Scotland


>My friend Craig Harlow was being philospohical this morning and remembered this quote from the great Libearal and Lib Dem, Russell Johnson.

“You can stand at the bottom of a mountain, look up and say: “This is so high and precipitous, so rugged and intimidating that I can never dare to challange it.” Or, you can begin to climb. And, if you do, one day you may see the summit. And if you do not, its peak will be forever hidden in the mists of vanished opportunity. Today we can begin to climb…”

Last May as Liberal Democrat we appeared to have reached that summit. But as any mountaineer will tell you occassionally you reach a false peak. The edge of what is a plateau and when you scale that you realise that there is still a further propably more difficult and steeper summit to climb.

We as Liberal Democrats may well have climbed that false peak. It was a hard climb and making that last step unto that peak was a hard decision. We were looking for a foothold, and maybe we slipped in finding it a few times. However we are roped together as a party. We are an experience set of climbers, none of us have reached a summit easily and we all know the hard work that is needed. It mean going door to door persuading people that we do share their values as well as their fears. That we have the solutions and the ways forward.

What we have taken on in the last year has been a  very precarious part of the climb. We are still the same climbers as we were 12 months ago. Some admitted have left the summit party, some of the support team have felt let down and fled. We know the goal we have in sight. We know we still have a way to go to get to a truly liberal UK.

But as we press on, like Hilary and Tensing to scale Everest the first time, we can look to the fact that once conquered once others will want to come and take a look. Much of what we have done in the last 12 months is lay a number of belays on the slope. Things we have put in place to that the UK doesn’t fall back into illiberal ways. We have also searched out a different route from the one David Cameron the current expedition leader did set out. Our route is easier on pensioners, it lifts many out of taxation, it frees up many people from bureaucracy.

We have failed the student members of our moutaineering party, by letting them fall into the greedy hands of the University Chancellers down below, who all think they are worthy of £9,000 a year to start the expedition of life. Somehow our education system is all exceptional!!! But we still promise them that once we scale this nasty crag of national debt covered in dying red roses we will sort that out for them, we stand by that.

I for one am ready to carry on climbing, my legs may hurt, my heart is heavy and my lungs are gasping because there is still so much to achieve.

Who’s with me?

>

When I last saw High O’Donnell at the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference earlier this month, he did hint that he was going to take the fight about the way the party was going to the next stage. I told him I’d be taking that fight to Sheffield and the Federal Conference the following week and beyond, but what he hinted at to me then was something more.

Therefore I’m not that surprised to hear of his resignation today, but I am saddened by it. In my opinion the heart and soul of the party has not changed, that was clear from my weekend in Sheffield. Some of those in the heart and soul are determined to fight to maintain that identity of the party they have spent many years working for and fighting to get into the fore of politics. I do think that sometimes our parties leaders at the moment are forgetting that the members speak for the party and not them. I think that the party is trying to speak to the leaders about a number of issues, especially the NHS over recent weeks, yet some of the leaders are choosing the ignore the depth of feeling from there.

As for Hugh, when I first stood for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, he, over a quiet drink, gave me some useful advise about the parts of the constituency that were outwith West Lothian Council but within his region. We through the years have had some serious discussions about the direction of the party and I would have placed us in the same section of the party. Voices like his in elected positions were what we needed from time to time. His was often the voice of common sense, of the common people that needs to resonate within our party. It still needs to resonate through our party some of the rest of us will have to step up and be that voice.

Update Writing in Sunday’s Mail on Sunday Hugh said:

“Instead of fighting for the causes so many of us believe in, [the party leadership] devote their energy to quashing dissenting voices, views, people and policies.”

In regards to the coalition at Westminster he added:

“Since that fateful day, I have watched helplessly from the sidelines as this government at Westminster has attacked every vulnerable group in Scotland, from carers to disabled students to migrants, with some of the most draconian policies I have ever seen in the name of cuts.

“Not a word of criticism from the party leadership in Scotland has been uttered – even though the contempt shown for Scotland and, indeed, the federal structure of the party knows no bounds.”

He was also critical of the way the party was asked to vote at times in Holyrood, in his words being asked to vote tactically instead of on principle. He added:

“This is not the same party I joined, full of enthusiasm, all those years ago.

“I can no longer be party to the control freakery, the ‘image is everything’ attitude, and the dictatorial style of doing things.

“It is a party I no longer want to be part of and neither should other principled Liberals.”

>

Those of you who know me ought to be aware that I love a big, fast rollercoasters. I really need to go back to the States and experience some of the new rides since last I was there (1996). However, this year has certainly been one hell of a rollercoaster ride with its highs and lows and switchbacks and unexpected turns.

This time last year I was sitting in Bathgate, looking forward to kick starting the local Lib Dems into the General Election year, then onwards to the Scottish Elections and the council elections beyond. The same old routine as laid out by the election cycles. Or so I thought.

Sure enough the year started out in just that manner. On St. Patrick’s Night I was selected as the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) again for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, with Charles Dundas once again my colleague in the other seat for the local party, Livingston. In the end I came third once more, was agent to Kieran Leach in neighbouring Falkirk (in which campaign I met some new friends). But I was very disappointed on the night that Kevin Lang in Edinburgh North and Leith and Fred MacIntosh in Edinburgh South had done exactly what the party thought was required to win only to no get elected as MPs.

Well eight days after the General Election I had my CV in to start the selection process for the Edinburgh Central seat  for the Scottish elections next May. So there wasn’t any real rest between the elections cycles as I started to plot and plan just what I would have to do, first for the seat and then for the list. In the end after another solid 2/3 months of planning and canvassing local members it wasn’t to be, but Alex Cole Hamilton had been selected.

So as I started to work for Alex and was settling down to work on the list selection process, which overlapped with the end of Edinburgh Central, I was brought to a sudden halt. Somehow in all the activity of the previous months I had managed to not notice that certain bills were not being paid, kind of major expensive ones. I tried to get finance from the bank but that wasn’t happening. I then felt that the only way to deal with this was to return to Northern Ireland and proposed to work that I could continue to work for them from here. With time running out and me having a letter of notice to hand over if there was no decision on that day I was finally given the go ahead to be a home-worker.

So with that then came the task of packing up 9 years accumulated stuff and with the help of Michael completed Operation Evacuate at the end of August. I’d a week to settle in before I started work, but I was also looking for something a little more permanent over here because work, as close friends can attest, was getting me depressed in a major way, even before I moved over.

There then came an email from a friend saying “Have you seen this job?”, I applied and found myself up against Michael for what were probably the most angst ridden two weeks in either of our lives. Until I finally was told the position was mine within an hour of a Nationwide conference call for Yes to Fairer Votes as the Northern Ireland Organiser. I just had time to talk to Michael before that call, and he has been a great help and support from that time on.

Since I’ve got back I hadn’t been completely politically inactive, along with Michael we as local Liberal Democrats wrote a couple of responses to consultations from government departments. I’ve also been involved in the LGBT consultative forum, help establish Delga within the local party, been back across for Scottish conference. As well as attending two party conferences and meeting with others as part of the Yes to Fairer Votes drive.

This year I attended three Pride Parades Edinburgh, Glasgow and Foyle. Somehow I found the time and a person to fall in love with, though sadly that didn’t go as I’d hoped. I’ve also been elected unto my new local party’s executive committee as well as keeping up my record of being a conference rep, Sheffield and Birmingham here I come.

So what does 2011 hold?

For a start there is an referendum on May 5th, not the campaigning I expected to be taking up every waking and quite a few of the sleeping moments of my life. But there you are I’m working towards that and looking forward to getting back into the phonebank as people carry on talking to people across Northern Ireland about fairer votes.

After May, who knows. I have no idea what comes next.

Last year I felt that I’d love to find someone I could really connect with that didn’t abhor the time I spent with politics and maybe settle down. Seeing as how intermittent my love life has been in the last twelve months it is almost like I am saving myself for that person. Maybe I might get lucky this year and find what I’m looking for in that department. My love life has been a bit of a roller coaster in recent years maybe I just want it to be a gentle punt down life’s river from here on. But then knowing the passion I put into things maybe not.

After May I’ll be looking for a new job. No idea that that will actually be yet, have an idea what I’d like it to be just need to see if there are openings that I can fill, it may mean a move once more, it may mean staying right here, I just don’t know and nobody is able to tell me the answer to that right now. So it looks like 2011 might be another roller coaster year as well.

Stay tuned I’ll return to blogging full time in May.


What now for the Scottish Tories?

Yesterday they David McLetchie took a stance which flew in the face of common sense or fairness, when they opposed the right for a suspect to have a lawyer present for the first six hours while the police were able to question. The Tories are probably opposing the ruling solely on the grounds that it comes from a decision taken in the European Court for Human Rights in 2008. The fact that there are some sensible decisions taken in Europe seems to be a point that deludes them. Hopefully the Scottish people will remember how inhuman the Scottish Tories are on the subjects of rights for the citizens next May.

The preamble to the Liberal Democrats constitution says that “no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” and the presence of the six hour rule could well have let to some innocents being imprisoned due to these. So I suspect that this ruling may cause ructions in Westminster with the Tories trying to limit or remove the European Convention on Human Rights from UK law and the rulings of the European Court, even where they are beneficial, being countermanded. Also unlike the Tories the Liberal Democrats believe “our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries”[from the preamble]

Alistair Carmichael MP

Don't mess with the wild men of the North! (Alistair Carmichael MP is under that beard)

I trust that the Lib Dems in Westminster, having secured our Freedom Bill in the coalition agreement will remember that the party exists “to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community”[from the preamble].

The Scottish Tories may moan “but they’ll never take OUR FREEDOM“**.

Or else we’ll set the Comptroller of HM Household (pictured) on them.

* Yeah a little bit of Braveheart in the title.
** And a little bit more Braveheart at the end.

>
What now for the Scottish Tories?

Yesterday they David McLetchie took a stance which flew in the face of common sense or fairness, when they opposed the right for a suspect to have a lawyer present for the first six hours while the police were able to question. The Tories are probably opposing the ruling solely on the grounds that it comes from a decision taken in the European Court for Human Rights in 2008. The fact that there are some sensible decisions taken in Europe seems to be a point that deludes them. Hopefully the Scottish people will remember how inhuman the Scottish Tories are on the subjects of rights for the citizens next May.

The preamble to the Liberal Democrats constitution says that “no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” and the presence of the six hour rule could well have let to some innocents being imprisoned due to these. So I suspect that this ruling may cause ructions in Westminster with the Tories trying to limit or remove the European Convention on Human Rights from UK law and the rulings of the European Court, even where they are beneficial, being countermanded. Also unlike the Tories the Liberal Democrats believe “our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries”[from the preamble]

I trust that the Lib Dems in Westminster, having secured our Freedom Bill in the coalition agreement will remember that the party exists “to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community”[from the preamble].

The Scottish Tories may moan “but they’ll never take OUR FREEDOM“**.

Or else we’ll set the Comptroller of HM Household (pictured) on them.

* Yeah a little bit of Braveheart in the title.
** And a little bit more Braveheart at the end.


On Saturday I made a speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat conference on the issue of the Intercity Express Programme. I was especially speaking on lines 11-13 of the motion.

1 Conference notes that that the UK Government is due to take a decision on whether to
2 proceed with the Intercity Express Programme, intended to provide 882 new carriages
3 for a series of intercity routes, following the completion of the comprehensive spending
4 review in October 2010.

5 Conference welcomes the environmental, social and economic benefits of an efficient
6 and accessible public transport service, and supports the long-term electrification of the
7 railways as part of a modern rail network.

8 Conference recognises the importance of cross-border transport links between England
9 and Scotland and that direct rail services connecting London to the north and the north
10 east of Scotland bring direct economic benefit to these regions.

11 Conference is therefore concerned at the report of the Review of the Intercity Express
12 Programme by Sir Andrew Foster which suggests that long distance routes to Inverness
13 and Aberdeen could be served by connecting trains rather than through-services.

14 Conference believes that the loss of the through-service from London to Aberdeen and
15 Inverness would be a significant deterrent to train travel for these regions and would
16 represent a serious reduction in the quality of cross-border services, with a resultant
17 negative impact on Scottish business competitiveness.

18 Conference therefore calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to protect the
19 economic value of the north and north east regions of Scotland by maintaining direct rail
20 services between London and Aberdeen and Inverness and to reject any other
21 diminution of cross-border public transport services between England and Scotland.

I started by saying that although through the years I had always addressed conference as a Northern Irish man this was the first time I have addressed them as a member of the Northern Irish party. It was as a result that travelling from Northern Ireland and many long cross country trips that I had learnt one important issue about connecting services, they do not always connect you to you final destination on the same day you started out.

A previous speaker had already pointed out the access issues and this is true for all passengers. This is true for all passengers but can affect those that are elderly and infirm the most. If you add in a rail replacement service at the same time as a non-though train this can slowly lead people to not want to let the train take the strain.

As I concluded I pointed out that in 2003 we stood to increase the rail service in Scotland including the Bathgate to Airdrie extension which means so much to the people of West Lothian. We should similarly be working to increase provision not reduce it, therefore I urged conference to accept the motion.

>
On Saturday I made a speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat conference on the issue of the Intercity Express Programme. I was especially speaking on lines 11-13 of the motion.

1 Conference notes that that the UK Government is due to take a decision on whether to
2 proceed with the Intercity Express Programme, intended to provide 882 new carriages
3 for a series of intercity routes, following the completion of the comprehensive spending
4 review in October 2010.

5 Conference welcomes the environmental, social and economic benefits of an efficient
6 and accessible public transport service, and supports the long-term electrification of the
7 railways as part of a modern rail network.

8 Conference recognises the importance of cross-border transport links between England
9 and Scotland and that direct rail services connecting London to the north and the north
10 east of Scotland bring direct economic benefit to these regions.

11 Conference is therefore concerned at the report of the Review of the Intercity Express
12 Programme by Sir Andrew Foster which suggests that long distance routes to Inverness
13 and Aberdeen could be served by connecting trains rather than through-services.

14 Conference believes that the loss of the through-service from London to Aberdeen and
15 Inverness would be a significant deterrent to train travel for these regions and would
16 represent a serious reduction in the quality of cross-border services, with a resultant
17 negative impact on Scottish business competitiveness.

18 Conference therefore calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to protect the
19 economic value of the north and north east regions of Scotland by maintaining direct rail
20 services between London and Aberdeen and Inverness and to reject any other
21 diminution of cross-border public transport services between England and Scotland.

I started by saying that although through the years I had always addressed conference as a Northern Irish man this was the first time I have addressed them as a member of the Northern Irish party. It was as a result that travelling from Northern Ireland and many long cross country trips that I had learnt one important issue about connecting services, they do not always connect you to you final destination on the same day you started out.

A previous speaker had already pointed out the access issues and this is true for all passengers. This is true for all passengers but can affect those that are elderly and infirm the most. If you add in a rail replacement service at the same time as a non-though train this can slowly lead people to not want to let the train take the strain.

As I concluded I pointed out that in 2003 we stood to increase the rail service in Scotland including the Bathgate to Airdrie extension which means so much to the people of West Lothian. We should similarly be working to increase provision not reduce it, therefore I urged conference to accept the motion.

Next Page »