Monday, 16 March 2009

All the "Fun" of a Conference First Thing on Sunday Morning

Ruaraidh Dobson Tweeted early on Sunday:

"I'm looking forward to the lys blood ban motion debate this morning, even if it is in the dead slot!"

Just for the record Jenni Lang the conference convener said to me later:

"There is no such thing as a dead slot, we put interesting debates on first thing on Saturday and Sunday. Plus starting at 10am rather than 9 or 9:30 also helps."

Well no matter what view point the debate on To Investigate the "Blood Ban" proved to be anything but a dead slot, so maybe Ruaraidh was dead wrong. It had all the excitement that policy wonks and constitutional experts prime themselves for. No sooner had Kieran Leach moved the motion with a speech he'd been bouncing excellent facts and phrases off me and Sophie Hall in the foyer since before 9 o'clock. Then Dan Farthing and Siobhan Mathers moved the two amendments than the Chair announced there was a call for a reference back from Galen Milne of Stirling.

I was sitting behind Kieran and Sophie as I had a card in for the debate. Hoping that my small talk at the conference dinner the night before wouldn't put my neighbour Shabnum Mustapha, the chair, off calling me to speak. Kieran turned around to ask me what was going on and as I started to explain when Richard Coxon, a member of the policy committee, moved a point of order from the floor. Talk about excitement and it still wasn't even 10:15 on a Sunday morning.

What conference wasn't fully aware off was that the chair was chairing her first debate, her aide was a first time aide and the mover and summater were also doing this all for the first time. This was kicking off into a quick lesson of conference standing orders for everyone involved. Siobhan, the Chair of the Policy Committee, who had just moved the PC's amendment hovered around the stage to offer guidance. Richard also pointed out that at the Chair's discretion the debate could be heard before a vote on a reference back of the motion after review by the policy committee at a later date.

Well the chair used her discretion and the debate continued with Catherine Carruthers at the third time of asking making her point against the first amendment. That while she was happy as a transfusion receiver to receive blood from men who have had sex with other men, she was less keen on some of the other groups such as non-intravenous habitual drug users donating blood to her. After she spoke I was called without first being warned to stand by (guess the unexpected proceedings caused by the reference back threw the chair of slightly).

So I opened my folder with my notes totalling a couple of underlines in the motion and 5 words and started to speak*. I outlined that my family was one of blood donors. My father and grandfather both were loyal donors, dad actually ran the scheme at school. I also said that I had given blood since before I was a member of the Liberal Democrats. I forgot to include the fact that I was in that first intake of freshers to be signed up for the party 21 years ago. Then dropped my bombshell 4 little words telling more people at one time than ever before that I one of those men who have sex with other men. Went on to talk a little about the illiberalism of that universal, lifetime exclusion and then returned to my seat after the most emotive, personal and powerful speech I think I've ever given at a Lib Dem Conference, as well as being one of the shortest.

I was followed by Ross Finnie. Now it is always a point of worry for the movers of a motion if the party spokesperson on that field is called to speak but they haven't approached you to check what is being covered. So it was that the LYS waited with me in trepidation as the Health Spokesperson rose to add to the debate. Our bated breathes collectively were released when it became clear that Ross was in favour of the motion even if he couldn't remember Catherine or me by name. But he did say it was right for those who are excluded to be fully advised as to why.

The rest of the speech carried on while a little huddle formed down in front of me as certain party experts started to brief Kieran and Sophie over what they would need to do should the call for a reference back pass a vote. They remained calm taking in all the advise and Kieran was hastily writing some notes in case he has to back a speech opposing the reference back. While Sophie somehow continued to make notes for her summation. I was sort of listening both those those discussions while trying to keep a guage not only on what was going on in the debate but also trying to work out how the hall might vote.

Finally after a speech from Cllr. Tim Brent who works as a health care manager who pointed out some of the risk, the time came for the vote on whether to debate the call for the reference back. Shabnum read out the statement again. Then came the time to show you cards, or at least the voting side of it. There was a very thin splattering in favour of a reference back and then a clear majority of cards against included I noted from my position down the front of the hall some very definite and forceful raising from a couple of good friends.

There was time after the debate on the reference back was not needed for Jennifer Stubbs another LYS member to make her first speech talking about the security of our blood product supply.

Then came the time for Sophie to summate she picked up on keys points from many of the speakers and interwove them into a message emphasising as liberal we should be looking beyond the social stigmas and making others look beyond them too.

Then it came to the vote. With the flourish of hands showing in favour I said to Kieran and Sophie that looks pretty clear which was confirmed seconds later by a far smaller group of hands showing against. LYS had two motions at this conference, The Minimum Income Guarantee passed fairly uneventfully, however, Sunday morning with so many of them in the hall was bound to have been an education into some of the nuances of Lib Dem conference politics. I know that Kieran and Sophie especially coped admirably under the unexpected twists and turns.

But anything but a dead slot for an important stance being taken by the party.

*My speech kicks in around 25:20


  1. On a point of order: the vote wasn't on whether the motion should be referred back, but on whether there should be a debate on the reference back. I always vote in favour of at least hearing the debate, even if, as in this case I would have opposed referring the motion back.

  2. I thought I'd made that clear from the paragraph above. But will add the word debate below again.

  3. Thanks S for a very comprehensive description of events.

  4. It's a good subject for debate..

    Although I don't buy into the 'discrimination' side of things (I don't think it's a fundamental human right to be able to give blood!), I think the medical arguments are persuasive.

    When we are forever running on 'empty' when it comes to blood, I think it's a ridiculous situation to include or exclude people based solely on group statistics.

    All decisions on blood products should be made on the individual's own actions, and their personal risk.