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Should Scottish Liberal Democrats back independence?

May 7th, 2011 Posted in Liberal Democrats, Scotland by

On a miserable night, the Scottish Liberal Democrats were particularly glum losing 12 of 17 seats in the Scottish Parliament and falling below 8% of the vote. The elected members can now fit in a McTaxi. One, the Leader Tavish Scott has just resigned and is likely to be replaced by super-campaigner Willie Rennie.

Most of this is down to the general trend against the party. Some of it is local. Like the Welsh party, who performed relatively less poorly, it is hard to see what is compelling and distinctive about the Scottish party. It is not clear that the gap in the market labelled liberal unionism, is much of a gap.

The party promotes itself largely as sound mangerialists. The 89 page 2011 manifesto is full of good technocratic stuff. It is a reasonable Chief Executive plan for running a large Council.

But I wonder how much differs, and does so decisively from the others? Better run public services, jobs and growth are hygiene factors in the centre-ground, not differentiators.

Where there is a gap is on the pro-independence centre-right.

The SNP, a party formed by a left-right merger, absorbing the old Scottish Party, is now an almost entirely centre-left and populist party. If they do blow their 2011 success, and do so quickly, it will be on the gap between their spending rhetoric and fiscal reality.

For those whose vision of Scotland is one of a free-trading nation, competing with England for world markets, rather than deficit expansion, the SNP is not a natural home. The Conservatives are wedded to unionism and reactionary on social matters. They, us, and Labour are too easily seen as adjuncts to their UK parties. Something right now, that is particularly damaging for us.

I’m not sure with the party’s current support, how strong opinions against independence actually are; or how nuanced. Support for either Home Rule or federal relations are certainly not a novelty in liberalism, and the Liberal Unionists merged with the Conservatives in 1912. Is it entirely implausible that the mood could shift again following this election?

Should it?

Generally liberals should also be fairly relaxed about national borders, or at least where change is the result of democratic will rather than coercion. It is not then clear to me, other than the accidents of history and local tribalism, why the Scottish Liberal Democrats should be staunch supporters of a No Campaign.

What they should certainly be is advocates of a democratic choice. There will be a referendum and the party’s previous flip-flopping, welcoming than against, now looks ridculous. Liberals should not appear to fear democracy, even when, like the AV referendum, the outcomes are disagreeable.

The Union it should be noted is the arbitrary result of the politics of a bank bailout following the collapse of the Darien scheme, an 18th century credit crisis. It is not obvious the end of Union would be a disaster for either Scotland or the rest of the UK. Nor indeed any devolution option between the status quo and full seperation. Electoral collapse and a leadership debate should give the Scottish Liberal Democrats room to consider those options.

It would give the party a chance to renew, provide a clear point of difference with the English Liberal Democrats, Tories and Labour, and might give them the narrative they currently lack.

Why not?

65 Responses to “Should Scottish Liberal Democrats back independence?”

  1. Dolan Says:

    Let me explain.
    You think the people of Scotland will vote for independance when not one of you can tell them what independance is.
    You think that what happened last week is enormous, whereas we know it is a ‘flash in the pan’.
    You think attacking our ethnic origins in some way benefits your beleifs.
    We know different.
    We have been here a long time.
    We have learnt patience, understanding and the ability to ignore bullies.
    We are liberals.
    Been there, heard that, still here.
    Don’t worry Tony. You can still have a meal at my table.

  2. Dolan Says:

    It takes a patron to be really patronising :-)

  3. Alex Says:

    52 comments and when taken as a whole they show exactly why your party is finished.

    You lost your deposit in more than a third of constituency seats. You lost areas which have been solidly liberal now for centuries – not years or decades, but centuries. And you didn’t just lose – you were hammered, beaten to a pulp. Your vote plunged to depths unseen since the days of the Monster Raving Loonies.

    And yet you whine about philosophical questions – ‘What is independence?’ – If you look at Denmark or Norway and don’t know the answer then you’re either obfuscating or truly beyond hope.

    You confidently proclaim that independence is not what ‘Scotland’ wants. Not the 5 million+ individuals who live there, but that vague, abstract concept of singularly minded ‘Scotland’. Presumably you made similar proclamations of having such unique insight when preparing your manifesto…remind me: how did that work out for you?

    You’re dead, it’s over. All you’re missing is the sense to lie down.

  4. Nicola Prigg Says:

    @Alex The vote share was 17% which is the lowest share since the Liberal Democrats was formed in 88 but not the lowest share the liberal party have had.

    We were hammered in the number of seats but not necessarily the vote share.

    1 member was asking the philosophical question on what is Independence but they are sometimes the important questions. If you don’t know why or what something is then you can’t fight or oppose it. We have to have a philosophical centre so that people know what they voting for and why we are in politics.

    I said Scotland doesn’t want independence and not as an abstract concept of Scotland but as the majority of people living in Scotland don’t want independence.

    I have to say never right off the Liberal Democrats, we will rise from the ashes just as strong if not stronger than we were before.

  5. Alex Says:

    @NIcola Prigg
    Your vote share was nowhere near 17%. Between the constituency and regional vote you managed all of 6.5%.

    The time for philosophical questions has passed for serious people. As I said, if you look at Denmark or Norway and still don’t know what independence means then kindly step back and allow those who are likely to play a part in Scotland’s future to get on with things.

    Again, you pontificate on what ‘Scotland’ wants, yet conspired to ensure the population not be asked the very question you claim to know the answer to. Perhaps your party’s shabbiness in 2007 was the result of some psychic omniscience?

    Incidentally, the figure of 20-30% is always bandied around, yet the last Mori poll which addressed such an issue gave the following result:

    Don’t Know:25%

    Strip out the DK’s and you have a 48:52 split. Or a 2% swing away. Just because you don’t want something to be the case, doesn’t make it unlikely.

    BTW – you won’t come back from this in Scotland. You got into bed with Tories. You attacked the North Sea Oil industry and claimed the idea as your own. If there’s one thing the Scottish electorate despise more than a Tory, it’s a party which does the dirty work of the Tories for them.

    Stick a fork in yourselves. In Scotland at least,you’re done.

  6. Nicola Prigg Says:

    The UK national share was 17% and our share in Scotland was 7% which was down 8% on 2007.

    Philosophical questions evolve. I do understand independence it was more Dolan that doesn’t understand independence.

    If you look at my comments on here and I have always said before that I am for a referendum. I actually think it was disgraceful that in Scotland & in England we have never had a referendum on the UK.

    The 20-30% is of the hardcore supporters. I take that from the polls in straight-shoot outs and of those that include a third option like devolution or a federal state.

    Also the phrasing of the question is also important. There was one poll that had showed majority support for independence then the following month it was down to about 26% – a month where there wasn’t much campaigning on the issue would have such a big difference. There have also been polls weekend apart that had a widely differing result so i would say you can’t rely on the polls on this issue. The only thing you can take away from the polls is that there is a hardcore support of around 20-30%.

    I honestly think you need to have a referendum with more than just a yes or no, in which case support for independence falls dramatically.

  7. Douglas McLellan Says:

    Ah. I wonder if the cyber gnats would turn up.

    @Tony – I would wager my house that if a referendum were held tomorrow the answer would be no. That is why Alex Salmond is not using is commanding majority to hold one until the latter half of the parliament. He is being sensible even if other Nats are not. Now, it is possible he may win in the future. Ask me to wager my house on a referendum in 2014/15 and I would decline.

    @Alex – I can see you went to the Christine Grahame school of gracious victory statements. It was a sad day to watch my new MSP and think “you could actually take lessons from Andy Kerr and Tom McCabe”. We Lib Dems were hammered. But proclamations of our total demise are exceptionally premature.

  8. Graeme Cowie Says:

    I have no strong view on independence. What I can’t and never could understand was why Lib Dems North of the Border never backed the opportunity for the Scottish people to have a say in a referendum on their constitutional future.

    I think I’d marginally prefer a proper UK-wide federalism with more powers being devolved not just to “national” parliaments/assemblies but more importantly to local councils, including full responsibility for raising the cash in their own budgets, to some sort of separation, but I’m increasingly coming to the view that there’s not the appetite in “the Union” for such radical localism. For the Scottish Lib Dems, if recovery from Thursday’s nose-dive is to be anything more than cosmetic, it might mean having to embrace independence as a means to an end.

  9. Tony Says:


    “”….then kindly step back and allow those who are likely to play a part in Scotland’s future to get on with things.””

    Sage advice, however the electorate has pretty much decided that for them.

    @ Dougie

    “Cyber-gnats” – What have either of us said that deserves a silly personal attack like that?

    Hurting much?

    Salmond is not having the referendum the morra because he has consistantly stated that it will be in the latter half of the parly. Even if he felt railroaded into going for it now by the combined childish responses of tory reactionaries and their lib-dem offsiders it then it opens up all manner of potential problems.

    Primarily it would be too rushed and not allow enough consultative time for people to get their heads around amongst a host of other important-to varying degree’s points.

    A period to pause and reflect as well as room for informed debate to allow people access to information that will counter the long held anti-Scottish lies/myths that has passed for fact is badly needed. Our people have not been well served in the past in this respect, I personally encounter opinions-as exibited on here regularly that we cannot afford, or are too wee for independence etc. on a regular basis, that are mostly built on ignorance.

  10. Douglas McLellan Says:

    @Alex – I only hurt when people get my name wrong. On purpose. And what is wrong with people having a more philosophical approach to understanding what a nation, country and independence actually is or is not? There was nothing critical being said about the SNP or the win or the need for a referendum but you and Alex arrived and felt the need to change the tone.

    I have no problem in Alex Salmond waiting and the debate does need need to be based on truth rather than myth.

  11. Jedibeeftrix Says:

    “Should Scottish Liberal Democrats back independence?”

    No, the Union is the most successful political union in history, and it has a great deal more to give both parties.

    Doing thus would be rank idiocy.

  12. David Park Says:

    I am, by inclination, a Liberal but will continue to vote SNP until the LD’s start acting like the federalists they are supposed to be.
    What did the LD’s do in coalition at Holyrood that advanced their vision of federalism? Sweet f.a. I’m afraid. Since the advent of the first Holyrood LD/Lab coalition, the LD’s seem to have been infected by Labour’s knee-jerk hatred of the SNP and this has undermined their principles.
    Remember the Steele Commission? It seemed to me to be a solid exposition of Liberal ideas applied to the constitutional question. It certainly attracted support among Scottish LD’s. So where did it go? Dropped to pursue bigger prizes it seems. Ming’s cosying up to Brown and Tavish’s oppositionalism have been unworthy of the party and have led to a LD party in Scotland that seems neither Liberal nor Democratic.

  13. Bruce Says:

    Maybe it is we English who should be encouraging Scotland to leave the UK. We would derive many benefits from this:
    The fact is that it is inevitable, you can’t give one sector of a nation completely different treatment to other sectors of that nation. Tony Blair has started the chain of events that will lead to the break up of the UK.

  14. Dolan Says:

    Well I went and talked to me neighbours and asked the why they voted for the SNP.
    The overwhelming reason was that they don’t want a bunch of Englishmen down in London telling them to charge their kids £9,000 a year for an education. They didn’t much like the idea of spending £10 Billion on a Trident replacement, a privatised NHS. A nuclear power programme on their doorstep, a tax on the sick by re-introducing prescription charges or the way the English and the royal family have forgotten that it was a Scottish king that inherited the English throne.

    Still as long as people think “Nationalism is at heart a poisonous, reactionary, divisive force utterly at odds with the best precepts of liberalism.” Then you ain’t likely to appreciate the finer points of self determination. Check out the history of Ireland over the past 100 years if you want to know how not to do it.

    And once again I ask people, plead even, that if they are to use the word “Independence”, please explain what you think you mean. I can’t think of a single country that is “Independent”. North Korea is about as close as it gets! I don’t think anyone in Scotland wants to be another North Korea. What they do want is ability to manage their own house. Just like me and you.

  15. Dolan Says:

    I hope nobody on here thinks that someone living without Scotland is entitled to vote on their independence?
    If so, you have a problem. The rest of the world!