Category Archives: Politics

Ideas are great, but don’t be trapped by ideology

As published on Lib Dem Voice earlier today.

As though I have regressed to a version of myself more than two decades in the past, a question I often get asked these days is “why did you do it?”

People are interested to discover that despite having a well paid and relatively secure job with the Liberal Democrats in Scotland at a crucial time in our country’s history, and having just bought my first home, I decided to leave it all behind and move to Africa to work for Volunteer Uganda, a charity which strives to alleviate poverty through education.

As a mischievous child, impulsive, some would say reckless, behaviour comes with the toddler tool kit.

But as we get older, there is more pressure to conform, more opportunities to settle – not settle down but settle for our lot in life – and more people who try to squeeze you into an increasingly narrow pigeon hole.

This is especially true in politics. It was American commentator Morris Berman who said: “an idea is something you have; an ideology is something that has you.”

I have always been a subscriber to this bumper-sticker philosophy and have strived to pull myself onto the right side of this tug of war. I am not comfortable with a single ideology, much as I am not comfortable with a single religion, a single theory of economics or a single washing powder.

No one person, and certainly no one party, has a monopoly on wisdom. But it is part and parcel of being involved, at any level, in a political party that your own ideas get pushed, pulled and prodded so that the edges of your own belief system are no longer sharp but blurred through a haze of ideology.

Have I briefed policies to journalists, friends and unsuspecting voters to which I personally do not subscribe? Yes. Was this the reason I decided to leave it all behind? No. It was my job to promote policies to the best of my ability and, on the whole, I enjoyed the game of political chess, always trying to keep opponents in check.

But that is the key; it is not a game to most, most are not political animals, the vast majority would prefer that childcare was affordable, that work always pays enough to make ends meet, and that they can retire with dignity rather than be subjected to endless rounds of point scoring.

Living “outside the bubble”, as many of us who spend far too much time inside the bubble like to refer to the real world, has given me more perspective and a far greater sense of the dangers of being trapped by a single ideology.

There are pitfalls to be avoided on the immediate horizon. In the twelve months leading up to my swapping the heated climate of Scottish politics to the hot climate of Uganda, the debate over Scotland’s future within the UK reached fever pitch.

The independence referendum in 2014 was the prism through which every other issue was seen. The debate has been fuelled by two single, opposing ideologies – that Scotland is better off as an independent country, or that Scotland’s best interests are served remaining part of the United Kingdom.

In the process, policies were proposed and countered, assertions were made and rejected, and complex issues affecting real people had to pass the #indyref test before they could be considered, let alone resolved.

It is imperative that in the run up to the referendum that we are not dominated by no single ideology, save one – that the complex issues that exist today will exist tomorrow and everyday leading up to the vote, and that people who are already increasingly disillusioned by politics will not thank this generation of politicians for adopting a post-2014 approach.

We must remember that most people do not identify themselves by the party they work for, the issue they campaign for or who they voted for in the last election.

Looking from the outside in, it is clearer than ever that, come what may at the ballot box, we must come together, work together and stand together to better the lives of people who have bigger problems than who is up or down in the polls over the next 18 months.

Ideas can change lives. That much I have seen living in working in rural Uganda on development projects. What is true in Uganda is also true across the UK. Keep on having ideas, but don’t let the ideas be trapped by a prison of ideology.

Graeme is the former Director of Communications for the Scottish Liberal Democrats. You can find out more about the work that he is doing in Uganda by following him on Twitter at @littlegrumpyG and @volunteeruganda, or visit the Volunteer Uganda website at http://www.volunteeruganda.org

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Credit where it’s due – SNP admits uncertainty over ‘AAA’ status

Earlier today, Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary Michael Moore made a speech to CBI Scotland in which he highlighted the uncertainty surrounding an independent Scotland’s credit rating. In his speech, Mr Moore said:

 “Scotland would have to start from scratch and approach the agencies to get a rating, without a track record to rely on.”

This seems to have irked the SNP with a press releasing dripping with all the assertions we have come to expect from the anti-UK camp pinging into inboxes not long after Mr Moore had finished speaking. SNP Treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie said:

“Instead of suggesting that he knows better than the ratings agencies and can decree that an independent Scotland would have a poor credit rating, Michael Moore would be better advised to actually look at the evidence.”

Look at the evidence you say? Ok.

What Mr Moore said was independent Scotland would have to ask for a credit rating without having a credit history – like applying for a mortgage without so much as a Tesco clubcard to back you up.

Helpfully, in the notes to the SNP press release (not available on the online version) there is a link to news release from Fitch, a credit rating agency. In it they say:

“Any judgement on the possible rating of an independent Scotland is impossible at this stage. This is because of the absence of information on the nature and terms of any possible independence agreement, and the considerable uncertainty regarding key provisions such as the partition of assets and liabilities, the regime governing the financial sector, possible currency change, and the length of a transition period to independence.”

“absence of information…” and “considerable uncertainty…” have always been the favourite phrases of international markets and credit rating agencies.  

With precious little detail coming from the SNP on their plans for independence it is perfectly reasonable to argue that Scotland might not gain the confidence of credit rating agencies to merit a ‘AAA’ status, especially with no credit history to point to.

Credit where it’s due though. By using the information from Fitch to back up their argument, the SNP are obviously admitting that considerable uncertainty does exist over an independent Scotland’s credit rating.

Progress indeed.

Not all nationalists support “crazy Euro-sceptics”

Not all nationalists supported “crazy Euro-sceptics” in the EU budget vote on Wednesday evening.

While all six SNP MPs did vote to cut the long term EU budget, some other nationalists took a more considered, thoughtful approach.

After the vote, Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards said:

“We decided not to support the crazy right-wing
Conservative Eurosceptics last night because Wales receives vast sums of
money from the European Union.”

The question that the SNP, and particularly Agriculture Secretary Richard Lochhead, must answer is “what do they want to cut?”

Lochhead has long toured the farms of Scotland, as well as the corridors of Brussels, telling anyone who would listen that a strong EU budget was needed to protect Scottish agriculture.

What has changed? Either Lochhead did not know his SNP MPs were going to vote to cut the EU budget, or he didn’t care.

The agricultural industry will care. Mr Lochhead must explain to the industry what he is willing to cut from the rural development budget.

This, after all, is presumably the policy of the SNP government.

Yet another issue of trust for the SNP.

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