Sunday, 14 December 2014

Unlocking Liberalism, Liberator review part three Scottish dimension

Unlocking Liberalism: Life after the Coalition, published by Liberal Futures. 

Taking a leaf of out Lord Bonker's diary, and there is no shame in copying the Liberal blogfather, I will post my review of the book which has appeared in the most recent edition of Liberator in instalments. This is the third instalment, the Introduction can be found here and Part 2 here

The Scottish dimension

David Steel also contributes a chapter this book reflecting on the implications of the Scottish Referendum. Hibernophiles everywhere will be delighted to see references to the Darien Scheme, Aine Satyre on the Three Estates, and phrases like ‘tachraidh na daoine, ach cha tachairna cnuic, and a proper anger at the unbalanced development of our economy to the disadvantage of the majority caused by the concentration on London. Tony Hughes expresses this well in his essay: ‘London versus the Rest’. But this is not a tartan shortbread box portrait of Scotland, it is resolutely focussed on the here and now in a country with low wages, insecure jobs and homes and where (despite the Edinburgh Parliament) political decision making can be remote and alienating. It is good to read such a robust defence of federalism entrenched in a written constitution. We Northerners could do with a similar manifesto to ward off a London answer to the English question. Glasgow may have the biggest City Deal-£1billion- but if you asked the Scots to have it as an alternative to their Parliament it doesn’t take much imagination to guess their response. We should not settle for less.

A great strength of this collection are the reflections on the constitutional upheavals that must surely come. This not only encompasses the rest of the UK but our relations with Europe and the wider world. David Steel’s thoughts based on his time as Co-Chair of the successful Scottish Convention have important pointer for those of us south of the border who wish to see powerful Regional Assemblies established and he challenges us to think again about the role of the second chamber, the Senate, in a federal constitution. But some of the best insights come from those like Ross Finnie and Robert Brown who served as Ministers in the Holyrood Parliament. I think they are very restrained given their successful time in Coalition Government. It must be galling to hear the crass comments coming from some of the Ministers in the present Westminster Government posing as the first Liberals in Government since WW1.

The Scots have a lot to teach us about how to prepare for and run a Coalition whilst keeping the party together. In this regard Caron Lindsay also has some wise things to say in her essay. It is appropriate the heading of this section is Strategy, Power and Values. It is important to affirm that entering a coalition is a political act and not just a managerial response to a set of circumstances. Nigel Lindsay in his Chapter, Future Challenges for Liberalism makes this point and goes on to say ‘Our party, which voters once identified with an agenda of reform and social justice, has lost much of the trust it had on these issues. The Party will need to work very hard, once the coalition has ended, to persuade voters that it is still capable of radical action to help the least well-off to meet their aspirations.’ The first challenge to face up to the truth of that statement and the next is to develop a new radical programme to respond to this situation. Lindsay identifies three serious threats to the possibility using political power to create the conditions in which people can exercise the positive freedom that is the objective of Social Liberalism. 

Order Unlocking Liberalism, cheques for £11 (incl p&p) made payable to Liberal Futures 4 Church Road, Bo'ness, EH51 0EL

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