Here we go again…


We all know about the announcement from Nicola Sturgeon. Some have written here in support of Liberal Democrat leadership figures maintaining a staunch unionist position, to the extent of wishing to block an independence referendum in the first place. Others have written in support of the Liberal Democrats crossing the divide and actively backing Scottish independence this time around.

I have made no secret of the fact that in 2014 I was a reluctant Yes voter. I am also open about the fact that in the next referendum, the only thing that will have changed for me is my increased certainty that independence is the least worst option on the ballot, in the wake of Brexit. However, many others within the party will be similarly convinced of their position behind a No vote.

In the wake of the recent Northern Irish election, I remember reading a Mark Pack article asking what lessons Liberal Democrats could learn from our Northern Irish sister party, which had enjoyed a strong result. The Alliance Party exists as a cross-community endeavour to defend and advance liberalism, tolerance and understanding across sectarian and nationalistic divides. Crucially, it does so without declaring either the British union or a future reunion of Ireland as the correct context to achieve those goals in.

I couldn’t really say how much of the Alliance platform would readily transpose across to the English situation, but the Scottish Liberal Democrats on the other hand could absolutely take on board a great deal.

Does retaining the union with England make Scotland any more liberal? On present indications, it seems quite the reverse. The honest truth though is that decisions made in government will protect or imperil liberalism, rather than simply the fact of being in union. Will independence automatically mean a more liberal Scotland? Although it presents opportunities, actually following through with them again depends on future governments. Ultimately, large unions and small nations can both be either liberal or illiberal.

It seems clear that a liberal party in Scotland can ideally focus on advancing liberalism under whatever arrangement, be it independent, federal, devolved or unitary, ultimately commands popular support. It would mean that the party could remain a home for liberals on either side of the divide. As we can see from the Alliance example, far from getting squeezed out, such a party can be an important part of the political conversation with a natural constituency of support that is not represented by any other parties or movements.

So while I will continue asking people to consider an independent Scotland in Europe as an alternative to the emerging Britain alone against the world, I think it is also valuable to have a political force operating outside of that single question. The Scottish Liberal Democrats as a party may yet have much to offer as a cross-community alliance, neither the third voice in unionism nor a tertiary advocate of independence.

* T J Marsden is a member of the Liberal Democrats originally from Peterborough but latterly based in Scotland

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Mar '17 - 10:09am

    ‘The honest truth though is that decisions made in government will protect or imperil liberalism, rather than simply the fact of being in union.’

    Sorry, this is glib. You surely can not separate the fact of being in a union from the consequences of that union, liberal or otherwise. What you think of that is another matter.

    ‘Will independence automatically mean a more liberal Scotland? Although it presents opportunities, actually following through with them again depends on future governments.’

    But again couldn’t the same be said about the future direction of unions. See Greece for a particular example.

    ‘Ultimately, large unions and small nations can both be either liberal or illiberal.’

    Sure. And, for the record I personally would welcome Scottish independence and I’d equally be happy for them to stay in the UK. But I do think you are pinning a lot of hope on an indeterminate future here.

    My wife’s country got its independence in a flush of optimism and hope – let’s just say there’s not much of that on the ground there nowadays.

  • So you voted yes last time and if there’s another vote you will vote yes again! Is there a point to this beyond moaning about the English? By the way I would have voted yes if I lived in Scotland, but I would point out that illiberal England is far more diverse than Scotland and doesn’t have religious factional infighting.

  • David Evershed 21st Mar '17 - 10:19am

    The latest poll shows Theresa May more popular in Scotland than Nicola Sturgeon.

    Scotland politics could be changing again.

  • The Scottish party debated the issue at conference /after/ the Brexit vote, and voted by a substantial majority to continue to oppose independence. You may not like that, but it is a fact. You’re obviously entitled to continue to press your opinion, but I think for the party leadership to volte face on this would be an extraordinary slap in the face to members.

  • @davidevershed

    That’s a “voodoo” poll from Sky Data using a survey of Sky customers in Scotland. Sky Data are not a member of the British polling Council and do not reveal their raw data or methodology. All other polls from reputable polling organisations show the opposite.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Mar '17 - 11:46am

    There is a focus on Northern Ireland today, because of the death of Martin McGuinness. There is a general tendency in obituaries to play up the positives, but we should remember that the Belfast Agreement was expected to produce initially a coalition between the UUP and the SDLP with the late Ian Paisley (DUP founder) in opposition to the agreement.
    We should also be careful to be aware that Northern Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the UK is substantially with Scotland. Scottish independence would tend to destabilise Northern Ireland to some extent.
    Norman Tebbit cannot forgive. Willie Whitelaw (Con) and John Hume (SDLP) should comment if willing and able.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Mar '17 - 11:58am

    A former newspaper, The Correspondent, did a feature in which they said that the peace process was generational, at least in part, because the leadership of Sinn Fein did not want their children to become adults with the Troubles continuing.
    We should give some credit to the first Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, whose patience must have been tested repeatedly.

  • The Scottish independence debate appears to be producing more heat than light on LDV, and many of the comments from England are not helpful.

    Joe Otten doesn’t surprise me – he has admitted to using the SNP as the scary bogyman in Sheffield two years ago.

    As for David Evershed’s comment., the latest You Gov poll in Scotland shows support for the parties as

    SNP 40% Conservative 25% Labour 14% Green 12 % Lib Dem 5%. UKIP 2%.

    Glenn’s comment (Scottish moaners) (religious factional infighting) reveals plenty about him – but not much about his expertise on the political atmosphere in Scotland.

    As for TonyJ – yes, the Lib Dem leaders nailed their colours to the mast, but much as I like Willie Rennie personally, time will tell whether it was wise or realistic given a hard Brexit against majority opinion in Scotland. The Lib Dems stuck on 5% in the polls with the Greens going up about to overtake Labour may suggest otherwise.

  • Dave Broadway 21st Mar '17 - 1:19pm

    I am all for an independent Scotland in the EU if we are to be dragged out. I will be moving my companies head office to our Scottish site. Damned if I’ll pay tax to this government if I have a choice.

  • David Raw.
    My Grandmother was Scottish. I’ve always supported Scottish independence, which I’ve told you this many times. I have nothing against the Scots. You can go back and look at comments I made during the referendum. I do think some of the anti-England stuff dips into Anglophobia and hate. As I live in England I don’t see why I shouldn’t say so.

  • Malcolm Todd 21st Mar '17 - 2:25pm

    Bizarre that a post suggesting that the Scottish Lib Dems seek to rise above the question of independence vs unionism and explicitly rejecting the idea that the independence question is essential to the advance of liberalism is being vilified as if it were some sort of hypernationalist rant. Did any of the commenters above actually read the post, or did they not get past the second paragraph?

  • Malcolm Todd.
    Fair point. I n my defence I live in Leicester and there have been power cuts all morning because the sub station burned down, how I wish I had that as an homework excuse. So I literally didn’t read past the first couple of sentences. Really, I shouldn’t have commented because I kept scrolling down in frustration every time I went back on line which is a bit naughty.

  • nvelope2003 21st Mar '17 - 4:23pm

    Mr Marsden’s post makes a lot of sense. The Liberal Democrats must develop a distinct identity if they are to have any future in Scotland or elewhere in Britain.Tagging on behind the Conservatives or the remnants of Labour could be fatal. However, if Scotland breaks away followed possibly by Wales there could be almost permanent Conservative Governments in England, except for an occasional landslide as in 1906, 1945 or 1997. This has happened in for example places like Bavaria.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Mar '17 - 4:52pm

    I think the success of the Tories is as much due to Ruth Davidson in Scotland as much else.

    Our party there or here where many of us are , in England or throughout the UK are correct to oppose Scottish independence as a divisive act often motivated by pettiness as much , again as much else .

    Scotland is about as independent and autonomous as it would be bar full independence and then, not much different.

    Do we really need all this just for an extra British isles song in the Eurovision ?!

  • nvelope2003 21st Mar '17 - 5:16pm

    Lorenzo Cherin: Many people seek to be independent in their own lives regardless of the cost so why should a whole nation be any different ? Opinion polls seem to indicate that Scots would still vote to remain part of the UK but they do not always get things right if the difference is fairly marginal. It would be sad in some ways if they left the UK but we managed to live with the loss of Southern Ireland in 1922. The only problem I can see for Scotland is that outside Glasgow and Dundee all the Local Government areas voted NO last time, often by large majorities so there might be a demand to separate from Scotland in the Borders and Orkney and Shetland and possibly other areas if there was a slight YES majority in the whole country. Edinburgh had a big NO majority so it could be difficult.

  • nvelope2003 21st Mar '17 - 5:18pm

    David Raw: Could you give a reference for the poll you mention as I cannot find it.

  • nvelop2013. Always happy to oblige. Cut & paste for full results.

    [PDF]Scotland –…/Times_Scotland_Results_170314_VI_Indy2_Trad…
    YouGov / Times Survey Results. Sample Size: 1028 Scottish adults (18+). Fieldwork: 9th – 14th March 2017. Total. Yes. No. Remain. Leave. Con Lab Lib Dem …

    * * *

    Lorenzo…….. Eurovision song contest ? ………. As Boris would say Phhhhwahhhh….. It’s the way you tell ’em that’s so hilarious and it adds to the gaiety of nations……….

    a bit like the tank of a certain nation that had one forward gear and five reverse ones in North Africa……. Uncle Walter (51st Highland Division at El Alamein) told me that one – and he couldn’t go fast enough to catch them.

  • Peter Watson 21st Mar '17 - 7:07pm

    @David Raw “the latest You Gov poll in Scotland shows support for the parties as SNP 40% Conservative 25% Labour 14% Green 12 % Lib Dem 5%. UKIP 2%.”
    @nvelope2003 “David Raw: Could you give a reference for the poll you mention as I cannot find it.”
    The latest YouGov poll I could find ( based on polling on 9-14 March gives Hollrood voting intention:
    SNP 51% Conservative 24% Labour 14% Green 4% Lib Dem 6% UKIP 1%.
    and Regional vote:
    SNP 40% Conservative 25% Labour 14% Green 12% Lib Dem 5% UKIP 2%.
    The latter are the figures quoted by David.

    For comparison (with a smaller Scottish subsample) a UK-wide YouGov poll at the same time ( gives a Scottish voting intention for Westminster of:
    SNP 37% Conservative 31% Labour 18% Green 5% Lib Dem 8% UKIP 1%.

  • nvelop 2013 This might be better : YouGov / Times Survey Results
    Sample Size: 1028 Scottish adults (18+)
    Fieldwork: 9th – 14th March 2017

  • Peter Watson 21st Mar '17 - 7:18pm

    Browsing that YouGov Scottish poll I am struck by what looks like a very strong correlation between the responses of those who voted Conservative in 2015 and those who voted Lib Dem.
    If anything, the Lib Dems are more opposed to independence than the Tories but are almost as supportive of Theresa May and Ruth Davidson (and disapproving of Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon).

  • @ Peter Watson…………. Yes, Peter, and I’m stiil trying to work out that golden thread of democratic logic which says ‘yes’ to a second Brexit referendum and ‘no’ to a second Scottish Indy referendum.

    I’m also dazzled by the Scottish politics expertise of one based in Nottingham so admiring of Ms Davidson.

  • David R, the logic isn’t about the means, it’s about the end. Staying in the European Union, keeping the British Union. Being opposed to nationalism and hard borders and divisions between nations. Not that difficult.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Mar '17 - 11:00pm


    Very pleased I am adding to the gaity of the nation, but it is the nations, and our unity in our United Kingdom i am strong on and as able to comment on as any Briton, English , Scottish, NorthernIrish or Welsh ! And, born and bred and living in London and , resident in Nottingham also gives a good perspective on the world and this country , about as good as from Yorkshire , and resident in Bonnie Scotland !

    And Ms. Davidson , is very fine in many ways , and I am happy to say I told the very delightful Baroness Goldie in person having met her,that I think so too , and even as a Liberal Democrat !

    I also rather like Ms. Dugdale !

  • David Raw – my point was that the /members/ voted for our current policy. Not the leadership, the members. It was a free and fair debate; some people spoke in favour of changing the policy. They put their case. The conference voted clearly to stick with the pro-UK position. In this party that is how we decide policy.

  • I am English, Cornish in fact!
    I watched Day 1 of the Indref2 debate in the Scottish Parliament. Very impressed with the speeches of Kesia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson who called Nicola Sturgeon out on her failures in government and obsession with just one political aim – Scottish Independence. I’m pleased the Lib Dems will vote against another referrendum before the outcome of Brexit is known and appalled that the 8 Greens will tip the balance and vote with the SNP.
    If the Scots want another referrendum they are certainly entitled to have one. Hopefully, they will hold off until after the Brexit negotiations are complete and the post-Brexit picture is clearer. Along the way, the EU may provide clarity about the need for Scotland to exit with the UK and apply to re-join at a later date. I’m sorry if Scots feel they are being ‘dragged out of the EU against their will’ but I continue to hope Scotland will remain in the UK.

  • I always find it interesting that we have a discussion on “parts” or “regions”

    Scotland is a nation in a union. Be it 4 years as with the EU or 300 as the UK it is a nation. It is not the same as Cornwall,Manchester or Orkney. Those who fail to grasp that concept also struggle with Ireland.

    Do you think unification of Ireland will go away because it has been “occupied” for hundreds of years?

    Norway gained it’s Independence from Sweden in the early 20th. Century – do you think it wishes to return to that imbalanced union.

    When you fail to respect the culture and values of a partner trouble lies ahead. The logic of many writing here would return 50 commonwealth nations to London rule.

    The majority of the U.K. (mainly England) are moving to the right in political terms (e.g. New Labour/UKIP/Brexiteers etc). Why should my nation which is centre left, pro Europe, anti austerity , anti WMD / anti military force projection etc not seek a different path?

    Pretending we can stay in Europe or change the London centric politics displays a lack of understanding of the situation. It is akin to being in an abusive marriage and being given the advice “give him another chance”

  • @ Tonyj “In this party that is how we decide policy.”…………. Well, thanks a lot for that bit of rather gratuitous bit of information, Tony.

    As a member since 1961 I had already gathered that. I have also been in the party long enough to know the party leadership (north and south of the border) will pull every string it can when challenged on a policy they don’t like….. and actually…… it wasn’t “the members” that voted – it was those who self-selected and coughed up large amounts of money to spend a weekend at a Conference in York and Perth. A referendum of all party members it was not.

    @ Cornish, Pat. I’m afraid there are 6 Green MSP’s at Holyrood not 8 – so you can be slightly less appalled by your misinformation.

    @ Julia Gibb. You express it very well, Julia. There is a difference of political culture and policy priorities which I’m afraid many ‘Down South’ on LDV don’t seem to have got their heads round. As you correctly say – “Why should my nation which is centre left, pro Europe, anti austerity , anti WMD / anti military force projection etc not seek a different path?”. Why not, indeed, especially after the expected and repeated Trident fudge at York.

    Now…. when I was young, I belonged to a radical party. But now that I’m more than a tad older I’m not so sure about that post 2010. It seems to be more interested in knighthoods, peerages sponsorship by millionaires and the Scotch whiskey Federation, and putting up paper candidates to ‘demonstrate strength’. It also holds contradictory views on when and when not it is democratic to have a referendum.

    There’s more than a bit of a vacuum to be filled now – and not just in the Labour Party. I’m not over surprised it’s being filled by the Greens and the SNP in Scotland.

  • @Julia Gibb
    Like you, my nation is currently also centre left, pro Europe, anti austerity , anti WMD / anti military force projection etc. now but with a burgeoning Tory vote. It wouldn’t take a prophet to imagine in, say, two elections time, a Conservative government in Scotland after reaping the rewards from an expensive independence, looking to leave the EU (or whatever indy Scotland is in), whilst the Tories are out of power in rUK as Brexit bites and a new breed of pro-European politicians in government. Would you then switch to being pro-Union?

    Independence should not be based on if you like the current government but for a very long-term vision. London should not be ruling Scotland but neither should Glasgow be ruling Shetland. That’s federalism, not nationalism. It’s one of the reasons I’m a Lib Dem and not SNP.

  • Chris

    You still don’t get it. New Zealand and Australia don’t want to go back under Westminster rule. Canada, America South Africa and on and on all became nations. Why would I want to go back?
    When will the concept of self determination sink in?

    I’m Scottish. Would you try to talk a citizen of any other nation to surrender control to London?
    I want the same relationship with England as France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark etc
    Why is that so difficult to grasp?

  • nvelope2003 23rd Mar '17 - 1:45pm

    Julia Gibb: Australia, Canada etc are not part of the same little island. Ireland is not part of that little island. It just seems silly for this little island to have 2 sovereign states and most Scots seem to recognise this. Votes in referenda are rarely purely on the issue on the ballot paper. There are other issues in all elections and they are used to express all sorts of emotions often quite illogically. It would be a bit sad for us older people to see the end of the UK but if you want to go then good luck. Maybe it would be wise to make sure you have the means to sustain a sovereign state as outside help might not be readily forthcoming in the event of any problems with maintaing the present living standards.

  • @ nvelope2003. A lifetime’s experience has taught me that size isn’t everything !! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the even smaller island of Ireland has two sovereign states on its land mass.

    On the money….. not having to cough up for a share of HS2, Crossrail and Trident helps a bit – and the possibility of being a part of Europe with access to the single market could, of course, bring benefits……… and who knows….. if Teresa doesn’t deliver a sweetheart deal to Nissan et al , it’s not that far up the (dualled in parts) A1 through Northumberland.

    But not everything is to do with money…………’s impossible to put a price on not having to live under what looks like permanent Tory government for the rest of my days. The democratic deficit of being governed by a party with only one MP in the country with a non PR system, is, I’m afraid, a running sore.

    I, for one, can see the force of Julia Gibb’s arguments post Brexit, and I can also see the illogical inconsistency of demanding a second referendum on Brexit but not on a sovereign Scotland.

    On timing, an Indy ref would seem fair enough if we get a hard Brexit in two years time..

  • nvelope2003 23rd Mar '17 - 4:58pm

    David: Scotland leaving the UK will mean even longer periods of Tory rule in England because there will be less non Tory MPs at Westminster and that is why the Tories secretly want it. Have you heard any of them saying much recently ? However if Labour collapses another opposition party will take its place as they replaced the Liberals in the 1920s, possibly a Lib Dem/Green/ Moderate Labour Alliance or maybe something completely new, though Labour voters seem to be going to the Tories/UKIP.
    Ireland has one sovereign state in the South and a province of another state in the North.It is absurd and can only be sustained by English subsidies which most people resent paying but apparently is the price we have to pay to stop communal war. Maybe Northern Ireland could become a province of an independent Scotland as many of its Protestant families originally came from Scotland in the 17th Century and rule from Edinburgh might be less contentious than rule from London. I hope the Brexit crisis will lead to a United Ireland though.
    Yes money is not everything and you cannot put a price on personal independence but I doubt if the average Scots voter would see it that way. I think the SNP want HS2 to be extended to Edinburgh/Glasgow and I doubt if London would pay for it. We are linked for good or ill and that link ended centuries of conflict just as the EU ended the same in Western Europe. Scotland might not have to pay for Trident but it would have to contribute to Nato, especially now that famous Scot Donald Trump has said so.
    I expect a few people in the West Country resent paying for HS2 and Crossrail as they will not benefit at all unlike Scotland and their railways need billions spent on them – that is why the West’s Tory MPs are begging Theresa not to call an election as they fear the Libe Dem revival.

  • nvelope2003 23rd Mar '17 - 5:15pm

    Most of the North of England has traditionally voted Labour but they do not seem to want to leave the UK, even rejecting schemes for devolving power to the region. I fear that a narrow vote for independence in Scotland because of voters in Glasgow and Dundee as in 2014 could lead to a demand for the rest of Scotland to remain in the UK. All but 5 of the 32 local government areas in Scotland voted NO last time, several by very large majorities such as Borders, Orkney, Shetland and Edinburgh. Dundee and Glasgow do not have a border with England.

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