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.