Natalie Mauchline takes us through the highlights in Hamilton:
Last weekend, Scottish Liberal Democrat delegates descended on Hamilton Townhouse for the party’s Spring Conference. The gathering served as a rallying call for members to continue their effort to prevent Brexit, described by Vince Cable as an act of “monumental vandalism” to the UK’s interests. With the country speeding towards Brexit day, Vince Cable did attempt to quell fears, asserting that a no-deal Brexit was “not remotely likely”. Willie Rennie’s address, filled with references to the Hamilton musical, was welcoming to the Conservative/Labour rebels and accused the Scottish Government of “being reckless and cavalier” with Scottish taxpayers’ money and failing to deliver on policy priorities. In her address, Jo Swinson argued the SNP had “learnt nothing from watching Theresa May negotiate our way out of Europe” and lacked an understanding of how difficult breaking up a union of more than 300 years would be.
Motions up for debate included the protection of housing for victims of domestic abuse, closing the attainment gap and improving Scotland’s prisons. A motion on ending commercial sexual exploitation was voted down with delegates arguing strongly that the current party position was not in need of change, voting down the resolution.. The debate on trans rights was also heated, with the amendment being voted down and the resolution passed. The conference also called for the return of Shamima Begum so that she might be investigated and deradicalised, accusing the Home Secretary of making a “grandstanding” decision.
Fringe events included discussions on improving active travel in Scotland, Year of Young People legacy, Scottish biodiversity and of course, Brexit. Mike Rumbles took the opportunity to express his frustration regarding delays to the Transport Bill, suggesting the Stage 1 Report might be delayed until the summer. The Scottish Environment LINK event painted a bleak picture of Scotland’s diminishing biodiversity as a result of rising temperatures and invasive species. Alex Cole-Hamilton suggested the 2016 referendum result had come as a result of “xenophobic fury” which risked the UK’s “open, tolerant and internationalist outlook”.
Vince Cable concluded the conference on an optimistic note, claiming the party had a “bright future” as it had showed its leadership capabilities throughout the Brexit process. Something to watch going forward is whether the party can replicate its united stance on a people’s vote if Brexit goes ahead. Will they immediately become the party of re-entry to the European Union? The result of the meaningful vote, when it eventually returns to Westminster, will likely decide the course of action.
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