Tuesday 31 March 2015

Tory fine dining approach to cuts

One of the lessons I learnt as a child was that if a restaurant didn't list their prices on the bill of fayre outside the establishment it was because my two teacher parents probably couldn't afford it.

Today we are hearing that the Conservative party are saying that there will be £12bn in cuts after the election, but they are not telling you where on that menu those cuts are coming. Therefore you do not know if those cuts will be affecting you. This is not good enough the people are going to the polls in 37 days and deserve to know what is in stall for them if they vote for a major party.

The Liberal Democrats have already outlined fewer cuts in their alternative economic statement, we're promising to cut less than the Conservatives while at the same time borrowing less than Labour but balancing the books fairly, without stretching the economy.

But the Conservatives are basically displaying their menu for the next five years in a window to the voter. But they aren't listing the prices. Maybe they can afford to eat in the high end restaurants but the voters of Sedgefield and most of the country cannot.


Why I support the Trans Manifesto

I have just read in Pink News that the LGBT Consortium are writing to all general election candidates to support the Trans Manifesto.

There are three main strands to that manifesto:
  • Regard trans individuals as equal citizens with equal rights, 
  • Empower trans individuals to be authorities on all aspects of their own lives, 
  • Encourage diverse, representative, realistic and positive portrayals of trans individuals.
Regular readers will know my record on Transgender issues, but I understand in the run up to the election some of you are landing on my website for the first time. So here are some of the things I, a Cisgender* gay man, have worked on to achieve the three aims above.

Firstly just over five years ago it was I who took the Trans elements out of the Equal Marriage motion to Scottish Liberal Democrat conference and turn it into an amendment. The reason was  there were issues such as the spousal veto, the need to dissolve or divorce an existing partner before starting gender reassignment etc that needed the extra time this would allow to explain to a hall full of people, many of whom did not know a Trans person closely enough to know about these issues.

Also having set up LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland along with TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) launched an North/South onslaught through social media, blogs and comments sections against Irish bookmakers Paddy Power, for their Transphobic advert for the 2012 Cheltenham Fesitval.

As a sportsman I stand up against Transphobia as much as I do against homophobia. Knowing all too well from personal experience how uncomfortable you can be made to feel even in a gym locker room by being different. It is something that needs to be kicked out of our sporting arenas.

Until the recent inclusion of Transgender campaigning with the remit of Stonewall, I refused to include the silent "t" within their name whenever I posted on social media, or in a block. Constantly querying representatives of Stonewall England and Wales whenever I saw them about this (Scotland were more forward thinking).

I continue to stand beside my Trans friends with great regard, empowering and encouraging them and others who are less vocal and in line of sight of political leaders. Part of how I currently do that is by serving on the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats executive committee. Sadly many Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual individuals take the same view that Stonewall did until last year and neglect the T in LGBT, but I'm also reminded of the line in the movie Pride "Your struggle is my struggle" this holds true for me in relation to Trans issues.

I fully support, indeed have been fully supporting, the strands of the Trans Manifesto for years and will continue to do so, but can do even more if elected.

* individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity

Thursday 26 March 2015

Death of a Poet: We Will Remember Them Julian Grenfell

Many of the young men who went into battle in World War I were poets, either established or as a way to express themselves and fill the hours of waiting to go over the top. As an act of remembrance to those that never returned to their civilian existence on centenary of the day that they fell I will publish one of their poems.

Today marks 100 years from the passing of Julian Grenfell who as a Captain in the Royal Dragoons on the 13th May had been standing talking to fellow officers near Ypres when a shell landed near them. A splinter hit him in the head and he was transferred to hospital in Boulogne where his mother, father and sister were at his bedside when he died of his wounds. The day after his death alongside news of his death his most famous was published in The Times. 

Into Battle

The naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun's gaze glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze;
And life is Colour and Warmth and Light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight,
And who dies fighting has increase.
The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run
And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest, and fullness after dearth.
All the bright company of Heaven
Hold him in their bright comradeship,
The Dog star, and the Sisters Seven,
Orion's belt and sworded hip:
The woodland trees that stand together,
They stand to him each one a friend;
They gently speak in the windy weather;
They guide to valley and ridges end.
The kestrel hovering by day,
And the little owls that call by night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they,
As keen of ear, as swift of sight.
The blackbird sings to him: 'Brother, brother,
If this be the last song you shall sing,
Sing well, for you may not sing another;
Brother, sing.'
In dreary doubtful waiting hours,
Before the brazen frenzy starts,
The horses show him nobler powers; -
O patient eyes, courageous hearts!
And when the burning moment breaks,
And all things else are out of mind,
And only joy of battle takes
Him by the throat and makes him blind,
Through joy and blindness he shall know,
Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
That it be not the Destined Will.
The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air Death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.

Grenfell attended Eton along with fellow war poet Patrick Shaw-Stewart, before going up to Balliol College Oxford, where he is known to have bullied Philip Sassoon who was later an MP and a cousin of Siegfried. He joined the army in 1910 and , he was the son of William Grenfell who had been Liberal MP for Salisbury (1880-86) and Hereford (1892-3) resigning after falling out with Gladstone over Home Rule, he returned to the commons as Conservative MP for Wycombe (1900-1905) before becoming Baron Desborough. His next oldest brother Gerald William died about 2 months after his elder brother about a mile away from where the shell struck and the youngest brother Ivo George as to perish in a car crash in 1926.

On 1 January 1915 Julian Grenfell was awarded the Distinguished Service Order:
On 17 November he succeeded in reaching a point behind the enemy's trenches and making an excellent reconnaissance, furnishing early information of a pending attack by the enemy.

There are very few poems by Grenfell that exist. But some had been published in the Eton College Chronicle and while studying there also in London World and Vanity Fair.

Julian Henry Francis Grenfell DSO 30 March 1888 London, England - 26 May 1915 Boulogne-sur-Mer, France

See also: The other poets who died in the war.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Five Green Laws

For the 2015 General Election the Lib Dems give to you five green laws.

Looking to build on our record in Government as well as having a green thread throughout our manifesto there are five specific environmental areas that the Liberal Democrats will specifically highlight with five new green laws.

Zero Carbon Bill
Introducing a Bill in the next parliament to end Britain’s adverse impact on climate change for good by

Measures will include:

  •  A new legally binding target for Zero Carbon Britain by 2050 
  • A new legally binding decarbonisation target for the power sector by 2030 to support investment in all forms of low carbon electricity 
  • Establishing an Office for Accelerated Low Carbon Innovation to fast-track new green tech including tidal power, renewable heat, ultra-low emission vehicles, energy storage and CCS 
  • Applying Emissions Performance Standards (EPS) to existing coal plants from 2025 to end use of unabated coal generation 
  • Full borrowing powers to the Green Investment Bank, to further boost investment in low carbon technology

Zero Waste Bill

Treble fines and claw back £500 million for the taxpayer by clamping down on organisations which fly-tip to deliberately evade tax and review the tax structure across landfill, incineration and collection.

A "Responsibility Deal" between government and business to ensure packaging for consumer products are designed for recycling rather than designed for dumping,

Commission a Stern type review to undertake a UK-wide review on how Britain’s waste can be used as a resource to generate revenue for the economy and the possibility of legally binding targets on waste.

Nature Bill

Establish the Natural Capital Committee on a statutory footing to provide advice to Government to ensure that nature is at the heart of government decision-making and that government departments are held to account for achieving progress against commitments to improving the natural environment.

Plans include:

  • Bring forward a package to protect bees and pollinators and help them recover 
  • Design and adopt a National Food Strategy and encourage local councils to adopt a food plan in order to foster the growth of local food economies, from field to fork. 
  • Bring forward a package to protect bees and pollinators and help them recover.
Green Homes Bill

New Green Homes Bill will insulate up to 10 million homes by 2025 and offer at least £100 a year off Council Tax for ten years when energy improvements are carried out. The new Bill would ensure these achievements are built on, incentivising people to insulate their Offering at least £100 each year off your Council Tax for 10 years, when you significantly upgrade the energy efficiency of your home

Other plans under the bill would include:

  • Reforming the Green Deal 'pay as you save' scheme into a new ‘Green Homes Loan Scheme’ which would extend the current scheme to include renewable heat and electricity 
  • A new 'Feed out Tariff' for investment in Solid Wall Insulation, the most expensive and disruptive type of energy efficiency measure

Green Transport Bill

Transport has a significant role to play in reducing carbon emissions. In the UK, transport is responsible for around 25% of our carbon emissions and is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions. We will bring forward a comprehensive package of transport policies to continue to build a people-centred, sustainable, safe travel system that helps the economy grow.
Other plans would include:

  • Fast track support for the growing electric vehicle market, starting with implementing a full network of charging points for electric cars, and a target of 2040 
  • Make progress towards implementing the recommendations of the 'Get Britain Cycling' report 
  • We will update planning law to ensure new infrastructure developments are designed around walking, cycling and public transport 
  • Oppose any increase to the national speed limit We will undertake a review of road transport taxation 
  • Where 20mph isn't achieving the saving of children’s lives, give local authorities the power to reduce the speed limit outside schools to 10mph 

Thursday 19 March 2015

Danny Alexander lays out Liberal Democrat economic plan

Today the day after George Osborne delivered the final budget of this coalition Government Danny Alexander the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary of the Treasury laid out our plans for tax and spending.

Lib Dem plans include borrowing £70bn less than Labour and cutting £50bn less than the Conservatives, keeping Britain on the path to prosperity, showing that we still believe in a stronger economy AND and fairer society; the Conservatives recently dropped the latter in a campaign poster and in their budget plans.

Danny announced using the same figures that were available to Osborne that there is still roughly roughly £30bn of fiscal consolidation by 2017/18 to complete the job of economic recovery. To go about funding this the Liberal Democrats will ensure that those with the broadest shoulders to bear the largest share.

To fund this the Liberal Democrats will raise £6bn through shutting remaining tax loopholes, £6bn will come from tax rises, with high value properties and the banking sector paying more. The additional money will come from £12bn of departmental savings and £3.5bn from welfare savings.

Public expenditure can then start to increase once this threshold is met and ensuring that the NHS has the £8bn a year it needs to secure its future.

 The measures to tackle tax invasion include:

  •  Introducing a new strict liability criminal offence for off shore evaders so that pleading ignorance can no longer be used in an attempt to avoid criminal prosecution. 
  • Introducing a new offence of corporate failure to prevent tax evasion or the facilitation of tax evasion. This would stop organisations from being able to get away with facilitating or abetting others to evade tax. 
  • Increasing financial penalties for offshore evaders – including, for the first time, linking the penalty to underlying assets. A billionaire evading £5m of tax won’t just be liable for that £5m. 
  • Introducing new civil penalties so that those who help evaders will have to pay fines that match the size of the tax dodge they facilitate. So if you help someone evade £1m of tax, you risk a penalty of £1m or even more yourself. 
  • Extending the scope for HMRC to name and shame both evaders and those who enable evasion.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

DUP and UUP take power of choice out of voters' hands

In 2010-11 while I was running the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign I approached the UUP (who were somewhat receptive) and the DUP (who were less so) about introducing a fairer voting system for Westminster elections. The system that we were offering in the referendum was AV using a preference voting system to elect a single member to each seat.

One of the key arguments that I used to those who would listen to me (which included the now leader of the UU), Mike Nesbitt) was that in Northern Ireland with multiple parties it would mean the MP would have to secure the support of the majority of the electorate. So if people objected to an MP who refused to take up their seat in Westminster they could vote for the other candidates who would. Or if their preferred candidate didn't get the most first preferences their vote could transfer to another candidate within their comfort zone.

I also said that in Northern Ireland it would do away with the suspense of would there be pacts between parties before candidates were even named taking away the choice of individual voters for supporting a type of Unionism or Nationalism that they felt comfortable with, and leaving them only with one they were less comfortable with. Both parties in the end did not support us, although the Progressive Unionist Party along with UKIP did from the unionist side of politics here.

Therefore, sadly I am not surprised at the news this evening that the two largest Unionist parties have carved up four seats between them. The DUP will contest East Belfast and North Belfast with Gavin Robinson looking seeking to gain and Nigel Dodds MP to hold respectively, The UUP have been handed Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Newry and Mourne to two of their MLAs Tom Elliott and Danny Kennedy.

In these four seats there was potential that the vote could have been different under AV in 2010.

Belfast East of course was where Peter Robinson lost out to the Alliance's Naomi Long. The combined DUP/UCU-NF vote would have greatly out polled Naomi 5 years ago. It is possible that under AV Robinson would have held on in 2010. But the arrogance of the DUP that this is a unionist seat and the trouble that the DUP/UUP stirred up may actually mean that with the DUP being given the candidate here some moderate UUP voters instead of voting for the Unionist candidate may well transfer to Naomi. This is the grand prize the DUP wanted from the deal, it would be somewhat ironic if the way they have gone about trying to win it back backfires on them and this deal is the latest part of thier arrogance.

Belfast North is the only seat that has a defending Unionist MP in it. The margin of DUP/UCU-NF vote over the combined Sinn Féin/SDLP was a mere 1.6% lead, so under AV it would all go down to who would have swept up the Alliance's 5%. It was something similar the following year in the Assembly elections. So it is tight and the fact that the SDLP have not named a candidate here would be worrying for the DUP deputy leader facing the same fate as his leader 5 years ago.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone was the most marginal seat in 2010, Sinn Féin taking it from a single Independent unionist unity candidate by a mere 4 votes. The deal this time of course means that the unionist unity candidate will have a party name attached to them on the ballot as opposed to being listed as one of two independents, it is also one of the unionist MLAs for the constituency so has more name recognition than the candidate last time. Will it be enough to overcome 4 votes in a seat that Sinn Féin have held since Ken Maginnis stepped down as the UUP MP in 2001 (even against a single unionist on occassion)? Ironically when we went to Enniskillen and reran the poll as a sample of AV during the fairer votes campaign Michelle Gildernew still won and gained transfers from all fronts to get her there (so the MP has backing from strange quarters).

Newry and Armagh is the only seat that Unionists lost in the 1986 by-elections in protest to the Anglo-Irish agreement. It is also a seat that they haven;t come close to taking back ever since. Indeed in 2010 the combined vote was still 9% behind Sinn Féin and doesn't even need the further 23.4% that the SDLP polled to secure a nationalist majority.Most of the remaining vote has been squeezed so far that there is really nothing else up for grabs this time round. The UUP did badly in getting this as their second seat as part of the deal it is not likely to change hands even with the candidate using the naming of a play park after an IRA terrorist and Irish language as two rallying calls for unionist votes

In light of the almost impossible task in Newry and Armagh the shock is that they left out the more winnable:

Belfast South had the combined vote of DUP and UCU-NF a mere 16 votes behind the SDLP candidate. So it would have depended largely on how the Alliance Party vote would have transferred as to who would win there if there was an AV election. This time while Sinn Féin have named a candidate so too have the NI Conservatives. So some of that UCU-NF vote will go that way and it has to be seen what impact Sinn Féin will have on Alasdair McDonnell's vote. Maybe the expectation is that Belfast South will fall because of the split nationalist vote and perceived falling of McDonnell's standing, but it could be a risky game they are playing having made the pact in the four seats they chose.

However, as I point out in a couple of the examples above the need in the two Belfast seats that are part of this pact is for the DUP to bring across moderate unionists to their cause behind their unity candidate. The issue is what impact the DUP attacks on Alliance for trying to find a way for everyone will have on some of those votes. It is highly possible that by going over the heads of such moderate unionists in North and East Belfast that vote may find another home.

No doubt it is a risk that the DUP are prepared to take but the UUP would appear to do less well out of this deal than if they had backed a move to AV four years ago. The problem as I pointed out four years ago to making such pacts is that not all of your support will back the unity candidate. Some DUP vote may well head to TUV (if they stand) in the seats that the UUP are given and some UUP vote will also head elsewhere where the DUP have the candidate. It doesn't guarantee the result they want when the finishing line is not set and merely grabbing the most votes under First Past the Post rewards a "winner".

Editor's Note: Stephen was the Northern Ireland Co-ordinator for the Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign and attended UUP conference ahead of that year's Assembly Election to Lobby key figures in that party.

Thursday 12 March 2015


In his writer's layer in Somerset a bearded fellow was leaning over his keyboard.

"What next?" he thought as he imagined the characters of his creation in his head. "Maybe a little more of Death." He thought.


"No dear, it wasn't me," he said still staring at the screen not looking round.


"Oh," he said, this time turning his head to look behind him. As he did so there was a thud as his body's head fell unto to the letter "a" and filled the screen with the letter. "Is it that time already?"

I'M AFRAID SO, said Death.

And as the two of the them walked off into the endless light out in space the giant space turtle Great A'Tuin reached her final destination to the time of mating and the massive elephants on her back Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Phon and Jerakeen stood still for the first time in history. The Disc that lay upon their shoulders stopped turning.

Only in the history books will life on the Discworld now be remembered and in the imaginations of millions of readers will the characters live on.

Terry Pratchett 28 April 1948 - 12 March 2015

The only man who for the last 25 years has continually made me laugh out loud in too many public spaces, walk into too many lamp posts and had me still reading when the sun came up the day after release date. All while largely not physically present.

Ethnic minorities under attack from UKIP

First the DUP came after those who are LGBT.

Now UKIP come after those not born in the UK.


Nigel Farage the leader of UKIP has say he would scrap most of the race relation laws in this country. The laws that protect ethnic minority workers. These laws are in place to protect the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) population from unscrupulous employers, and yes the minority ethnic does cover white non-British with certain provisos.

One of those provisos of course is that EU citizens have the freedom to work in any other EU member state. That applies equally to Poles wanting to work here, British people wanting to run a taverna in Greece or German wives of British MEPs wanting to work as their husband's secretary.

Nigel Farage tries to say in his defence that the nation is colour blind, and that so is his party. Yet as I point out above while the vast majority of the country may well now be colour blind there are still racists in our nation, just as there are homophobes, misogynists and people who would at the drop of a hat start to use what they feel is their superiority over a minority grouping in the workplace or provision of services.

In Northern Ireland recently we have seen the DUP launch a challenge to allow an exemption to the equality act placing Christians outside having to give equal provision of goods, facilities and services to LGB people. Now we have UKIP also wanting to take apart the equality legislation to allow racists, who sadly do exist in our nation, to prohibit non-UK nationals from employment.

A large number of non-UK born employees in this country are the spouses of UK citizens, just like Mrs Farage. Because we are an eclectic mix. It is part of what 40 years of being European has resulted in. We are no longer confined by red tape to looking for work and education to the UK, many of us take the opportunity to work or study elsewhere and many of those fall in love and marry someone of a different nationality. If that other nationality is also within the EU there is no need for that person to take up citizenship in their spouses nation as the right to reside is part of what being European allows.

I do recall the days I got the first bus from Bathgate into Edinburgh for work. There were a great number of Poles on that bus with me. They got off at Broxburn to start a 7:30 shift processing chickens. There were very few Scottish accents getting of that bus at that time to join the chicken processors. More recently Northern Ireland's DUP health minister has spoken highly of the non-UK nursing staff who attended to his wife in the unpopular overnight shifts while she was recovering from her two strokes.

We tread a dangerous slope if we think we don't need protections for any sector of our society, especially those seen as minorities. Yes the majority may be fair and transparent in their dealings but there are some who would take that opportunity to discriminate and it they that such laws were brought in to prevent harming others they view as different.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

...and so to pastures new

After last night's announcement on my blog about Emma Farthing-Sykes taking up the Liberal Democrat mantel in Linlithgow and East Falkirk.

Today I am delighted to announce that I have been selected as the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Sedgefield.

It is a great delight to be able to continue to take the Liberal Democrat vision of a Stronger Economy and a Fairer Society, this time to the people of Sedgefield. Only the Liberal Democrats are capable of delivering both so that everyone can get on in life.

Labour seem to neglect the economic quagmire they left after they were last in office. Not only refusing to take responsibility for it, but also even five years on not prepared to deal with the consequences. While the Conservatives are already showing that they will only focus on the economy without ensuring that those that need our assistance most are allowed fairness and support.

The days when it was either or were broken in 2010 and the Liberal Democrats are still the only party offering a vision that allows the economy to grow and get stronger while those most in need in our society's help and support are not enslaved by poverty or any other hindrance to their advancement, ensuring opportunity for everyone.

Monday 9 March 2015

Passing the baton to Emma Farthing-Sykes

I first meet Emma Sykes as she was then during the 2010 General Election during a visit to the Edinburgh North and Leith constituency office. She had come in to volunteer to help my friend Kevin Lang try and get elected against Labour's Mark Lazarowicz.

At the start of her volunteering I don't think she quite knew what to expect, but apparently she keep turning up on her bike and getting more and more involved in the campaign the nearer we got towards election day. However, on that election campaign she met someone she would end up falling in love with, the wonderful Dan, as well as what it takes to be a candidate for the Liberal Democrats.

For most of the last five years I have kept up with her from afar, via Facebook or catching up at conferences either Scottish or Federal, which has included seeing her speak from the platform on issues.

I see that Emma Farthing-Sykes is the new prospective parliamentary candidate for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and I would encourage those who have voted for me in the last two general elections to vote for Emma this time. I know that after 2010 some of you did say that while you might not vote for any Liberal Democrat you would vote for me. But knowing Emma as I do if I were still able to vote in Bathgate, as I did five years ago, I would have no problem in voting for Emma as I know she would carry on the ideas and beliefs of the guy who wore the Liberal Democrat rosette the last two general elections.

She came into my party full of that enthusiasm that led many to join us in the run up to 2010, and instead of growing disillusioned as many did when we entered Government in coalition she jumped in and started to see what further liberal principles could be implemented.

I'm passing the baton to someone who is determined to not let the torch of liberalism be extinguished in our country. I wish her every success on 7 May.

James Molyneaux, Baron Molyneaux of Killead 1920 -2015

Along side Ian Paisley one of the earliest politicians I knew about was James Molyneaux who from 1979 until 1995 served as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. Indeed the two were the ever presents in my formative years of political awareness.

He had been a teenager at the outbreak of World War II and growing up near Aldergrove, which is now the location of Belfast International Airport he joined the Royal Air Force in 1941, and served through the war as was one of those involved in the liberation of Belsen concentration camp. 

He was first elected to a seat on Antrim County Council in the 1960s and in the 1970 General Election he entered Westminster succeeding his party colleague Knox Cunningham, who had served as a PPS to Harold Macmillan while PM, in the South Antrim seat.

After his second defence of his seat in the October 1974 election he became leader of the Ulster Unionists in the Commons, because the party leader Harry West had lost his Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat. However, after West failed to get elected to the European Parliament in 1979 and resigned as leader Molyneaux took over as leader of the party. His tenure as leader of the party of 16 years and 1 day is only exceeded in length by those of Viscount Craigavon and Viscount Brookeborough (the first and third Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland).

In the 1983 election with his seat split in two he became the MP for Lagan Valley, a seat he would hold until he retired in 1997. Through his leadership he was seen as someone who wasn't in favour of really reintroducing a new Northern Irish Assembly or Parliament but a supporter of direct rule with more powers devolved to the councils. However, he also started to see the loss of ground to the DUP. Although it appears his time as leader he was not doing much to advance Northern Ireland, he was using his diplomatic skills to keep the party together with factions wanting to head towards devolution and others for maintaining direct rule, something that soon came to the fore under his successor.

In 1995 he was challenged for the party leadership by a 21-year-old student from Coleraine, Lee Reynolds. Although he won successfully 15% of the party voted for the challenger with no experience and this was seen as a significant protest against his leadership. Two days after the result was announced the death of Jim Kilfedder, the one time Ulster Unionist but then Popular Unionist Party MP for North Down, on a train in from Gatwick.

The subsequent by election saw Molyneaux's party facing a tough challenge to return this seat to the Ulster Unionist fold from another former Ulster Unionist Bob McCartney standing and UK Unionist Party candidate. Possibly as a result of not challenging Kilfedder since 1983 or maybe as a sign of discontent with Ulster Unionism their candidate came a distant second with 26.4% only just beating the former Alliance Party leader Oliver Napier. This poor show lead to Molyneaux's resignation as leader, ironically being replaced by a North Down native, David Trimble.

Upon his retirement as leader he was created a Knight, and when he stepped down from the House of Commons in the 1997 election he was elevated to the House of Lords.

Molyneaus was vociferous in his opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and supported the three UUP MPs Jeffrey Donaldson, David Burnside and Martin Smyth when they resigned the party whip over the parties support of the Agreement.  In 2005 he along with Smyth backed the DUP's Jimmy Spratt over the UUP's candidate Michael McGimpsey in South Belfast, as well as his successor in Lagan Valley, Donaldson who had by then defected to the DUP, but he also supported some UUP anti-agreement candidates such as Burnside in South Antrim. Of these only Donaldson was successful and the South Belfast seat fell to the SDLP's Alisdair McDonnell but Trimble was no happy with his predecessor's interference though he reigned after losing not only his own seat, but every other incumbent Ulster Unionist MP or held seat, ironically the only Ulster Unionist returned for Sylvia, Lady Hermon in the same North Down seat that had played a part in the downfall of Molyneaux

Molyneaux never married, and as well as his role in politics was Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Preceptory from 1971 -1995. Although seen as the leader of unionist for most of his career he was for a short while educated in the local Catholic primary school and helped to raise money when a Catholic Church near his home was burnt down by loyalist arsonists.

James Henry Molyneaux, Baron Molyneaux of Killead 27 August 1920 - 8 March 2015

Saturday 7 March 2015

Five years ago Scottish Lib Dems passed motion supporting Equal Marriage

Five years ago at this time I was waiting at the front of the Perth Concert Hall waiting for the final day of the Scottish Liberal Democrats spring conference to get under way. I had been in the refreshment area outside the main auditorium for most of the previous hour going over not just my amendment relating to Transgender issues but also with Kieran Leach who was moving the main motion and Derek Young who was moving the amendment for humanist celebrants. For this was the day that we as a parted started to actually have a policy on marriage equality.

Bizarrely for me I didn't take a lot of time to blog about the debate, nor did I actually blog my speech. I think my comments on the conference as a whole that I was knackered probably sums up how I was feeling. It was the culmination of months of preparation that finally it was passed. I think I also didn't get out of the hall completely after the debate before I felt I had to make a comment about integrated education.

But I also know that I spent a lot of the earlier part of conference gauging the mode about passing this historic motion. It was in doing this that I added to my opening remarks how I welcomed the motion as a Christian who happened to be gay, as it was allowing all people of faith freedom of expression of their faith.

Read also:
The coverage of the debate on Pink News

Friday 6 March 2015

How DUP define space for difference

I see in the Larne Times today a report of the public meeting where "60" members of the public attended to hear about Paul Givan's conscience clause. I'm assuming that as the picture appears to be in the middle of the meeting that the other 20-24 had either left early, arrived late or all had to attend the toilet at the same time the photographer arrived.

However, what strikes me are the comments quoted of DUP councillor Gordon Lyons. He says:

"I do not want to live in a community where all have to conform to the same thoughts and ideals, but rather I want to live in one where there is space for difference."

You know reading that line in isolation it fits rather snuggly over the Liberal Democrat line in the pre-amble to our constitution where is says, "nobody shall be enslaved by conformity. Looks all nice and liberal.

However, here is the context in which it was said:

"Essentially this debate is about the kind of society we live in. Do we want to live in one in which people have to make a choice between continuing in their business or profession or following their conscience? That does not sound like a pluralist or liberal society. 
"I do not want to live in a community where all have to conform to the same thoughts and ideals, but rather I want to live in one where there is space for difference. That is what this legislation is about."

Not quite so liberal and pluralist after all.

On the essentials he is right this debate is about the kind of society we live in.

But when it come to continuing your business, we have seen the recent case where a printing business has decided he will not print the civil partnership invites of a long standing customer in Drogheda because of his conscience. The customer is now upset that he wasn't told about this objection to his homosexuality earlier, no doubt because he would not have give four years of trade from his own business to the printers had he known.

Gay people don't all live in the big metropolises of our nation some of them live out in villages or small rural towns where there may only be one printer, one baker, one store, one restaurant etc within easy reach. There may be no choice for a gay business owner to shift their business if turned down or spurned because of their sexual orientation. There may be no space in such circumstances under a conscience clause for their difference. Indeed one couple in England face someone threatening to drive them out of their village for being gay.

You see the conscience clause instead of allow space for difference, allows some people to designate their space as only for homogeneous conformists to their own ideals and thoughts. That is not the sort of society I want to live in.