Sunday, 8 May 2011
What Now For The Scottish Liberal Democrats?
Tavish Scott, the leader of the Scottish LibDems has resigned, with immediate effect, after conceding the election results were "disastrous" and that the party needs a "new direction with a new leader".
The LibDems lost 25 deposits in Thursday's election and the Scottish Parliament will now have just five LibDem MSPs, with no constituency seats on the mainland. In the previous parliament they had 16 MSPs.
What now for the LibDems? Only a few weeks ago it was rumoured that the LibDems were in secret talks with Labour leader Iain Gray about forming a coalition should Labour not receive a majority. Then suddenly a Scottish LibDem grandee, John Farquhar Munro, intervened to anoint Alex Salmond as "best for the job" of governing Scotland.
There was no way back from such a slight and the LibDem campaign never recovered no matter how much effort activists put into efforts to persuade voters that the Scottish Libdems are quite different from their masters in London. Therein lies one of their problems: they are tied to a national party and more and more Scots want their politicians to have Scotland's interests first, second and third and not be playing second fiddle to other parts of the UK.
The SNP capitalised on this on Thursday and rightly so.
Tavish Scott's biggest mistake was not to support an independence referendum. He represents Some Shetlanders over the years have called for a breakaway from the UK; even suggesting they had more in common with Norway and ought to be affiliated with the Scandinavian country. Now the topic of home rule has again raised its head.
Why Tavish didn't support the right of the Scots to decide their own future is anyone's guess but I suspect he was influenced/ordered by London. It's possible he may resign altogether from politics during the forthcoming 5 year term. Watching him on Sky yesterday I felt an aura of defeat from his demeanor and not only political defeat. A return to full-time farming may be of benefit to his health and family but it's rumoured he could be a popular choice for the job of presiding officer, although the same rumour mill suggest that Alex Salmond wants the job to go to an SNP MSP.
The only other constituency MSP, Liam McArthur who kept his Orkney seat with 37.5% of the vote, may have no alternative other than accept the poisoned chalice of LibDem leader, although the Shetland Times suggests the only new MSP, Willie Rennie could become leader, but will the LibDems survive as a party now they are on the periphery in Scotland?
Repeatedly I've said the Tories, in order to be a serious party in Scotland, need to cut the London apron strings and rename themselves. The LibDems need to take similar action. With Scotland now having three left of centre parties - the SNP, Labour and LibDems - the chance is there for the LibDems to reposition themselves to the centre.
It's certain though that Alex Salmond won't ignore the Shetlanders. An independent Scotland would have too much to lose.
The question that needs to be asked is does Scotland need three left-of-centre political parties?