Paddy: Scottish Lib Dems wrong to veto independence referendum

The Scotsman reports on the intervention of former Lib Dem leader, Lord (Paddy) Ashdown:

THE Unionist parties in Scotland should back a referendum on independence to finish off the SNP as a political force once and for all, former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has claimed. Lord Ashdown told The Scotsman that he believes his own party has got its tactics wrong in Scotland in dealing with the Nationalists. And he said that Wendy Alexander was on the right lines when she challenged First Minister Alex Salmond to “bring it on” and hold a referendum on independence. …

The former Liberal Democrat leader still believes that devolution has “killed off” attempts to break up the UK, but has argued that his own and other pro-Union parties should be more willing to take on the SNP head to head.

“This is where I do disagree with my colleagues,” he said. “I don’t want to criticise their tactics following the (Holyrood] election (in 2007], but let’s put it like this: I would not have ruled out a referendum and I think it would have been a good time to hold it. The fact is that there has never been a majority for independence in Scotland. If a referendum was held, then the SNP would lose and would be finished. They are just playing a long game in the hope that they can persuade people to support independence by showing that they can govern competently. In that sense, Wendy Alexander was right last year, although the circumstances when she made her argument were quite a mess.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats said: “Paddy Ashdown is entitled to his own views on this matter, but the Scottish party has made its position on this clear. At this time, people should not be focusing on an independence referendum, but rather on the recession and supporting the economy and protecting people’s jobs.”

Which side of the debate do LDV readers favour? Do you believe, like Paddy, that the Lib Dems should call the SNP’s bluff; or do you think, like the Scottish party leadership, that it’s all just a distraction, and that Scotland has far bigger things to worry about just now?

PS: look out on LDV tomorrow for our first Scottish Lib Dem column, a companion to the Welsh Lib Dems’ Y Barcud Oren.

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4 Comments

  • Me, I think the two-handed approach is the correct approach.

    Whether or not there is a once-and-for-all-time referendum is not the important issue for the people of Scotland (or anywhere else for that matter) – what is important is whether the government is representative and it provides good governance and good value.

  • David Morton 18th Feb '09 - 12:38am

    from an outsiders perspective you look completely shafted by the federal party’s position on an In/Out poll on EU membership.

    1. We are in favour of Scottish membership of the UK so we are opposed to a referrendum on a proposition we support.

    2. We are in favour of UK membership of the EU so we are in favour of a referrendum on a proposition we support.

    Eh ?

    Paddy is right. By refusing a referrendum ( or even a preferendum with devolution max as an option) you have given the SNP huge political space

    – the “let the people speak” party

    – an anti establishment tag even though they are in power

    – a referendum at a timming btter suited to them. During a Tory government in London with only a handful of scottish MP’s.

    getting the scottish people to agree to independence from the Uk is one thing.

    getting to vote for independence from the Tories might be an easier sell.

  • Interestingly, this is the party’s biggest policy which has never been formally put to Conference. To be blunt, this is probably because the leadership is afraid of the outcome – there is a minority of people within the Scottish party (as in all parties here) who support independence, and probably a majority who support a referendum. After the last Scottish elections, what we should have done is gone to Salmond and said “We will support a referendum, but only if (a) it’s held in the next six months, (b) we – including our ministers – can campaign against independence before and during the campaign, and (c) all information and figures produced for the Government on independence by the civil service is shared with the ‘no’ campaign.” I suspect the SNP would have accepted (b) and (c) straightaway, but Salmond would have been stick if he’d accepted (a) – he admitted that losing the referendum would kill the debate for a generation.

    I think Paddy’s right. There may well be issues which are more important in Scotland, including the economy, but this elephant will always be there. I don’t believe there is a majority in favour of independence, but I genuinely think that the longer a referendum is delayed the more likely that will be the outcome. As Wendy Alexander said, “Bring it on”…

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