Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Patsy – And Everyone Kens It

It’s not been a good week for the Lib Dems, but spare a thought for their Orkney and Shetland MP, Alasdair Carmichael. On Monday afternoon, his party leader Menzies Campbell decided to call it quits. Later that evening, Carmichael was to be found snarling and spluttering his way through a Newsnight Scotland interview, lashing out left right and centre at those whom he deemed responsible for the end of Ming’s Dynasty.

His repeated shouting down of presenter Glenn Campbell was inexplicable. However, most extraordinary of all was his attack on fellow interviewee, Scottish Editor of The Times, Magnus Linklater, whom he accused personally of undermining Campbell on the grounds of age – an utterly risible suggestion given Linklater’s own vintage, well-known Lib Dem sympathies and long-standing personal friendship with, er, Menzies Campbell!

However, there’s another story involving Carmichael, this time relating to Foot and Mouth which emerged only late last night. As such, it is not covered very extensively in today’s papers, so please bear with me, while I set out the background:

On 10 October, given the plight of Scotland’s ‘light lambs’ following the foot and mouth movement restrictions, the Lib Dems were urging Scottish Ministers to ‘stand up for Scottish farmers’. When First Minister Alex Salmond did exactly that, revealing that an £8.1m compensation package intended for Scottish farmers had been withdrawn by Westminster over the weekend, the Lib Dems then complained that the SNP government was ‘grandstanding’, and that by publicising Westminster’s change of heart, what they were doing could only ‘harm government links’.

You can see how the Lib Dems were hoping that this story would pan out: ‘Typical SNP, always picking fights with Westminster for their own partisan ends… only the Lib Dems can be trusted to….. blah, blah, blah’. So to try and reinforce the point, Carmichael decided to arrange and put himself at the head of a cross-party and farmers’ delegation to Hilary Benn and DEFRA, which would ‘repair the damage done by the SNP in Edinburgh, and bring about an early resolution of this critical issue, which will benefit Scotland’s crofters and farmers’.

His initiative was greeted enthusiastically by a Labour Party feeling the heat over the SNP’s refusal to cover up a blatant attempt at electoral bribery. In particular, it was embraced by Scottish Secretary Des Browne, who went out of his way to reciprocate the love-in at Scottish Questions yesterday. It was all set up - the SNP would be made to look like constitutional wreckers, while the Lib Dems would be allowed to pose as an effective voice of reason, and would come away with some beads and knives for their trouble.

What a shame, then, that no-one told Agriculture Minister Hilary Benn, who according to James Withers, the Deputy Chief Exec of the National Farmers Union Scotland, told the delegation that the problem facing farmers north of the border was "not big enough" to merit any compensation, and effectively “washed his hands” of the problem. As one MP allegedly put it to Benn during the meeting, “As a unionist, you’re not leaving me with much”. But really, what more did they expect?

So, despite all the posturing and politicking, Carmichael too has been told to get lost by Westminster. The difference is that Carmichael and his party, through their naivety and willingness to grandstand against the Edinburgh Government, have shown that when it comes to a choice between standing up for farmers, or standing up for Labour, their priorities certainly aren’t with the farmers.

So – leaderless, directionless, guileless… the charge sheet just keeps growing. Meanwhile, Scotland is kept waiting for Westminster to face up to its constitutional responsibility to offer compensation. Having walked away from government in Edinburgh and Cardiff, after the events of the last week it seems that the Lib Dems are walking towards irrelevance at Westminster as well. Really, what purpose do they serve any more?

1 comment:

hacksaw jim duggan said...

Their purpose appears to be to employ Liberal Democrats.

Although my money is on there being quite a few less in the aftermath of the next election...