Andrew Tickell, who blogs as the Lallans Peat Worrier wrote in the National the other day – he puts the case succinctly and well –
IT was nothing personal.” That, in a nutshell, was Alistair Carmichael’s defence in court number one in Parliament House yesterday.The Orkney and Shetland MP is trying to persuade Lady Paton and Lord Matthews to dismiss the election petition that four of his constituents have brought against him under the Representation of the People Act 1983.They’re relying on section 106 – which makes it an illegal practice to make false statements about a candidate’s “personal character and conduct” for the purposes of winning election. If the petitioners prevailed, not only would Scotland’s last Liberal Democrat lose his seat, but Carmichael would be barred from elective office for three years. If the procurator-fiscal decided to institute proceedings, there would also be a risk of prosecution and a hefty fine. The personal consequences couldn’t be starker.
We all know what has happened with food banks in the UK since the austerity cuts began under the Coalition. Even Alistair Carmichael admitted there was a link between benefit sanctions and reliance on food banks. We do not believe they should be needed in a civilised country and are so sad that our own MP was part of the Government that has made them a necessity. This is why we think it appropriate to pass on to them any surplus money raised by the crowdfunding campaign that is requesting the courts to declare his election null and void.
So money will not be wasted – since the article published by Bella Caledonia carrying an update appeared last night (August 20th) £4,000 extra cash has been donated and more is coming in every couple of minutes- we are very, very grateful for the support that helps build our determination to bring matters to a decent conclusion as soon as possible.
You can contribute here. Together, we will reclaim our polity and make sure that our politicians are no less honest than anyone else.
Farewell to Stromness by Max – the most famous piece of protest music to come from Orkney.
Waiting for our troubled MP to make up his mind feels rather like being caught between storms, the quiet day between weathers.
Feeling quiet and reflective, I feel as if I have seen more of what I value about Orkney than I have ever done before. This is a good place with decent folk. We are nothing special, just ourselves. We are not romantic or remote, just people who live on islands. It has been good to me, as a gay man, as someone who was very ill recently and who needed a great deal of love and support which my neighbours gave without counting the cost. That is the islands at their best, egalitarian, hospitable. The worst thing anyone can be called is ‘bigsy’ To not be ‘decent’ is terrible.
I am speaking of Orkney of course. I know little of Shetland, know London far, far better. That may sound strange to many, but it is true. These island groups are very different from each other, very far apart geographically (a whole day’s sail on the ferry) and anyone who claims to speak for both island groups is an idiot or an MP, or Michael White in the Guardian, or some combination of the above. White pontificated last week,
“Scotland needs political pluralism, and the Northern Isles needs it even more if it is to keep the centralising government in Holyrood safely at arm’s length. “It’s Orkney’s oil”, eh?”
“Contrite Carmichael, warts and all? Sounds OK to me at this distance. But it’s not up to me, it’s up to his local party activists and, in due course, his voters who may barely remember it all by Christmas.”
I have no idea if White has ever been here or spoken to anyone with any direct experience of us in the last thirty or so years. It has been a long time, if ever, since anyone has said ‘its Orkney’s oil.’ He certainly thinks we have short memories and seems to confuse distance from London with stupidity.
It is not a mistake people often make twice.
We have a long history of dealing with bullies and often use their beliefs about our innocence against them. There are many, many stories told with delight about this. One of my favourites goes back to the Napoleonic wars. When the press gang was hunting down men to take off to the Navy their prey would hide in the hills. Women left food out for their men folk on cairns that still stand near many farm houses and it would be collected at night. Soldiers were of course suspicious but actually believed us when we told them it was being left out for the fairy folk, the trows and the hogboons. Who were the idiots?
Consider the uranium scare. In the late 70’s it was found in the West Mainland. Thatcher’s crew wanted to dig open caste mines under this very burrow for the damn stuff. Stromness would have been destroyed. I was very little at the time but I well remember hearing old women discussing how best to make and store Molotov cocktails. They knew how to do it and they meant it. The miners kept well away.
That was when Max wrote ‘Farewell to Stromness” as a protest piece for the “Yellow Cake Review.” Now, played at every funeral in the parish, it has become part of the folk tradition which is the highest accolade any composer can achieve.
Or think about those numpties who tried to trick Shetland out of its oil cash. They forgot how badly treated those islands had been by the establishment at the end of the Second World War. Unemployment soared as the demand for wool and fish declined. There was real hardship that lasted for generations and so the Shetland Islands Council was determined not to make that mistake again. Ian Clark, the negotiator prepared himself well and soon sorted things out. In his own words.
“We were called down to a meeting in Shell Centre and they told us that they had done all their calculations, and, on the basis of what we were demanding, they couldn’t afford to come to Shetland and that they were going to the mainland of Scotland. My response to that was to say to them that it was a very happy day. I wanted to begin by congratulating them on their technical expertise that they could take the gas and the crude to the mainland of Scotland . Secondly, since our previous discussions had seldom been happy ones, when we went back to Shetland and gave them this news, we would be heroes indeed. And we got up and walked towards the door. And physically we were put back in our chairs and told ‘We’ve got to come to Shetland. So that was another wee piece of pressure which really didn’t quite work for them. And it was at that stage we realised we really had won the battle.”’
Of course Ian Clark had the support of a fine and conscientious MP, the fondly remembered Jo Grimond. His legacy has meant that the islands stayed Liberal and then Liberal Democrat since. Grimond opposed Polaris and supported Home Rule. It is hard to imagine him ever voting for the hated bedroom tax. He never had to apologise for lying to the electorate during a general election campaign. No one has ever had to defend his reputation. He has been dead a long time now though.
I have also seen some of the worst of the islands too. We have lived for too long in a mixture of a one party state, and something worse still, a no party state. Our local councillors do not stand for any political party but are all independents. They tend to be older, and drawn from the magic families that own the big farms, big shops and businesses, from the entitled This gives far too much power to the bureaucrats and vested interests. This kind of oligarchy between big families and dignitaries has governed the islands for hundreds of years in one guise or another and has let them confuse island identity with their own political and commercial interests.
To see how fierce their anger is look at the facebook page that carries the interview I did for Radio Orkney. The fury this caused is positively GilbertandSullivaesque n tho less well scripted. One well known local stirrer has called me a ‘traitor to the islands’ which stung far more than I would have liked. It is to be foreign.
To him, I am bad for trade, ‘putting the islands in a bad light.’ This forgets that democracy and free speech are values held dear, even when people are on holiday.
One tourist who saw us protesting outside the Cathedral wrote to the Yes Orkney page,
I have just returned from holiday in Orkney and came across the silent protest at Kirkwall two weeks ago on the way into the children’s’ fiddles and accordion concert. Rather that discouraging us, we were interested to read the placards and pleased that in one part of the UK the spirit of democracy is thriving. I have been told by several people that Mr Carmichael is a good constituency MP, but the easy-going Orcadian manner should not allow him to allegedly break the law. Letters in the Orcadian have been generally over-excited on the anti-SNP side and well reasoned on the other. Scotland has gone through huge changes in the last few years and the old Liberal tradition, alive there and in Cornwall, is sadly dead, replaced by a much more rightwing party … Good luck with the Petition.
Again and again, the little islanders ask of us in the protests. ‘are you really from here, where does the money come from?’ Most of us no longer answer these questions. To entertain it is to give then currency and that encourages the idea that some are more islandish than others. Nonsense. When it comes to politics, being a citizen is what matters. We should all be judged by how we choose to be and live; not by origins, birth and kinship these connections over which we have no control. Identity politics framed by these things has led to much of the intimidation members of this campaign have experienced. This intimidation has come from those who should know better. Not from those who would normally be considered rough but from the wealthy, the prosperous and the self-righteous. Their hatred of what we are doing seems visceral and that is amongst some Labour supporters too.
This whole issue is divisive. There is no getting away from that. The root of the division lies firmly with the one man who lied to the electorate and his core supporters were having to try to defend the indefensible. One of the things they say again and again is that “He has said sorry. Surely that should be enough. He did not take his severance pay”
Indeed, Carmichael has confessed his lies, his own words in the Orcadian newspaper bear repeating;
“I understand that my behaviour has done damage to the relationship of trust that I have with many of you as your Member of Parliament.
I regret that more than I can say. and I am truly sorry for what I have done- not just for giving my agreement to the disclosure of the Scotland Office memo but also for not subsequently been truthful about it.”
His contrition does not contain the key elements of repentance because he is still living off the fruits of his wrongdoing. That is unacceptable for it will lead to no amendment of life, but is no more than being upset at being caught. He claims his record of excellence as a constituency MP should save him. Tosh. No husband has ever succeeded by pleading his fifteen years happy marriage before the murder of his wife as a defence or set the level of his own punishment. That is cheek, special pleading. If our opponents accepted that we had a point, perhaps, things would be better but they insist that we are nefarious conspirators, perhaps because they do not believe that ordinary people possess the skills, resources and sheer power to bring them to book.
We do, we are living as if we are in the first days of a new country.
Enough of bullies and the politics of entitlement.
Radical freedom. That’s what we want. No more bullies. No more politicians pretending to speak for us without asking our permission. If Carmichael doesn’t resign now and the case goes to Court and he loses, his epitaph will be like that of Phil Woolas, a piece of case law, ‘Morrison and others versus Carmichael, 2015; we will be joined, Vole and MP. together forever in the Law. If he survives this proceeding, and at best it will be a Pyrrhic victory , then there are two more cases to go. They will take up all his time and his constituents will be forgotten as he tries to save his skin. And to what point? He has already admitted he is finished by saying he will stand down in 2020 – sounds like much pain for little gain, a long slow withering away and a wretched end to what was up until its last few weeks a glittering career.
At the very least, he could put his party first.
Carmichael seems to not care about the damage to the party. In 2016 there are the Scottish Elections, the ones that will pave the way to the next referendum. If Carmichael stays, then Liam is finished. I disagree with his politics and will campaign against him, but I would like him to lose because there is a better candidate, not because he is collateral damage. He has done as well here as anyone in his party could and he deserves a lot better than that.
Well folks, due to the overwhelming support of all of you, I was able to travel down to Edinburgh yesterday and lodge the petition to hold the electoral court at the Court of Session – it was a hair raising day – the papers had to be accepted by close of business or we would not have been in time – so I was on the early flight and it was delayed by two hours. Talk about timing!
Whilst I was in the airport, a certain MP of this parish walked past but did not recognise me – I don’t think he will be doing that again.
A word in praise of the legal team
Nothing could have happened without the sheer courage of our legal team. I met them all yesterday for the first time – and they were brilliant – they had been working around the clock for days – asking us questions really late at night – and under huge pressure. I do not see how we could have better.
Events over the next few weeks
Now the papers have been lodged this is what happens.
I must pay £5,000 into the court on Monday morning.
The papers must be formally served on Alistair Carmichael this week.
From being served, Mr Carmichael has a week to respond if he choses to and must give the grounds of his objection and he must
Then there is a period of ‘adaptation’ where what is agreed is agreed – and here the basis of his conduct is not in doubt. He has admitted it after all.
The Court of Session officials set a date for the trial – that is the word being used – that could take place in Edinburgh, Lerwick or Kirkwall.
Then it all happens. Witnesses can be called and two judges will take the decision and then of course, there could be an appeal.
We cannot show you the grounds of the petition yet (and here a petition is a formal document going to the Court rather that the 38 Degrees kind of thing) because it has not been served – and now it belongs to the Court rather than us.
Two big things stand out.
It is going to take a long time – we have no idea how long – the Woolas case that took place in England lasted 7 months –
and it could cost anything at all.
So our focus has now to shift towards planning for the length of the campaign.
Fiona McInnes who has been the inspiration behind this keeps saying to me ‘don’t get carried away, stay grounded.’ This is fantastic advice that could serve as our moto as we move into the next phase. There is time to do local events that can themselves be part of the story – and we had some fun generating ideas – the #carmichaelmustgo beetle drive, the Alistair Cake Bake, and so on. Anything we do must be consistent with the aims of the campaign – so please be careful not to give our opponents ammo for the myths that they are spreading about us being a nationalist lynch mob.
There is a blog associated with the campaign tho not part of it – theorkneyvole.com – it is posting regularly on what is happening as well. Please use it too.
When it comes to this next stage, we are not the people in control – you are – we are voters trying to clean up politics – so we have to stay honest, keep kind and organise our socks off.
Humans who want to see Carmichael accountable in court have been almost as busy as us Voles. Me and the goodwife are speachless to see what has been achieved so far.
Their campaign has managed to raise £21,00 just over 11 hours – that is an average of over£31.00 every minute!!! You can donate to the campaign here. That’s not bad for half a dozen people in Orkney and Shetland who, with excellent lawyers, have organised themselves and are not seeking any support from the political parties.
The petition has to be lodged within 21 days of the General Election, meaning by this Friday (the 29th of May). That process will cost in the region of £5,000 for each party. That only gets the process started.
The case is extremely unusual and the organisers may find themselves facing three teams of barristers. Their lawyers have said, that if costs are found against them, they could be liable for something like £40-50,000 in addition to the original deposit. Indiegogo also takes a cut of any funds received – hence the figure of needing to raise something like £60,000.
People are making this possible.
This action could not be considered without the support of people throughout the country. The 1315have contributed so far are true democrats who want to see everyone subject to the law irrespective of their power or possessions.
If Carmichael does the decent thing and steps down or if exceess money is raised, all available funds will be distributed to food banks in Scotland. This way, there may be some tangible result from this sad business.
The campaigners are trying to keep a low profile because this is not about them as individuals, nor about their politics, it is about bread and butter democracy, keeping our politicians honest and accountable. The issue is Carmichael and he must go!!!
The crowdfunding campaign, ‘The people versus Carmichael was launched at 10.30 am this morning. By 1.30pm it had raised £5,674 from over 360 contributions raising from £5 to £150. All the money has come from private individuals. Any money not used for litigation will go to supporting foodbanks in Scotland. This is democracy in action, ordinary people saying enough is enough.
A spokesperson for the campaign team said, ‘WOW!
The total target for the campaign is £60,000 – this huge sum is needed to cover any costs that may arise from the case and is the estimate given by solicitors in Edinburgh.
I almost spluttered on my breakfast sclater. ‘Not by name?’
‘No dear, but it must be you, this is what he said.’
‘…. commented on the use of social media and said that he had seen the use of ‘smear’ tactics’
“There were some unpleasant aspects to it – some of the stuff on social media, in particular.
I don’t know if we’ve learned quite yet how to use social media, or if social media has quite worked out what to do on politics but its not working at the moment.
There was some unpleasant stuff about child abuse investigations. which was not the sort of thing that has ever featured in Orkney politics in the past. It was a downright smear. But maybe thats where politics is now whether you like it or not.’
‘I didn’t smear him. I just wanted to know what Mr Carmichael knew as Chief Whip about Cyril Smith. I wondered if Nick Clegg spoke to him about solicitors’ letters he refused to answer, the ones requesting the party’s files on what had gone on. It all happened not that long ago. We wondered if it might have explained that vote in the House of Commons when the Government refused to give whistle blowers that defence.’
‘That one where some of his own MPs rebelled against the party and voted with all of those in opposition.’
She was getting mad with me. ‘He has been very cross with you. I don’t think you should have been so cheeky’
I sighed, ‘But I liked that picture of him snogging David Cameron. I would have thought a LibDem would have been glad of the attention. Social media lets us make fun of people in power and try to get them to account for what they have done in office. ’
My best beloved rustled her tail in irritation, ‘But he says Orkney politics has never been like this before.’
I look firm. ‘He is right, it has never been so serious. We have the food banks now and we have never been represented by someone whose party has been alleged to involved in a cover up of criminal behaviour by one of its MPs before. ‘
‘‘I suppose that’s why My Carmichael doesn’t like you. You want him to answer for the things his party did when he was in power’
Yes love, and here are the questions again. If he gives us a good answer we never need mention it again. Maybe he will have the time to do it now he is no longer a government minister. We won’t stop until he does.’
When did you first learn about Cyril Smith’s criminal activities as an MP?
When you were chief whip and requests for information from victims were received, were you involved in the decision to not answer the letters?
What files has the party held on Cyril Smith? Where are they now? If they were destroyed, on whose orders?
What advice did you give Nick Clegg on how to handle the situation?
Did David Steel know about the system that was in place that enabled Smith to make one phone call to get out of trouble?
David Steel’s unwillingness to act enabled Smith to continue his activities. Will you disassociate yourself from him?
What practical support will the party offer the people Smith victimised as an MP?
Did Liz Lynne ever tell you about the conversation she had with Martin Digan in 1996? The one she does not remember and is alleged to have burned the files over?
What is the difference between a cover-up and refusing to release the information?
The Best Beloved smiled and patted my paw, ‘I do love you Furry Face, you are my intrepid Vole.’
I smoothed my whiskers modestly, ‘It’s not hard when you are doing the right thing, love.’
‘I was branded a Traitor and victim of SNP spin. It is time to tell the truth.’
After being attacked by Orkney LibDems for voting SNP, Sweyn spoke to the Intrepid Vole. This is his story, in his own words. We were glad to offer him sanctuary in the Burrow and a little fortification.
The Vole: I know this is painful for you to remember but can you tell us about your LibDem past?
Sweyn: The first election I was eligible to vote in was the election of 1979. Both parents were ardent conservatives but I had other thoughts. I voted Liberal for a number of reasons.
The main reason was, despite my being, at the time a member of the armed forces, was the Liberal commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament.
The commitment to the environment was my second reason, long before it became the “Thing” to believe in. They had a commitment to the sick, the disabled, the disadvantaged. The Liberals cared, they gave the only true alternative to the far left and the far right of British politics.
What about the SDP?
Even with the joining of the party with the Social Democrats in 1988 sat well with me as they supported these ideals as well. My interest in politics grew over the years, and I became more involved in helping my party by delivering leaflets and campaigning for my local LibDem MP after his election in the South of England in 1993. He was a great help to me personally after a motorbike accident in 2002 robbed me of a portion of my left leg.
So what has happened that could drive a devoted supporter away? What could have turned you from a path you had been on for 985 years?
Less and less of liberal policy since the mid nineties has reflected true liberalism.
Gone was the commitment to unilateral disarmament.
Gone was the unwavering commitment to de-centralisation.
Gone was the unwavering commitment to the environment.
The very soul of the party was evaporating slowly but surely.
Was being LibDem part of your reason for coming to Orkney and settling in Gairsay?
Yes, When I moved here in 1127 I truly believed I was moving to the heartland of Liberal values. Whilst the population still have those values, I was to find out the party did not. The end for me with the party started the day they jumped into coalition with the Tories. When I voted in 2010 for Alistair Carmichael, it was because I wanted the LibDems to represent me in Westminster. What they did was take my vote and hand it on a silver platter to the Conservatives without a care for my choice or opinion. I did from that point onward feel disenfranchised. I had nowhere to go. Then along came the independence referendum, I chance at last for redemption. Support for the Yes campaign would have been support for liberal values, but no, the party I once had faith in, instead supported a vile campaign against freedom and justice for the people of Scotland. They joined with disseminating lies and spin, making out that all north of the border were scroungers, miscreants and troublemakers. They assisted in the sham of promises they had no intention of keeping. Liberal values no longer.I did the only thing I could, I withdrew my support.
How have they responded to your crossing the great divide?
Since then, I have been accused of many things, ‘Traitor’. being a sheep following SNP spin, even being selfish and caring only about myself. In truth I am still a Liberal person, I still have the very same ideals I had back in 1979. I did not desert the LibDems … The LibDems deserted me. I am now SNP.
“I am not going to have a Labour government if it means deals or coalitions with the Scottish National Party,” he said, ruling out a so-called confidence and supply arrangement. ”
“The man is daft as a box of bonxies”
In latest news, the Hogboon is still swithering, ‘My vote is all to play for, I know Alistair Carmichael has done things to hurt real people, that farmers are worse off, expanding and that he wants to deal with the Tories. I am sure that there is no truth in the cover up stories really, honestly, definitely. But I just don’t like change. Things might happen
The Hogboon came rushing in to the burrow clinging to a copy of the LibDem Manifesto.
“Lib Dem are wanting an EU referendum if the EU is after new powers. That’s what the manifesto says. That did not worry me but the Guardian said Clegg is going further and has even refused to rule out supporting Conservative plans for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. Its not even a red line!!
He kept on going, “That means he will support it. Risk Big everything. England may pull us out of Europe what with UKIP being more popular than his party south of the Border.”
“Yer farmer will not be happy about that” I stated. “And your folk voted ‘no’ because they were scared of leaving Europe.”
The Hogboon looked worried,”Aye that’s right, it’s a lot of money. In 2012, 607 farmers in Orkney got £19,484,000.”
“They will miss that.”
“They will indeed. The kye are worried. Bessie is losing weight.”
” I noticed that,” I said, “well no wonder, not since Carmichael agreed to those funding changes. The NFU and the Scottish Government thought that was a really bad deal.”
The Hogboon waved his paws in the air, “Aye. Its enough to make a farmer vote SNP”