When 444 votes were cast in the 50p top tax rate debate and 413 in the nuclear power vote at the Liberal Democrat conference, some comments were made about these appearing to be low figures compared to past conferences.
However the rush to judgement on them was flawed for three reasons.
First, there were rather more votes cast in the Trident debate (550 – thanks to the get out the vote operation by the party leadership not misfiring that time).
Second, attendance at federal conferences is always lower in Scotland than when it is in southern England, reflecting the relative travel distances for the bulk of the party’s membership. Comparing Scottish to English figures is liable to mislead.
Third, that is not just a theoretical risk, for we have had federal conferences in Scotland before, and the vote totals this time round compare well to what they were back then.
For example, the Autumn 1995 conference was in Glasgow, and checking through my notes I can only find one counted vote held then. It saw 477 votes cast in a very high profile debate about the party’s attitude to the National Lottery. Those with long memories may recall it is the debate in which Charles Anglin used a great phrase to attack those who wanted to oppose the lottery, warning that the party would be adopting a ‘heat seeking boomerang’ in opposing a popular idea.
You will note, by the way, that the Trident debate’s 550 is higher than the 477 from 1995. Evidence can be inconvenient at times…
By the way, in checking through the paperwork for this, I discovered I’m in part responsible for those written reports from the Parliamentary Parties we have at each conference. It was a constitutional amendment at Glasgow 1995 which introduced them, moved by Kiron Reid and summated by myself.
That is one change which has stood the test of time well.