Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Reflections on conference from afar

I may not have been in Bournemouth (starting a new job after months of subsidence living) for this Autumn's Liberal Democrat conference. But the bits I saw on TV before heading to work have been encouraging.

On the night after the General Election I wrote:

"I know our party will come back strong again because the essence of what we believe in does bring about fairness and opportunity for everyone. It may be a few election cycles, a few years or even a few months before voters realise this. David Cameron and his unfettered Conservatives could well be the ideal recruiter of people to the Liberal Democrat's way of thinking."

Little did I, nor anyone else envision just what sort of shape that becoming strong again would be. I listened to many of those new members stepping up unto the platform making liberal contributions from the stage in debates. I've seen many of them filling the hall for every session. Although as a constitutional geek I'm sad to yet again have missed a successful  move to next business, I'll be pencilling in 2031 as a conference to remain in the hall at all times.

A few days after the General Election I went on to write:

"Our fight back is important because our core values are important to the general public. I believe they will soon realise this as the Tories start to dismantle freedoms, undo fairness and take people for granted. The very people that Liberal Democrats feel should not be enslaved by ignorance, poverty or conformity."

Therefore the reflection that these two thoughts have become two of the key thoughts of the party, two of the key themes of the leader's speech this afternoon, shows what it means to be liberal to the core. These are the instinctive motives that we wanted to express in our darkest hour in early May. It is what this conference was about and many of the motions reflected our ideals, many of the speeches showed this was deeply felt.

The time is right to stand up and be liberal. There are many out there who are shocked by the attitudes of David Cameron and the swings and roundabouts of the Labour party depending on the nature of the leader. Yet the Liberal Democrats no matter who is in charge are a voice of the people, because the people who make our decision on policy are not those in the Westminster bubble but the people from Cornwall to the Northern Isles, from the Wash to Cardigan Bay and all points in between.

See you all in York in Spring.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Lost for (foreign) words at University of Ulster decision

As many of you will know I'm not gifted in languages, not that this doesn't stop me trying to learn some. The one I found easiest out of all the ones I have settled down to try and learn was Spanish. However, I do not that I am at a comparative disadvantage to those who do possess language skills. This is something that really struck home when I worked in a multi-lingual call centre environment, where people were able to take calls fluently in their second, third or even fourth languages.

Therefore the news that the University of Ulster has deemed it wise that as part of their cuts will include the modern language school at the Coleraine campus seems to me the most backward and ill-thought out of the consequences of their reduced budget.

We are constantly hearing that Northern Ireland needs to reach out for inward investment. But by reducing the number of spaces for modern language courses in Northern Ireland, leaving only the Queen's language school offering degrees, will lead to a skills exodus as Northern Ireland's language scholars will go elsewhere to either do a straight language course or one combined with business or other courses. Most of these students of course will never return, or maybe not return straight away meaning that where our business opportunity need people with language skills to bring in that foreign investment we will be falling behind.

The economic knock back of losing the language school at Coleraine is something that will impact on Northern Ireland. So while the current intake of language students there will be the last before the school is wound down we need action to make Northern Ireland remain attractive to investors from wherever utilising all the skills, especially those of language that we are required to be active in some of those markets where Spanish, German, French, Chinese or whatever are advantageous.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Religious and civil liberty for all

The above was the message on several of the placards and banners outside Belfast Court House this morning being brandied about by supporters of Pastor McConnell.

I was tempted, seeing I was wearing my Rainbow badge to ask if this meant that Pastor McConnell would be supporting my civil right to marry another man, Or go further and even my religious right, if we wanted to, for that marriage to take place within a faith group that would be supportive.

However, I suspect the answer would be no, although I didn't get up the guts to ask it. After all, even though there was press present I don't think being one gay man amongst a throng of 20 protesters would go down too well.

if my suspicion is right, this would mean that the other placardscondemning Sharia law merely mean they don't want one type of religious law to have an impact on civil liberties but they are quite happy for their view of religious law to carry on impacting on mine.

Interestingly when I did cross the road at the cross the protesters were almost causing a complete obstruction of the safe egress off the crossing, which I believe could be a criminal offence under the Highways Act.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Dear Cathy Newman, your interview was a sin against journalism

Forgive me for having better things to do on a Friday evening, especially in a week I have spent many hours playing competitive bowls, that to watch Channel 4 News and your interview of my new party leader Tim Farron. But I finally got around to it this morning and have some comments to make.

Firstly, Tim Farron's views on abortion are ones that a number of us can take. I've known a number of single women who became accidentally pregnant at inopportune times in the their lives and with men who were inappropriate or unable to become the father figure to the child they were carrying. I believe the decision of those women as to what they should do under those circumstances is entirely up to them.

On one occasion  I was actually asked by the mother of one of the young women in my church youth group what advise she should give her daughter who had found herself pregnant. I probably shocked that mother by saying that whatever that daughter decided to keep the child, or to give it up for adoption or to abort it so she could get on with the life plan she had, the most important thing was that her mother supported her in her decision. That is a liberal answer and one that Tim was alluding to.

From personal experience I have faced the dilemma of a girlfriend being late. While we waited to see if she was just a little late before buying a testing kit we discussed the possibilities. Both of us were of the opinion that no matter what the circumstances we at that time were in we would work around the fact that there was another mouth to be fed in our lives. That was our personal opinion, our personal decision after considering the various options together. As a Christian when faced with that decision the option of abortion was considered.

As for challenging Tim on whether he believes homosexuality sexual practise is a sin or not shows a clear misunderstanding of:

a) what the liberal party is about
b) that all Christians are the same

Tim was quite right to point out that the Liberal Democrats believe is religious freedom for everyone. That means that there are Christians, Humanists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Pagans, Atheists, Shintoists and whatever living tooth by jowl within the Liberal Democrats. Indeed our party policy on same sex marriage didn't single out any particular religion but gave all faith groups and humanists the right to self-determine their own position on whether to carry out same-sex marriages or not. That is how the Liberal Democrats deal with religious diversity and diversity of the population as a whole.

As one of the many LGBT+ people within the party who also has a faith I can account for the fact that not every member of a faith group within the party is diametrically opposed to same-sex relationships, those who are in them and those who are sexually active. Tim and I have had a number of rather frank discussions about this in the past, not as accusational and finger pointedly as your brief exchange yesterday. Yes Tim absented himself from the vote on the third reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill but he was present and voted for the second reading, as well as its subsequent divorce and annulment provisions and extension to armed forces personnel serving overseas.

Unlike many of those who have used language in the past (if not so much these days) that homosexuality is a sin who voted against it at every stage here is a man who has actually voted for and actually spoken in Parliament and asked questions positively about LGBT rights. Unlike many of those he actually takes part in debate around the issues that he publicly expresses concern or lack of understanding over, as someone blocked by many Northern Irish politicians for asking much simpler questions that the ones I have bombarded Tim with down the years this is a true reflection of how he views LGBT+ people.

Cathy there is one final thing you should be aware of, there were a number of prominent LGBT+ members of the party who were supporting Tim just as there were supporting Norman. People who were instrumental in getting the party and then Government to accept same-sex marriage. If these people had in anyway felt that Tim's faith in anyway hindered him from representing them as leader that would have been news. But the LGBT+ members of our party were as split as other sectors based on the individuals and what they could do for the party and not based on faith, LGBT friendliness or other criteria. We were looking at the person who could lead our party, represent liberty and freedom for all and help promote the ethos of who we are as Liberal Democrats.

We have been demonised by Labour, the Conservatives and the press (yourself included Cathy) for years while in coalition. The result in my opinion is a far more marginalising government than that of the past five years, one that is not supporting those who need it most, but actually making their lives tougher. David Cameron claims to have a faith yet does not seem to take Jesus' command to feed the hungry, cloth the naked and care for those less fortunate than yourself at face value. Maybe you should challenge him on that, Tim at least does care about social housing, the poor who have to attend food banks and are hit by the bedroom tax. Maybe you only have a limited view of what those of faith are all about, but they are a broad spectrum too, just like the Liberal Democrats.

Considering the interview started out asking the leader of the Liberal Democrats about the news that our troops had been involved in bombing raids in Syria all that liberal stuff was lost by Ms Newman's personal agenda on these other issues.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Why EVEL is not the West Lothian answer?

Being somewhat associated with West Lothian and having stood in the race to replace the poser of the West Lothian Question. Tam Dalyell, I have on occassion written about said question and the potential answers. David Cameron's latest take on this is English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) at Westminster.

Now the problem posed by the West Lothian Question was that devolution would allow certain aspects of law to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament (and of course the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies) while their MPs were still able to vote on issues at Westminster affecting people in England but that the English MPs would not have the same say on some of these issues in the devolved powers as they legislators there and not the MPs would have the say. The issue was that devolution was bringing up two types of MPs some who could vote on things that wouldn't directly affect their constituents and others who might find they couldn't bring about change for their constituents if the block who didn't have any direct impact in their area voted against was enough with their English colleagues to block it.

Devolution had in effect brought in two tiers of MPs some were backed up by colleagues (occasionally themselves) who would vote on devolved issues, others who were responsible for all decisions. But EVEL does exactly the same in creating two tiers of MPs, only this time the cut off is less well defined. What exactly is an English Law. In truth as things currently stand only a cost neutral law is truly only English as anything with spending or tax ramifications has because of the Barnett formula got a knock on effect to budgets in the devolved powers.

The result of trying to introduce EVEL in the fall out from the Scottish referendum is a knee jerk reaction to the ;promise of more powers for Scotland (and indeed Wales and Northern Ireland). It ignores however the fundamental difference that devolution has brought to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that is denied to the people of England. Certain aspects of their governance are now decided as a local level below that of Westminster and above that of local authorities. The demands of the North East would not be the same as those in the South West. Yet only London and some other cities with elected mayors seem to have any more control over their own affairs than previously.

Having a elected Mayority is not the sole model for greater devolution, but this appears to be the only one that the Conservatives want to contemplate alongside EVEL, but of course it is not the position used in the three nations with devolution. The First Minister in all three of them is not a directly elected President (the possible exception may have been the 2007 SNP list description "Alex Salmond for First Minister" without mentioning the party name) but are the leader of the largest party. Somehow the conservatives have decided that the American style Mayor led system is better than the European model of Federal Government for the regions.

The only true answer to the West Lothian Question is a more Federal Model of governance as the difference in roles would therefore not exist in the National Government. So until those in Westminster realise that we'll be stuck with the evil of difference that plans like evil or directly elected mayors can inflict unto voters.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Ten years a blog

It is hard to believe that ten years ago today I first sat at my laptop and wrote a blog post.

Back then I was in the post first time general election candidate daze, but was already thinking about how I could do more to get myself recognised and my views heard ahead of the next election at some point before 2010. Back then the blog title was Stephen's Linlithgow Journal as back then anything I thought I would stand for as a Liberal Democrat candidate had the word Linlithgow in the title. Of course when it came to be going for selection in 2010 for the Edinburgh Central seat I didn't want to see five years of thoughts lost to the general public, so I changed the URL and the title to the current title.

Little did I realise that across the blog I would have over 1 million page views back then I was just looking for a way to reach out to the 70,000 or so voters who lived in the catchment area that I thought I would be reaching out to for a number of years. Of course I also didn't realise that circumstance would cause me to move three times within 4 years from the area that I had come to consider home back then in 2005.

Of course another thing that really impacted on my blog was the sudden death of Robin Cook in the summer of 2005. My blog up until that point had a limited readership, but then I became the go to blog (not just Liberal Democrat) for the ensuing by election. To suddenly go from 10-20 readers a day to upwards of 500 on certain days of course made me change the way I went about my blogging. It moved from being largely about local issues, though they would still exist, into a more national outlook on things. Sadly of course with such a high profile death at the start of my decade of blogging there was of course the leader of my Party then Charles Kennedy's also sudden death at the other end of these first 10 years.

My blogging diversified down the years and I realised that I was almost blogging as much about sport as politics, indeed at some points of the year more so. So I set up a secondary blog that focused on the sport, Stephen's Sporting Almanac but of course as soon as I did that I lost a little of the mojo and stopped blogging as much on both blogs. This may also have come about from the fact that I was no longer blogging on the bus ride into work in the morning which had instilled a certain discipline into me finding something to write about, but was also down probably to a large part to the continuous search for work after the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. Of course I took a step back then from political blogging in the same way as I had to work closely with people of other parties.

But somehow I have managed to struggle through and kept on blogging. So here we are today celebrating 10 years as a blogger. I've seen many people give up in that time, many start to greater or lesser success, others move to collaborative blogs, but I have maintained a one person blog for 10 years now. The output has not always been at the same level but I hope that every now and then a little gem comes from the tapping I do wherever and whenever the mood strikes me.

 I'm now in the post third time General Election candidate haze, and looking for how to work for the Lib Dem Fight Back after the poor showing on 7 May. Having stood a second time in Linlithgow and East Falkirk in 2010 and in Sedgefield this year. Sometime soon I expect you'll see me going for selection ahead of 2020.

Will I still be blogging in 10 years time? Who knows, but I'm not for giving up just now.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Tatchell speaks up for Northern Ireland

Peter Tatchell yesterday highlighted at Pride in London that the LGBT people in Northern Ireland are being denied the same rights and opportunities enjoyed elsewhere in the Union. He urged the people of the UK to stand in solidarity.

Here is him being interviewed about the issues.

President Obama on Friday also said that the US Supreme Court ruling ended the patchwork of equality for LGBT people in his great nation. Northern Ireland is now becoming that little patch that needs to be added to the quilt of Western equality.