This time next week, I’ll be on a train on my way to Aberdeen along with lots of other Scottish Liberal Democrats for our Spring Conference. This is the party’s main Conference, held over 3 days. Here’s my pick of the agenda.
Part of the reason I’m getting up at such an ungodly hour on Friday is to get up there for the first two debates. Alison McInnes, our justice spokesperson, has done much to highlight the many iniquities of our Justice system under the illiberal regime of Kenny MacAskill. The first debate calls for action to help those caught up in it who have mental health problems and whose needs are currently being ignored.
After that, there’s a debate on getting more women involved in science, technology, engineering and maths.
If I’m honest, there is not that much in the way of controversy. I really can’t see too many people arguing against providing more defibrillators, expanding childcare (Willie Rennie’s big campaign over the past 18 months) or supporting the European Union and the Liberal Democrats being the party of IN. The best hopes of vigorous debate come in motions on e-cigarettes and protecting the safety of sex workers.
Liberal Youth Scotland have two excellent motions on giving young people a voice in the political system and ending gay conversion therapy.
I’m looking forward to Alistair Carmichael’s first keynote speech as Secretary of State for Scotland. I know for sure it will be one of the few precious nuggets of positivity we Scots are getting in the referendum campaign. I’m looking forward to his plan for the final six (ish) months.
Alistair recently got some media attention for a risque joke that he told about Chris Huhne at a press gallery lunch. It was meant in jest but wouldn’t have been to everyone’s taste and I gather that Alistair dropped Chris a wee note to apologise for any offence caused and make clear how much he admires Chris’ record in fighting climate change.
I’m also especially delighted to see that Michael Moore hosting a discussion on the Referendum with Ming Campbell as a main Conference session.
Nick Clegg, fresh from his first debate with Nigel Farage, will be making his speech on Friday afternoon. Now, of course it’s going to be about the economy, being the Party of IN and all that stuff, but I do think that when he comes to Scotland, he should talk a little bit about the stuff he’s really interested in that doesn’t apply in Scotland – mental health, childcare, giving extra money to disadvantaged kids in school. Scotland doesn’t really know what makes this guy tick, and it needs to know how strongly he’s motivated by giving those from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to get on in life.
Willie Rennie’s leader’s speech has to set the party up not just for the European elections but to the General Election beyond. The party is better prepared for both than I think it has ever been before and he needs to send us off with a fervent desire to work like demons. He’s pretty good at pressing the party’s buttons. He’ll also reflect, I think, on the incredible amount our small band has achieved, particularly on justice and childcare.
We also hear from Danny Alexander, who will no doubt concentrate on what the budget does for Scotland – i.e. a lot. A favourite part of Conference is always Malcolm Bruce’s closing speech. No doubt he’ll have much to say on the international situation.
Like Federal Conference, this is the part of the agenda that causes most profanity for me. There are always going to be clashes and my biggest is between the Scottish Police Federation’s view on a year of the single Police Force (most Liberal Democrats are deeply unimpressed) and a debate on assisted dying on Saturday evening.
I’m also going to be seriously conflicted between the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ look at mental health provision for older adults and potential fireworks at the Law Society’s debate on the referendum featuring Willie Rennie, the excellent Sophie Bridger and John Barrett whose insightful article last year ruffled a few feathers.
RNIB Scotland have a discussion on support when you first lose your sight. I always make a point of going to their fringes because they are always incredibly interesting. They’re up against Universities Scotland who are going to be discussing widening access to higher education. You would think, with free tuition, that we’d have many more people from deprived backgrounds going to university than south of the border. That’s not the case.
It’s highly disappointing that the Telegraph couldn’t find some women to go on their panel in their discussion about the referendum. There are plenty who would have been fantastic not least Christine Jardine, Jade Holden, Sophie Bridger, Audrey Findlay (a member of the Campbell Commission), Alison McInnes or Hannah Bettsworth (a Better Together Youth Rep).
It’s great to see LGBT+ Liberal Democrats having their first meeting at a Scottish conference. They have speakers from the Equality Network and Stonewall who, in Scotland, are actually pretty good and much more inclusive than they have been south of the border.
Sadly, the ceilidh is on Saturday night, so the opportunity to teach Nick Clegg the Gay Gordons is lost to us.
Liberal Youth Scotland also have their hilarious quiz on the Saturday evening.
The whole agenda and text of the motions is available here.