10. Mill Farm, Livingston, later that year. One of my first trips out following the Glandular Fever. Except I am not the steadiest person on my feet at the best of times. So I slid. In some mud. And ended up on my arse. My family still laugh about this, compassionate bunch that they are.

11. Earlier this year, I got the funniest abusive comment ever on Liberal Democrat Voice. It never saw the light of day, but the gist was "I can't tell your gender, your cheek bones are too wide set apart......(about 1000 words of gratuitous abuse).....It's just dawned on me what you are - a one tonne fresian cow. All you need is a ring through your nose and I'll sell you at market." So I put the edited highlights up on Facebook. Within seconds, my Laura replied "Can I have some milk". Hah. Cheek. And I bet Lord Greaves would be disgusted that I censored that comment, just as an aside. But believe me, I can never forget it because my family thinks it's hilarious.

12. A lovely dinner on the eve of an exam. Steak and mussels were consumed. The exam - she smashed it.

13. A vision, in teal, in a tiara with hair, unusually, curled, skin blooming with first encounter with a tanning gun, following her mother down the aisle as chief bridesmaid in April 2012.

14. I know my lovely husband gets scared whenever he knows that Laura and I are going shopping. But I have not taste and she does. And if you like what I'm wearing it's because she chose it. And she will always make me go out of my comfort zone.There is no choice. She's like a mini tornado round the shop. I get a pile of stuff to try on, she approves, she disapproves, I buy what remains. It's perfect.

15. This year, she's like a lionness with her baby brother. Nobody else was ever going to be godmother, but she can make him laugh with delight. He's only 5 months old, but he's going to idolise her in future years. And when he's a young lad, he's going to love having a cool older sister to stay with.

16. Trusted enough to be left in charge of Granny and Grandad's doggies last year, they took all of a few hours to end up in bed with her. Just as Granny and Grandad would have wanted. I remember a chilly day in the park throwing frisbees for Maya as Magan explored.

17. The day of Russell Johnston's memorial service in Inverness, sitting round my sister's table talking with Laura, just back from Belladrum.

18. Facetime. Laura travelling in a hotel in Lyon, chatting over the wifi. Then I realise what she can see is me in my pink pyjamas looking hideous on my sofa.

19. The worst snowstorm in some years in Paris. Laura is stuck there and it's nearly Christmas. She's supposed to be going home. Chatting over Facebook.

20. Cafe Paco, Perth. Family fun. Fillet steak. And she's only 4.

21. 20 December 2011. Echo Arena, Liverpool. Paul McCartney comes on stage. Laura's face. Beatific doesn't even begin to describe it. One of the highlights of my life. A happy girl seeing her (and my) idol perform. It was two days of fabulous BeatleMania, with my sister as the Responsible Adult making sure we got to where we needed to be. We did the Beatles Museum, and the Magical Mystery Tour with its Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane and everything. Two days in heaven.

I love my Laura. That is all.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Party in a pickle over porn. What were the Federal Conference Committee thinking? #talknottech #ldconf

I was pleased that the party was going to be discussing online pornography, its effect on children and what to do about it at its conference. Here was the chance to get some sensible, evidence based policy made on a subject that the Daily Mail could write rubbish about forever.

The motion, however, didn't fill me with joy. It recognises that there is an issue with easy access to online pornography, but the approach it takes is a technological one. No doubt it'll be presented as radical because it's not going to force filters on everybody, as David Cameron wants, but wants an opt-in system instead. Wow!

And the bit that's really important is tacked on at the end, almost as if it's an afterthought. We need decent education, as Nick Clegg said himself last week, in every single school, that tackles these issues and helps children and young people build resilience against the hyper-sexualised environment in which they are growing up. That should be the centrepiece of what we're doing. Filters are not going to help. I've written before about why I wouldn't have them in this house. I simply will not trust any software or ISP to determine what I can or can't watch. Especially when they block out that den of iniquity that is Mark Pack's blog. And even if one house has filters, can you guarantee that your child won't be viewing porn from someone else's smartphone or home internet? Also, I want anyone in my house to be able to access websites on sexual health, or LGBT support which are often blocked by filters.

The most horrendous bit of the motion was the bit that required verifiable proof of age to visit a pornographic website. The thing is, a remote bit of software can analyse and verify information sent to it. What it can't do is see who is inputting that information. So your 11 year old son could nick your passport and pass all your most personal information onto some dodgy pornster.

So I was almost pleased when James Shaddock and Alisdair McGregor put in what I thought was a very sensible amendment exploring this further. I felt it didn't properly recognise how much damage exposure to porn could do, but it was much better than the motion. Crucially, it also had the backing of LGBT+ Lib Dems and Liberal Youth. It said:

ii) Human sexuality is a normal and healthy part of life and growing up which young people need
to be supported through, not simply protected from.
iii) Explicit material can be a vital part of self-exploration and help for young people on topics,
including sexuality, gender identity, abuse, eating disorders and suicide.
iv) Government proposals on internet traffic restrictions must be technologically feasible, reasonable
in extent, not unduly burdensome to internet service providers, and must respect civil liberties,
privacy and freedom of expression.
Delete lines 19-24 and replace with:
a) The connection between sexualisation of young people and access to pornography is a complex
one without clear correlation or causation. Issues and actions often attributed to the Internet have root causes in offline behaviour, with very little academic basis to support otherwise.
b) relying on ISP level technological filters to prevent young people accessing inappropriate material
will not be effective if an adult in the same household chooses to deactivate the filter
c) Automated filters are proven to be imperfect and are known to regularly categorise many legitimate websites providing advice for young people as inappropriate
Delete lines 26-27 and replace with:
1. Work with internet and mobile service providers to better promote their existing filtering methods while ensuring safeguards against misuse of access to information in line with our previous commitments.
Delete lines 28-31 and renumber clause 4 (lines 32-33) as clause 2 accordingly.
Delete lines 34-35 and replace with:
3. Ensure that teaching about the dangers of the internet and the different views of sex provided by a wide range of pornography and human experience form part of sex education teaching.
At the end, add:
4. Support moves by the adult entertainment industry that allow for more positive portrayals of various consensual sexual fantasies and acts.
I don't know for sure what caused the Federal Conference Committee to reject this amendment. My educated guess would be that the thought of what the Daily Mail would have to say, or scream, about it scared them. We have never been scared of the Fail before, and if we're going to start changing our behaviour now, when we're actually in a position to do something, we are letting a whole generation of kids down. It does sound a bit like State Funded Porn,which is a horrible thought,  but I actually think that it would have been working with the industry in the same way that Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone have worked with magazines on airbrushing, to try to cut down on the misogyny.

Well, anyway, we could have had  separate vote on that bit and got rid of it. If we'd wanted.

The truly bizarre thing is that the amendment that was selected is, incredibly, even worse than the main motion. It imposes a bulky bureaucracy that will have very little effect and, does not prioritise education. Why are we thinking that we can just leave it to machines and technology to sort out our warped and unhealthy attitude to sex?

I really don't see why FCC couldn't have picked both amendments so that we could have had a rounded debate. Why did they not give Conference a proper choice?

As it stands, neither motion nor amendment is, in my opinion, anywhere close to where we need to be. If Shaddock/McGregor amendment is not restored on appeal, I will be putting my efforts behind referring the matter back to Federal Policy Committee to come up with something practically and technologically literate with education and dealing with our sexualised culture at its core. If that fails, then I will be voting against both amendment and motion.Yes, it would cause difficulties to have no policy when the Government is going to act on this in the next few months. I would rather have no policy than one that is so terribly wrong-headed.

We need talk not tech to tackle the menacing influences our young people face. If you agree,will you help me spread the word in Glasgow?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's time for the Liberal Democrats in Government to call for the abolition of the "Bedroom Tax"

Point 1. If anybody says I should call it the "spare room subsidy", that argument was lost months back.

Point 2. An international housing expert representing not just any international organisation, but the UN, for goodness sake, has recommended that the Bedroom Tax should be abolished. And this is not just the Guardian doing its thing. Raquel Rolnik was interviewed on the Today programme and she said that the testimony she had received from hundreds of people and Councils had convinced her that this measure was a retrograde step in the "protection and promotion of human rights to housing". She didn't mince her words:
I was very shocked to hear how people really feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why – being so vulnerable – they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis. People in testimonies were crying, saying 'I have nowhere to go', 'I will commit suicide'."
This is serious stuff. The correct response to any government at being found wanting by an international organisation is to be mortified. Then they should basically do what is recommended. I was furious in 2011 when Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill's reaction to being pulled up by the European Court of Human Rights was to get nasty both about the judges involved and the complainants. I must therefore expect any government that contains Liberal Democrats to react appropriately and do what the Special Investigator recommends. Sadly, the response from the DWP suggests otherwise.
It is surprising to see these conclusions being drawn from anecdotal evidence and conversations after a handful of meetings – instead of actual hard research and data. Britain has a very strong housing safety net and even after our necessary reforms we continue to pay over 80% of most claimants' rent if they are affected by the ending of the spare room subsidy.
Now, I know that Willie Rennie and Michael Moore have done good stuff in securing extra funds to help with the unintended consequences of the measure and they deserve credit for it. I also know that we do need to address under-occupancy. The obvious answer is to build a lot more houses of the right size. That doesn't happen overnight, but it isn't going to happen at all unless we properly put our minds to it.  What is clear, though, is that the Bedroom Tax is the wrong way to go about it. It hits too many vulnerable people.

What is not clear, though, is whether Ms Rolnik looked at the private sector. It's relevant because Housing Benefit funds the rents of people who rent privately. Labour imposed the private sector equivalent of the Bedroom Tax in 2008. I do accept that people in social housing tend to be in greater need and therefore more vulnerable, but too many are being forced into inadequate private sector accommodation simply because they can't get a council house.

The motion up for debate next Monday at Conference suggests a possible way  make Housing Benefit work for tenants in social housing. If Conference passes it, speakers in support should make clear that the Government needs to go back to the drawing board, suspend the Bedroom Tax immediately and come up with a new system along the lines suggested in the motion.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Bill Walker must go: how you can have your say

Willie Rennie has written to Bill Walker, the MSP for Dunfermline who was convicted of 23 instances of assault against 3 ex wives and a stepdaughter over a 28 year period to ask him to resign his seat in the Scottish Parliament. Here's his letter in full:
Dear Bill,
I am sure that you will be aware of the demands for your resignation from the Scottish Parliament from both members of the public and Members of the Scottish Parliament.
I was disappointed to read news reports that you are not planning to leave Parliament.
You will know that, unlike others, I did not call for you to resign before the judgement of the court as I strongly believe in innocence until proven guilty. But now you have been found guilty I believe it is time for you to go.
It would be untenable for you to remain as a public representative after being found guilty on twenty three counts. Firstly, it would send the wrong message about domestic violence to the victims and the perpetrators. Secondly, I cannot see how you can perform the duties of a MSP when many of your constituents are already turning to other parliamentarians for assistance because of the conviction.
Even if you plan to appeal the conviction the right thing to do would be to stand down during that process rather than undermine the institution you were so proud to be elected to in May 2011.
You will have entered politics to do what you believed to be the right thing. I am asking you now to do the right thing and resign.
Yours sincerely,
Willie Rennie
The picture above comes from a crowded protest at Holyrood on Tuesday. Edinburgh University Liberal Democrats President Hannah Bettsworth celebrated her 19th birthday there as representatives from Zero Tolerance Scotland and Scottish Women's Aid demanded that Walker resign and called for a change in the rules regarding these issues so that the choice would not be his to make. The picture above shows Hannah with Jim Hume, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for the South of Scotland.

There is now a Bill Walker must go Facebook page which has attracted more than 400 likes since it was set up yesterday afternoon. I should declare an interest and say I'm helping to run it.

One of the first things Willie Rennie did after Walker was convicted was to put down a parliamentary motion, so far backed by over 80 MSPs, calling on him to go. Now he is giving the public the chance to have their say as well, by setting up an e-petition which you can sign here.

Mike Crockart MP has also put down an Early Day Motion at Westminster which has been signed by most Scottish Liberal Democrat MPs who are eligible - Moore, Alexander, Swinson and Carmichael are all ministers so they don't generally sign EDMs. It is short and to the point:
That this House believes that Bill Walker MSP should vacate his seat in the Scottish Parliament immediately.

In Full: Nick Clegg's speech to CBI Scotland

Like it says on the tin:

After the toughest global economic conditions in living memory, the UK economy is starting to turn a corner. And the signs of recovery are encouraging.

Growth has doubled in the last quarter. Across the UK, more people are in work than ever before. And at a time when unemployment is rising across the EU, private sector employment in Scotland has grown by 146,000 in the last three years.

Our focus on fiscal discipline is also helping to keep interest rates low for UK businesses and families. We’ve reduced the deficit by a third as a percentage of GDP over the last three years. And we’re borrowing £49 billion less this year than the previous Government.

Of course, none of this is easy. There are still major economic challenges to be overcome. Many families are feeling the squeeze. Some businesses still struggle to get the credit they need. And, as a country, we are working hard to repair and rebuild our economy.

That means doing what we can to unwind the toxic legacy of the last Government’s economic model. Broken from the start, it didn’t do enough to support balanced growth across the UK. It was lop-sided: over-reliant on one specific part of the financial services industry to drive an unsustainable boom that left us vulnerable when the crisis hit.

None of that can be fixed overnight. But bit by bit, we are clearing up the mess we inherited. Our critics said it couldn’t be done. That the two parties of the Coalition wouldn’t be able to set politics aside and put our economy and nation first. But we are proving them wrong.
And so are you. Because ultimately it is your enterprise and your hard work, as UK and Scottish businesses, that is making the difference. And tonight I want to focus on our work together, government and business.

And the essential role that Scotland - as one of the UK’s biggest economic success stories - plays in realising our vision for a stronger economy and fairer society across the UK.

Because, I believe that the best route we have to achieving a sustainable recovery lies in strengthening that partnership between us.

For me, it’s a partnership that strikes that old-fashioned liberal balance between a Government that gets out of the way of businesses to enable and empower them to do what they do best: create jobs and drive growth.

And a Government that steps in, when needed, to set the rules of the game essential to ensure a sustainable and competitive economy; backed up with access to finance, modern infrastructure and a skilled workforce.

That’s why we’re making the UK’s business environment one of the most competitive in the world Cutting corporation tax to one of the lowest rates in the G20; reducing the National Insurance Bill for companies; protecting the flexibility of our jobs market; and getting rid of unnecessary red tape.

And that combination of measures has helped make the UK the most attractive location for overseas investment in Europe, with over 10% of the UK’s 2012 FDI projects coming to Scotland.

At every step of the way, in the Coalition, we’re fighting hard to create jobs, boost growth and make a genuine difference to people’s lives across the UK.

That’s why we’ve committed to raise the personal allowance on income tax. So that basic rate tax payers will get to keep all of the first £10, 000 they earn. We’ve already taken over 2 million people out of paying income tax altogether. And by the time these changes are complete, they will be worth around £700 a year for over 20 million basic rate taxpayers.

We’ve also extended our Funding for Lending Scheme to provide more help to SMEs. And the latest figures show that under this scheme lending to businesses and homebuyers has increased. And ahead of the official launch of our new £1 billion UK Business Bank, we are already accepting proposals for the project’s first investment round.

We’re also protecting and boosting investments essential to our long-term growth. Setting out, for the first time, a long-term Infrastructure Strategy for 21st Century Britain, with a major boost to capital spend here in Scotland.

This is supporting a £100 million roll-out of superfast broadband to communities across Scotland; a £50 million contribution to safeguard and improve the cross-border sleeper service for Scotland; and an investment in faster, more modern electric trains on the East Coast Main Line. That’s in addition to our committed investment in a national High Speed Rail Network.

HS2 is central to our 21st century ambition to build a stronger economy in the UK. We know that our competitors have been investing in better roads and railways for decades. But the last time we built a new main rail line north of London was more than 100 years ago.

Rail travel has doubled in the last twenty years.  With important routes like the West Coast Main Line hit by serious capacity issues. HS2 will help us catch up and compete, more than doubling the number of seats between London and Birmingham and helping to slash journey times to Scotland. This is an economic growth story.

Completing HS2 will help us to tackle the North-South divide that’s scarred our country for too long. Giving eight of our biggest cities, across the North and Midlands, the modern rail links they deserve, as well as generating over £60 billion of benefits for the UK.

The Core Cities Group estimates this investment will create around 400,000 new jobs, 70% of which will be based outside of London. And in Scotland, we calculate it will boost the economy by around £3 billion.

And here I just want to respond to those who have criticised this project in recent weeks. That includes the ex-Ministers who green-lighted this idea in the first place.

It’s a pattern, we see happening time and time again in this country. When a deal has been signed, the temptation to undermine it from the comfort of opposition can be too much for some politicians to resist. This clouds the debate and chips away at the consensus.

But the alternatives they suggest – such as upgrading existing lines - aren’t viable answers. For example, the extra capacity created through the £9 billion upgrade of the West Coast Mainline has already been filled.

We’ve tested our business case rigorously. And we’re clear on what needs to be done to deliver this project on time and to budget. That is how Britain builds the infrastructure it needs. And that’s how we compete, as a 21st century economy, with a modern transport system that works to make us stronger.

In energy, our £3.8 billion UK Green Investment Bank, headquartered here in Scotland, is helping to boost private sector investment in green energy projects.

And I’m pleased to say that we can raise a glass to the Bank’s first project here in Scotland: with over half a million pounds committed to a new bio mass boiler at Tomatin Distillery, near Inverness.

But that’s just the start. And with our strengthened support for renewables through the single British energy market, we are helping to create thousands of new jobs in Scotland.

And here in Glasgow, at Strathclyde University, we’re funding two new catapult centres to drive research, innovation and business development in our Offshore Renewables and High-Value Manufacturing sectors.

These are investments that will help rebuild the UK’s economy because the UK succeeds when Scotland succeeds. And a stronger UK economy ensures a stronger Scotland.

And it’s precisely because of that shared prosperity that I don’t want to see a barrier thrown up between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Right now, membership of the UK’s Single Market gives UK businesses unrestricted access to over 60 million consumers. As set out in our business and microeconomic analysis paper, in 2011, that was worth around £45.5 billion in trade for Scotland (excluding oil and gas), that’s double the amount Scottish businesses sell to the rest of the world. And the demand for Scottish goods and services from England, Wales and Northern Ireland contributes almost 30% of Scottish GDP. In turn the rest of the UK exports almost £50 billion worth of goods and services to Scotland.

Now I’m not saying that all of this trade will be lost, if Scotland votes Yes in 2014. I’m not here to create an artificial argument. But our latest research shows that the long-term effect of a new border between our two countries - with all of the new rules, regulations and systems it will require - will reduce Scotland’s GDP by 4 per cent, equivalent to £5 billion in 2012, over the next 30 years.

The UK’s strong monetary and fiscal framework also provides investors and businesses in Scotland with the confidence, certainty and support they need to grow.  This includes strong national institutions like the Bank of England. And as a strong part of the UK, Scotland also makes its global voice heard with a seat at the table at the G8, the G20, NATO and UN Security Council.

This also means that Scotland through the UK’s membership can play a powerful part within the wider union of EU, shaping legislation, negotiating budgets and driving the future of EU single market.

This time next year, the people of Scotland will be gearing up for one of the most important collective decisions you will ever take together.

Those, who say Scotland could not be an independent state are wrong. Scotland could be an independent state, but my view is that Scotland’s future is best served in the UK, as part of our family of nations. And just because you can do something does not mean you should do something.

In the 21st century when countries around the world, within the European Union, in Latin America, South East Asia and beyond are reaching out to cooperate, I believe that it would serve no-one well if the nations of the UK family were to loosen the ties that bind us together.

As the debate moves forward, it is becoming increasingly clear that the SNP will say anything to get the people in Scotland to vote for independence. That they are trying to de-risk independence and make it seem less of a jump than it really is.

But separating our family of nations – through the creation of a new international border – would inevitably, mean a drifting apart. So that the strength that we draw from 300 years of economic integration; the solidarity of our common values that built the welfare state and the NHS; and the security we share from standing together past and present – all of that will be lost.
I will campaign proudly for Scotland to remain in the UK. Not out of some nostalgia-driven attachment to the past. But out of a clear-sighted look to our future.

Just two days ago the Chancellor was in Aberdeen to publish the latest in our series of Scotland Analysis papers, which set out objective expert analysis on the realities of Scotland becoming an independent state. Everything points the same way: our nations are better together than we are apart.

We have a great deal of confidence in our argument and that the facts speak for themselves. Already the answers put forward so far by the nationalists about what an independent future for Scotland might look like keep changing.
In particular, what the economic realities of separation will mean for your business.

You drive the Scottish economy. You create the jobs and the wealth that makes Scotland a great place to live and work. And I urge businesses across Scotland to remain a voice of reason in this debate, relentless in securing honest answers about the choice Scotland has to make.

But if Scotland votes No next year, this won’t be the end of the story. A vote against leaving the UK family is a positive vote to remain within it – and to be part of Scotland’s evolving position within it.

We can’t let this debate be set up as a false choice between separation, on the one hand, and a status quo set in tablets of stone, on the other. Because the more pragmatic reality is – and which business accepts – is that nations must adapt and evolve.

Our manifesto hasn’t been written yet, but I know that in 2015, the Liberal Democrats will be standing on a platform of further powers to the Scottish Parliament. And as Liberal Democrats, we will be working to build a consensus – with the other political parties, as well as businesses and people across Scotland – to deliver this.

Gladstone, Grimond, Steel, Kennedy and Campbell – these are just some of the giants of my party who, down the years, have set the Scottish debate alight. And made a genuine, lasting difference.

And within the Coalition Government, we have a strong track record on this. Through last year’s Scotland Act 2012, we took substantial steps to improve Scotland’s devolution settlement.

And I want to thank Michael Moore and his team, for their work with business to ensure this new settlement will be one that serves the interests of Scottish business and Scotland’s communities.

The Act amounts to the biggest transfer of financial powers – including major tax and borrowing powers – from London to Edinburgh in 300 years. That work has been a priority for me in Government, because, as a Liberal, I will always argue that our country is at its strongest and has its best shot at success when we share the power within it more fairly between our Government and our people.

And the Campbell Home Rule Commission defined a truly modern settlement for a modern Scotland to be achieved through a major transfer of financial and constitutional power from Westminster to Holyrood: with Holyrood raising the majority of the money it spends. So Scotland can determine its own destiny on the domestic agenda.

Fiscal responsibility is critical to a modern, mature parliament; one that has to balance the budget not just spend the money. This also means much more autonomy and power for local councils and communities across Scotland, and across the UK.

This is a proposition that the Scottish Government seems reluctant to accept.
For example, it says it will consider powers for the Isles of Scotland to become independent in the future – yet they seem to be centralising power more and more.

The Liberal Democrat proposition protects the United Kingdom single market, one of the most important things for business. A single currency; a single regulatory system; a single, open, free market.

With Home Rule we truly get the best of both worlds. Local power and authority right alongside global clout, social equity and economic strength.

I am pleased that the other parties are embracing this agenda too. Following our lead, both Labour and the Conservatives also have their own commissions on more powers.

Many others are joining the debate. I welcome this. It is in the best Scottish political tradition to have a broad, inclusive conversation about the best form of Government for Scotland.  It worked to deliver devolution and it can work to improve devolution. And I urge you to join it too.

Liberals believe that the structures of government, and the policies of government, should serve all of the people – that they should serve the people of Scotland.

A thriving business sector creates opportunity and diversity as well, of course, as the revenue on which our public services depend. So the future of devolution in Scotland must evolve in a way that enables your success too.

This train is leaving the station – debate is under way. So now is the time for you to express your views, to shape that debate, to influence and shape a modern and successful Scotland within a strong United Kingdom.

In conclusion, the responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the people who live in Scotland today is considerable. One year from now, you will decide whether Scotland remains part of the UK or not.

You won’t just be making that decision for now, for yourselves. But for ever – that’s because there is no turning back. The future of the 300 year union is your call on the 18th September next year.

What I believe, and what the evidence shows is that, the best future for Scotland is to be part of a strong United Kingdom.

That is how we build a stronger economy and secure a fairer society in a UK where every corner of our country prospers, and where every individual – English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish – can succeed.

Carmichael: Salmond remarks ludicrous and offensive

I said yesterday that I wanted a Liberal Democrat to come out and passionately call Alex Salmond out for suggesting that the case against independence was the case against Scotland. To recap, this is what he said in a Scotland Tonight interview on Tuesday:
..let’s see if we can get the pressure on to make sure we pull the Prime Minister into the ring and then let’s see if he can articulate a case against Scotland because I’ll certainly be articulating the case for Scotland.
And that Liberal Democrat calling him out? Step forward Alistair Carmichael who described his remarks as ludicrous and offensive and called on the First Minister to withdraw the comments. He said:
Alex Salmond’s given the game away with this narrow and cheap remark. It seems even Alex Salmond is prepared to label someone anti-Scottish if they question his independence plans. This nationalist witch-hunt is made all the more nonsensical given the fact that remaining part of the UK offers Scotland the best of both worlds.
This is the negative campaign from the nationalists which says that anyone who questions their plans is fundamentally against Scotland. If they are the kind of battle lines Alex Salmond wants to draw he may very well find even more people turning their backs on his campaign.
It is ludicrous and offensive to suggest that those of us who believe Scotland is better off as part of the UK are making the case against Scotland. The First Minister should withdraw his comments.
I have to say that I had to hunt down a photo of Mr C looking mean as all the ones I had were of him looking happy or with teddy bears. And even after finding this, it appears he has more in common with these than an actual mean person.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

No, Alex Salmond, the case against independence is not the case "against Scotland"

By 10:30 pm last night, I thought the most shocking thing I was going to hear that evening was that the Blessed Mary Berry uses tinned, yes, that's tinned,  peaches and pears in her trifle recipe.
Sadly this was not to be the case. Yesterday was Scotland's the equivalent of the Queen's Speech, when the Government unveils its legislative programme, except we get Alex Salmond instead of the Queen. To mark the occasion, he was interviewed for Scotland Tonight.

More of the interview than necessary was taken up with a discussion on which pro UK politician he would debate against in the run up to next year's referendum. Salmond wants to debate David Cameron, saying that he's the most senior politician for the "no" campaign, regardless of the fact that he doesn't have a vote. I wonder if he'd have been quite as willing to debate Gordon Brown, who, even in his darkest days as PM, was still reasonably popular in Scotland, but that's by the by.

At the very end of the interview, Salmond made this comment:
..let's see if we can get the pressure on to make sure we pull the Prime Minister into the ring and then let's see if he can articulate a case against Scotland because I'll certainly be articulating the case for Scotland.
If you want to be sure I've got that right, you can watch here, at around 11:09.

One of my biggest pet hates is the invocation of patriotism in politics. It's nasty, brutal and poisonous. Whether it's David Cameron saying it's his patriotic duty to beat Gordon Brown, Labour politicians trying to create a divide between nationalists and patriots or Salmond's display last night, I really don't think it has a place in mature, civilised debate. We can all assume that people love Scotland and want the best for it, whatever side of the independence debate they take. Willie Rennie gets this. He said yesterday, before Salmond's interview:
Everyone in this chamber wants the best for Scotland. I am in no doubt about that. We just disagree on how we want to achieve it
I've written about this a lot over the years. You might want to have a look at this post from 2010 where I say:
I don't think that defining your opponents as unpatriotic because their ideas are different from your's has any place in British politics.
It worries me that my First Minister is willing to play that sort of game. Does he think that I and others are anti-Scotland? For the first time, I feel a bit uneasy and uncomfortable about this referendum. What should be an affirming, inspiring debate about our nation's future is turning nasty. Salmond has exposed a toxic underbelly.

By inferring that those who support Scotland remaining in the UK are against Scotland, Salmond is taking a risk, too. One opinion poll at the weekend had the pro UK campaign with a 30 point lead. He may also be giving encouragement to the more excitable supporters of independence. These are people who think that the England is to Scotland what the Soviet Union was to Estonia.

I want to see Liberal Democrats come out and take on such comments. Liberalism is all about pluralism, about respecting other's rights to have a different view, about making sure all voices are heard. So, Willie Rennie, Mike Moore, Danny Alexander, Nick Clegg, get out there and challenge Salmond's rhetoric with passion.

Willie Rennie talks about domestic abuse and Bill Walker, Yes Scotland supporter tweets he has a "face you just want to hit with a shovel"

Willie Rennie went on Channel 4 News to talk about why he wants to see convicted violent abuser Bill Walker MSP (TM Better Nation) out of the Parliament. He talked about how he wanted to see a recall law to enable people like him to be forced out if they won't do the decent thing and resign. Walker, you may remember, was recently convicted of 23 counts of violent assaults against 3 ex wives and a stepdaughter over a 28 year period.

In a quiet corner of Twitter, some independence supporters were talking about him. Here's how the conversation goes:

Delightful, isn't it. Yes Scotland supporter Roseanne Stuart says that Willie has a face you want to hit with a shovel.

The equally pleasant LabForIndyInterNat, who said Willie had a grunge face like Albert Steptoe's did us a bit of favour though. He posted a video I hadn't seen before from an independence debate that Willie took part in in May. It's to Willie's credit that he was eminently reasonable, and a bit funny at times. But compare his approach to life to these rather sad people. He was really complimentary about Nicola Sturgeon, calling her one of the best ministers in the Scottish Government. I happen to agree with him on that as I have a lot of time for Nicola, but it shows a generosity of spirit which appears to be lacking on the Nationalist side at the moment, most obviously with Alex Salmond's comments that the pro UK stance is "against Scotland."

Anyway, if you have a spare hour and a half, it's worth a watch. 

UPDATE: I should add that a nationalist friend of mine has pointed me on Facebook to a couple of pretty vile tweets about Alex Salmond. This one is particularly unpleasant and I link to it just to show that this stuff happens on both sides and that wherever it does, it's bang out of order.

Like Nick Ross at the end of Crimewatch, I probably ought to add in a "don't have nightmares - most people, whatever side they are on, are pretty reasonable. Let's hope it stays that way. All of us who are involved in the debate need to try and bring light and respect into it as well as robust analysis.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

How Hannah spent her birthday - the Bill Walker protest in pictures.

Hannah Bettsworth is a fabulous Liberal Youth Scotland member. She's the president of Edinburgh University Liberal Democrats and today is her 19th birthday.

And where was she in the glorious sunshine?

Outside Holyrood protesting against Bill Walker, the convicted violent abuser (TM Better Nation) who refuses to resign from the Scottish Parliament.

Lots of other lovely people were there too.

Including this one. And an honourable mention if you can guess who is holding this. 

Four of the five Liberal Democrat MSPs were there - and, in fact, I saw some from every party. Even Tories.

But mostly it was women come to express their horror that a man with a long history of violent abuse of women and who has shown not the slightest sign of remorse, is still able to represent them in Parliament, able to vote on matters relating to domestic abuse, which the Parliament will be discussing in the new legislative programme. Today was the Holyrood equivalent of the Queen's Speech except we get Alex Salmond.

I wonder what it's like for female MSPs, knowing that Walker might appear. They know that in any interaction they have with him that he doesn't view women as equals and has a track record of harming them. That must be quite difficult to handle. I feel uneasy just knowing that he's a member of my Parliament. It bothers me on behalf of the women of Dunfermline, especially those who have been exposed at some time to domestic abuse themselves, that he can have any role in making laws that they have to live by. 

I didn't take any pictures of Hannah herself, sadly, but I wish her a very happy day and successful year ahead and I hope that we make some progress in the quest to stop violence against women and girls in the next 12 months. 

Scotland Tonight team member calls me a troll after I complain about all male programme

Update: Shortly after I posted this, I went out for the day and have just returned. I am pleased to say that Peter has contacted me and made a genuine and sincere apology which is to his credit. He says that he intended his reply to be tongue in cheek and not to cause offence. I'm not very good at holding grudges, so that, as far as I'm concerned, is an end to it. 

For what it's worth, as I say below, it probably was one of these thoughtless late night tweets, made without any bad intent. I don't believe that he went out of his way to try to upset me, but this is a lesson to all of us, myself included, that we have to be careful in not just what we say, but how we say it. And putting a smiley on something doesn't make it funny. 

When Scotland Tonight first came on the air, it was a bit of a revolution in late night current affairs telly. It seemed refreshing compared to the rather tired and stale Newsnight Scotland format. They had the social media side cracked too. I mean, they actually interacted with their followers and listened to what they had to say. In fact, once I tweeted their account mid afternoon to see if they'd cover the No More Page 3 petition which had just been set up. They were great. They asked me who to contact and that very night, Lucy Anne Holmes was featured.

Sadly, standards have slipped a bit. Too often they resort to discussion between the usual male suspects and too often it's not just an all male panel, but an all male programme.

Last night's was one such sorry example. It featured:

  • John Mackay (presenter)
  • Item about independence referendum polls: Discussion with Professor John Curtice and Colin Mackay
  • Item about Bill Walker: Discussion with Colin Mackay and Willie Rennie
  • Item about Australian elections: John McTernan. 

They didn't even think it was worth getting a woman in from Zero Tolerance or NUS Scotland to talk about their Bill Walker protest outside Holyrood at 1pm today. Willie Rennie, to his credit, mentioned it and said he was going (as am I).

So, I complained about the all male programme as I and other women often do, on Twitter. It attracted a few retweets.

What I found particularly exasperating, though, was the fact that all the tweets that they read out from viewers on the programme were from men, too. At that point I got Twitter accounts and hashtags mixed up and tweeted this.

Anyway, after some discussion, I went to bed and thought no more of it. When I woke up this morning, I found this in my timeline:

Peter seemed to be part of the production team because he'd also joined in a discussion with myself, Christine Jardine and Susan Stewart. A bit of googling found him presenting a You Tube preview of a programme last November, ironically introducing another all male programme:

I am sure that this was an off-the-cuff late night comment after a hard day at work, but, even so, it's out of order. Kate Higgins is pretty fair about most things, and she said:

When people hear the word troll these days, because of the abuse and threats dished out to people like Caroline Criado-Perez and Mary Beard, they associate it with someone who threatens violence, or tells people there's a bomb outside their house, or makes vile and abusive comments. To use it to describe someone who is making measured and reasonable critique of the programme where you work is quite bizarre.

There was an occasion before, when there were a spate of similar complaints about gender balance, they had an all female panel - to discuss gender balance. I would respectfully suggest to the production team that they think about the title of their programme. It's not "Holyrood Tonight", or "Scottish Men Tonight" so they really need to think about reflecting all of Scotland. A studio containing only men discussing the issues of the day is not a good look and it's actually reducing their audience.

All the contributors to the programme last night were perfectly interesting and I'm not saying that they shouldn't ever be on. The producers need to look at the whole programme, though. Does it appeal to the whole of the audience, or just half?

Earlier this year, Mark Pack said that he wouldn't take part in panels that were all male. I wonder if this is something that more politicians and commentators should think about. Here's what Mark had to say:
The idea is to change the balance on what is easy for a panel organiser to do. Often the easy option is to go for the ‘obvious’ names, which helps perpetuate the male dominance (out of kilter with a majority female electorate and a close to 50/50 party membership balance). However, once organisers know that people will say no if they’re lining up a list of just men, then the easy option is to go for a balanced option.
This is no miracle cure. There are many other issues that need addressing too, and many issues of equality that are not about gender.
But it is a simple step that can help – help set a different tone at conference, help set a different example to people in the party as to who is welcome to participate and help highlight to those looking for Lib Dem names to participate on occasions outside party conference that there are plenty of women they could ask too. Indeed the organisers are very likely not choosing the best people if they just choose men!
 Mark's approach isn't going to solve the problem at a stroke, but it's a useful contribution.

So, Scotland Tonight, it's time to widen your list of contacts. Let's see more of the Dani Garavellis, Lorraine Davidsons, Christine Jardines, Natalie McGarrys and Kate Higgins of this world, please. You need to reflect all of Scotland, not just the Holyrood Bubble.


Related Posts with Thumbnails