Sunday, 14 December 2008

Wales beats Scotland hands down

Further to what I was saying last night, can anyone explain to me why the Welsh Lib Dems seem to be making rather better use of the internet than we are in Scotland?

On the Welsh Lib Dem site, every single elected parliamentarian has a website listed. And there are now sufficient numbers of bloggers for it to be worthwhile for them to have their own Welsh Lib Dem blog aggregator.

This has 14 bloggers listed on it, including one from a parliamentarian, Peter Black AM, as well as new Welsh leader Kirsty Williams' leadership campaign blog. I hope now she's started, she'll continue now that the leadership campaign is over.

In contrast, there are just five of us bloggers in the Scottish Lib Dems listed on Lib Dem blogs - myself, Caron, Stephen, 'our' Iain Dale, and Fraser MacPherson. (Ming Campbell does have a blog listed on Lib Dem Blogs, but I'd regard that as more of an official website than a personal blog.) There are also one or two others such as Andrew Reeves and Debra Storr, who for some reason don't use Lib Dem Blogs.

Even so, it's a miserable total when compared with our Welsh colleagues. If we had proportionately the same amount of blogs compared to population as the Welsh Lib Dems do, there'd be more than 30 of us. And it's worth noting that, Ming Campbell's site aside, not one of the blogs is by a parliamentarian.

Come on, Scotland! We can't let Wales outshine us like this. Let's make sure that every parliamentarian at least has a regularly updated website and let's have far more of us blogging.

Every white, middle class male one's a winner

I've promised not to reveal who the Lib Dems in Ross, Skye and Inverness West have selected as their new standard bearer at the next Holyrood election to replace retiring MSP John Farquhar Munro until the party announces it officially tomorrow.

But I can reveal that the winner is a white, middle class male. But that's not exactly giving away a lot, given that all five of the people on the shortlist were white and broadly middle class and four out of five were male.

And that continues a tradition for the Scottish Lib Dems in seats where a sitting MSP is standing down, with white middle class male Jeremy Purvis replacing white middle class male Ian Jenkins in Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale in 2003, and white middle class male Liam MacArthur replacing white middle class male Jim Wallace in Orkney in 2007.

The figures for the Lib Dems are rather shocking. In the Scottish Parliament, we've only ever had two women at a time in our contingent - Margaret Smith and Nora Radcliffe until 2007, with Alison McInnes coming in as MSP for North-East Scotland as a result of Radcliffe's defeat in Gordon last year. In Westminster it's even worse, with Jo Swinson our only MP from a Scottish seat who's not male. And I don't think we've ever even had a candidate in a winnable seat who's been non-white, probably because in the Scottish Lib Dems we have only a handful of members from ethnic minorities.

Now, I'm not someone who thinks that women can only be represented by women or that ethnic minorities can only be represented by ethnic minorities. I think that what matters is the values a candidate has, rather than their gender or ethnic origin. If you're a pro-choice woman on abortion, for instance, someone like David Steel or Evan Harris would be infinitely preferable to Nadine Dorries or Anne Widdecombe.

In selections, I would always vote for the person I considered to be the best qualified as the candidate, regardless of gender or ethnic origin. And that will mean that sometimes the best candidate will be someone who is non-white or female or from a working class background.

But the evidence is that white middle class males seem to have an overwhelming advantage when it comes to parliamentary selections. And in case anyone thinks this is solely a Lib Dem issue, consider this: every single one of the parliamentarians elected by first past the post in the Highlands and Islands region - regardless of party - is a white middle class male. Indeed, the only person who has not fitted that mould since the Scottish Parliament was set up in 1999 has been the SNP's Margaret Ewing in Moray. The only female parliamentarians we have are regional list MSPs Mary Scanlon (Con) and Rhoda Grant (Lab).

Now, I don't necessarily think there's any conscious discrimination going on here and nor do I think gimmicks such as all-women shortlists are the answer - the issues surrounding diversity are too complex to be solved by such measures. But I think we in the Lib Dems, and people in other parties too, do need to consider whether there are any invisible barriers we need to remove.

For instance, is what we expect from candidates something which makes it more attractive to men? Is the time involved in becoming a parliamentary candidate something which disadvantages those with caring responsibilities, who are still overwhelmingly women? Do we do enough to attract people from ethnic minorities into our party, and to develop them as potential candidates? How do we attract a woman who's holding down two jobs as a cleaner and ensure she has the opportunity to stand for parliament if she wants? There aren't any easy answers to any of these questions, but we do need to be thinking about them.

I long for the day when a largely white rural seat such as Ross, Skye and Inverness West can be represented by a working class, mixed-race, disabled, lesbian Sikh. But I long even more for the day when all of those factors - class, race, disability, gender, sexuality or religion - are seen as being non-issues in terms of a candidate's ability. But I think we're a long way from that.

Tavish Scott: Let's be part of the YouTube generation

Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott has an interview in today's Sunday Herald.

On the whole it's fairly unremarkable stuff and I wouldn't normally have bothered blogging about it. However, one phrase he used is worthy of comment, when he said that we needed to be "part of the YouTube generation".

I agree with the sentiment, but we really need to match words with action. I blogged during the leadership election about the poor way in which all three candidates were using the internet. And I don't think much has changed since then.

Tavish's own website is still as dull as it was during the leadership election, and apparently he hasn't done anything newsworthy since November 28. And nor are there any YouTube videos to be seen.

But at least he does have a website listed on the Scottish Lib Dem site, unlike four Lib Dem MSPs: Mike Rumbles, Hugh O'Donnell, Jim Hume and, surprisingly, former party leader Nicol Stephen. That's 25% of the parliamentary party without a website listed on the main party site. Things are slightly better among our Westminster contingent, although Alan Reid and Bob Smith don't have websites listed, while Charles Kennedy's doesn't seem to have been updated since 2004.

Things aren't all bleak on the internet front for us. The Scottish Lib Dem website has had a redesign recently and I think now looks pretty good. And as Stephen Glenn noted earlier this week, Tavish does now have a presence on Facebook.

But I think we as a party have a long way to go before we really can claim to be part of the YouTube generation. And Tavish, how about showing an example by becoming the first Scottish political leader to have your own blog?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Titian appeal nearly there

A few months ago, I blogged about the proposal for the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Gallery in London to acquire Titian's exquisite painting of Diana and Actaeon from the Duke of Sutherland for the bargain price of £50m.

I said at the time that I might well contribute to such an appeal, and indeed I did. And I'm glad to say that I'm not the only one who did. The good news this week, according to The Scotsman, is that the galleries have almost reached their target, requiring only another £2m before the end of the year.

If you like art and want to play your part in acquiring the Titian painting, you can contribute to the appeal here. Even if it's just a tenner, every little bit helps.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The return of Dr Death

I returned home this evening to find the latest constituency newspaper from the Lib Dems on my doormat.

And on the back page there was a photo of a familiar figure. In what must be his first appearance in any Lib Dem propaganda for the best part of a couple of decades, there was Dr Death himself, David Owen.

In fairness, the picture was from 1984 and it featured in a tribute to the late Lord Russell-Johnston. But it was an interesting blast from the past nonetheless.

Plane Stupid - what's the point?

This morning's protest by Plane Stupid at Stansted Airport - can anyone tell me exactly what it is meant to achieve?

Yes, they've managed to disrupt one day's flights from one airport and in doing so presumably cost the airlines millions of pounds, but what's the point?

They're not going to 'stop climate change' by such actions - although air travel is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions, it's still a relatively tiny amount of the whole. And stopping the planes at just one airport for one day ain't gonna make the slightest bit of difference.

And nor are such protests likely to stop airport expansion - and nor should they. Although I don't think there should be another runway at Heathrow or at Stansted and the focus of government transport policy should be on developing high-speed rail links across the country, I think it's daft to think that such protests are likely to change government policy.

Although I support the right of people to protest about such matters if they want, including breaking the law if absolutely necessary - I intend to break the law on ID cards, for instance - the best way for policy to change is to get people in place in both government and business who are committed to change.

That means working within the system, getting people elected and promoting different policies. Instead, the protestors seem to show disdain for the boring legwork of politics and just complain that "the government aren't listening, so we have to protest". Well, if that's the case, then vote for another political party who will listen. Or if you feel none of them are, stand for election yourself and persuade people of the merits of your case. If enough people support you, you'll get yourself in a position to stop airport expansion.

But of course, standing for election and achieving real change through the ballot box isn't as exciting or glamorous as chaining yourself to a fence at Stansted. And it also has the problem that you'd have to deal with balancing the question of the economic benefits of air travel against the environmental down side, which doesn't seem to be a high priority for the protestors.

Plane Stupid seem to want an end to all short-haul air travel. Well, I challenge them to listen to my 12-hour monologue on the benefits of air travel during a train trip from Inverness down to see my family in Kent. If after that they still insist that there are no benefits to air travel - even if only to get away from a bore like me - then they're more than welcome to chain themselves to airport fences all over the country, as long as they don't do it when I'm travelling.

The truth is that any sane aviation policy will have to balance those economic benefits against the environmental impact that flying undoubtedly has. An end to all short-haul plane travel is not a sensible option. For instance, unfortunate chats with the party leader aside, my local MP Danny Alexander would not be able to do his job properly if he weren't able to fly between Inverness and London, and there are many others with similar issues. That's not to say that a significant amount of air travel can't be cut - Radio Five Live interviewed one group of women this morning who had been planning to have a 'girly day out' in Bremen. Would they have been doing anything there that they couldn't have done on a trip to York or Norwich or London by train?

If the Plane Stupid protestors really want to make a difference to aviation policy, they will be campaigning for candidates at the next election who want to stop a third runway at Heathrow, introduce high-speed train networks across the UK and create an international system of taxation of airplane fuel. Funnily enough, those are all Lib Dem policies, but I doubt that the Plane Stupid people realise that. They're too busy chaining themselves to fences to bother with boring things like policy or democracy.

Liberal Democrat Blogs