Thursday, October 04, 2012

Willie Rennie as Don Corleone

It is a matter of deep regret for me that you have chosen to show me such disrespect in sharing your views with the media without speaking to me first.
Not the sort of letter you expect to receive from the leader of a Liberal party.

But Willie Rennie has written in those terms to five Scottish Liberal Democrats who signed a letter to The Herald newspaper. In it they questioned the Scottish party's decision not to allow Yes Scotland (the pro-independence campaign) to have a stall at its conference later this month.

Nicola Prigg, one of the five to receive it, has the full text of the letter.

She also gives some of the background to the dispute, as does Andrew Page:
I am not entirely sure who made this decision, but if either conference committee or the leadership feels that the party needs protecting from the evil rhetoric of Yes Scotland it demonstrates an insecurity and fear that is not befitting a party of our history and character. 
Personally, I would welcome Yes Scotland attending - as I would Better Together. There is nothing to suggest that we should agree with the aims of an organisation in order to allow it to exhibit at our conference - after all, at Labour conference this week there is a heavy "no to HS2" campaign presence in spite of HS2 being official Labour policy. If Labour can do it, why can't we?
If Labour can do it, why can't we?
I hesitate to step into a Scottish party row, but Andrew's view sounds very sensible to me.

And even if Willie disagrees, to treat opposition as showing him personal "disrespect" leaves him in danger of sounding pompous - or at least like a Mafia padrone. Time to cool it, Willie.

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Unknown said...


Is it not just basic politeness to try to find out the other side of the story before trashing the party in the press? They took the line in the Herald as read without even attempting to contact anybody who knew the actual facts?

The Scottish party has the most accessible leader ever. Any member is welcome to email him at any time & he always replies, often within hours.

There was no reason why they couldn't at least have checked our point of view. Newspapers don't often give the full story after all. And in this case they hadn't because they didn't add in the reason - that we were unveiling our Home Rule Commission & wanted the focus to be on that. We have four more conferences before the Referendum. Yes were told not now not not ever.

They take over any event they're at. We were damned whatever we did as soon as they made the request to come. These are not neutral exhibitors. They are political opponents. We would not allow the Labour Party, far less the Tories, to have a stand at Federal Conference after all.

Let's see if Better Together get in to SNP conference. Hell will freeze over first, I suspect.

The signatories to the letter have allowed themselves to be played by the Yes campaign. That's their right.

For the record, I tend towards the "take their money & let them in" view, but I understand the danger in that & I certainly think that we want to be talking about the Home Rule Commission without distraction in Dunfermline.

Given how accessible he is to members, I understand why Willie wrote to them to express his regret at their actions. I doubt he'd have been bothered if they'd have taken a few minutes out of their day to try to find the other side of the story before going to the press. It would have been nice if his correspondence had remained private but I doubt he was naive enough to expect it would stay that way.

Now that everyone's had their say, I hope it's cleared the air & we can all just move on.

Nic said...

But, Caron, we had the other side of the story. In the original Herald article there was a statement from the LibDems.

I'm sorry but since Willie had the letter typed up and sent to us, the issue is no longer about us going to the press but about Willie's over the top reaction to what is a very minor issue.

Nick Clegg has had a 100 councillors write to him via the Guardian and Nick just shrugged it off.

The argument over process is very, very tiresome.

It wasn't right for a liberal leader to behave in the way that he did.

Graeme Cowie said...


We were acutely aware that the Home Rule Commission was reporting to Conference. The Herald article issued a public statement which included a statement from HQ making clear that the reason to refuse was a political one, not one of practicality. From that alone, we felt it sufficient to air a grievance to a position which was not clarified by any public statement by the Scottish Lib Dems on the Herald going to press, which was not, having subsequently communicated with Willie, in any way inaccurate, and when the objective was not to receive an explanation, but to make clear in a public way that we thought the decision, as publicly defended by Clifton Terrace, should be reversed.

In short, it's not HQ's point of view that's in question here. It's the decision and the public defence of that position.

If they really had been told "not just now, but possibly later" then HQ should have immediately issued a clarification of our position to the press and online. They did not. From that, we could only conclude that they had not in fact been misrepresented.

Yes Scotland are not our political enemies. They are a single-issue non-party organisation whose central aim is one the party's official position happens to disagree with. They are not my political opponents, and I still consider myself a Liberal Democrat. The idea that giving them a poxy wee stall at Conference would detract from the Home Rule Commission is absurd. If they kick up a fuss it just means more cameras for Willie to trumpet the HRC towards.

This assertion that they "take over" events isn't borne out by my experience. If anything, for example, Better Together were more forceful and imposing than Yes Scotland at the Glasgow Uni Freshers Fair. They're just a political group like any other. If we're not mature enough as a party to engage positively with them and trust that our message of Home Rule can rise above theirs, then really how good is our policy in the first place?

If Better Together want to be at SNP conference, I think the SNP should allow them along. That's not my problem though. I'm not a member of that party. I have no vested interest in who they let attend their conference. I do have a vested interest in who gets to attend the Scottish Lib Dem conference.

We have not been "played" by the Yes Campaign. HQ have allowed themselves to be played by a paranoia towards Yes Scotland and the SNP, assuming the worst and operating a siege mentality whenever someone disagrees with them on independence.

There was no sensitive information in Willie's letter to us, and we had already been in email correspondence with him. He had already communicated his disappointment that we didn't talk it over with him first, and his letter merely parsed what he'd said before before issuing that closing rebuke of "disrespect". It might not have been his intention, but for me at least, that came across as an attempt to lean on members simply expressing their views in an open forum, where they'd originally become aware of the controversy. That's what we do in a liberal society.

Allan Heron said...

Caron - this wasn't an issue about Willie until he made it about himself. He's made it much more of an issue than our letter ever did, and it calls into question his judgement.

There's a time when people in his position should sign, mutter somthing under their breath, do nothing and move on. This was one such case.

We know "both sides" of the story. We also got that in e-mail correspondence with Willie.

Why did he follow up with a letter which stated the same thing? Why top it and tail it with language sounding like a Fife version of Tony Soprano? Why waste his own time on the matter in such a way. If he thinks it was worth his while, then we've got the wrong man in place.

Had he not bothered sending the letter, no one would be talking about this today. I think you should ponder on that.

KelvinKid said...

Caron there was not really much explanation necessary from Willie. By stopping 'Yes Scotland' running a stand and holding a fringe the Party looks like it does not have the courage of its convictions. There was no information lacking in the public domain which contradicted the illiberality of that refusal.

By sending an unnecessary letter to those concerned Willie has ensured that a relatively minor matter has become much more significant. After all, who does Willie represent? Scottish members or Nick Clegg? We are a state party, not an appendage of Great George Street

Unknown said...

Norman, you are being ridiculous. You'd be hard pressed to find more than a handful of Scottish members who would die in a ditch for Yes Scotland to have a stall. To imply that Willie's letter is done on the instruction of Nick Clegg is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, I would not be surprised if Yes were allowed at Federal Conference in Glasgow next year.

As far as I know, the only correspondence Willie has had on this matter has been from you (who had the courtesy to contact him before going to the press) and those who signed the letter. Nobody else is that bothered. The reaction on Facebook amongst Scottish members does not find much support for the letter signatories.

It's not fair that the letter signatories should be the only ones allowed to express a view. Willie contacted them privately. They have chosen to make that private correspondence public. I'm sure Willie wasn't daft enough to think that a private letter would stay private, but he had every right to say what he did.

I'm of the view that there money is as good as anyone else's, but I see the difficulties with them being there. At Pride in Glasgow they just tried to take over the entire event and, frankly, our Conference is not about them. I certainly can't see Better Together being allowed at an SNP conference.

It's not that they took a pop at the party in the Herald that's the issue. Three of the six are always critical of the party's stance on constitutional issues on their blogs and that's fine. It's more that they didn't even attempt to find out our side of the story and took the Herald item, which was only half the story, as gospel truth.

KelvinKid said...

What worries me Caron is that the Party leadership's stance on constitutional issues appears to amount to blind hatred of the SNP. As to grassroots Lib Dem opinion, a lot of the members I'm in touch with would welcome a more measured and public debate on the issues than they are currently getting.

I think one of the main lessons to be learned from this incident is that membership opinion is not monolithic. Our members are intelligent and their rubber-stamping of a leadership line cannot be taken for granted. In past years such robust defence of open debate would have been taken as a healthy sign of Liberal Democracy in action.

Unknown said...

Nobody's ever expected the members to blindly follow the leadership line. They would be sorely disappointed they did.

Open debate is not just expected in this party, it's welcomed.

Given that we are the 4th party with 5 MSPs, it's quite something that we've had as much publicity as we have. Willie has done a good job at opposing the Government when they need it - and the SNP is building as much of an arrogance and sense of entitlement to power as Labour ever did. He's also worked constructively with them on things like equal marriage and minimum alcohol pricing (and has taken a lot of criticism for both stances).

I find it irritating that people are more inclined to believe the latest headline in the press or swallow the SNP line without even giving their own leader a chance to put his case.

There will be people in the party who support independence. That's fine. They can have their say and go off and campaign for Yes without repercussion. The position of the overwhelming majority of members is that they want Scotland to stay in the UK with more powers. If this were a union matter, Norman, you'd have the indy supporters dismissed as scabs and sent to Coventry for not following the democratically agreed line. You know how I feel about that sort of oppressive collectivism and I'm grateful you don't apply these same standards within the party:-).

Is it really so unreasonable for the leader to ask for people to get our side of the story first before they go to the press?

Allan Heron said...

Caron - the problem is he has done more than that. There is nothing of any substance in the letter that was not covered in the e-mails between some of those that had signed the letter and him.

And for information, none of it was initiated by Willie. This resulted as a result of e-mails to Willie by those involved.

The question remains - why then go to the bother of sending a letter which adds nothing further other than comments which are guaranteed to raise the hackles of most liberal minded folk.

It's the letter that's created the fuss sufficiently so that one of the group was so incensed that they felt the need to give it a public airing. Had Willie not sent it the matter would have been history, and barely noticed history at that. And we'd still have the benefit of his views on the matter.

Gerry said...

Caron, As Allan has said it is now the letter that has become the issue. By sending it Willie has implied that we should get in contact with HQ before we utter anything.

I am not sure where the 'union' reference comes from. Totally ridiculous comparison.

KelvinKid said...

If this were a union matter, Norman, you'd have the indy supporters dismissed as scabs and sent to Coventry for not following the democratically agreed line. You know how I feel about that sort of oppressive collectivism and I'm grateful you don't apply these same standards within the party:-).

Actually Caron, apart from being a crass comment, this seems closer to your position than mine.

Unknown said...

Norman, did we not have a protracted argument on Facebook on the day of the last pensions strike after you posted "the early picket catches the scab" as your status where you said that union members should be bound by the majority vote and should have no individual choice about whether to strike or not? I was just pointing out that if we employed that sort of logic in the party, we'd force everyone to accept the majority view of all but a few people, that we stay within the union.

But we're not like that. We have no issue with our members campaigning for independence if that's what they want to do.

KelvinKid said...

That was not the other day Caron, that was during a civil service strike over pensions some months ago where you misrepresented my union's case, smeared its stewards and encouraged scabbing, just as you are now smearing me and misrepresenting my point of view.

I have never sought to discipline a scab, far less send one to Coventry.

Moreover when I took strike action it was always after an all members ballot. I don't remember any ballot of my views on the current leadership line. Sitting in the front room of Clifton Terrace talking to an ever-decreasing band of cronies does not count as membership consultation.

If you want to keep digging I'll be happy to follow you down. However you might conclude that the sensible thing might just be to leave it.

Unknown said...

That was meant to be a bit of gentle teasing over the union thing. I'm sorry if I've upset you because that was not my intention.

KelvinKid said...