Mackie pupils back for more at Conference

Schools from across Aberdeenshire were invited to sample the Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference, held in Aberdeen last weekend.

Mackie Academy, unfortunately, were the only school able to send pupils to the event at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) on Friday after several other schools dropped out.

The 14 pupils, along with Modern Studies teacher Lynda Swanson and student teacher Jennifer Dixon, were welcomed to the conference by Sheila Thomson, convener of the Conference Committee, while they waited for their local representatives, due to give them a talk and answer their questions, to arrive.

Ms Thomson outlined what a party political conference entailed and the difficulties in organising one - including the need to find a suitable and large enough venue, while also ensuring that the conference does make it round the country so that all members can visit at some point.

This is the second year the conference has been held at the AECC, following a gap of 17 years. This has meant pupils from schools in the area have been able to visit two years in a row. Along with Mackie Academy, pupils from Portlethen Academy visited last year.

Cllr. Karen Clark, Alison McInnes MSP and Sir Robert Smith MP did eventually arrive, despite some confusion about when they should have. Each talked broadly about their jobs day-to-day, and they all mentioned the startling variety of issues they might come up against in one day - a theme which came up again and again when politicians were asked about their jobs. They all also stressed that this was what was most enjoyable and most fulfilling about it.

The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie recounted later on in the day while speaking to the pupils the story of one of his constituents coming up to and thanking him profusely, because he had got fixed a rattling drain which had kept the man awake for weeks.

The pupils were then invited to attend a policy motion on training and apprenticeships. The motion pushed for more teachers at primary and secondary schools as well as for increased funding for further education policy.

The motion was generally supported, although a proposed amendment, which the Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP, spoke on, caused the ire of the bills mover, who eventually voted against the amended bill. Still, it was carried virtually unanimously.

Following this, an address was given to conference by Scottish Liberal Democrat Women on the need for gender equality. The speaker began by noting her regret at still having to speak about this matter: “It is a tragedy we are still discussing this in 2015.” Short and sweet, it was an impassioned call for everyone to stand up for equality for women.

Next, however, came the day’s big event. Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander MP, took to the stage. From the start his speech made it difficult to forget there’s a General Election just around the corner. Full of bombast and orotundity, Mr Alexander began by discussing the recent budget, announced two days before. He called it “a budget for Scotland,” with a “tartan seam” running through it.

This schools visit had a different feeling to last year’s. One could sense the troops rallying for the fight they have ahead of them. From the pupils’ perspective it seemed a more exciting and a more enlivened conference as well, and one less geared towards young people, giving an experience more representative of the conference experience.

Towards the end, the pupils were surprised by a visit from Willie Rennie. In an excellent end to an excellent day, Mr Rennie, with his usual cheerfulness, spoke about what first attracted him to the party at the age of 17 and whether those same reasons still apply.