My First Party Conference

I attended the Scottish Liberal Democrats Conference in Dunfermline yesterday, my first ever conference, and I was not really sure what I would find. I thought I would find a quarter full hall, I thought I would find Liberal Unionist diehards who would both be close minded and delusional, I thought I would find a bland staged managed affaire like so many we see on the television. I was pleasantry surprised. While there was the usual sycophants in the hall, the young ambitious, you could spot the ones who felt they had entitlement and too many told me they were candidates but some, especially of the older generation, knew what they were talking about. I met people who voted no and some who voted yes, but overall I met enough open-minded, honest, sincere and decent people who I can see demonstrate that the Liberal movement is alive and kicking, what we see in the papers and in some cases what we see in Holyrood is only a small part of what I saw, and what I saw was overall a decent, intelligent group of people who really do just want to make things better.

Motion debates were refreshingly open and involved a variety of views. The motions included A penny on Scottish income tax for the NHS. The motion passed but I was one of only about 10 in the several hundred delegates who voted against, I just don’t think this is the right policy to be going into an election on when many many people are struggling. It’s the wrong message in my opinion.

There was a motion on removing VAT from female sanitary products. I missed the vote but I agreed with the motion and it passed as far as I know. There was an emergency motion on Responding to the global refugee crisis and called on the Scottish Government to:

a) assess the capacity of each local authority area and consider whether Scotland 21 could take more than 2,000 refugees or more than its fair-share, if it enables a corresponding increase in the total number of refugees the UK Government.

b) ensure that local authorities, health boards and other public authorities are fully 25 prepared to respond to refugees’ significant and varied needs.

c) ensure that those public authorities which have limited experience of providing 27 services for refugees have access to the expertise, experience and resources they require.

I voted for the motion but must admit I do have concerns around infrastructure and the finance to provide the support needed. I also think we would need to educate communities to a degree for the influx due to the ever-increasing demand for services from local people, many whose needs are just not being met now in these every increasing times of cuts. There could be a risk of creating issues around why they get this and I don’t.

There were motions on having an evidence based policy on genetically modified crops, I agreed with this motion so voted for, it makes sense. There was a motion around putting democracy back into Scottish policing. I again voted for this as it would bring back some of the local accountability to Police Scotland that has been lost in the recent changes to one Police force. There was a debate on creating opportunities for young homeless people, again I voted for but this is something that would require more money and resources, and I’m not sure where local authorities would find it but it will need to be looked at given the changes to housing benefit for young people.

The motion that encouraged the most debate was on working towards a new Federal United Kingdom and a new Treaty of Union. The motion called for a constitutional convention to take place to move the UK closer to being a federal state and called for a new treaty of union. I voted for the motion while making no secret of the fact I am a YES voter and intend to remain that way. My reasoning was that no discussion is not an alternative, and we do need to look at what it is the UK actually means on the back of last years referendum. While many view the result as decisive I don’t think it was at all and there needs to be an urgent discussion on where we go from here.

I found Willie Rennie to be a lot better than I thought he would be but did not agree with some of his speech, I don’t think his plea to YES voters will have much impact to be honest but he did not just go with an SNP bad message. He made some good points on Police Scotland, and on education with the pupil premium. Where he needs to be clearer is on how he would pay for these things.

Tim Farron was very impressive, very engaging and comfortable in his ideas and his manner. He made some very good points on tax credits, mental health, and on the EU but I did not agree when he said the SNP had let Scotland down. I found that one hard to agree with when the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg were part of the coalition who brought so much misery to many even though it is clear the Liberal Democrats kept the worst at bay for some of that time. The SNP, like every Government, are not perfect but their record is as good as in any in my lifetime, but he is correct in that the SNP need good opposition as ” democracies become failed democracies when they go unchallenged “.

Overall though he was very impressive and likeable, I enjoyed his speech and agreed with many of his ideas.

Liberal Democrats believe that every individual can achieve their potential if they get the right support. We believe that you have to stand up for those with the least and that government is there to tackle social injustice, Liberals believe in devolving as much power to the lowest possible level as is possible. Liberals believe in the protection of the environment and in the importance of bringing people together within the EU, these are the things that I believe in and I am so glad that at the conference I found many who believed in the same.

Charities ( a major grump)

Something that is getting increasingly on my nerves this last year in Dundee are charities. Now Charities in many cases do a vital job in raising money for equipment, provide vital lifelines for many, raise awareness of important issues and are shamefully having to replace services that any decent society would be providing as a matter of course.

However, charities are in real danger of alienating many people, people like myself. I am slowly but surely getting sick of being stopped on the streets of Dundee by young charity workers from a host of charities, or more recently getting two visits a week at my door. When they see you are male it’s the pretty girl that comes to stop you in the street or take the lead in the conversation at the front door. They ask very leading questions that are all designed to set you up to feel guilty or lucky, usually both, and are in the main intrusive. I am finding that I am becoming more and more resentful of them, even the never ending adverts on tv that are also designed to pull the heartstrings but again rely on guilt.

Now this is a pretty new development in recent years this hard sell approach and while I accept that they have to find money to run their services they are going about it in a way that is just wrong, and very annoying. 12 charity bosses earn more than £300,000 per year, 32 earn over £200,000 per year with the average salary being £165,000 per year. These are astounding sums of money and for myself these salaries risk undermining trust in them, and any reason for myself to give them any money at all. So my message to charities, stop it now. Stop using guilt, stop using tactics that puts pressure on people and in some cases offend, and please Dundee City Council stop them from going door to door and stopping people in the streets. I know I can walk on, and a lot of the time I do but then I feel guilt and that I should not have to feel because of their methods and their insensitivity.

The EU

I admit I am pretty indifferent in many ways to the EU, more in than out personally and I do think, without knowing all the complications, that a no vote may well be a mistake, at least in the short term. If it where a no vote we just don’t know how the EU would react, unlike Cameron I don’t think the EU are that desperate to keep the UK as a member state, and our influence may not be as vital as they would have us believe. If it’s a no vote do you think that the USA will have a so-called special relationship with the UK, no, but that I must admit I don’t care about.

The in and out campaigns are going to ramp it up. The In Campaign includes (Lord ) Rose former boss of M&S, (Sir) John Major, Gordon (Vow) Brown, Tony (War) Blair, Chuka Umunna (LabourTory MP), Tory Dominic Green, Will Straw (entitled child of a former Labour Minister, there are lots of them, look at the Kinnocks) and Green MP Caroline Lucas. The No side have Nigel Farage MEP UKip, Matthew Elliot of the Taxpayers Alliance, (Lord) Nigel Lawson, Kate Howey MP (LabourTory) . They are also being funded by major Conservative donor and City millionaire Peter Cruddas, John Mills, Labour’s biggest private financial backer, and Stuart Wheeler Tory donor.

I suppose first things first, who appointed those people. Who gave them the right to lead any campaign and to tell us what is right or wrong. Neither side are inspiring, in many ways they are as awful as each other and both support the very vested interests that have made the UK such a thoroughly elitist and right-wing nightmare right now. I am surprised that Caroline Lucas is having anything to do with the stay in group and suspect that whatever happens she will be tarnished with any association to them, she has made a huge mistake there. Overall neither side are inspiring, all have self-interest at heart, well maybe not Caroline Lucas, and all have dictated to us for too long or are unelected.

Now I admit that I think that there are many things wrong with the EU. It is very top-heavy and appears to be a job for the boys set up, it is not as democratic as many would have us believe and it tries to keep everyone happy, well the elite happy, which results in a mish mash of regulation that looks more like a burden than a help. How the EU have handled the refugee crisis has not been good at all and the EU treatment of Greece was a disgrace that everyone should be ashamed of, the Greek people were bullied and threatened with ruin when we should have been bending over to support them. The Greece situation demonstrated to me that the EU is neither fair nor equal, would the EU have treated Germany in the same way, I think not.

There are things I like about the EU though, I am more for the free movement of people than against. The ECHR is a vital protection for all of us, one that the Tories want to take away. We do get access to structural funds that play a very important investment role in Scotland and something that Westminster would just never do, Scotland is not London after all. Although we do get a lot less than England and Wales for example who both get 6 Billion and 2 Billion respectively.

One of my big worries, and many will share this, is that the media will be shocking. While they may not be as pro one side or downright lie as much they did about the YES Campaign during the referendum, and we won’t have the all out war from the Unionist Parties that we all experienced during the referendum, we will be guaranteed lies and scare stories from the usual suspects, and we will have to rely on the good blogs out there for honest information.

As a political saddo I will follow the campaign closely, will no doubt blog off and on about it but right now I think it could go either way. As I said at the start of this grump, I am more a yes than a no but one thing could swing it for me, TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). This stupid agreement, if it goes ahead, and in my opinion, will put our public services and our democracy at risk. It will allow companies to sue our governments in secret (Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which allow companies to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits. In effect it means unelected transnational corporations can dictate the policies of democratically elected governments, it will weaken our food and environmental laws bringing them more in line with the USA. If the EU votes for TTIP without a referendum of EU citizens then my vote may well be a no because we will be shafted either way.

Interesting times ahead.