Tavish Scott on devolution, Donald Trump, liberalism and more

At the weekend, the Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Tavish Scott gave an interview to a group of Lib Dem bloggers meeting at the party HQ in Clifton Terrace for an ‘unconference’.

Devolution and independence referendum

I kicked off with one of the main issues in the news at the moment: should there be  a referendum on Scottish independence, and hence should the Liberal Democrats be supporting one?

Tavish was scathing about the idea of a referendum, calling it an SNP trick which the party shouldn’t go along with. His argument was that there is one pro-independence party and there is a vote coming up in a few months at the general election. If people want independence, vote SNP and if they don’t, don’t. No need for a separate referendum vote, particularly at a moment  when it would take money and attention away from the pressing issues of economic recovery.

Tavish was keen on strengthening the powers of the Scottish Parliament because, “for a Parliament, just as for a council, to be responsible to its electorate it has to be accountable for both sides of the balance sheet.” In other words, the Scottish Parliament needs more responsibility for the raising of the funds which pay for the expenditure that it controls. He argued that, “at least half of Scottish Parliament’s income should be controlled by Scottish Parliament.”

As for any implication for England’s constitutional status caused by devolution, Tavish said, “England has to sort out what England wants” and that he is “entirely relaxed” about the creation of an English Parliament if that’s what England wants.

Donald Trump

On the vexed issue of the proposed Donald Trump development, with the resulting fallout amongst Aberdeenshire Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott took an emollient line. He didn’t believe that the Scottish leader should impose a solution on such local questions but he believed the events were “really unfortunate” and that people should have been able to debate and disagree with each other in a less fractious way. He also said, “I hope people will rejoin the party”.

Electoral reform

Tavish Scott spoke in favour of fixed election cycles for the Westminster Parliament. “It’s a bit like interest rates” – the timing of general elections shouldn’t be matter of day to day political judgement. Though the ironic outcome of the Prime Minister’s refusal to move on the issue is that, “Gordon Brown will go do in history as the Prime Minister who made the wrong call and then had two terrible years.”

On STV, Tavish was asked what lessons he would draw from its introduction to Scottish local government. He strongly  welcomed the way it broke up stranglehold political control year after year for parties with a minority of the vote, but recognised that no electoral system is perfect. If STV were to be adopted elsewhere he suggested it should be done with more flexibility over ward sizes – allowing both smaller and larger wards than the Scottish system permits.

Internet in politics

Although he has come to using the internet and social media in particular relatively late in his political career, Tavish Scott very much recognises the importance of the online world to modern political campaigning: “the blogosphere is one of the most important aspects of making sure your political message is out there”.

He was though somewhat cautious about some of the online traits of Scottish politics. Scottish politics itself “is a pretty rough trade in Scotland at the best of times”, with comments on blogs and websites often brimming with personalised poison.

(You can find Tavish on Facebook here, on Twitter here and on YouTube here, along with his website www.tavishscott.com.)


I also asked why Tavish is a Liberal Democrat. As with Nick Clegg, his answer heavily stressed education. Though his stories of the importance of education in his far flung island constituency are rather different from Nick Clegg’s stories of education in inner city Sheffield, both make the same point – that education is central to giving people the opportunity to making the most of their life.

However, it was electoral reform and the question of fair votes that first attracted Tavish to the party: “I was first brought in to the party because I was so appalled by the outcome of the 1983 election.” An interest in fair votes led to a passion for fairness in society more widely – and so an emphasis on the issues of tax and education. “What drives me most now is that on education and on governance things are going so dramatically wrong … I see utter inequality absolutely the case in 21st century Scotland” he said.

The solutions though must involve devolving power:  “I hate this more and more centralisation”. Not just Labour but also the SNP were to blame he said. “I’ve really been taken about by just how much the SNP has centralised … They are more centralising than Labour”. Would the Conservatives be any better? No – “Cameron is an utter phony on localism”.

And finally

Yes, it’s true he’s dressed up as a Viking.

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This entry was posted in Blogger Interviews and Scotland.


  • Should have asked him whether refusing to work with the SNP unless they ruled out holding a referendum they didn’t really want to hold and couldn’t have won anyway was really worth making the Lib Dems an irrelevance in Scotland.

  • What a pathetic cop-out over Trumpton. We all know the Planning Committee LibDem Chair & members were absolutely right in refusing planning Permission for this environmental travesty.

    Why should they rejoin the party after the way they were undermined & treated disgracefully by the spineless Group Leader. This is the sort of behaviour I would expect from thr SNP or Labour.

  • This is as good a place to ask as any: I am trying to look at the formation of the devolved institutions and its effect on Scottish identity formation. I was wondering if anyone knew any good data for pre- and post-Holyrood polls on feelings of Scottish identity….?

  • ColinW – it’s an understandable cop-out, I think! The Aberdeenshire question came up a couple of times at the Scottish Conference about two or three weeks ago, and it was clear from the audience that representatives were supportive of Debra, Martin, Paul and Sam, with the one Aberdeenshire councillor who tried to defend it getting – I thought – a very cool reception.

    Tavish does have to be careful not to interfere on decisions taken by any council group. However, based on Mark’s report, I think he’s trying to say that the fall-outs were unnecessary, that the councillors who opposed the development (which, by law, can’t be decided on a political whip in any case) could have been allowed to continue to oppose the development, and that he hopes that bridges can be mended.

  • Simon R – I think The Scotsman and The Herald have done some polling on this in the past. It’s usually along the lines of “how do you describe yourself – Scottish, British or European?”

  • KL- you’re very kind. Many thanks.

  • No mentions of the latest opinion polls putitng the Lib Dems 11 % points down on the last general election.
    I see Richard Livesey calling for a referendum on Welsh Devolution, Nick Clegg wants one on membership of the EU and Electoral Reform – it’s presumably therefore only referedums on treaties and independance that the Lib Dems oppose.

    The party has no strategy for winning elections, only tactics.

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