Scots need hope for a progressive United Kingdom

Boris Johnson has clearly demonstrated this week that he is a severe threat to Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom. Liberal Democrats need to consider any strategy which can give Scots a vision of a progressive United Kingdom freed from Boris Johnson’s “leadership”.

This is a speech I intended to deliver at Scottish conference last month, and I dearly hope this course can be seriously considered and deployed in good time to positively affect our performance in elections next May.

“I am deeply worried about Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. I see polls showing support for Independence at 58%. I see within those polls that younger generations support Independence at a rate close to 4 to 1.

It seems clear to me that Scots see the United Kingdom as a Conservative country and that’s why they want to leave. Conservative majority governments are pushing Scotland away.

UK voters have voted for progressive majority governments 3 times in the last 10 years in 2010, 2017, and 2019. But every time the Conservatives have found themselves in power. It is first past the post that is creating Conservative majority governments. It is first past the post that is pushing Scots away from the UK, and it is our electoral system that has to be the sweeping constitutional reform that will transform the lives of Scots, and allow progressive Scots to once again feel at home in a progressive United Kingdom.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have to communicate a 5-year vision of a progressive United Kingdom.

We need to work with Labour to get the Tories out at Westminster.

Bring in STV.

And stop Conservatives achieving majorities when Britain’s voters want progressive politics.

We need to be clear about this plan to create a progressive United Kingdom. A plan to work with other progressive parties to defeat the parties that seek to divide us.

With this plan we can gain votes from the Scottish Conservative and Brexit party. They knew Brexit would risk Scotland’s place in the UK. They made their choice, and they need to be punished for that.

We can gain votes from Labour. Their voters, in voting for us, can send a message to the Labour party that they want progressive parties to work together to fix our broken politics, shut the Tories out of majority power, and safeguard the future of the UK.

And we can win votes from the SNP. All those progressive, liberal voters who have seen greener grass in a country free of Conservatism can imagine themselves prospering in a risk-free, progressive, liberal, United Kingdom.

Let’s draw a thick black line under our association with the Tories.

Let’s draw a thick black line under any lingering accusations that we are undemocratic after our attempts to reverse Brexit.

We have always wanted to improve our democracy.

If we cannot talk about electoral reform after the election that made voters choose between a populist buffoon, and a far left incompetent, then we will never talk about it.

If we cannot talk about electoral reform when it might be the single best way to stop Scotland separating from the UK, then we will never talk about it.

With the promise of a progressive UK, we can enthuse members, voters, and donors with an eye-catching message for this coming election, and we can blow the lid off our ambitions for the number of MSPs we return to Holyrood.

Let’s get out there and inspire people with dreams of a progressive United Kingdom, where progressive Scots feel entirely at home.”


* Ewan Hoyle is a West Scotland list candidate for the Scottish Parliament election next May

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Speeches.


  • Peter Martin 18th Nov '20 - 3:11pm

    “It seems clear to me that Scots see the United Kingdom as a Conservative country and that’s why they want to leave. …………………………………………. They knew Brexit would risk Scotland’s place in the UK. ”

    We all knew that. But what the Scots don’t seem to appreciate, if they do want to link in Scottish Independence and rejoining the EU, with Conservatism, Neoliberalism and Economic Austerity is that the EU is much worse in every respect. The EU has economic austerity built into its Treaty obligations. There’s not much Socialism or even Social Democracy left in the EU any longer. Formerly powerful left parties have withered into political insignificance.

    Scottish Independence/Rejoining the EU will mean swapping whatever control London has over the Scottish budget (the last time I looked the deficit was about 9%) with a Treaty obligation for it to be no more than 3%. There won’t be any Barnett formula on offer from the EU.

    If the Scottish people want Socialism they need to be at least independent from the EU. Maybe from the UK too. That has to be their decision. However I’d hope they’d play their part and elect Socialists and Progressives too. That doesn’t include the Nationalists of the SNP.

  • Paul Barker 18th Nov '20 - 3:54pm

    I dont feel that I have enough insight into current Scots Politics to know if talking about Electoral Reform is a good idea or not.
    I do want to point out that talking about it is all we can do, The Tories are in power till May 2024 at the UK level & there is nothing we can do about it. The worse the Conservatives do in Polls & Elections the more they will cling on.
    What we can do is replace Tory Councillors with Liberal Democrats.
    We cant resist a second Referendum fo ever but we must push for it to be after 2024.

    I am in favor of being sparing with our critiques of Labour.

  • Electoral reform is the best single policy for healing divisions across the nation and for actually doing the good that the nationalists claim is only possible with separation. Not that would solve the problems, but they’re doing a good job of selling it as the only solution.

    Just a note of caution, the 58% is the top end of polling, and only with the ‘don’t knows’ removed. If you include the ‘don’t knows’ then the polling shows support for independence at below 45% There are arguments to be had on whether or not all ‘don’t knows’ will vote, but it’s likely that more of the don’t knows would lean towards the status quo, and other polling shows that support dramatically drops when people are asked to think about the economy, or even the likely currency.

    Regardless of whether or not you think that Scexit would make Brexit seem like a good idea, it would be grossly irresponsible to think that there should be another referendum on the horizon without any kind of currency plan. The nationalists are deliberately putting all of their efforts into getting a referendum and hoping that no-one will notice they still don’t have a coherent plan. It’s more reckless than campaigning for Brexit without pinning down whether or not we’d stay in the single market.

  • If Scotland leaves the UK the country will be bankrupt within a decade. That would be inevitable, in my opinion. The SNP, it seems, seeks independence at any cost.

  • @ Paul Barker “I don’t feel that I have enough insight into current Scots Politics to know if talking about Electoral Reform is a good idea or not”.

    It may have passed you by, Paul, but we already have PR at both local government and at Holyrood……. and not only the SNP support full Scottish Home Rule and Sovereignty – the Scottish Green Party does too. The old Liberal Party used to do so (the majority of the 58 Liberal M.P.’s elected in Scotland in 1910).

  • To paraphrase John Crace in the Guardian,

    “It doesn’t appear to have occurred to him (Johnson) that the reason the SNP are in power is that they have been democratically elected”……….. and, Paul, under a PR system

  • One of the main aims of devolution was to “kill nationalism stone dead”. How did that work out?

    Devolution has not been a success. Devolved governments are inherently petty and authoritarian.

  • @Marco

    I agree!!! Let’s hang on to India! (Or we could allow the people a vote?)

  • David Evershed 19th Nov '20 - 2:16am

    Isn’t the SNP over-represented in the Westminster parliament under the present system compared with PR? If so why would they want it changed?

  • « Electoral reform » will not gain support. We need to learn how to explain what we are talking about. We want to explain how we want to prevent a minority of the electorate dictating to the rest of us because we have a parliament which simply rubber stamps the decisions of a chaotic government.
    The problem is the lack of resources to do the research and pay for the advertising we need.

  • The first piece of electoral reform we could ask for is STV for the Scottish Parliament. It’s our policy, it’s the SNP’s policy, and it’s the Greens policy, but we’re currently short of the 2/3 majority needed. It’s easy to communicate to the Scottish electorate – we already have it for local government, so it’s already understood – and it could be introduced in time for the next set of elections.

    Looking more at Boris’s recent comments, it’s clear he simply doesn’t understand how Scots see the parliament. We may criticise it, we may ignore it, we may think they are all a bunch of jumped-up eejits, but – like our football team – it’s ours. It’s our Parliament. Even if it fails – doing the political equivalent of missing 23 years of international tournaments – we’ll still support it, and defend it from those who want to end it. The SNP may not be the best government, but the Scottish people voted for them.

  • Andrew Tampion 19th Nov '20 - 7:02am

    I think it is almost always a mistake to tie a policy, in this case electoral reform, to another policy, in this case the possibility of a vote on Scottish indepdence. Partly because it risks trivialising both issues which should stand or fall on their own issues. Partly because of the risk that one or both issues may becomed irrelevant, for example if Scotland becomes independent then those opposed to electoral reform could say the case for electoral reform is reduced for that reason.
    As far as Scottish independence is concerned I have insufficient knowledge to comment on how deep the desire really is. But predicting the future is always risky. Suppose, as many including Mr Martin have suggested the Eurozone crisis deepens and the Euro collapses: the ensuing chaos might well make campaigning for an independence referendum to re-join the EU unattractive? Or suppose Brexit turns out better than the SNP predict and the UK prospers? Or what if some form of CANZUK Union with free movement between Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK comes about so the choice before the Scots is, in part, free movement with the EU and free movement in the “old” Commonwealth?

  • Under the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland can, if its Parliament so wishes, hold a referendum on the border once every seven years. Why deny Scotland what we offer to Northern Ireland?

  • Pete 18th Nov ’20 – 6:30pm……………If Scotland leaves the UK the country will be bankrupt within a decade. That would be inevitable, in my opinion. The SNP, it seems, seeks independence at any cost………………

    So, in your opinion, how do countries like Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, etc. survive?

    I’m more worried about the future solvency of ‘Billy-no-mates’, a.k.a ‘England’..

  • @ Chris “I agree!!! Let’s hang on to India!”

    Scotland and India aren’t comparable. Scotland was not a victim of empire they were a willing partner in the Union and an attempted imperial power themselves with colonies in places such as Panama.

    That is one of the myths of Scottish exceptionalism the other being that the Scottish public are somehow more progressive/egalitarian than the rest of Britain.

  • @marco

    “Devolution has not been a success. Devolved governments are inherently petty and authoritarian.”

    Voters in Scotland disagree with you ( look at the results of the SSAS).

    And remind me which Government in the UK unlawfully prorogued parliament, is committed to breaking international law, has repeatedly ignored the Sewel Convention on legislative consent from the devolved parliament/assemblies, is planning to undermine judicial review and so on?

  • @ewan hoyle

    I think you need first of all to explain why the UK is worth saving. It is not self-evident least not in Scotland.

    Secondly, I cannot see how electoral reform is a vote winner and achievable in England given it is not a salient issue for voters and I have not seen any polling which suggests that, whatever salience it has, it is an election winner.

    Thirdly, it is not clear that voters in Scotland would see the Lib Dems as a “progressive” party. In Scotland at the moment the party is against a second independence referendum regardless of the expressed views of the Scottish electorate, will not engage with the Scottish Government on budget discussions unless the SNP renounces independence and as I understand it is still boycotting the National Citizens’ Assembly on the same basis. In the UK, our most recent experience of the Lib Dems in government was in the coalition which is hardly an advertisement for the Lib Dems as a progressive party. In fact, recent history suggests that the Lib Dems are more likely to go into government with a right of centre party than anything else.

    Finally, I doubt that there is time for this or any other constitutional plumbing before the second independence referendum. The fact is that Scotland is confronted with a UK Government which is intent on dismantling the devolution settlement, unlawfully proroguedthe UK Parliament and is willing to break international law. Realistically given its current majority, that government will be in power until the end of the decade so any constitutional plumbing from Westminster ( highly unlikely in any event and if promised why should it be trusted) until the 2030s.

  • @andrew tampion

    “Or what if some form of CANZUK Union with free movement between Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK comes about so the choice before the Scots is, in part, free movement with the EU and free movement in the “old” Commonwealth?”

    The point about independence is the ability to choose and not to have the choice made on Scotland’s behalf by England as with Brexit.

  • Electoral reform in the form of PR is an overdue change to our democracy though with the danger of Scottish independence it becomes essential. The Welsh Local Elections Bill’s passage shows England to be in a minority of 1 regarding voting systems. The Party needs to put electoral reform top of its agenda for 2024 and hope Labour will have seen sense by then and that it won’t be too late.

  • George Thomas 19th Nov '20 - 1:41pm

    I wish you had said: “If we cannot talk about electoral reform when it might be the single best way to stop Scotland wanting to separate from the UK.”

    Reform to stop Scotland leaving is right out of the Conservative and Unionist playbook, while they also stoke up xenophobia by suggesting a Scottish voice may become more influential in Westminster if you vote for anyone else to win seats in England.

    Reform to stop Scotland leaving is right of the Conservative and Unionist playbook when their internal market bill tramples all over devolution, and it was very sad that the House of Lords rejected breaking international law but sent the message that breaking internal structures is perfectly fine.

    Win the argument by making people’s lives better. Don’t follow Republican’s in America by bending the rules in your favour so you can win even when you lose.

  • Denis Mollison 19th Nov '20 - 2:24pm

    As chair of LDER ( I’m strongly in favour of electoral reform for the UK parliament, and I do think it could make a big difference to the independence debate … except that it’s sadly very unlikely to come in time.
    In response to 2 of the comments above:

    @David Evershed 19th Nov ’20 – 2:16am
    “Isn’t the SNP over-represented in the Westminster parliament under the present system compared with PR? If so why would they want it changed?”
    There are two possible answers to your question, (1) because they believe in PR, (2) because they would do better with half their present number of MPs in a PR-elected parliament.

    @Keith Legg 19th Nov ’20 – 5:43am
    “The first piece of electoral reform we could ask for is STV for the Scottish Parliament.”
    We are asking for this: it was part of the Federal confrence motion this piece refers to. A hopeful sign is that this change, from AMS to STV, is being acticely pursued within the Welsh parliament.

  • Denis Mollison 19th Nov '20 - 2:37pm

    On the substantive issue of alternatives to Scotland demanding outright independence, I believe the best solution is to take Scotland’s right to independence as the starting point for negotiation of a new constitutional arrangement. This could be either a federation with shared sovereignty, or a confederation of independent states. Framing it as a negotiation between states with their own rights of independence is much more likely to produce a discussion looking for a mutually beneficial solution than the present framing as “separation”.
    I wrote about this in LDV a few days before the Scottish conference debate on federalism (as well as speaking in that debate) –

  • Ronald Murray 19th Nov '20 - 3:07pm

    I have always thought that Westminster must be reformed to the template for the Scottish Parliament non confrontational layout combined with PR. Also there is nothing wrong with the European Union except that it needs updating and reforming cutting waste and bureaucracy. In the case of the leviathan England Regional Parliaments need to be set up.
    As for here in Scotland Liberals were always the party of Home Rule and local decision making also Industrial Democracy. These things seem greatly reduced these days. All this I learned at my grandfather in Rogart’s knee. A lifelong Liberal and Councillor both in Birmingham and Inverness County Council with over 50 years public service. I tell my trolling SNP friends they did not win the election the other parties lost. They should think if the Westminster Brexit Government cannot get a deal with the EU, there is no chance of an amicable deal with Scotland (Remember the Darien Venture).

  • @Hireton

    I didn’t say this government are any good – they are nasty, authoritarian and useless.

    However let’s not fall into the trap of “if you’re not on one side you’re on the other side which works against liberals in these polarised times.

  • Jenny Barnes 19th Nov '20 - 4:14pm

    “Let’s draw a thick black line under our association with the Tories.”
    Back in 2010 people voted LD because they thought the LDs were significantly different to both Labour and Tories. Imagine their surprise (no , you don’t need to) when it turned out the LD PLP was just like the Tories with yellow ties! And feeling disappointed they proceeded to boot out hundreds of LD councillors and dozens of LD MPs as soon as they were given the chance. It’s no good us drawing a line, it’s getting voters to believe it. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…

  • @marco

    You said without any evidence that “Devolved governments are inherently petty and authoritarian.” The only petty and authoritarian government in the UK at the moment sis the UK Government as I described,

  • @ Marco

    I don’t accept exceptionalism of any kind, ever. People are people.
    Robert Cunningham-Graham was the first “socialist” MP at Westminster. He took the Liberal whip. He advocated such ludicrous ideas as extending the franchise to working men, votes for women, Home Rule for Ireland, Home Rule for India and Home Rule for Scotland.
    He was later, with Keir Hardie, a founder of the Scottish Labour Party and transferred with him to the later Independent Labour Party.
    When, in the 1920s, Scots ILP MPs were outvoted by their non-Scottish, fellow, “Labour” MPs and shelved Home Rule, Cunningham-Graham helped found the Scottish National Party.
    So, I didn’t suggest exceptionalism. I was suggesting that maybe a Lib Dem could understand that Scottish Nationalism and the desire for more powers pre-dates Devolution. The exceptionalism is in believing that devolved administrations are intrinsically authoritarian. Thus, as I said earlier, “Let’s hang on to India!!”

  • @ Chris Well said, Chris, Hireton and Jenny Barnes…… I say this as someone who voted Liberal/Lib Dem in every election between 1964 and 2010….. and worked my socks off for the party in every one of those elections.

    It might do Marco a bit of good if he read a PhD thesis on Cunningham Graham which is available on line :

    Munro, Lachlan Gow (2019) R. B. Cunninghame Graham’s … › 2019munrophdPDF
    Submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for a PhD in History. … and author, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936)

  • A recurring theme here is that when you put forward an argument people respond with a lecture about what happened in 1887 etc etc

    Hireton claims that the Westminster govt is the only authoritarian administration in the UK at the moment.

    Anybody think that the SNP is authoritarian too or is it just me?

  • Nah. Sorry. There might be others but, so far, it’s just you (Willie Rennie anybody?) Nah. It’s just you.

  • Marco, it would be a refreshing change if you did put forward an argument instead of just making assertions.

  • @David Raw

    Maybe it would help if I broke into song:

    O free expression
    When will we see your like again
    Who fought and died for
    The right to say what you want
    And stood against them
    Proud Nicola’s henchmen
    Who’ll send you to Gaol
    To think again

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