Is it time for the Scottish Lib Dems to back an independence referendum?

The Sunday Times reports:

Senior Liberal Democrat figures will hold talks in an attempt to halt a growing rebellion within the party’s ranks over its opposition to Alex Salmond’s Referendum Bill. Party managers will meet on Monday to decide the best way of tackling the revolt, which could seriously undermine Tavish Scott’s leadership of the party.

Strategists have yet to decide whether they will allow the issue to go to a vote at a special conference being held in Dunfermline next Saturday to confirm the party’s stance. It is understood that several of the party’s Westminster candidates are preparing to join rebels who support a referendum on the issue of Scottish independence.

One proposal being considered is for a series of votes that will enable the Liberal Democrats to agree to a referendum in principle but not along the lines being suggested by the Nationalists.

The party’s Scottish Affairs spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, said: “Put in the terms of the SNP’s plan to hold a referendum on St Andrews Day, when you have to turn up wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipes to vote, I don’t know of anyone in the Liberal Democrats who backs that.”

Mr Carmichael tried to play down the significance of the outcome of next week’s conference in a sign that the party leadership may be preparing the ground for losing the argument. “If there is a vote it is on a consultative basis. These are soundings we are taking — there will not be a vote binding on party policy,” he said.

“It is possible you could say that there may need to be some democractic settlement, but not to back Alex Salmond’s Bill. We have 16 MSPs who were elected on a platform of not supporting a referendum”.

What do LDV’s readers think: should the Scottish party stick by the official line that a vote on independence is a distraction from the real issues facing Scotland; or would it be better, both in principle and tactically, to say to the SNP, ‘Bring it on’?

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This entry was posted in Scotland.


  • If the Scottish party agrees with our policy on an eu referendum then it would be consistant to support a referendum on independance to settle that issue as well.

  • yes…. yes it is.

  • One reason there is a lot of ‘rebellion’ over this issue is because people rightly perceive that a failure to support a DEMOCRATIC (mind that second word in our party’s name?) referendum on this subject, which looms very large in Scottish politics, is political-strategy wise stupid to the point of being suicidal.

    A) It alienates people who want an honest party devoted to the people, rather than just another gang of inside baseball playing goons. I know that we’re the former not the later, but it’s rather hard to convince people of that on the doorstep when we’re actively blocking their right to decide what constitution governs them.

    B) “But the referendum might succeed” – I think this is highly unlikely myself, I sure as hell won’t vote for it though I will continue to write ‘Scottish’ on any form which asks me for my nationality. But the possibility that the majority of the Scottish people do not want to continue the Union is an APPALLING reason for not giving them that option. We might as well take the vote off them under that logic as they keep electing the “bolus of wankers” (to borrow Alan Clark’s phrase) which are the Labour, Conservative and Scottish National Parties.

    C) “But if you think the referendum will fail why should we support it” – First and foremost because if there is a popular mood in favour of a plebiscite on independence (which I think there is), that itself constitutes a reason to have one if we wish to counter ourselves Democrats. Second, if a referendum were held and failed to pass it would beat a good deal of the stuffing out of the SNP. Given Independence is their raison d’etre, a popular mandate against supporting it would considerably undermine their credibility as a party.

    If we were to lend our support to the referendum we could exercise some control over it; such as demanding that if it fail we not have another one for a good 10 or 15 years or so. I want rid of the SNP. I don’t want to be embarrassed about my party’s failure to support a democratic initiative. Yes, it’s time. Vote yes then vote no.

    P.S. “I’m personally in favour of a fully independent Scotland within the EU.” – Within a loosely federal Europe, so am I. But the route to that is devolution now and ‘independence’ later.

  • The contortions the Scottish Lib Dems are now going through in order to abandon a terrible policy without admitting that it was a terrible policy are almost as impressive as the contortions they went through trying to justify that policy in the first place.

    And by ‘impressive’ I mean ‘transparently insincere and embarrassingly unconvincing’.

  • Do the majority of Scots want a referendum on independence?
    It seems that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Lib Dems should be concerning themselves with some existing and extremely important issues such as the recession etc, not asking a question that poses a massive threat to a union beneficial to both sides of the border and is also not of pressing importance.

  • yes, long overdue, and what a pity that the SLDs faltering on the issue a couple of years ago kept them out of what could have been scotland’s best chance of a decent governemnt in lifetimes.

    and yes, I am a Liberal, not a Nat. I was just mightily offended at the apparent amendment of the preamble to the constitution to say:

    ‘We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people. We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs and commit ourselves to the promotion of a democratic federal framework within which as much power as feasible is exercised by the nations and regions of the United Kingdom SINCE WE KNOW BETTER AND DON’T WANT SCOTLAND OR WALES TO DECIDE THAT THEY WANT TO GO FOR INDEPENDENCE’

    Self-determination for small nations is not just for those outside of the UK! At what point did we ever become the Liberal & Unionist Party, or did we just stay as the LImps?

  • Richard Huzzey 25th Oct '09 - 8:24pm

    Nigel – I think Unionism is wholly consistent with liberal federalism (in the British, not American, sense). I think a number of decisions concerning Scotland should be taken as part of the UK at a national level, but approve of decentralisation to individuals where possible and local governments where necessary. My biggest concern about further devolution would be a tendency to centralise decision-making from localities to Edinburgh. I hope the Liberal Democrats would always advocate a federal United Kingdom, but I think our European policy dictates a consistent approach in offering Scots a chance to reject the SNP’s macho jump into the dark.

    Jo A – I’m sorry to find you’ve left the Lib Dems for the Greens. You are still welcome to take part in debates on LDV, but can’t you do better than random abuse?

  • Andrew Chamberlain 25th Oct '09 - 9:04pm

    Personally, I think we’ve taken quite a reasonable position on an independence referendum thus far. Most people in Scotland don’t really care about whether we have a referendum or not. Wasting money on a referendum and distracting the whole political establishment with the campaign seems even madder now than it was two years ago. I say we ignore the Nationalists and get on with building a new agenda for the country.

    The idea of holding a referendum on EU membership is a bit daft too, IMO.

  • This isn’t the 1930s. We don’t need to say that politics has to stop just to get things moving again. Have the referendum cake, win/eat it, fix the recession at the same time.

    Plus, if people genuinely don’t care about the referendum, it will make the SNP look foolish for carrying it out.

  • OK, so the MSPs may have been elected saying they were opposed to a referndum, but let’s just remember this has never been party policy. The reason for that, I think, is pretty simple – the wider party has generally been pretty supportive of the idea of a referendum. Changing the “policy” will allow us to address the elephant which is dominating the room of Scottish politics and take a consistent line. I’m pretty confident that people won’t go for independence, so the SNP bubble will be deflated (Salmond has admitted a defeat will result in the issue being set aside for a generation) and I’d also predict splits in the SNP between the fundamentalists and the gradualists.

    fdp100 – your third option (revert to pre-1997) is simply not on the table. Firstly, it’s not a goer – 74.3% supported the principle of a parliament in the referendum, and secondly nobody is seriously proposing it, not even the Tories.

  • kevin o'leary 7th Sep '10 - 5:56pm

    So 75% of Scots want a Referendum on Independence for Scotland.So why is the Liberal Democrats in Scotland along with the Scottish Labour and Scottish Tories denying the Scottish voters their Democratic right?
    Time will tell in Scotland when these Unionist traitors will voted out of Scotland eventually.Rmmber folks in 1707 the Scots rioted when their politians at the time sold Scotland for English Gold.and in 2110 the Scottish Unionist Parties are still doing it.Such a Parcel of Roughs in a Nation

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