Thursday, October 08, 2009

Lib Dems "To Mount Referendum Review"

Well, well, well. What to make of the news that the Scottish Lib Dems are to re-examine their position on an Independence referendum at their Scottish Autumn Conference later this month?

I dare say that the hooting and hollering will begin in earnest from both Labour and the Tories, amidst claims that they and only they can be trusted to stand up for the union. However, we should be clear. This may only be a first step towards the Lib Dems changing their existing policy, but it’s not of itself a decision to support a referendum, and it’s certainly not a declaration of support for independence.

For that reason, the SNP would be well advised to play it cool. However, the questions remain - after mounting such a staunch defence of the policy last month, why consider changing it now? And what does this say about the state of Tavish Scott’s leadership of his party?

I see 3 possibilities:

• Tavish does this to try and shore up his position. Rightly or wrongly, he believes that the membership backs him on this issue, and so asks them to show dissident MSP, MPs and candidates that the pro-referendum argument is ‘over’.
• Tavish does this from a position of weakness, having had it forced on him by unhappy Lieutenants who can see the political damage it is doing.
• Tavish has belatedly realised that telling people they can’t have a referendum is a vote loser, and is seeking to u-turn in a way which can be presented as having been as consensual and as ‘liberal’ as possible.

It’s pretty obvious that the virulently anti-SNP/anti-independence streak which exists at the top of the Lib Dems isn’t at all representative of most of their members, far less their voters. Similarly, the hard line adopted over a referendum by Tavish Scott has discomfited many, who are instinctively in favour of giving people a vote on their constitutional future.

Certainly, in my experience, it goes down like a lead balloon on the doorsteps, since most people want a referendum regardless as to how they’d go on to vote. It’s also no secret, as we learned from their recent UK conference, that senior lib Dem strategists are concerned that the longer a referendum is postponed, the more likely it is that there might be a successful ‘yes’ vote to Independence.

However, Tavish’s difficulties aside, could there be another factor at work? The Calman Commission, with Gordon Brown showing no inclination to implement even the uncontroversial bits and with David Cameron rowing away from even the merest tweaking of the financial powers, is now the deadest of dead ducks. It was always destined to be lowest common denominator stuff and as was long predicted, was always unlikely to leave the Lib Dems with anything even approaching their preferred option of Federalism.

The constitutional debate in Scotland runs on SNP petrol. Without the prospect of Scots voting for independence, arguments for further devolution lose all force where it really matters – in Westminster. For the Lib Dems to back an independence referendum would flush Labour and the Tories out on Calman, and force both parties to come up with something, and sharpish. So, there’s a sound, strategic argument for the Lib Dems to back an independence referendum as a means of achieving further devolution. But then, that was always the case all along.

The Lib Dems are all over the place on tax, all over the place on spending, and now, all over the place on Scotland’s future. While conventional wisdom would suggest that inconsistency is a bad thing, I think that most voters would welcome just such a policy change, and might just be inclined to forgive Tavish Scott for his inconsistencies on this issue. Who knows, it might even represent the first act in throwing away the shovels with which the party started digging so enthusiastically when its MPs opted to bury Charles Kennedy.

7 comments:

Wardog said...

An interesting day indeed with Gray looking very 'peelly wally' after his fith question and especially when juxtaposed to Goldies very solemn and fitting line of questions and then Tavish displaying a real wobble with this review.

Will either still be in charge of their MSP's after the General Election?

Richard Baker getting swatted by Salmond was classic, is there no end to the man-child's petulance.

Jeff said...

Fascinating stuff Richard, and fine analysis there.

I could scarcely believe it when I saw it this afternoon but the Lib Dems do have a commendably good record of throwing issues out to the membership and taking a line from there, so fair play to them.

And of the 3 bullet points, I have to think it's number 3 at play.

On top of that, Tavish's well-known frustration with Calman must be a part of this.

And then on top of that, even if it is a vote winner, it could well keep the man in his job a little bit longer as he had been turning a deaf ear to one too many of his members/PPCs.

November 2010 is on (perhaps), who'd have thought it...

Richard Thomson said...

Will either still be in charge of their MSP's after the General Election?

Who knows, Wardog? And who indeed would have thought it, Jeff?

Anonymous said...

The reason !!!! this is from their constitution

We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people. We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs..."

Except for Scotland, apparently.

Liberal for Life said...

Anonymous needs to realise the people spoke at the last election and decided, as a majority, to reject the party proclaiming independence and vote for parties who actually stood for more, albeit diverse, policies whilst united in their defence of the United Kingdom.

As Liberals we accept the will of the people, not the will of some fundamentalists whose pursuit of the mantra of so-called independence works against the best interests of our nation.

We are the real democrats and until the next election that ought to be what the present party in minority governement ought to realise and accept is the will of the people right now.

So go back to your bunkers and prepare for opposition again.

Anonymous said...

The reason !!!! this is from their constitution

We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people. We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs..."

Except for Scotland, apparently.

Except for Scotland, apparently

Except for Scotland, apparently

Except for Scotland, apparently
Except for Scotland, apparently
etc etc etc etc etc

Kinghob said...

"As Liberals we accept the will of the people, not the will of some fundamentalists whose pursuit of the mantra of so-called independence works against the best interests of our nation."

Very desperate stuff from the singular "Liberal for Life".

The Libdem Rome burned years ago, I am surprised you pretend that the Libdems even have a fiddle after this ridiculous debacle where the word 'federalist' is notable by its absence.