Margaret Thatcher 1925 – 2013

Yesterday the news broke that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had died and the UK was instantly united in conversation and divided in opinion. ‘Divisive’ is already an overused adjective in the debate but I’m not sure that anybody could claim to embody the word quite like Maggie did.

 

I’m not sure that I have much to add to the discussion as I was born two weeks after she left Downing Street and my opinions of her can’t come from personal experience but from the opinions that she inspired in others.

 

I can look to the current government though to understand a little better how accurately public opinion can assess what a government does. I don’t think it’s too controversial to suggest that bad news is more likely to be discussed and remembered than good. I don’t think anybody coming to power in 2010 could have been seen in a very positive light as the situation required (and still does require) a lot of difficult decisions to be made. When talking about Maggie, my mum pointed out that “it’s almost like people have forgotten how bad the ‘70s were” and I think that sums up a lot of how I feel about Thatcher. I don’t believe that any Prime Minister in the 1980s could have been remembered positively because the choices then were similar to those that we face now.

 

That’s not to say that I think she always made the right choices, far from it, but her reputation was doomed from the moment she took the job and it was never likely that her good decisions would dominate the headlines or stand out in hindsight.

 

She inspired some while inspiring hate in others. Some mourned the loss of a great leader while some partied in the streets last night. To get reactions like that over 20 years after last being in power, and from a lot of people too young to even remember her time in office, confirms at least one thing: she will be remembered.

 

I don’t intend to list the good and bad things she did but I do think that both sides are wrong. I think the good and bad were a lot more balanced than many are suggesting.

 

I will say, though, that whatever you thought of her or her politics, she died an elderly widow with a family that she loved and it is never ok to celebrate the death of a human being. RIP.


I am not a token

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When I look at a group of people, I don’t break it down into a mental pie chart of the genders, races, ages or disabilities represented within that group. To me, removing barriers for everybody and seeing all people equally is the best thing we could possibly aim for as a society and it is my view that any kind of tokenism directly contradicts that mindset. To try to ‘balance’ any selection of people is to categorise them by the very things that I wish we could all be blind to.

I’m not, however, saying that I’m happy with the status quo. Where under-represented groups exist, I believe that we need to find the root of that problem and deal with it effectively. Quotas and tokenism achieve nothing but to undermine the very people they are trying to help.

Liberal Democrats celebrated this week when a popular fringe panelist announced his intention to refuse to sit on any more all-male panels. A few of us, however, were upset by the wider-implications of stands like this but quickly found ourselves in a minority. It’s easy to dismiss us as being too ideological or as not being committed enough to solve the problem and, through that dismissal, I felt very much excluded from the debate.

We spent a good while on Wednesday night getting our ideas and objections together for a concise blog post which was published over at Liberal Democrat Voice today and I am now really hopeful that party members will understand where we’re coming from a bit more now that we’ve reasoned it all out and, maybe, that some might even agree with what we’re saying.

At the top of this post is an avatar that we made of myself and the two other co-authors (Ewan Hoyle and Eilidh Dickson) for the original blog post. The Campaign for Gender Blindness, however, is not limited to 3 people writing a blog. If you like our view of a world in which nobody is judged by their identifiers and in which all barriers are broken with nobody excluded or included on the basis of anything other than what they can bring to the debate then, please, let’s start a movement.

We are not tokens. We are all worth so much more than that.


Granny Whitehead

Long before I ever had an interest in politics, my great gran used to tell me stories about canvassing for her party and standing as a councillor. The only anecdote I can recall is about a delivery drop when a man chased her down the road after reading a leaflet to announce that he wouldn’t be voting for her but, not to worry, because he wouldn’t be voting for “any of those other buggers either!”

At the time, I never imagined that I’d have similar stories of my own but I often wish she was still about to compare stories (and I wonder what she’d think about me campaigning for the Lib Dems!)

Before she died, she gave me a large envelope full of some of the letters and documents she’d kept over the years and I was looking at them today when I found some of her old campaign literature and correspondence. I’m sure she wouldn’t have minded me sharing them with you now and it’s interesting to compare some of the Tory messaging under Thatcher with the Lib Dem and Tory messaging that we have under the Coalition today.

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This is a photo of the front and back of the leaflet. I think it’s interesting to note the focus on local issues and no mention of the national picture, something that can be seen all over Tory and LD leaflets today!

Grandma wasn’t sucessful in her campaign:

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The letter she got from the MP about her campaign noted, again, the problems in getting the electorate to focus on local rather than national issues. This is something that hasn’t changed much and that Lib Dem councillors have struggled with greatly since 2010.

It is evident from the other letters in the bundle that grandma must have been campaigning with her local party for a while before her candidature. Activists generally get all-member emails these days so letters like those below must have been nice back in the day!

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I also found the candidate list for the local Hyndburn elections in 1986 which gives an idea of the political make up of the area at the time (and even includes a Mr. Holden standing for the Liberal-Alliance in Overton, I do hope he’s another relative!)

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“Why my taxpayer-funded Euro jaunt was well worth it” – on LDV!

It’s been a long time since I got around to publishing anything and I hope to post more in the coming months but this week I did manage to finish one of the many half-blogs currently on my laptop and, as a special birthday treat, it became my Liberal Democrat Voice debut!

You can read it here.


Votes at 16, but just this once?

Tomorrow morning, the papers will announce that the Scottish Government will allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the independence referendum in 2014. This has caused dismay amongst the most unlikely of people: the pro-votes-at-16 group!

Last Spring, the Scottish Liberal Democrats debated the issue and, as I said to Conference on the day, I am hugely in favour of extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds for the referendum, whether or not the right is extended to all elections in Scotland. My reasons for this are three-fold:

Firstly, I strongly believe in votes at 16. I don’t want to focus too much on that debate because that could take all day and may over-shadow my point. So, let’s just take it as read that I think the voting age should be extended to include 16 and 17 year olds. I share this view with many people (particularly fellow Liberal Democrats), yet I feel quite alone in my support of the Scottish Government’s decision with regards this particular vote. It seems odd to me that anybody who supports the rights of 16+ year olds to vote could campaign against the decision, simply to serve their own political agenda (eg. “I will only support this if it will apply to all elections”.)

Secondly, I don’t care what reason the SNP has for allowing this.I do not care that the SNP are hoping that 16 and 17 year olds will be more likely to vote for independence (something that is disputed anyway) because, at the end of the day, the motive is irrelevant if the result is desirable.

Finally, I think that it is imperative that 16 and 17 year olds get a say on this issue. Scotland’s relationship with the UK (and potentially even with all of Europe and, indeed, the rest of the world) hangs on the results of this referendum and that will affect the way the country works for a long, long time. It is Scotland’s youth that will grow up with the decision made in 2014 and they should get a say. I don’t want their voice taken from them because of party politics.

Me addressing Scottish Conference in support of votes from 16 at the referendum

Me addressing Scottish Conference in support of votes from 16 at the referendum

The truth is that we cannot achieve votes from 16 if we hold out for an ‘all or nothing’ agreement. By supporting their right to vote in 2014, we have an opportunity to extend that right to more elections. For a start, the Scottish Government don’t even have the power to change the voting age for Holyrood, Westminster or European elections. Should we pressure them to change the voting age for council elections? Yes, we should. Let’s do that in time for 2017! As for Scottish, General and European elections; let’s use 2014 as a precedent for those.


SNP let us down on Equal Marriage… again!

Yesterday we were hoping to hear the SNP announce their support for Equal Marriage following the consultation.

Instead, they let us down by delaying once again.

Willie Rennie has commented on the issue, saying that SNP are risking their credibility, and I agree!

The definition of marriage has evolved over many years and I think it’s up to each couple to definie it for themselves as no two couples will take the same thing from their union. Some people marry for religious reasons and want to feel that they’re doing right in the eyes of their diety. Some people marry for the ceremony, they may consider themselves already married but want to make a statement of commitment in front of their friends and family. Some couples marry so they can share a name (with eachother and/or with their children). Some people marry for the security it offers in terms of property ownership etc.

Whatever the reason for marriage, it boils down to this: it is the union of two people who love eachother.

That should be ANY two people in love.

There’s no reason to delay a decision on such an important issue of Civil Liberties and Human Rights, especially when it seems that most of Scotland are in favour. I wrote to my own MSPs recently about the issue and most of them (including SNP’s Derek Mackay) got back to me to confirm that they are in favour of equal marriage legislation. So come on, First Minister, it’s up to you to make this happen!


The Independence Debate Explained

Yesterday I posted a blog about ‘The Second Question’ and a lot of people told me that they were very confused by the whole thing. The independence debate is likely to get very interesting very quickly; it will be picking up speed for the next two years and it’ll no doubt continue long-past the referendum. I’ve asked around and there are a lot of people, particularly in England, who are interested in the debate but have no idea how to follow it so here’s a guide to what’s going on. I’m not an expert on this but I’ve tried to be concise, informative and unbiased. I hope it’s helpful to anyone struggling to follow the debate and if you’ve any suggestions for something you’d like me to add then please get in touch!

A Very Brief History: In 1707, The Acts of Union brought Scotland and England together to form the Government of Great Britain at Westminster. Since then there have been arguments for devolution or independence but it wasn’t until 1979 that the Scottish electorate were given a chance to vote on the matter. The referendum resulted in a very narrow victory for the ‘yes’ side but it had previously been decided that the Scottish Parliament would not be established without support from at least 40% of the electorate. The ‘yes’ votes accounted for only 32.9% and, as such, devolution was not introduced to Scotland.

In 1997, Labour came to power and upheld their manifesto promise to hold another referendum. This time the referendum was won by the ‘yes’ side and resulted in the Scotland Act 1998, following which the Scottish Parliament was established at Holyrood in Edinburgh and first met in 1999.

The establishment of the Scottish Parliament was not independence for Scotland, it was a devolution of powers from Westminster to Scotland. This meant that Westminster was still in charge of ‘reserved’ issues for the whole of the UK (constitutional matters, foreign policy, defence, immigration and social security amongst others) while Scotland now had power over devolved issues (health, education, local government and the environment amongst others).

This year, The Scotland Bill passed into law and became The Scotland Act 2012 which transferred even more powers to Scotland but not enough for those who support independence over further devolution. The Scottish National Party (SNP) got enough votes to form a minority government in 2007 but at last year’s election they gained even more support and became the first party to form a majority government since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. The SNP’s main priority has always been independence for Scotland and they now plan to hold a referendum in 2014. This time Scotland will be asked to decide whether or not they want independence from the UK, rather than devolution of powers.

The Referendum: In January of this year, Alex Salmond (leader of the SNP and Scotland’s First Minister) announced that the referendum would take place in autumn of 2014. The Scottish Government ran a public consultation between January and May of this year, the results of which will be used to draft a Referendum Bill which will be debated at Holyrood in 2013 ahead of the 2014 vote. Included in the consultation were questions about the format of the ballot (including the controversial ‘Second Question’) and who should be allowed to vote. Since constitutional matters are reserved to Westminster, the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments will have to agree on the terms of Independence before it happens.

For and Against: I’m quite strongly against Scottish independence so I don’t think I could explain the arguments on each side without being a little bit biased but Liberal Youth’s blog, The Libertine, recently published posts for and against which are worth reading if you’ve yet to make up your mind.

Terms: Below is a list of potentially unfamiliar terms that are frequently used throughout the independence debate. If you know of any others that you want me to add, please get in touch.

Devolution: Devolution is moving power from central government (in this case, Westminster) to subnational government.

Unionism: Belief in ‘the union’. In this case, Unionists believe that Scotland and England are better off as part of the UK.

Devo+: A proposed alternative to independence and a form of increased devolution. It is a system proposed by some that involves both Westminster and Holyrood raising what they spend in Scotland themselves. It would hand more tax powers to Scotland.

Devo Max: Another proposed alternative to independence. This system would involve Holyrood raising its entire budget itself but passing a grant back to Westminster for spending on reserved matters.

Indy Lite: This is the term given to what most people consider to be independence. With Indy Lite, Scotland would be a constitutionally separate state but would keep the Queen as head of state and other unions may be maintained (for example, Scotland may keep the pound under Indy Lite).

‘Full’ Independence: This is independence ‘to the extreme’, if you will. This isn’t what the SNP seem to be proposing. If Scotland became fully independent it would be a completely separate state and would not share a currency or head of state with the UK.

The West Lothian Question: This question points to some holes in the current system of devolved government. There is a town called Blackburn in West Lothian, Scotland and there’s another town called Blackburn (where I was born, if anyone’s interested!) in Lancashire, England. The MP for West Lothian can vote on all issues relating to the Blackburn in England (because it is governed by the UK Parliament) but is unable to vote on some issues for the Blackburn in his own constituency because some of the matters are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.


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