Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Party time for all in Scotland? 1 - the Scottish LibDems

Now that the final losing Scottish party leader has had the visit from the ‘men in grey suits’, it is perhaps appropriate to look at what the results might lead to for all our political parties.
For the LibDems it is clearly desperation alley. Tavish’s too-precipitate resignation (from a LibDem party perspective who with any credibility is available to take over?) is surely so he can say more forcefully what he was hinting at in the final days of the campaign. That is that participation in the ‘cuts coalition’ - in particular after a General Election campaign predicated on ‘ a LibDem vote is a vote against Tory cuts’ - is leading to a massive haemorrhage of the LibDem vote, especially in Scotland where it was never the volatile ‘floating voter’ option that it is south of the border.
Ironically this will not lead to a break-up of the coalition. Indeed the spectre of a mass cull of LibDem MPs by the electorate north and south of the border if an election was to be called will concentrate their minds wonderfully. Plus, of course, Nick Clegg knows this is his only chance of a sniff of power - possibly for ever - and is most unlikely to threaten that. Despite his sabre-rattling over the NHS, he is only demanding what Tory cabinet ministers are already planning for the NHS in England & Wales.
In any case he and the rest of the ‘orange-bookers’ in the LibDems are probably more at home with the Tories in the UK Government than they are with the mainly social liberals of the Scottish Party. However, a split in the party is most unlikely at this stage for the reasons above and below!
Is Clegg himself likely to be challenged? After all the party faithful have allegedly only stuck with the strategy of accepting coalition to deliver PR, and this must now be dead for the foreseeable future. But the LibDems have always been capable of ignoring almost diametrically opposed positions of its elected representatives, and this won’t stop now. 
More likely is a quiet drift away of activists, similar to the Labour Party’s losses in the Blair years.
However, it is likely that the Scottish party will take an increasingly separate line from that at Westminster. Who the new leader is will tell us this. Whether it improves the Scottish party’s position is doubtful. It will take more than this to overcome the betrayal their voters feel. In particular voters do not like to be obviously lied to, as Clegg admitted doing when he said on TV that he knew during the General Election campaign that major and urgent cuts were needed, yet continued to call for a LibDem vote to prevent such cuts. Neither will the coalition change tack on its economic policies. 
The Scottish electorate is now very sophisticated. They know how to vote tactically to deliver their message. This time the message has been primarily aimed at the LibDems (and also at Labour), last year it was aimed at the Tories. Who is next in the firing line?

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