Friday, 25 July 2008

Tavish Scott answers my questions

In response to the list of questions which I sent to each of the three leadership contenders for the Scottish Lib Dems, I've now had a reply from Tavish Scott. This is what he has to say:

1) What is your vision for a liberal Scotland?

It is hard to better the vision set out in the preamble to the party’s constitution with its call for a fair, free and open society.

I want to see a Scotland where power is devolved to the lowest practicable level, where nobody lives in poverty, and where the rich diversity of people who make up Scotland’s 21st century population are able to work together to harness their great potential to build stronger communities at local and national levels.

I also want to see Scotland continuing to punch above its weight as a centre of innovation, with better use being made of the ideas created in Scotland to create prosperity for all. For that to happen, we need to give a high priority to education and we need to support and encourage new industries as they develop. I particularly want Scotland to face up to the massive environmental challenges the world faces and see them not just as challenges, but as opportunities for long term sustainable development where Scotland can lead the World.

2) In what ways do we need to improve our campaigning, in particular for regional list and Scotland-wide elections?

We need to campaign harder at every level, but particularly with the media. Local campaigning is an area of strength. We have built up the party from local power bases, building support from the service our Councillors, MSPs and MPs provide for their local communities. But the Scotland wide media has been more difficult. I am determined we do that. Our national media profile must be higher.

3) Are we making enough use of new technology in our campaigning and how can this be improved?

We must make more use of the new technologies and keep up-to-date with many in our party who are experts.

4) How can we develop our relationships with business people, people in the voluntary sector and people involved in the mutual/co-operative movement?

Nothing beats Councillors, MSPs, MPs and MEPs getting out there and meeting people and building personal relationships with them.

5) Are there any improvements we need to make to the relationship between the Scottish Lib Dems and the federal party?

The relationship in a federal party is stronger when people participate. We learn much about for example new campaigning from the experience of others across the UK. And the party in London learned about how the Scottish party handled government both at local and national levels. It’s a two way street but we all have to walk down it and debate the issues that confront us whether we are in Inverness or Islington.

6) In the Lib Dems, we often talk about ensuring the Scottish Parliament has more powers. What additional powers would you like to see the Scottish Parliament having?

The most important change I want to see made is the transfer from Westminster to Holyrood of the majority of tax raising powers, so that Holyrood is made more accountable to the electorate, raising what it spends.

The Steel Commission, which I sit on, looked at a wide range of other powers which could be devolved. I start from the standpoint that powers should be devolved unless there is a very good reason not to devolve them, as is the case, for example with defence and the bulk of foreign affairs. Areas where I see particularly strong grounds for further devolution include energy policy, marine policy right out to the UK’s territorial limits, broadcasting, the civil service and, of course, control over the Scottish Parliament and how MSPs are elected.

7) We are committed to replacing the council tax with a local income tax. Should we be thinking about whether we should give local authorities the right to raise revenue from a range of locally-set taxes?

Yes, we should consider building on our settled party policy of a local income tax. The proposal to allow businesses to come together in an area, propose a tax to be levied on business for specific service improvements, and then test its acceptability in a local yes/no vote again of those businesses is good. I am interested in these kinds of ideas.

8) A lot of people are disengaged from the political process, as evidenced by the rather paltry turnouts for elections. How do we reach out to those people and convince them that politics matters to their lives?

First and foremost by our elected members making a difference to people’s lives, as our MSPs did when working in government in the first two Scottish Parliaments, as our Councillors do when working in Council administrations and as individual elected members do when serving their local communities. We need to get better at blowing our own trumpets so that disengaged people see that politics matters and affects their lives. But we also need to refresh and update our policies to make sure they remain relevant.

9) If elected leader, how will you involve the party's members and supporters in our policy-making and campaigning?

The party conference remains the place where the party as a whole debates policy, and I would want to encourage as many members as possible to take part in it. But the Policy Committee is where the hard detailed work is done on policy development and I would want to encourage party members and local parties to feed their ideas to the Committee, and so help their work. I would also want policy forums across Scotland and above all feedback to members – something we are not good at! There’s lots of expertise out there - in health, education or transport – let’s use it.

10) We have quite rightly attacked the SNP government for the authoritarian nature of their proposals to tackle binge drinking. How do you think the Lib Dems ought to tackle the issue?
Better education of the dangers of the misuse of alcohol has to be a priority, not just in schools but also in the wider community. And we have to make sure that the current licensing laws are better enforced. But draconian rules which the SNP propose, which would stop a 20 year old student buying a bottle of wine in an off-licence, are wrong and won’t work. The lesson of prohibition in the US is that unjust draconian measures don’t work.

Now, over to you Mr Finnie.

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