On Tuesday, in his speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton, Willie Rennie called on conference representatives from south of the border to make the case for keeping the union together and not just give the stage to the English nationalists. He said:
We’ve already heard from some English nationalists that they want Scotland out. They don’t value our United Kingdom. These are the allies of Alex Salmond’s SNP in their fight to break up Britain. They are working together, attending each other’s conferences and sharing ideas. But despite what you may have heard most people in Scotland don’t want to leave. We want to stay – but it’s not guaranteed.
So I want to hear your voice in the debate about the future of the UK. I want you to show that the rest of the UK values Scotland and our partnership together. I want the moderate, reasonable, open and welcoming voices from outside Scotland to be heard. You can speak up for what the UK means for you. Whether it’s the National Health Service designed by an Englishman, delivered by a Welshman. Or it’s the BBC founded by a Scotsman for the whole of the UK not just Scotland. Or the state pension introduced by Lloyd George; a Liberal Mancunian with a Welsh accent. Speak up for what Scotland means to you.
It could be intellectual, with the Scottish Enlightenment giving us great thinkers like James Hutton, David Hume and Adam Smith. Or it could be as simple as having loved ones from Scotland and caring about the country our children will grow up in. Whatever you value I want you to make your voice heard. Promise me you won’t leave the debate to the extreme views of nationalists.
It came as a bit of a shock to me to learn that there were links between the SNP and the English Democrats. Now, before I even start, let me get one thing absolutely clear. I don’t for a second think that the SNP and the English Democrats share much in political outlook, apart from a desire for independence for Scotland. The English Democrats have a pretty nasty bunch of policies that wouldn’t have much, if any, traction in Scotland or among any parties represented in Councils across the country and the Scottish Parliament.
What do I mean? Well, have a look at the actions of the English Democrats’ Mayor of Doncaster. HE has cut funds for LGBT events and translation services as the BBC reported three years ago. The party as a whole want an end to multi-culturalism and to “stop mass immigration.”
While the English Democrats see marriage and family in very narrow terms, the SNP is introducing equal marriage in Scotland. The values of these two parties are poles apart.
The English Democrats would be more than happy to see an independent Scotland and so share that goal with the SNP. However, their rationale is quite different. It’s not so much a desire to see people given the right of self determination, but rather that they think we’re basically leeching money off the English and should be cut adrift. It’s pretty greedy, really.
So, we’ve established that there’s no great meeting of minds between these two parties. Why on earth, then, did Angus MacNeil, the SNP MP for the Western Isles, think it was ok to go to the English Democrats’ Conference? And why was it ok for the SNP to entertain them in Edinburgh? As this blog post from their chairman Robin Tilbrook makes clear, Plaid Cymru won’t touch the English Democrats with a bargepole. And Tilbrook isn’t happy about it. In contrast, though, Tilbrook has kind words for the SNP:
This is in stark contrast with our friendly relations with the Scottish National Party. We have been pleased to welcome the SNP’s Angus MacNeil MP to speak at a recent Annual Party Conference and our Vice Chairman was welcomed by leaders of the SNP in Edinburgh and her hand was shaken, during a BBC Newsnight programme, by Alex Salmond.
Is it me, or is this a desperate attempt to make themselves sound mainstream and credibility by attaching themselves like limpets to the Scottish party of Government?
Following his attendance at the English Democrats’ conference, Angus MacNeil went a bit Twitter happy with them for a while. On no less than 11 occasions between October 2011 and February 2012 that we know about, McNeil shared things written by the English Democrats on social networks. To be sure, none of them were in support of their more questionable policies, but it’s indicative of a friendly relationship with people with whom it isn’t really wise to be friends. It’s a sign of very poor judgement on the part of those members of the SNP who have been so keen to make friends with them. I think it would be wise for them to borrow Plaid Cymru’s bargepole. If the English Democrats supported a Liberal Democrat model of a federal UK to the absolute last letter, I’d feel queasy about sharing any physical or online platform with them, however remotely.
I think that quite a lot of SNP members would be concerned to think that their senior figures were hanging around with people like the English Democrats, in much the same way that Salmond’s closeness to Murdoch made them cringe.
The English Democrats don’t really take kindly to having the spotlight shone upon them. Their piece on Tilbrook’s blog about Willie’s comments is headlined Tummy upset and “mentally ill” Willie Rennie.
Willie Rennie’s central point is that people with liberal values who live in England shouldn’t think that the Scottish independence referendum isn’t anything to do with them. They can add to the mood music, share the good things about being part of the UK. It’s important that these voices are heard.