My Promise to the Nationalists

I’ve made no secret of my intention to vote No on Thursday but I’ve not been quite as vocal about it amongst friends or on social media as I expect I would be under other circumstances. It seems to me that the debate has become quite difficult for everybody involved and that personal relationships all across Scotland are feeling the strain as each half of the country is battling tirelessly against the other in the last few days we have left before making what could be the biggest decision any of us will make in our lives.

I genuinely do believe that both sides are doing what they believe is best for the country and how can you be upset with anybody for that? You can certainly disagree with their means, but is it rational to be upset with anyone who is doing exactly what you are, albeit having reached a different conclusion? After all, I can and do dislike the policies of other parties without letting it affect the relationships I have with members of those parties – when you wear your colours on your sleeve as much as we do, you have to learn to put aside those differences and focus on friendships independent of politics.

As rational as all of that is though, I can’t help but be deeply saddened at the Yes campaign and I find myself biting my tongue around people with whom I’d normally engage in good-natured debate. It really does feel like this is an issue that lasting friendships rely on us avoiding. In a very real sense, the debate is creating deep divisions throughout the country and causing rifts between people who never expected their political involvement to interfere with their friendships.

So, why is that? For many of us, getting people engaged is a constant struggle. If you’d told me last year that everybody I know would be talking about the referendum today, I’d have been elated! I know people who have never voted before who are now out campaigning for their cause – surely that’s a great thing? Why is it then that things can so quickly turn so nasty when the topic comes up? Although many people are asking this question, I think it’s quite clear that the answer is simply that people on both sides are so genuinely passionate about this issue that we all find it difficult to conduct ourselves appropriately.

From my own experience, as much as I’d like to stick to the academic questions of the economy and the currency in these discussions, it feels like a smoke screen. I feel like I’m desperately clinging to the very rational and reasonable arguments (all of which I genuinely believe in on their own) but what I really want to do is drop all of that, lose all pretence of civility and shout out, “why are you trying to tear my country apart?” Always just beneath the surface of my reasoned arguments are passionate accusations like, “What right have you to make me an expat here in my home?” and, “how could you even consider risking my job, my mortgage and my pension?” I don’t want to have a reasoned discussion about who would set interest rates anymore, I want to stand up, wave my flag and scream “How dare you try to erect borders between my English family and myself!”

On the other side though, I know that I have friends who get angry with me when I’m singing the praises of the Union. I’m sure some of you are reading this right now wanting to ring me up and holler, “Why are you trying to deny me the right to self-determination?” Many of you are no doubt looking around at problems like unemployment, over-crowded classrooms and NHS waiting lists and genuinely believing that independence is the answer. It’s no wonder that we don’t chat that much anymore when you see me as somebody actively trying to block the fix to these things, and I understand that, because I find it hard to chat to you these days as well.

I am desperately hoping that the Union remains intact but if, in the early hours of Friday morning, I do find out that things have gone my way, I’m going to find it very hard to celebrate. I may exhale a sigh of relief and revel in the good news for a few moments, but my thoughts will quickly turn to the large minority of people in my country who are devastated that their months and years of hard work have been fruitless. I will feel for my friends and neighbours who will mourn what they perceive as their missed opportunity to make things better and I will sincerely hope that we can work together to mend the divisions that feel so deep from this side of polling day.

Whatever the result, almost half of the country will be hurting on Friday and we’re all going to have to work together to make the best of whatever it is we’re left with. It’s going to be difficult to move past the last few months, especially for those who find themselves on the losing side, but there will be no sense in dwelling on our differences anymore come this weekend.

So, I want to say now to my nationalist friends; I understand your passion. I understand how much this means to you and I hope you understand what it means to me. I know you’re campaigning for what you believe to be best and I hope you can respect that I’m doing the same. I know you’re going to be hurting on Friday if ‘my side’ wins and I hope you spare a thought for me if things go well for you.

I’m not going to gloat if we win and I’m not going to be bitter if we don’t – I promise now to put this past us and work on making things better again after Thursday, no matter the result, and I hope that that’s something that all of Scotland can agree to do, for all our sakes.


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.


Taking policy away from the membership?

Tonight, the Liberal Democrats are sharing their next Party Political Broadcast with the media. The video features Nick Clegg apologising to the British public for breaking the pledge on tuition fees… or does it?

As we’ve heard from the leadership before, the party is adamant that voting for increased tuition fees was not a mistake but that making the pledge in the first place was. This is very contradictory to a lot of Liberal Democrat values and, while I hope the video goes some way to regaining the trust of the British electorate, I’m not sure that the message is going to get a lot of support from party members.

Firstly, the focus is very much on the pledge that all Liberal Democrat PPCs were instructed to sign ahead of the 2010 General Election. Although the pledge was good media for us, it was not a Liberal Democrat campaign. ‘The pledge’ was a campaign run by NUS that we jumped on as a way to broadcast our policy. Nick is saying, quite clearly, that signing the pledge was a mistake but are we also to take from this that he is declaring, as Party Leader, that the policy itself is also an error?

In the video, Clegg says that “we shouldn’t have made a promise we weren’t absolutely sure we could deliver” and he also says that he “shouldn’t have committed to a policy that was so expensive”. It isn’t much of a secret that Nick doesn’t support free tuition fees and this broadcast, along with previous similar statements, shows a huge disregard for the majority of the membership with regards this particular policy.

The Liberal Democrats pride themselves on being the party whose policy is made by its members. How true can that be when a policy that is strongly supported by the membership is disregarded in government and then publically damned by our leader? Forget letting down the voters for just a second (and I do mean ‘just a second’, that is not something to be sniffed at) – what about the members? What about the campaigners and supporters that got the party to where it is today? To keep the policy for free tuition fees after this broadcast would be political suicide! We are now left with two options:

1. Revoke our policy on tuition fees. This won’t be popular with the membership and would probably have to come from ‘on high’, thereby contradicting our value of having policy made by members; or

2. Maintain our existing policy and face further ridicule for a meaningless and disingenuous broadcast.

Those aren’t options that I like very much.

Secondly, the video suggests that the policy was not something that we, as a country, could afford. The DPM then goes on to promise that we won’t make any more policies that we aren’t certain we can uphold. How can he say this when another thing that the party prides itself on is being the only party to have costed policies? We had a 6-step plan for tuition fees. We campaigned on tuition fees by marketing that plan on the doorsteps! If we knew all along that, actually, the plan wasn’t accurate; could we not have changed the policy BEFORE the 2010 campaign? Signs of recession were certainly there before the GE campaign started so there’s no excuse for keeping a policy that we apparently knew was unworkable.

As for the promise that we won’t make new policies that we aren’t certain we can deliver on – how exactly will that work? Policy is made by the members. Are we now to reject any policy debates that don’t make more economic sense than Vince Cable’s 6-step tution fee plan? That is a very big ask and if that’s the case, Brighton Conference is going to be very dull next week when Conference Committee have had to cancel all the debates for lack of workable policy.

It took us two years to ‘hold our hands up’ and finally apologise for what we did in government on tuition fees for promising a policy that the membership had overwhelmingly (and repeatedly) supported. I really think that, as a party, we need to move on from tuition fees and focus on all the good we’ve done in government. I do not support free tuition fees as a policy and I am very pleased with the new system for fees and with everything else that we’ve achieved in government. However, I do believe in democracy and this policy was major enough that we can reasonably assume it played a part in getting some of our seats. I also believe that the best thing about being a Liberal Democrat is the ability to make and vote on all Liberal Democrat policy.

Hopefully this video will help lay to rest the tuition fees fiasco and allow us to move forwards in the eyes of the public. Hopefully this video will fulfil its purpose of regaining some trust from the public and perhaps even some respect from voters who have been waiting for an apology.

I am glad that Nick listened to party members and to the electorate and has stood up to apologise. I do not, however, think that he has apologised for the right thing and I, like many other party members this evening, am disappointed.


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