The Conservative party have got themselves into convulsions over Europe and Gay Marriage in ways that brings into question their capacity to govern.
It is not because there is no room for debate on these issues but because it reveals divisions so deep it is difficult to see how they can focus on the issues that really matter – namely getting the public finances back into balance and the economy returning to growth.
Gay marriage is, of course, a devolved issue so it will be for the Scottish Parliament to determine the law north of the border. This will not be without controversy given the attitude of the Roman Catholic church (albeit weakened by the conduct of some of its most senior clerics) and the heated debate over gay ministers in the Church of Scotland after the appointment (more than four years ago) to Queen’s Cross Kirk of Scott Rennie who I am more than happy to call my friend.
The arguments over Scotland’s place in the union and our future within the EU are, to my mind complimentary. The benefits and influence Scotland secures as part of the UK are wide and deep and reach far beyond the economic sphere. I believe that is why I am picking up strong and passionate support for Scotland staying together with the rest of the UK.
Similarly, the UK’s influence in the world is greatly enhanced by its membership of and engagement with the European Union. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there is no room for improvement in both these relationships. I joined the Liberal Party to help restore Liberalism to the mainstream of British politics and to fight for the establishment of a Scottish Parliament.
I have continued to support further progress in terms of transfer of additional powers and access to more of the tax base to fund the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament to and help inform the ebb and flow of transfers within the UK. The next tranche comes into force in 2015.
Similarly, there is a need for a more open, accountable and democratic Europe. I do not support a United States of Europe. Right now the Eurozone is wrestling with a crisis mainly of its own making (which is why I did not support the UK adopting the Euro when it became apparent that the essential criteria were being ignored).
Given the immediacy of the crisis it seems unlikely that other countries will stop their focus on resolution to negotiate a new relationship with one EU member however important and influential – especially if that member is threatening to leave at the end of the process.
The Liberal Democrats and the coalition have set the framework for a referendum if and when there is a fundamental change in the relationship. To have one after a non-renegotiation or with no context whatsoever as the Europhobes want is irrational.
The supremacy of our financial centre and the benefits of the trade agreements negotiated between the EU and our key external trading partners are reason enough to be inside. David Cameron seems to be setting himself up for a referendum which he would lose - not impressive leadership.
Scene set for a lively campaign in Donside
The Donside by-election for the Scottish Parliament has been set for June 20 and the campaign is now under way. The northern part of Donside lies within the Westminster constituency of Gordon so naturally the issues are of direct interest to me and my Westminster constituents.
A few issues are already shaping the campaign. Labour’s local opposition to the third Don crossing and the resolution of the Haudagain bottleneck which depends on it, could cost them a lot of support north of the river.
Mishandling of proposals for new halting places for travellers, school closures and a general sense that the council administration is anti development are also factors that undermine Labour and the Conservatives.
The SNP stand accused of short changing Aberdeen. The city has been consistently underfunded by any standards. Business rates are siphoned off to the central belt. Freezing the council tax increases the Scottish Government’s stranglehold and the centralisation of the police and fire services as well as the health service are all detrimental to the north east, as the SNP chase votes of the central belt.
Specifically, the SNP promised to raise Aberdeen’s funding levels to 85 per cent of the Scottish average but delivered less than 80 per cent – a shortfall of £21 million.
So the stage is set for a lively political campaign over the next few weeks.