It started with Simon Hughes moving an Amendment calling for:
"Urgent initiatives to address the democratic for England, and the replacement of the Barnett formula for allocation funding to the countries of the UK with a needs-based formula."
This was accepted by the Welsh and Scottish Lib Dems who were the movers of the motion. But as the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark pointed out, there is a desire for more power in England. It may end up with a devolution to a 4th larger nation, but that is an issue the details of which need to be addressed. If we as Lib Dems with our Federal nature don’t deal with it, it will play up to the cause of English Nationalism, rather than the reverse case as put by some of our opponents.
There then followed a stream of familiar Scottish faces, some excellent Welsh ones and a few English ones. First up for Bev Hope who pointed out quite correctly that "Scotland doesn't need independence, doesn't want independence, and wouldn't benefit from independence". She also said we have to set out our stall clearly as we are up against as very clear and concise message, we need to lose the jargon and tell the people in accessible terms what we want for them, and for them to have.
She was followed by another first time speaker at Federal Conference who bookmarked his speech in Welsh, as he said the language of heaven. He called for the need for respect for Wales, so that people would stay or come home to Wales rather than being lost to jobs in London. Urging us all to chose a different devolution for a better future.
Kevin Lang the PPC for Edinburgh North and Leith was the next to speak. He said that now was the time to have the debate on independence because under a proper debate (i.e. not the national soliloquy) with proper and true analysis we would win the argument of what Scotland wants and needs. We should therefore support a referendum so that we can put this issue to bed for a generation.
Frank Kindel from the NE of England, welcomed Simon's amendment but stated that the people of NE England didn't want to have one form of government from Westminster replaced with another. If there was to be a move to devolution in England it had to address those issues. Roger Roberts of Abercowry then rose to speak of the need that even with devolution we have to address the issue of borders. The people of North Wales rely on the hospitals of Liverpool, also tend to use Manchester and Chester. The net result is that although they have their own provisions given by the Welsh Assembly they have to work with the neighbouring region which is in a different country for some of their provision. The issue of devolution doesn't merely end at the borders, something that those that want independence often overlook. He also pointed out that we should trust the Tories especially on powers for the devolved bodies, nor for that matter on anything else. He called for us to embrace an evolution of devolution.
George Lyon MEP for Scotland then pointed out that Donald Dewar had said that devolution was a process not an event. But what was a shame in Scotland was that the minsters on both side of the border were no longer talking to one another, things were being dealt with in isolation which wasn't in the best interests of Scotland. If the SNP were prepared to work with the UK Parliament they could have a booming voice in Europe but they don't and only have their three voices. The SNP are wanting the UK to fail in Europe and Scotland to fail in the UK for their own selfish ends.
Mark Hunter MP for Cheadle pointed out that the opening lines of the motion:
"Conference believes that Scotland and Wales are distinct nations with distinct identities and longstanding political, cultural and social identities."
Applied to England too and must not be overlooked.
Kirsty Williams AM summating welcomed the amendment bringing the English devolution question to the motion. But added it would be presumptuous for the Welsh and Scottish parties to tell the English party how to best go about doing that. She called on them to get it together for next time and bring the debate to the floor. Now there is a challenge if ever I heard one, and one that fits into our Federalist nature.