This morning the Scottish Liberal Democrat leadership candidates were addressing the members in the central belt, Edinburgh in the morning and Glasgow this afternoon. I attended the Edinburgh event armed with pen and not book to take copious notes in order to blog how the three fared in what I hope is a balanced way. The order in which they spoke was drawn by lot and after their 15 minute presentations (which the other two were not present for) all three returned to face questions from the floor. The order of today's blog entries will follow that order with Tavish Scott, Mike Rumbles, then Ross Finnie followed by a summary of the questions and answers given.
Mike started by highlighting his career thus far and how he joined the party. He'd written off to all the parties to see which best suited his opinions on how to change the world. When he read up, without consulting anyone else he felt that the Liberal party was the one for him, so at 15 he called up to join, he second question was where could he meet other Liberal members in Jarrow, to be told he was the local party. He stressed the fact that he was not a career politician having trained as a teacher before joining the army where he spent 15 years in various postings. The military of course frown on political activism from its ranks, but he was allowed to keep his party membership just as long as he didn't tell anyone. So with a life outside politics and indeed outside the hurly burly of party political politics is how he was positioned before returning to party activism.
Mike stressed that now is a most important time for Liberal Democrats in Scotland and we have to allow decisions to be made as locally as possible. We are a party that has many policies that many people agree with but why are they not voting for us? Mike feels they don't know that we stand for what they believe in because we haven't been telling them, he doesn't want to wake up on election day ever again to think that PE in schools is the most important we have to say.
The SNP stand for independence, it's not as popular as they like to make out but at least the people know what they stand for. What about us? By the time we start to explain some of our thoughtful and worthwhile issues they have started to turn off. We need to express the things we stand for that are popular, liberal and easily articulated.
He then went on to state where he saw the party going and echoing Gladstone of old he advocates we should radically be the party calling for home rule for Scotland within the UK. Having a greater control of our own affairs, having greater responsibility for our actions. This, as he said, chimes far more favourably with the people of Scotland than independence or the status quo or even a step back. He wants to see Scotland change for the better. Ensuring that everyone has a decent affordable home. The health inequality across Scotland ceases to exist. Opposing ID cards but more importantly the data that the government wants to keep on us all in a growing surveillance state. Freedom outwith constant government interference. For example not banning under 21s from off sales but effective imposing the laws that are in place already. Promoting effective green measure as part of sustainable economic growth.
What Mike thinks the Scottish Lib Dems need is a unique, popular and effective message to take to the people. Our membership he acknowledges is low. To improve that he want members to be empowered to make important decisions. That will be meaningful debates at conference even on controversial issues.
What we need to a change is style of leadership. We have to acknowledge we are no longer governing Scotland. He admitted we, as a party, have made mistakes in the last year. We should learn to work with ideas we agree with and vigorously oppose those we don't
He concluded by saying the party needs a radical platform for change not continuity. The SNP have a false optimism over independence and Labour and Conservatives want to have devolution-lite. The Lib Dems if he were leading would be looking for powerful and effective Home Rule in Scotland within the UK.