Disco. Photo: Getty
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What is the Lib Dem Disco?

The Lib Dem Disco 2014 is the social highlight of the party's conference this autumn. But what is it?

The Lib Dems, much to the excitement and cheerful derision of Westminster insiders, have announced that they are holding disco at their annual party conference. “The Lib Dem Disco 2014 is the social highlight of the Lib Dem Conference 2014” (their italics), is how the website describes it.

There was a bit of worry in the New Statesman office that “disco” was short for “discussion”, and that the event would be little more than men in yellow polyester ties talking about Trident and land value taxation, looking sad. But it looks like it’s actually a party, with lights and dancing and everything. Maybe even dry ice.

The Evening Standard describes it thus: “. . . the Liberal Democrats’ biggest movers and shakers are preparing to throw some of their best shapes at a party fundraising event next month”. And a fantastic sketch in the Guardian follows the night all the way through, from the “promised price of entry on the door” rising to the last song: that catchy auto-tuned Nick Clegg apology, I'm Sorry. Here’s an extract:

Undercover journalists at the event are likely to be found crowding around Vince Cable who, in an effort to impress, will be indiscreetly undermining his impartiality on a range of issues for anyone who cares to watch. Simon Hughes will be found reminding everyone that he actually drives a taxi, and as such is able to give people a ride home. There will be no takers. A remixed dance version of the Stealers Wheel classic Stuck in the Middle with You will be played on repeat.

The line-up of guest DJs, according to the website, is as follows:

DJ Fazza.T a.k.a FatBoy Tim MP

DJ Dizzle Fizzle MP

DJ Ali C MP

DJ Caron Lindsay

To you and me, that’s Lib Dem MPs Tim Farron, Don Foster, Alistair Carmichael and Caron Lindsay. Attendees can place their bets on who will be the “DJ of the Night”. And if that isn’t enticing enough, the description to tempt us to the event goes: “Do you want to get down with Ashdown? Shake a tail feather with Sarah Teather? Or maybe do the hustle with Bob Russell? Well, now is your chance!”

Tickets cost £10 each (or £9k for students, as a few wags on Twitter have suggested), and the disco is to raise funds to fight the Lib Dems’ Cambridge seat, which is currently represented by Julian Huppert. Huppert himself will be the disco's MC, although, according to one well-placed Lib Dem Disco source, “he’ll look like a supply teacher at a drum and bass convention”.

I caught up with DJ Ali C (aka the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael) this afternoon at Lib Dem conference, and he gave me an exclusive insight into what his set will include:

I have a list of three. And let me just say that one of them might possibly involve a band which included a Native America, a construction worker, a leather man, a traffic policeman, and encourage them [attendees], as it will be the Sabbath at that time, it will be after midnight, that they should engage with a particular Christian organisation. And I think knowing Liberal Democrat social functions as I do, I anticipate that that will be a fairly attractive proposition.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.