Thursday, 5 August 2010
Feet of Clegg
Lord Wallace of Tankerness, Jim Wallace to you and me (and I suspect, to him), last week, sounded a loud call to the Scottish Liberal Democrat troops - if that is not too collective a name for Liberal Democrats - to keep united and campaign strongly for the Scottish Elections coming up in nine months time. There was more than a hint of desperation about his call, and that isn’t surprising given the party’s reported opinion poll slump since Nick Clegg hitched their wagon to the Tory Cuts machine.
It is instructive to remember that a mere 3.5 months ago, those same opinion polls were showing Liberal Democrats in second (and even first) place, following Mr Clegg’s reported ‘surge’ after the TV debates. As some of us suspected, the 34 per cents etc. were always going to be somewhat wide of the mark, (but don’t be surprised if the media still report this ‘surge’ as if it did in fact happen), but the 14% average that we now see is poor even if you accept the top figure was inflated.
However a more pressing worry for the LibDems in Scotland is that the support of many of their party leaders for ‘market forces’ and cutting the public sector is now becoming apparent. The ‘economic Liberals’ were always there, but managed to shelter behind the more cuddly ‘social Liberal’ image. Now they are in charge, they are flinging themselves enthusiastically behind Messrs Cameron and Osborne in the ‘New Tory’ attempt to destroy our services. This will not play well in Scotland.
Another concern is that MSP candidates cannot rely on the General Election mantra ‘vote for us, or you’ll get the Tories’. Quite apart from the fact that everyone who fell for that now knows that their vote DID get them the Tories, the Scottish Parliament seats held by the SLD are mostly not threatened by Tories. Out of 11 FPTP seats, (another irony is that the SLD have done rather well from FPTP in Scotland) in only one, Fife NE, are the Tories second.
A third worry for Jim Wallace, Tavish Scott and other prominent (but very quiet) SLD leaders is their UK leader’s admission (in Nick Robinson’s BBC programme on the coalition negotiations) that he knew that huge, immediate cuts to services would be needed during the election campaign. The trouble is not that he changed his mind, but that he kept quiet about it and continued to campaign AGAINST Tory ‘immediate cuts’ economic policies, only to embrace them enthusiastically once a whiff of power beckoned. Isn’t that the sort of tactic of the old cynical party politician? his supporters will be inclined to ask. We thought we were voting for a new way in politics!
So, as Labour and the SNP battle it out to defend Scotland against the Tory cuts, where does this leave the Scottish Liberal Democrats? Attacking the cuts in Scotland while supporting them in Westminster will be a very difficult double bluff to pull off - even for such past masters of the tactic. It may well be that after 5 May 2011, Scottish Liberal Democrats (even the economic Liberals) may find out that their golden leader who has delivered them a hand on the wheel of power, has feet of Clegg.