The start of the Scottish Hustings in the Liberal Democrat leadership contest at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh got off to a delayed start this afternoon. This was not due to any of the candidates turning up late all of them were present in the hall in plenty of time, no the reason was that approx 530 Scottish members turned up, out of a membership of 4200 what about 1/8th of all members. In deed an MEP, MP, MSPs and councillors were either left standing at the back of the hall of forced to retire to the hastily arranged overflow room elsewhere.
The contenders were drawn to speak in alphabetical order before having to whizz of to the secondary meeting to give the same opening remarks again. I forgot to take a pen so I am writing from memory.
Sir Menzies Campbell started with local Scottish anecdotes, tried to name check as many Scottish members as possible but laid out his stand on liberty, the environment (although through the afternoon he referred far too often to his Jag) and how he had to campaign hard to win NE Fife. He also reiterated the point that he does not want to set a deadline for troop withdrawal despite this not being his opinion this time last year. The fact that he has again stressed this point when I have heard him say otherwise in the flesh is something I don't like about his current quest for leadership. at this point he lost any chance I had of giving him my second preference.
Simon was next up and started by emphasising the importance that Scotland had led the way. Our strong general election result moving into second place in Scotland. That we had shown the way we can be trusted in power through what we had achieved through Holyrood and that we will be making another change with Proportional Representation for local government next May. He stressed his human rights and environmental background. The fact that he grew up in rural constituencies and chose to work in inner city ones. Stressing that unfairness existed in both. Land Value Taxation was supported in throwaway line which people not au fait with this policy could easily have missed.
Chris Huhne gave a very good, very sound speech but it was more like an economics lecture than a hustings stump. However, he started by mentioning Dunfermline, of course this raised the roof, at least where I was sitting in front of some of the newest members to acquire a Lib Dem MP. Fortunately Gordon Brown was not amongst them. He stressed his involvement in the bread and butter areas of policy he has helped to shape through the years. Chris earned a big round of applause when he made no apology for being a Europhile. However, as other bloggers had mentioned he did attempt to mention as much as possible his experience in business and journalism and Europe.
The time for questions was limited, due to the excessive turnout, and didn't really get into any potentially divisive issues. The only possible spilt was over the question of how to attract more young people into the party. Chris answering first referred to the fact the we had the youngest MPs, all women, in England, Wales and Scotland. Ming going next said that he would gratuitously mention that all three were backing him. While Simon picked up the youth cultural reference in the question and using it and other references in his answer. In other words I know the party attracts young people, young people are attracted to me and I can speak the language of te young people.
All in all if all I was going on was this afternoon's performance I would have no difficulty in picking any of them as a leader with ideas and vision. My problems with them were Ming had home field advantage, he did try and utilise this but it wasn't enough to convince me. As I've said earlier I'd heard the change in Mings stance on scheduling a withdrawal, now he appears to be in denial. Chris gave a very sound performance but then I'm a fellow economist. I'd heard him try and expound land valuation tax and it didn't connect at a normal level. Which leads to Simon, he gave the simplest explanation of LVT I have ever heard. I was sitting in a largely hostile section of the audience and he was getting fair comments from those around me. He conveyed more passion than the others. Although as he sometimes does extrapolated and extended the ending a little to long. I think I was ready to finally applaud his opening remarks on 4 separate occasions before another sub clause was thrown in.
Afterwards Ming left first and Simon and Chris were still talking to departing members for a while after he had left.
My first preference will be going to Simon with Chris second and Ming third.
Mind you the biggest and only standing ovation of the afternoon went to Willie Rennie MP, and yes us Scots are still smiling about having him at Westminster.