Do not abandon us


Of the three Unionist parties, it has fallen to the Liberal Democrats to save encircled Scots fending off the militant hard leftists of the SNP frontline infantry. The Conservative and Unionist Party is useless in Scotland, and the once-paternal Labour Party has gone from noble guardian angel to patronising champagne socialist to near-death this May. Unionists have a ramshackle current incarnation: one MP per Unionist Party. SNP high command could not have believed their luck in May by not getting the grand slam all Scottish seats landslide; with three MPs, one from Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats, the “bad things come in sets of three” mantra writes itself. The plan now must be to prove that the Union cannot work. “Look, the only three Unionists cannot even work together, they’re so tribal,” the SNP will no doubt say in the coming months. Political POWs actually make for better propaganda than a full landslide massacre.

The Liberal Democrats are now destined for a faceoff with the SNP. The Tories had ruined themselves in Scotland years ago. Labour morphed into the “Red Tory” Party. Now, the Liberal Democrats are the only brand left.

At best, the Conservatives can be portrayed as One-nation Tories, compassionate but completely ineffective in combatting poverty. At worst, they are the wicked and cold Thatcherites. Labour, despite Miliband’s 2012 conference speech, has not even had the luxury of the One-nation equivalent – Blairites have unwittingly helped drip-fed the “Red Tory” narrative since 1997. Liberal Democrats, however, are difficult to attack. The SNP strategists know that the Party is unequivocal in its pro-EU credentials. They know that its members could go mano-a-mano with SNP members on green issues, constitutional and voting reform, and human rights for the title of defenders-in-chief.

Labour has been outfoxed since Blair by a Tartan Tory opponent with a leftist mask. The last hope for the Union is the much talked of “Devolution Max”. This, in a word is the poetic justice to the aforementioned faceoff: “Devolution Max” would be Federalism. Federalism is the child adopted by the Liberal Democrats and looked after, always laughed at by the other kids. Now, the adults of First-Past-The-Post, Centralised, and Top-Down governance have realised that Federalism is the last hope for the UK.

Federalism is a technocratic headache. Making it work, however, would be a good problem to have compared to the SNP alternative.

As with the three Unionists Parties, so too will it be three strikes and you’re out on Referendums: Labour largely opposed AV with the Tories, was seen as too close to the Tories again in the Scottish Independence vote, and now on Europe any ambivalence which leads to an “Out” vote in England will trigger a second Scottish Referendum.

The Liberal Democrats must not abandon Scots who want unity. A UK-wide “In” vote in the EU referendum and steps towards Federalism in the UK are the twin antidotes; if not taken, independence will tragically be inevitable. Do not abandon us.

* Michael Cooke is the writer's pen name. He is an economic and EU policy analyst within local government with a Master's degree in EU Governance. The identity of the author is known to the LDV team.

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  • Richard Underhill 27th Sep '15 - 5:34pm

    George Osborne and Greg Clark are steaming ahead with messy devolution in England, denounced at conference.

  • “The militant hard leftists of the SNP!.
    I’m confused. Just the other day I was reading lots of comments here praising Corbyn and his policies, yet he is widely regarded as being to the left of the SNP. That places Lib Dems to the left of Communism or is comrade Tim doing the splits?

  • @Peter Not all Lib Dems think the same Peter.

  • Thanks, ThomasS. You’re right, I’ve noticed that.

    To many Lib Dems, Corbyn is almost ideal, but he is virtually communist, or at least, too far left for many Labour MPs. Clegg claimed the Lib Dem party was “in the centre of British politics”. During the coalition a large number of voters deserted the party because it was too right wing or not left wing enough. Farron seems to favour moving to the left, but I don’t think the distance is settled yet.

    It seems that the left to far left spectrum is getting quite crowded while the majority of voters prefer the right wing policies of the Tories. Politics is a strange business.

  • If LDs must not abandon Scots who want unity, what of those who prefer self determination?

  • Steve Comer 27th Sep '15 - 9:25pm

    Michael (whoever you are). Don’t insult me by calling me a bloody Unionist! And certainly not as one who has anything in common with the other two Unionists parties….
    I’m not and never have been a Unionist, Liberals fought Unionists in elections over many decades, and long before they adopted the lable ‘Conservative’ everywhere.

    The SNP are not a Liberal party, as we can see form some of their centralising instincts, but they are hardly far left either. More like centre-left Social Democrats. How come Liberal could find common cause with Social Democrats in the 1980s, but its such an anathema to do so in Scotland today? We could have delivered federalism in coalition with the SNP after 2007, but what do we do? We let them form a minority administration and played with our Labour and Tory enemies in the Better Together campaign.

  • Steve Comer

    How could we have possibly delivered Federalism after 2007? All we could have done is supported further devolution to the Scottish Parliament which is nothing to do with federalism.

  • Steve Comer 28th Sep '15 - 1:53am

    ANMAW: Yes we could have got extra powers for the Scottish Parliamamnet earlier. We could also have made a powerful case that we needed a new constitutional settlement in the whole UK based on a federal model. We could have taken that argument into the Coalition negotiations. Who knows what the outcome would have been, but we might well have got a Constitutional Convention that would have reported by (say) 2013,

    Instead we chose a fate as the third (and least popular) unionist party. Lets not forget the Liberal Democrats had 22.6% of the vote in Scotland in 2005 (slightly higher than in the UK as a whole), ten years later that was down to 7.5% (slightly lower than in the UK as a whole) .

  • Show me a Lib Dem policy paper that actually proposes/outlines how the we would set up or Federal system for the UK and solves the English question and I’ll shut up about it. Simply devolving more power to the Scottish, Welsh and NI governments does nothing but make the situation more and more lopsided. We talk a lot about federalism within the party but to the voters our system of UK, Welsh and Scottish parties/leaders looks no different to the Tories or Labour. And a least Labour are starting to talk about having a separate English Labour Party and leader. eg As I’ve said elsewhere I would prefer to go down the route of regional (plus Cornwall) parties and parliaments and not one ‘English entity’ but at least Labour are talking about it.

    The reason why we lost so many votes in Scotland is simply that we decided to go into coalition with the old enemy the Tories, and then proceeded to allow Student fees to go up (not down) and enabled the bedroom tax to be introduced.

  • Graeme Purves 28th Sep '15 - 11:11am

    I revered the wise and dignified Liberals I worked with on the cross-party Campaign for a Scottish Assembly back in the 1980s, but the Liberal Democrats haven’t campaigned seriously for Federalism since Russell Johnston was their Scottish leader. They colluded with the other Unionist parties to keep Devomax off the ballot paper in the Independence Referendum and Willie Rennie has gone so far as to warn of the dangers of “ultra-extreme devolution”! Why should we trust the Liberal Democrats on Federalism now and when might we expect them to be in a position to deliver?

  • Michael

    I’ll assume you are not serious with this article. The SNP are not hard left, centralists, more left than right and possibly left of centre but hard left, please.

    I do agree that the Liberal Democrats must not abandon Scotland but we have lessons to learn and as yet are not learning them. Many people voted yes in the referendum because there was no third question, the failure of the Lib Dems to fight for a third question went against our principle of federalism and will not be forgotten any time soon. The Smith Commission is not modern home rule, it is power retained and for many in Scotland a fiscal trap laid out by the unionist parties. The Lib Dems should have been arguing for federalism for Scotland and the UK as a whole. I agree with you that we have to fight for both federalism and staying in the EU but that needs the party to have both in their manifesto and to accept nothing less. While I am confident that we will fight for a stay in vote in the EU referendum I am not confident that we will have real federalism as a policy as we have not demonstrated that is what we really want, we had a chance to fight for it last Sep and failed and the Scottish voters have decided, for now, that the only party they believe will fight for Scotland is the SNP. Until we understand that and start to be Liberals , fight for Liberal values rather than just the polls and SNP bad we will not begin to recover.

    The answer is for us to stand by what we believe as much as possible, there are Liberals like myself who are YES, anything less and we will continue to suffer at the ballot box.

  • You tell us the lib dems must not abandon the Scots. The Scots have abandoned the lib dems. If you do not understand this you will continue going in the wrong direction. In bed with the Tories in government, in bed with the Tories on the referendum. The party’s reputation in Scotland as poor as I can remember. And the real prospect of much worse to come when the Carmichael saga comes to a head. The vow unfulfilled, and powers offered to Scotland deliberately restricted in the hope of damaging the Scottish economy and damaging the Scottish government. Fortunately the Scottish electorate is not that stupid. The starting point for any revival has to be an unequivocal statement that the powers being offered come nowhere near those promised. Not holding out much hope of that. And stop presuming all lib dems are unionists. Some see the Union and the Westminster establishment for what it really is. A corrupt self serving institution.

  • Steve Comer 29th Sep '15 - 2:13pm

    Well I for one certainly see the Union and the Westminster establishment as a corrupt self serving institution! I’m a Liberal and I’m against that sort of thing…..

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