Sometimes it makes sense to take one of your best players off the field – but it hurts

michael-moore-mp-secretary-of-state-for-scotlandWhen I was about 10, I had a bit of an obsession with football. I quickly grew out of it, I hasten to add. I had my favourite players, most notably Sandy Jardine, Alan Rough and, above all, Kenny Dalglish. These three could do no wrong in my young opinion. Even then I knew playing for Partick Thistle was a good thing.

I used to get very irked whenever one of them was substituted, especially when they were playing well. I just couldn’t see why you would take off a proven performer who was doing well, even if they were replaced by someone else that I liked. Sometimes that needs to happen to get fresh legs on the field, or if the tone of the game changes and needs a different tactic. It still makes you cry, though. When these changes involve not remote footballers but two of your friends, your emotions are very mixed.

That’s kind of how I feel today as we hear the news that Mike Moore is leaving the Cabinet. He’s been Secretary of State for Scotland since he replaced Danny Alexander in the wake of David Laws’ resignation in May 2010. He’s been in office during an exceptional time for Scotland, delivering further devolution and laying the groundwork for the independence referendum both process and developing the pro-UK case.

In 40 whirlwind months, Mike has ensured the biggest transfer of fiscal power to Scotland in 300 years with the Scotland Act; he’s laid the foundations for a legal, fair and decisive referendum on independence; he’s championed Scotland around the world from Brazil to China.

None of this has been easy. At the end of 2011, the Scotland Act was widely perceived to be dead in the water. It was dismissed by the SNP as a dog’s breakfast and came close to being scuppered by Labour at Westminster. Thanks to Mike’s measured, respectful and reasonable approach, it was passed by both Scottish and Westminster parliaments within a few months. Mike is very good at building relationships across parties. SNP Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described him  on Twitter as “A tough opponent but always pleasant.”

He then had to deal with, on one hand, some Conservatives who thought that imposing their own referendum on Scotland would be a productive thing to do and the SNP insisting that it would not brook any interference from Westminster on any aspect of it. Again by being reasonable, he secured the Edinburgh Agreement, in the process agreeing to 16 and 17 year olds having the vote for the first time in a Scottish election.

Defending the status quo can be a challenge, but under his leadership the Scotland Analysis papers produced by the Scotland Office have built a credible case for Scotland to stay in the UK.

Mike leaves a remarkably strong foundation for his successor. The game is changing, though and that’s why, I suspect, that he’s been moved. It’s not because he’s off-form because he’s delivered so much, but the game has changed.

Now that the referendum campaign is gearing up into a more combative phase, Alistair Carmichael’s quick wit will take the fight to Alex Salmond in a different way. He will give no quarter and let the SNP away with no nonsense. He will do it engagingly and effectively and make us all laugh in the process. He’ll be pithy, plain speaking and punchy.  I can see what they are trying to do in this new phase. but it still hurts to lose a good performer.

I do feel a bit sorry for him initially though. Imagine having to face Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling around the Cabinet table and not be able to relax with a wee glass of wine later. His Go Sober for October pledge has so far raised over £500 and he will need extra motivation, so sponsor him if you can.

I’ve felt for some time that Carmichael is too big a talent not to have his own portfolio. He’s been great as Chief Whip, but keeping him lurking in Westminster’s shadows is not the best use of his considerable talents.

Alistair’s tenure is just beginning and I wish him well. He will do a fantastic job too with a completely different style.

Mike Moore Bond picThis post is a thank you to Mike, though. In the manner of any trashy reality show, here are some of his highlights:

Journalists heaping praise upon him after his statement in the Commons when he launched the UK Government’s consultation on the Independence Referendum.

Brokering the historic Edinburgh Agreement, paving the way for the referendum on independence and ensuring that it was decisive, legal and fair.

Winning Best Scot at Westminster in 2012

Being described as Westminster’s answer to James Bond and the man who saved the union by John Rentoul, not a habitual fan of the Liberal Democrats.

And having the Sunday Mail actually mock him up as 007.

Mike, thanks. You’ve been brilliant and you have so much to be proud of.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • No reason not to accept your arguments about his talent, but it really does beg the question if he’s so good, why wasn’t he offered another job with power?

  • g – Presumably because, as Caron indicated – his talents in terms of dealing with others are consensual and open, rather than combative. On the assumption that this is the last reshuffle before 2015, we will want combative ministers to argue the Liberal case leading up to the election. Just a thought.

  • Lennon, that argument is fine, but it invites comparisons with other Ministers who are not naturally bruisers…

    Still, couldn’t they have found another job, maybe not ministerial, but elsewhere for such a loyal servant? Maybe the No campaign could do with a mild mannered government endorsed frontman to pair with Darling – who certainly is not mild mannered despite appearances?

  • @Andrew – not sure I agree. Within Better Together we already have a reasonable leader in Alastair Darling; I think what was needed is someone who can be more combative to take on / out Salmond. Alastair C can certainly do that, and has the ability to outwit Salmond from the centre-left. The campaign isn’t all about the Government v the SNP.

    @Caron – Alan Rough? Really – with that perm?

  • Laurence Scott-Macka 7th Oct '13 - 3:53pm

    I wish he would stand up for a Free Scotland.

    While Alex Salmond might be our George Washington Michael could be our Madison.

    A Liberal for freedom.

  • Robin Bennett 7th Oct '13 - 4:05pm

    The No Campaign have not had a personality to match Alex Salmond and will be delighted to have Alistair Carmichael to front TV debates with Alex Salmond. It will be interesting to see whether he can avoid the negativity of his predecessor. And what he says about the Northern Isles’ entitlement to oil revenues.

  • Tony Greaves 7th Oct '13 - 4:18pm

    I think MIchael has been unfairly treated but politics is not always fair. Alistair is a much earthier campaigner with a populist flair (though both are impeccable Liberals) and I guess that’s what is behind it with (1) a referendum in the offing and (2) PD poll numbers in Scotland hovering around minus 5. Meanwhile MIchael can spend a lot more time making sure he holds his seat.


  • Tony Greaves 7th Oct '13 - 4:19pm

    Imeant LD poll numbers of course.


  • Agree with Tony that politics isn’t always fair and fully support his words regarding both MM and AC, it just seems very cruel that Michael has suffered a day of headlines about being sacked when, with a bit more planning, he could have been allowed to resign/step-aside. He has done an excellent job and should be proud of his work regarding next year’s referendum and given the less than ideal circumstances it would only have been right for him to leave Government in a more fitting manner.

    On a side issue; Tony, you weren’t at the Solihull Moors game at the weekened by any chance? If not there was an incredible Tony greaves lookalike!

  • * and given the less than ideal circumstances of his joing the Cabinet

  • @jbt: ” Britain is a robust adversarial nation that seems perfectly content with politics of that hue”
    It would be more accurate to say that an elite group of media moguls and politicians are intent on forcing “politics of that hue” on people whether they like it or not. As a rule, however, ordinary people (of any political persuasion, including none) don’t enjoy being bullied and confronted with love-me-or-leave-me ultimata.

  • Andrew Page 7th Oct '13 - 9:20pm


    “Why so?”

    Because the SNP, and Alex Salmond in particular, have shown how adept they are at combating adversarial approaches and direct hostility time after time. And there’s nothing they want more than Westminster politicians coming over all tribal and confrontational.

    Most people in Scotland are also beginning to despair of the relentless slanging match. It isn’t particularly dignified, and it doesn’t do much to aid the actual debate.

    I’m not underestimating Alistair, but I think there is a risk that we underestimate Alex Salmond if we believe it’s straightforward to “outwit [him]from the centre-left”. The New Statesman had this to say: “Moore was a formidable opponent because his measured, moderate unionism was difficult for the nationalists to deal with. For no good reason at all, the no campaign has just dumped one of its strongest cards.” I agree. Overt hostility is so much easier for the SNP to deal with – and work against.

    I also think we need to recognise this isn’t all about Alex Salmond…

  • Disappointed to see liberals working so hard to deny self determination for Scotland, but I suspect the move is as much designed to give more LDs cabinet experience (esp since that valuable asset was squandered so badly earlier on with the losses of so many who had held office) and to raise the profile of another SLD to help keep a cou of seats up there.

  • Great piece from Brian Taylor on this matter:

  • @ Andrew Page.

    The New Statesman had this to say: “Moore was a formidable opponent because his measured, moderate unionism was difficult for the nationalists to deal with. For no good reason at all, the no campaign has just dumped one of its strongest cards.” I agree. Overt hostility is so much easier for the SNP to deal with – and work against.

    I think you are very correct on this, sadly.

  • David Evans 8th Oct '13 - 6:55pm

    Alan Rough? Wasn’t he the one who after a particularly bad performance tried to throw himself in front of a bus, but it went under his body? 🙂

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