Wednesday, August 27, 2008

If Martin Luther King had had a Spreadsheet: Where Next Tavish?

Yesterday Tavish Scott did win the nomination to be leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats with 59% of the vote. From where I was sitting he was advocating a great deal of continuity, had the backing of most, though not all, of the establishment of MPs and MSPs etc in Scotland. However, 41% a sizable minority, did still vote for the other two candidates who advocated some sort of change in approach. Ross Finnie said that the party had lost its narrative and Mike Rumbles went further to start to lay out where that narrative had started to take us and where it may lead.

One thing that did come out of the hustings I attended in Edinburgh and possibly in other elsewhere was a general sense of disappointment in the party leadership worrying too much about minutiae and forgetting to look at the big idea. Everybody still remembers the big Lib Dem idea about a penny on income tax for education which ran for a number of General Elections. In 2005 there was Freedom, Fairness and Trust the main thrust of which were a local tax passed on ability to pay, opposition to the war in Iraq, and spreading many of the Scottish implemented policies for students, pensioners and eye and dental checkups to the rest of the UK. All big ideas coming from a liberal heart and not from some spreadsheet costing what was achievable.

Imagine Martin Luther King's famous I have dream passage from his speech had been hit upon by guys with slide rules limiting his aims. See the following memo he might have received changes by the number crunchers in italics:

I have a dream that 2.75 of my four little children will for at least one day live in a nation where they will not 66% of the time be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that there will be one day ever week, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little 54% of black boys and 67.3% of black girls will be able to join hands with 62.3% of little white boys and 72.5% of white girls as sisters and brothers, 10.6% of all will still be ostracised due to sexual orientation but that's a different matter.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every 83% of valleyies shall be exalted, and every
94% of hills and 76% of mountains shall be made low, the 62% of rough places will be made plain, and the 43% of crooked places* will be made straight less crooked**; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

*need to set more realistic and achievable crime targets.
** can't use the word straight as it might offend a certain minority you know what we're saying.

You see it doesn't quite have the same impact as the original narrative. It's all fine an well know the numbers setting targets for achievability but they should not put a restriction on the goals you set out and the dreams you have of where you want to see our world go. In recent years both The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism and Britain after Blair: A Liberal Agenda were books of ideas from our party's heavyweights.

Being Liberal Democrats of course not everybody agreed with every vision set out in both books but this was blue sky thinking laid out there. People searching for ways to move the Liberal narrative forward. Numbers, finance restrictions etc weren't the thinking in these narratives they were merely setting the goals. Today ASwaS does mockingly look back at the hours of PE in schools disaster of 2006 but he's right in a way. The idea was great, the execution of the minutiae taking centre stage was a disaster.

Tavish needs to formulate and articulate our narrative much in the way that both the American Presidential candidates or Alex Salmond have done successfully. Our vision, our ideals are relevant to Scotland possibly more so now than ever before, as others attempt to imitate, we need to get that out there fresh, move it forward to the next stage not get bogged down to much in our presentation in the details of how we'll achieve it. But empower the electorate with our dream for a liberal, democratic and forward looking, moving and thinking Scotland.

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