By James Calder

Day 1

Nick Clegg addressing the Conference

The Scottish Liberal Democrat Spring Conference took place on the 10th and 11th of March this year over an action packed two days at the Dewar’s Centre in Perth. A number of motions and debates took place with a good number of the Dunfermline Liberal Democrats participating throughout. For the first time in as long as I remember one of our number also won one of the Party awards!

The Conference was opened on Friday by Perth and Kinross Councillor and good friend to Dunfermline Liberal Democrats Peter Barrett. Quickly afterwards we went into full flow in the morning session, with a motion on Protecting independent consumer advocacy and also one to Keep Highlands and Islands Enterprise Local.  These motions were followed soon by an impassioned speech by Alistair Carmichael, setting out the importance of us working to keep Scotland in the UK and the EU but also placing special importance in guaranteeing the rights of EU expatriates living in Britain. His speech was warmly greeted by the Conference.

We then came to lunch and the fringe meetings. My own choice was an (unsurprisingly) very well attended fringe meeting led by former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg on The global threat to liberalism from populism and nationalism. Nick provided a thoughtful analysis on the worrying upsurge in populist movements not only in the UK but also with Trump, Putin, Le Pen in France and Wilders in the Netherlands. His view were there are both long terms trends such as the end of the traditional right versus left dichotomy  as well as the significant impact of the global financial crisis of the last decade.

The afternoon began with a debate on Preventing drug-related deaths, which included moving away from criminalising possession for personal use to more attempts to help drug users. Interestingly two of our members, myself and Tom Leatherland, participated in this debate, both on opposing viewpoints, but of course in the normal good-natured Lib Dem spirit. Tom even made a television appearance for his speech on BBC. Afterwards the debates moved to updating the speed limits for HGVs over 7.5 tonnes.  After this one of the Conference highlights took place, with a speech from Nick Clegg following on from his very interesting fringe meeting earlier. Nick carried on with his theme calling on Liberals to fight right-wing populism at home and provide the opposition to the Tories over their hard-Brexit plans which Labour is failing to provide.

The final two motions of the afternoon included a motion on Frank’s Law and dementia in football, aimed and giving support for footballers suffering dementia as well as the wider and significant group in society suffering from this. The final motion, Education, had Conference agreeing that the SNP had failed in Scotish education and called for the Government to invest in education, stop school league tables and reduce teachers’ workloads.

Bryn Jones, Alistair Carmichael and Myself enjoying a dram

In the evening some of the Dunfermline Liberal Democrats attended a fringe meeting on Enterprise and Skills led by Universities Scotland. However I, alongside Dunfermline North candidate Bryn Jones decided to attend a very entertaining whisky tasting led by Alistair Carmichael and the Lib Dem Friends of Whisky. Afterwards we went to the Liberal Youth Scotland quiz where a team including myself, Aude Boubaker-Calder, Bryn Jones and Lauren Jones unfortunately failed to excel (or even register a score in double figures!)

Day 2

Saturday began with the Party AGM, with the most significant development being the agreement on where the all-female shortlists will be for the next Scottish Election. Afterwards we were treated to a speech from Baroness Sal Brinton, the President of the Liberal Democrats. This acted as a call to arms for us to go out and win our local elections this May.

We then went onto the first motion of the day, Fighting for our place in the UK and Europe. The mover was one of the Party’s rising stars, Alex Cole-Hamilton, MSP for Edinburgh West. However the undoubted high point of the debate was a speech by our own Aude Boubaker-Calder putting the case for her amendment to the motion calling for the UK to guarantee the rights of EU expats like herself. I also spoke in support of the amendment and the motion, and there was huge support for both across the Conference. Aude was delighted at her amendment passing!

We then moved onto a motion condemning the recent Tory UK budget as unfair, before settling down the fringe meetings at lunchtime. I went to a very interesting fringe led by the EIS for Standing up for Scottish Education. This led to much interesting discussion, and I also put forward a question on how we can better help teacher’s deal with ever-increasing workloads.

Aude Boubaker-Calder receiving her award

During the afternoon another Dunfermline Lib Dem, Lauren Jones, candidate for Dunfermline Central, spoke from her experience as a new mother in the debate on Maternal Mental Health. Willie Rennie then made his speech where he promised to speak for the majority in Scotland who want to stay in both the UK and the EU. After a Consultation session on Housing, the Party awards took place. I was incredibly proud to see my wife and our member Aude Boubaker-Calder win the prestigious best speech award, and in my opinion (not biased of course!) her speech was the highlight of the Conference it was well-deserved!

At that the Conference ended. A great couple of days, but both myself and Bryn Jones had to wait a little bit longer as we looked after his baby while Aude and Lauren attended a Scottish Lib Dem women’s event! I think I can speak for the entire local Party that it was a thoroughly enjoyable Conference and I think we have got a lot to look forward to over the coming months.