Scottish Lib Dem Conference 2015: Live Blog
News, analysis and gossip from the Scottish Lib Dem conference, brought to you by Liam Kirkaldy (LK), Tom Freeman (TF) and Alan Robertson (AR). Please refresh for updates.
13:02: Well that is about it for the Lib Dem conference - Bruce has told the conference to get out and win, with Rennie inviting everyone to join him in campaigning for Christine Jardine in Gordon this afternoon. Sadly though, I have a train to catch so we will leave them to it. Have a good Sunday! (LK)
12:52: Good reaction to Malcolm Bruce, which you might expect given he is standing down, as he made his last conference appearance as an MP. It was a rounded speech, justifying the Lib Dem decision to join the coalition, going over the changes he has seen in Gordon since 1983 and then going on to highlight the positive work the UK does - with examples from his time as chairman of the Commons Committee on International Development.
There were a few barbs aimed at the SNP, with Bruce linking Scottish nationalism with other examples across Europe, and throwing a few insults aimed at Alex Salmond himself. UKIP and the Greens were also lumped in with some SNP attacks, with Bruce arguing that all three offered an extreme view that would damage the UK economy. He also took time to defend Nick Clegg (something few other speakers have done) saying that the criticism the Deputy PM has faced since 2010 has gone beyond normal political comment.
He ended by telling delegates to go out and hold the seats they have now, then win new ones in the General Election, 'for Scotland, for the UK, and for Europe'. (LK)
12:19: Room filling up ahead of Malcolm Bruce's closing speech - I am expecting fireworks.
We are currently hearing a topical discussion on transport improvements - probably the most interesting part was an audience member managing to make a pretty eloquent speech as a toddler attempted to scale his back. He seemed unaware of the disturbance (she made it to his shoulder by end of comment). (LK)
11:45: Cllr Kate Stephen summates the minimum wage motion, describing the different pieces of work going on in attempt to make conditions fairer. She says respect lies behind the motion, which is aimed at stopping age discrimination. Quoting Dr Seuss, she says, "a person is a person, no matter how small."
"The minimum wage should be the living wage but this is about reducing the age discrimination aspect of it." She says that if employers are finding that 16 and 17 year olds are less capable then that is an education issue, but criteria for pay level cannot be age. "We are not asking for preferential treatment, we are just asking for young people to be treated equally." (LK)
11:30: Conference now hearing from Jonathon Waddell from Liberal Youth Scotland on the need for a fair minimum wage, which does not discriminate based on age. (LK)
11:05: Things got slightly more heated with a discussion over the failure of the party to attract greater diversity. Delegates had been presented with out-of-date figures, which incorrectly suggested an improvement had taken place. Craig Harrow forced to clarify numbers, while stressing that failure to attract more ethnic minority candidates was "not for want of trying." (LK)
10:55: Sir Malcolm Bruce, MP for Gordon (where Salmond is standing) coming up later on. He is standing down, with Christine Jardine left to take on the SNP. I interviewed Bruce in December, just before Salmond announced his candidacy, and there are few MPs who dislike the SNP as much as Bruce, so I would expect a few digs in his speech.
Some quotes from our interview. You can read the whole thing here.
On the SNP: "The Scottish Government have effectively had a slush fund to spend – they can blame all the difficult decisions on someone else and the implication is somehow that Scotland wouldn’t have had to make these decisions, which I think is disingenuous and slightly insulting to the intelligence of Scottish voters, some of whom at least I think understand that that is not how the world is.”
On the public: "So it is quite difficult to sustain the discussion about the real, difficult issues we are having to face without just being faced by the torrent of slogans which they have picked up from one propaganda machine or another. And that sounds terrible. But there are voters, and I meet them on the doorstep, who do get it and will talk to you about it, but we can only talk to a tiny percentage.
10:44: In other news, some odd developments occurred last night.
Then, when I questioned it, things got a bit scary.
10:40: The motion, "campaigning for a liberal Scotland' was passed. (LK).
10:30: Alistair Carmichael is now up speaking in favour of "Campaigning for a Liberal Scotland". He lists some of his recent work, like pushing for votes for 16 year olds at Scottish elections. He says, "Think not just about how we campaign, but what we want to achieve". He tells the hall to get out and tell people what the party has done, so it can get re-elected and continue.
'It is not always easy campaigning for a Liberal Scotland, but for me personally I have been part of the party since I was 14 and it feels like family - though I don't always get on with people in my own family', he says, continuing, 'ask yourselves, if it is not us who wins these seats, who will it be? If Michael Moore loses his seat, will that help create a liberal Scotland? If Alex Salmond beats Christine Jardine, will that create a liberal Scotland?' Audience obviously thinks not. (LK)
10:20: Good morning, the conference is now up and running again, with those in the hall discussing party business. At the moment that business is how best to tackle inequality (LK).
16.02: Interesting that biggest applause by far of Willie Rennie's speech to conference this afternoon was for current MSP and justice spokesperson Alison McInnes who has become a vocal and powerful critic of policy decisions taken by Scotland's single police force. Yet McInnes will go into next May's Holyrood election second on the party's regional list for North East Scotland behind former MSP Mike Rumbles. (AR)
15.55: "Taxes down. Pensions up. More jobs. Better healthcare. Stronger Scotland." The ten words Rennie urges activisits to go out and hammer home on the doorsteps. (AR)
15.51: "It was so cold canvassing with him I had to wear my pyjamas under my suit," admits Willie Rennie on going out campaigning with Robert Smith. (AR)
15.49: By far the longest round of applause of Rennie's speech follows his mention of justice spokesperson Alison McInnes. "The SNP cannot be trusted with our civil liberties and they know it," says Rennie as he claims Police Scotland is "now in chaos". (AR)
15:43: "We need fewer grand speeches from them in London, and more attention on the issues at home," Rennie says, as he claims SNP ministers "still have their eye off the ball" in relation to the NHS. "It’s time for the SNP Government to get a grip." (AR)
15.25: Former Lib Dem party leader Paddy Ashdown is the warm-up for Willie Rennie this afternoon. And he's certainly playing to the gallery. Ashdown acknowledges that he "cheerfully insulting... as Mr Salmond found this morning", a reference to his unflattering description of the former FM's book that has made many of today's papers. The party veteran urges delegates to take a look on Twitter to see the parodies that have followed.
Delegates are now being asked to dip in their pocket to put money in buckets being passed around the room to help the campaign. "I would sell my grandmother for more money – and she's dead," Ashdown tells the audience as he urges them to open their wallets and say "Dear Paddy Ashdown, please help yourself". (AR)
15.21: Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie is set to take the stage in the next few minutes. In the meantime, here is the interview with Rennie in the latest issue of Holyrood for you to take a look over.
15:11: A motion on protecting asylum seekers is unanimously carried at Scottish Lib Dem conference. Motion calls for the UK Government to support the introduction of a 28 day limit by which a person can be detained as well as allow cases, appeals and judicial reviews to be held in Scotland for those residing in Scotland "where possible". (AR)
14:59: The hall is beginning the fill up as delegates await Willie Rennie's speech. We are hearing some pretty passionate speeches about the detention of asylum seekers. (LK)
14:55: Despite telling delegates at a lunchtime fringe he is "always averse to predictions", former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy did offer one of his own. “Whatever the outcome of this general election I think the issue of UK proportional representation for the House of Commons will find its way back onto the agenda sooner than many people might imagine," declared the MP. (AR)
14:50: Looks like the book theme of this spring conference is set to continue...
14:46: Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael has also been keen to move away from talk of pre-election pacts this afternoon. It comes after former Liberal leader Lord Steel suggested a formal coalition following May 7 would not be in the Lib Dems' best interests. “The lesson I would take is that the people who are in charge of this whole process are not the political parties but the voters and it’s the voters that decide where the balance of power in any parliament is going to lie and that it is for the political parties then to respect that decision,” Carmichael told a fringe meeting earlier. (AR)
14:41: The Lib Dems are full of spirit it would seem...
13.50: Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy has been speaking this lunchtime about the unfolding General Election campaign. “This is really the first time that all the principal party leaders are accepting the fact that it doesn’t look as if any of them are going to win it outright," he told delegates at a Law Society of Scotland fringe. "Nobody is saying, 'yes we’re just campaigning for a X party outright majority, maximum votes, maximum seats and that’ll be it'. They can’t get away with that anymore because it flies in the face of all reason, reality, common sense, and that’s going to make for a very different campaign.” The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber suggests that as the campaign unfolds over the next month or so there will be areas where "feelers" are going out in respect of areas different parties can find common ground on. “I think that’s a very healthy development and one that we should be on the front foot of that,” Kennedy said. (AR)
13.36: Poor timing...
13.32: Speaking at this lunchtime's Law Society of Scotland fringe on what is to be learned from coalition politics, Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael said lesson of last five years is that coalition can work as he claimed the Lib Dems have been able to provide the country with “stable, effective government”. The Orkney and Shetland MP said it was “absolutely necessary” to have stability following the General Election five years ago. “If we hadn’t provided it through a coalition then the system would have found another way of providing it, probably through a second general election in 2010,” he told delegates. (AR)
12:23: The Telegraph are reporting Senior Lib Dem Lord Strasburger has resigned from the party, just as the Electoral Commission begins investigation over allegations that party took donations against regulations. (TF)
12:15: Now delegates are moving off to lunchtime fringes on the topics of coalition politics, Assisted Suicide, mental health, accessible transport, university access and housing
12:00: A standing ovation for Jo Swinson, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise from baby of the house to junior minister. She told conference about her love of leaflets, which the Lib Dems have been delivering along with policies. Her speech was heavy on the details of what she has delivered in government personally, including cracking down on businesses who don't pay the minimum wage and payday lenders. On the latter, "They've left the market. Good riddance" she said.
She was also critical of the SNP's record in government, particularly in health and education, asking why support for disadvantaged children was restricted to seven local authorities, "all in the central belt".
She said her criticism was met with outrage, because "cybernats don't like accountability" for the Scottish Government's record. "Scotland voted No for independence, so stop chasing another referendum and get down to business" she said.
11.56: Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs, Jo Swinson MP, has been speaking in the main hall. Check @HolyroodDaily on Twitter for more updates. (AR)
Swinson also highlights her work in consumer affairs, tackling payday lenders. "They've left the market. Good riddance" she says.— Holyrood magazine (@HolyroodDaily) March 21, 2015
11:42: Address by LGBT LibDems a touching plea to continue policies of equality following equal marriage act. Next up: Jo Swinson. (TF)
11:20: Perhaps delegates are enjoying this on their unscheduled coffee break...
11:15: The debate on land reform is cut short as conference votes overwhelmingly to refer the motion back to policy committee on the advice of Robert Smith MP. There are too many grey areas and implications of the various points, he says, including failing to recognise many large landowners are charities and organisations like the National Trust and RSPB. With conference left with nothing to talk about, this means there is an unscheduled coffee break, much to the delight of many delegates... (TF)
11.08: Former Liberal leader Lord Steel has been on the BBC’s The Week in Parliament programme to say that the Lib Dems do not want to enter into another formal coalition after May’s General Election. "I'm pretty certain that the mood in the party will be to say the very most we would accept would be confidence and supply,” he said. “I just detect that there's a general feeling that we need to recharge our batteries and recharge our values and that association with another party is not the way to do it." (AR)
11:00: A rather weighty debate is taking place in the hall about land reform, with around 12 different parts to the motion, all of which will be voted on separately. Among the points are recommendations that Scottish Government should establish an upper limit on the total amount of land that can be held by a private land owner, and preventing any legal entity outside of the EU to register a title to land in Scotland. Both of these have been criticised for "not being very liberal".
There is also a green Liberal Democrat amendment on making land owners obliged to maintain deer levels. (TF)
10.53: Willie Rennie will be delivering his conference address this afternoon in which he'll claim the “Liberal centre ground” prevent a return to the “see-saw economics of the past”. “Liberal Democrats bring fairness where the Conservatives won’t,” he will say. “Liberal Democrats bring economic competence where the Labour Party and the SNP can’t. We hold the others back when they go too far. We hold government in the liberal centre ground where people want it to be.” (AR)
10.43: Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg delivered a rally speech at spring conference here in Aberdeen last night, telling delegates they have “every reason to be optimistic as we approach the election”. Following Lord Ashdown’s controversial comments earlier in the day (see 14.35), Alex Salmond’s book once again featured as Clegg claimed the former First Minister has “spent more time writing his book than listening to the concerns of local people”.
Willie Rennie and justice spokesperson Alison McInnes received a special mention for “standing up for the civil liberties of Scottish citizens”. “Whether it is as the lone voice of opposition to the SNP’s super ID database or holding the police to account over stop and search. Few things are more central to what we believe than protecting the rights of individuals.” (AR)
10:40: In the hall there's an interesting debate about GPs and other health services as part of local planning processes. "There is no statutory process for local planning agencies to consider the impact on healthcare services", it reads. Gordon candidate Christine Jardine says the problem is particularly bad in Aberdeenshire.
Although there is no one against the motion, it's currently being criticised for making no mention of health and social care integration. (TF)
10.32: Good morning and welcome to day two of our live blog from Scottish Liberal Democrat conference in Aberdeen. Coming up in the next half hour I'll have lines from Nick Clegg's speech last night as well as a look ahead to what Willie Rennie is set to say this afternoon. (AR)
Um... Unless we're mistaken that means it does discriminate.... (TF)
17:30: Another nugget from the huddle with Ed Davey earlier this afternoon after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday said that everyone who tried to predict the oil price got it wrong, not just the SNP. “If you looked at our energy white paper we published for the referendum, we said very, very clearly that the Scottish Nationalists were playing fast and loose with the Scottish people and the Scottish economy because they were proposing a system where the budget was so reliant on one source of income,” said the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate change.
“Isn’t it about time that Nicola Sturgeon just apologised rather than trying to pretend there wasn’t an issue. The SNP prospectus was a false prospectus and it’s a false prospectus they’re putting forward to the Scottish people this coming May. It has been proven that and I hope the Scottish people, who are very canny, who are very canny about money, recognise that it’s false prospectus and demand from their SNP candidates what would they actually do with the oil price now, how would they make their sums adds up, why wouldn’t they be in a situation where they’re handing out P45s to nurses and teachers. It’s a total budget shambles from the SNP.” (AR)
17:20: Final motion of the first day of conference was on building an energy efficient Scotland, and was overwhelmingly carried. And with that delegates are off to have a drink on the provost of Aberdeen to keep them well-oiled for the appearance of Nick Clegg at tonights rally at 7. (TF)
16:10: Nothing particularly new from Carmichael in his speech to conference, but he made the points with aplomb. The Liberal demise had been predicted in every election since 1979, he said. "We have proved them all wrong before and I promise you this, come May 7th we are going to prove them wrong again".
As a campaigner, Willie Rennie was "a force of nature" Carmichael said, who can lead their campaign in Scotland.
He also was keen to highlight the record of the Liberal Democrats in government. While Labour's economic decisions had been rectified, he said, without their coalition partner the Conservatives would have pushed for a "right-wing, dogmatic, self-centred, ideologically-driven, Ayn Randian dystopia".
Without the Lib Dems, high earner would be paying less in income tax, and low earners would still be taxed from £6.5k, he said.
The election slogan of spending less than Labour but cutting less than the Tories was paraphrased, with Carmichael saying Labour and the SNP advocate "spending splurge and debt hangover", while Conservatives "cut public spending to the bone". They, the Lib Dems should maintain the centre ground, he said, and "stand tall, be proud, and confound our critics one more time". (TF)
Carmichael highlights record of power-sharing by lib dems in councils, Scottish Parliament, and now Westminster #sldconf— Holyrood magazine (@HolyroodDaily) March 20, 2015
15.40: Ed Davey, secretary of state for energy and climate change, spoke to reporters earlier this afternoon, two days on from Chancellor George Osborne announcing a hefty tax cut to try and ease the pain being felt by the North Sea oil and gas industry. Asked about comments by Oil and Gas UK chief executive Malcolm Webb this morning that more jobs will still have to be cut despite the budget measures, Davey said: “If we hadn’t taken the action we did back when I kicked off the Wood review and we weren’t taking action on tax, there would be far more job losses. We are determined to stem those job losses, to keep as many people in employment in the oil and gas industry as possible whilst ensuring that this becomes a competitive place for investment.” (AR)
15:35: Next up is Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, and the hall is looking busy for the first time today. It's likely tomorrow's headlines will be focused on Paddy Ashdown's line though...
15:17: Davey says Liberal Democrats should be emphasising on doorsteps how the SNP would have 'near bankrupt Scotland' if they had achieved independence, given reliance on oil revenues, which have now fallen.
He also says "we need gas for several decades" and we import it from Qatar. The carbon footprint of importing "this marginal amount" is greater than if we exploited shale gas in the UK, he says. We don't yet know whether UK Shale gas is usable, because it is a different type thn used in North America, he says.
15:12: Davey urges people to "take a broad approach" to energy. He confirms there is no plans for new nuclear power stations in Scotland, but several elsewhere in the UK, and "it's a good job we have renewables, because nuclear can take a long time". (TF)
14:55: Is natural gas is the quickest route to reducing emissions? That, and the future of tidal energy is the topic of the Energy Q&A.(TF)
14:45: Q&A session underway on Energy. Ed Davey pays tributes to Scottish Liberal Democrats for work in energy industry. He tells a story of how he invited Sir Ian Wood to cabinet meeting in Aberdeen to show Conservatives how industry supported new regulatory framework. (TF)
14:35: Ex-leader Paddy Ashdown was in full witty author mode as he came to speak to press pack. Brushing off talk about how it may be ironic for Liberal Democrats to be advocating tactical voting (in Gordon, to keep Salmond out), he was much more interested in talking about the former First Minister's book. "Not very good, is it?" he quipped, adding it was "the biggest piece of literary masturbation in political history". Ouch. (TF)
13:00: The Scottish Lib Dem conference has broken up for lunch. Before that, though, delegates unanimously passed a motion calling on the Scottish Government to urgently work with the private sector to cement the living wage north of the border “as the norm as soon as possible”.
“Conference believes that not paying the Living Wage is unacceptable in a wealthy country where poverty and inequality are still endemic and that all workers in Scotland, full or part-time, male or female, should be paid at least the Living Wage,” reads the motion.
Employers in Scotland who do pay the living wage have also been encouraged to join a new accreditation scheme delivered by the Poverty Alliance to demonstrate they’re doing so. (AR)
12:57: As delegates head for lunch it seems it is the SNP who are the prime targets politically - as you might imagine given they are looking to take seats of the Lib Dems. Leader Willie Rennie told Holyrood :
12:40: "I'll be back" - Alexander's sign-off had the echoes of the Terminator, but it raises the question back from what? A political abyss? The opinion polls don't appear to have shifted for the party, but we've yet to see if the 'Yellow budget' has had an impact.
12:33: Tense scenes in the hall, as an emergency motion on civil liberties raises the temperature. Education spokesman Liam McArthur asked the reference to the 'named person' - the controversial state guardian scheme - be excluded from the motion. Things got tense and the hall was split, but narrowly in favour of the named person provision. (TF)
12:30: Seems I wasn't the only person to be disappointed Alexander didn't produce his man-bag. (TF)
12:24: Alexander's speech was heavy on gags. He even referred to himself as a "Ginger rodent". His most catty comments however were reserved for the SNP. “It’d be like putting Jeremy Clarkson in charge of the Foreign Office or Nigel Farage in charge of the European Commission.” That was Danny Alexander’his take on the SNP being a part of the UK Government, coming a few days after Labour leader Ed Miliband ruled out the prospect of a coalition. The "wreckless nationalists", he said, were "more interested in dueling with Westminster than dualling the A9". (TF)
12:15: Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has just left the stage at Scottish Liberal Democrat conference in Aberdeen. As far as announcements go, the focus was on veterans as Alexander confirmed that a £550,000 donation is to be made to the charity Houses for Heroes to help disabled Scottish veterans. “The money comes from Libor fines on banks,” he told delegates. “We’ve taken around £450m from bankers who broke the rules, and there can be no better use of this money than to support those who have served our country.”
Funds “secured from bad behaviour” will also be used to ensure that veterans from across the UK can travel to the VE day commemorations this year, Alexander announced. “This is the kind of announcement that can only be made when we have a strong and growing economy, and I am determined to keep it that way,” said Alexander. (AR)
12:00: Almost waylaid by an impressive solar eclipse in the clear skies outside Dundee, the question on everyone's lips is will the Lib Dems be eclipsed in this election? Will they be punished for entering Government with the Conservatives? Unsuprisingly, they are in bullish form in Aberdeen today. Nick Clegg told Radio Scotland this morning he thought the "big surprise of the election" would be just how well they do, and in Scotland too. (TF)
12:00: The Scottish Conservatives are going with the solar eclipse theme this morning after a poll in the Daily Record (read here) put the Lib Dems at four per cent, leaving them with all but one of their 11 MPs. “What we are seeing here is a total eclipse of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland,” says Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw. “Their vote has now collapsed and it’s clear that it’s not coming back.” (AR)
11:35: Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael will deliver this afternoon’s keynote speech at conference in which he’ll insist the Lib Dems can avoid a wipeout north of the border. Ironically, based on recent polling by Lord Ashcroft – as reported here by Holyrood – the Orkney and Shetland MP is the only one who could still have his seat after May 7.
“We can hold our heads high, we can stand on our record, and we can deliver for people in Scotland and across the UK,” Carmichael will say. “We are defending eleven seats here in Scotland, in this election and we can hold each and every one.
“From those seats in which our MPs are standing again to Gordon and North East Fife where we owe Malcolm Bruce and Ming Campbell so much for what they have done. But where we look forward to the great things that Christine Jardine and Tim Brett will do as our newest MPs.
Carmichael will call on party activists to help “confound our critics one more time”. (AR)
11:28: Oh dear - are the Lib Dems punishing the press for poor coverage? Who knows (LK).
11:24: Apparently not everyone shares Clegg's optimism ahead of the General Election (LK)
10:23: Conference will be opening soon, with Danny Alexander speaking this morning and then Alistair Carmichael on this afternoon. In the meantime - take a look at my guide to the Labour conference - featuring Jim Murphy, Ed Miliband and the ghost of Keir Hardie. (LK)
10:19: Just online now - Kate Shannon takes a look at the state of the party going into the General Election. Read it here. (LK)
09:41: Our blog today will be brought to you by Tom Freeman and Alan Robertson. Unfortunately Alan seems to have run into some difficulty, reporting back to Holyrood towers, "Stewart Stevenson just got on train at Haymarket and told me I'd stole his seat despite no reserved ticket being on it." More on that as it develops. (LK)
08:58: Still a little while till things get going but if you really can't wait, why not read my interview with Willie Rennie - fresh online today? We talked about liberalism, how Nicola Sturgeon differs from Alex Salmond and about his experience of working his dad's shop. Read it here. (LK)
08:25: The Lib Dems have sent out some key lines in advance of Nick Clegg. He will tell delegates that the party has shown “incredible resilience” in the last five years of coalition government.
08:00: The conference is expected to get started around 11am with a welcome adress, followed by a speech by Danny Alexander - fresh from launching his alternative budget statement in the Commons yesterday. (LK)
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