Northern Irish name checked at Scottish Conference

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Nick Clegg with Scottish Lib Dem Leader Willie Rennie

Nick Clegg with Scottish Lib Dem Leader Willie Rennie

Nick Clegg in his speech to the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference this weekend mentioned the Northern Irish.

The people of the United Kingdom have a rich shared heritage. We share a culture, a history and an identity. We live side by side in towns and cities across the British Isles. Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish people are together every day, in offices and factories, school classrooms and playing fields. We have rallied together in hard times. Our forefathers fought together and died together, just as brave Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish service men and women are fighting side by side in faraway lands right now. For centuries we have crossed each others borders, married each other, raised families together. What Scot doesn’t have any English, Welsh or Northern Irish in their family tree? I believe the bonds that bring us together are stronger than the forces that would tear us apart.

I do not recall a leader of any of the other UK wide parties name checking our wee country in such a way in a keynote speech to conference. No doubt this is in part due to the presence that the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats have had in recent years of shaping the Liberal Democrat narrative, making our voice heard to the leadership and Ministers in Government and standing up for liberal values in Northern Ireland even though we do not contest election here.

Our course our local party here has also had connections to England, Scotland and Wales with members having strong connections familial and otherwise. But all of us continue to stand up for the principles in which we believe.

Drinks for Andrew Reeves – Belfast Edition

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Andrew Reeves

Cross posted on Stephen’s Liberal Journal

I’m just in from Liberal Drinks in Belfast. Ian Walton from the Welsh Liberal Democrats so it was a reason to meet up, but part of the evening was a memory of Andrew Reeves of which four of the five present had something in common.

Myself you know about from the recent time we both spent in Scotland, Pam Tilson from her time in London, Ian also from his time there and of course in his current role in Cardiff, and Michael as he and Andrew both were part of the stewarding team at Federal Conference. The other person present was of course Michael’s Andrew.

We toasted our mutual friend, told stories of times we shared with Andrew and thought of what Andrew would have done, plus got on with catching up with each others news.

Even though we couldn’t be at the Joseph Pearce in Edinburgh we were part of the outpouring of lovce for Andrew. At this point we could all almost hear Andrew saying, “That’s enough sitting around, get up, get out and get on with telling people why we’re Lib Dems.” as he would often be heard to say on any campaign he was involved with. And that is what the five of us intend to do.

Andrew Reeves – Gone too soon

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Cross posted with Stephen’s Liberal Journal

I woke up this morning to hear the tragic news that the man who changed the course of my life 7 months ago had tragically passed away.

It was Andrew Reeves, the Director of Campaigns for the Scottish Lib Dems, who when asked did he know of any good campaigners who could front up the Yes! to Fairer Votes campaign in Northern Ireland immediately thought of me and told me to apply. Of course in the four all too short years that I have really gotten to know Andrew much of that time was spent on the campaign trail, it was his job after all and my passion (until recent months when thanks to him it became my job too). It started in Glasgow East, when I myself was just returning to full campaign mode. Yet somehow I still managed a day of tenement mountaineering without any adverse health issues. That was the campaign that Stephen was back.

There followed Glenrothes, Glasgow NE, the European Election and last years General Election of course. The late night strategy meetings in Glenrothes always happened around the dart board. I was sometimes there waiting for Caron to give me a lift back, aware that the achieving a score wasn’t always as important as throwing the dart as hard as possible in the general direction of the board.

Andrew had set up his blog as Andrew’s Running Blog before he had come to Scotland. The aim was to get him into shape to run the Great North Run. Health was an issue that Andrew would visit time and again on his blog. Having lost his mother 6 weeks after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009, he chose her Birthday this year to be the day that he got married to his long time partner Roger.

Family

But his own health was also something he fought hard for. He knew that having a sedentary life wasn’t helpful to him, so when he could he would get to the gym, walk (preferably with a bundle of leaflets in this hands). It was his approach that even though he was leading the campaign he still needed to get out and walk to keep some motion going that led me to due just the same at least once a week during the Yes! campaign. I even was on a conference call once while out and about delivering off the Falls Road in the rain.

For a while there were just three regular prominent Scottish Lib Dem bloggers, him, Caron and I. We could on occasion all take the same story and tell it in a different way that was our styles. We also could each get away with saying things in certain way because of our positions in the party and occasionally one of us knew that one of the other two was the better person to put something out there, so the idea was spread. Many of the rest of the Scottish blogosphere knew that while there only the three of us that didn’t lead to a lack of quality or quantity. Yesterday he was on about the E.Coli in Spanish and German cucumbers in a typical Andrewesque way. It seems strange to think that I will never again read a new blog post from him again.

My frequent visits into Scottish Headquarters at Clifton Terrace in recent years were always greeted with some sort of put down from Mr Reeves. For years before I was actually selected again for Linithgow and East Falkirk he would refer to me as the Potential Prospect Parliamentary Candidate PPPC rather than PPC for the seat. The case being that if Gordon Brown were to suddenly want to secure a mandate I would be willing to stand again for the seat. I was one less seat for them to worry about in a hurry. While of course he wouldn’t always have a smile on his face, he did sometimes have to be serious after all, there was always a sense that he would or could crack a joke to lighten the mood at any point.

Andrew was only a little over a year older than me, taken at the tragically young age of 43. The last words he said to me as I was leaving Scottish Conference in March were, “Go back there and win this thing, then we can talk about it next time your over.” sadly that chat will not be taking place. He was man with an immense heart for the party, for campaigning, for those he knew. Sadly this morning that heart gave way.

My thoughts are with Roger, who had to work in the recent days off that Andrew had been enjoying, therefore missing too many of what were unknown to be some of the last quality hours for his husband. Also to all the team in Clifton Terrace who have lost someone who’s motivation and passion will be hard to replace. To all my colleagues, friends and fellow campaigners, not just in Scotland but everywhere who were touched by this man that so many of us today know we have lost a dear friend.

Andrew with Katy Gordon and me out campaigning in 2009

Willie Rennie the new Scottish Lib Dems Leader

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Willie Rennie leader of the Scottish Lib Dems

Willie Rennie leader of the Scottish Lib Dems

It was 10 days ago in the aftermath of the election results in Scotland and the resignation of Tavish Scott as leader that I wrote here asking “What next for the Scottish Liberal Democrats?“.

Well the first part of the question has been answered, on Tuesday of this week the party elected unopposed a new leader in the Mid Scotland and Fife list MSP Willie Rennie. Normally us Lib Dems would not have liked a coronation as leader, but the field of options was limited, it had to be one of the 5 MSPs* and one of them had just resigned, they also had to be nominated by another MSP.

Therefore who is that man that we have got?

Willie Rennie is a multifaceted political animal. He was the mastermind behind a 35% swing in the Christchurch by-election of 1993 where he acted as agent. He has served as the Chief executive of the Scottish Party, during which time he helped negotiate the first Programme of Government in 1999. He won his own by-election in Dunfermline and West Fife with a 16% swing at a time that the party was leaderless nationally and going through turmoil. He’s served as Shadow Minister of Defence on the Lib Dem team in the last parliament. He was chair of the campaigns and communication team for the Lib Dems up to the last election.

There is a wealth of experience there, but one added thing that I have learnt from first hand experience campaigning with Willie is that he never gives up. He’ll be out there in fine weather and rain canvassing , delivering talking to voters to get the job done. In the Dunfermline by-election with me as one of the last to leave almost every night he was there too encouraging, inspiring and motivating the volunteers unto more the next day or whenever they were due back. It’s why I was still going strong at 21:55 that evening getting the last votes out as I knew the momentum and personal persuasion of Willie had rung home. He may have lost his Westminster seat last year, but his own vote was up on anything the Lib Dems had ever achieved in that area; more than double the 2005 General Election result and almost 50% up on the by-election.

I’ve known some awful wet days on Scottish by-election trails where I’ve been returning to headquarters drenched only to see Willie heading out again, already wet through from a previous trip. With that sort of example you don’t feel able to sit too long in the warmth of a comfy office when there is a message to get out and people to persuade of Lib Dem values.

For that reason I know that Scotland cannot and should not write off the Lib Dems in Scotland, just as people tried to in 1989 when the Greens were ahead of the party nationally in the European elections. I’m sure just like the boys in The Dead Poets’ Society Scottish Lib Dems will be getting up on their desks to say “Oh Captain, My Captain” and getting prepared to rescale Russell Johnson’s mountain behind a leader who inspires and demands respect.

* As per the Section F Paragraph 2 Constitution of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

What next for Scotland?

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Tavish Scott who resigned as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats on Saturday

It has not been an easy week being a Liberal Democrat.

For someone like myself who has spent the majority of the last decade working on getting our message across the voters and our record in Government in Scotland, for part of that time, there will always be a special pull.

Thus it was that last Thursday night I kept saying I’ll wait just to see ‘x’ result or ‘y’ candidates result, many of the Scottish candidates being personal friends. Even though I knew I had to be up early to get to the start of verification for the referendum votes, it was gribbing if very upsetting viewing.

I just couldn’t believe as seat after seat was lost, not just by a bit but to the extent that we were losing deposits, twenty five in total. We took great pride only last May in the fact that the Liberal Democrats were the only party standing UK-wide that didn’t lose a single deposit. Not one constituency on the mainland was won, only Orkney and Shetland and three regional lists returned Liberal Democrats.

Tavish Scott the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats fell on his sword on Saturday. In his resignation statement he said:

“Thursday’s Scottish general election result was disastrous and I must and do take responsibility for the verdict of the electorate.

“The party needs a new direction, new thinking and new leadership to win back the trust of the Scottish people.”

From what I’ve been reading from Scottish colleagues blogs and what they have told me in messages or phone calls, they were getting punished not for their record in Holyrood or Scottish party policies but because of what was happening in Westminster. Some of them were things that we had delivered in Scotland and were promised in Westminster but haven’t been delivered.

Tavish the only former Scottish minister to still be in the Lib Dem team at Holyrood has however taken an honourable course. The party will have to pick itself off, dust itself off and re-establish a distinctive narrative in the Scottish realm. The fact that the electoral map hasn’t looked this bleak for Liberals in Scotland since the 1950s may be discouraging.  But maybe a fresh voice, prepared to mark out the distinctions with Alex Salmond’s SNP and prepared to go toe to toe with the man who has secured a first outright majority at Holyrood is just the fillip the party needs.

It is sad that a great number of really good MSPs who had been working hard for a more Liberal Scotland since 1999 have now be thrown out of Holyrood by this tidal wave. Of course Tavish is not the only Scottish leader who has resigned, both Labour’s Iain Gray and Conservatives Annabel Goldie have said they will step down in the Autumn. He is however, the only one to have stepped down with immediate effect.

The constitution of the Scottish Party says that the leader must come from the rank of the MSPs, which means that there are only four possible replacements. Liam MacArthur the only other constituency MSP for Orkney, the re-election of Alison McInness in the North East and Jim Hume in South of Scotland, plus the election of former MP Willie Rennie in Mid-Scotland and Fife.

We wait top see which of these will take up the torch of Liberalism in Scotland and given the task of inspiring first the party to get back to it and then the people to vote for us once more.

In the meantime I’m sure that Kirsten and little Archie will be delighted to see more of the man of the house, as will the three children of his first marriage, now that he does not have the added responsibilty of being the focal point of the Lib Dems in Scotland.