Tavish Scott resigns as Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader

I have literally just got in from the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ Executive meeting where Tavish Scott tendered his resignation as Scottish leader.

I can honestly say that I have never been so proud to be a Liberal Democrat. The day after a set of incredibly painful election results, the Executive and new Parliamentary party, much diminished in size, gathered to discuss things. The atmosphere  was full of mutual consideration and respect. We knew how bad we were all feeling and all wanted to look after each other.

I’d asked on Facebook this morning for people to let me know if they wanted me to raise anything. Some people specifically said “Don’t let Tavish Scott resign.” Nobody wanted him to go.

That decision was not mine to make. Tavish, leader since August 2008, had already decided to go, that he must take responsibility for our contingent in the Holyrood Parliament going down from 16 to 5. He spoke very movingly about the challenges ahead for the party, and had them spot on. He talked about regaining trust, about holding the new majority SNP Government to account, with great prescience. And then he told us he’d tendered his resignation.  The room in unison gasped “no”. Several people asked him not to go and there was a real affection for him. He wanted the new leader to have a clean sheet, he said. Responsibility for the defeat would remain with him and new thinking, leadership and direction was required to regain the lost ground, as he told the BBC’s Brian Taylor. That’s how politics worked.

Sometimes politics is just too brutal. I didn’t campaign for Tavish to be leader and I’ve often disagreed with him, but what happened on Thursday was not all his fault. He was never allowed to have his Scottish Parliament election as leader, with everything he did being overshadowed by people’s current mistrust of the Coalition.  There were occasions when he was treated with appalling unfairness by the media Today, he was at his best and most inspiring.

In his resignation statement he said:

I want to announce that I am resigning the leadership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats with immediate effect.

“Thursday’s Scottish General Election result was disastrous and I must and do take responsibility for the verdict of the electorate.

“The party needs a new direction, new thinking and new leadership to win back the trust of the Scottish people.

“I am honoured to serve as Shetland’s MSP in this Parliament.”

Scottish Party Convener Craig Harrow paid tribute to Tavish in an e-mail to party members:

This afternoon, at a meeting of the Executive and new Parliamentary Party, Tavish Scott announced his resignation as Leader of the Scottish Party after reporting back on the campaign.

I have begrudgingly accepted Tavish’s resignation.

It has been an immense honour to work with Tavish since 2008, although I have had the honour of knowing him for many years as both a good friend and colleague.

He has led the Scottish Party with energy and enthusiasm and will be sorely missed, although he is staying on as MSP for Shetland.

I want to thank Tavish from the bottom of my heart for leading us through great success in 2009 when despite the odds, we elected George Lyon as our MEP for Scotland and again last year when we re-elected our eleven MPs back to Westminster.

I am sure you will all join me in thanking Tavish.

I am going to leave the last word to the late Russell Johnston;

“You can stand at the bottom of a mountain, look up and say: “This is so high and precipitous, so rugged and intimidating that I can never dare to challenge it.” Or, you can begin to climb. And, if you do, one day you may see the summit. And if you do not, its peak will be forever hidden in the mists of vanished opportunity. Today we can begin to climb…”

Tavish didn’t need to go today, and it was clear nobody was asking him to. On Twitter, when I’d  said he’d resigned, people described him to me as “great” and “noble”. These things are very personal, though, and we have to respect his decision.

He will continue to be a huge asset to our group in Holyrood.

Anyone can be positive and good humoured when things are going well, but to do so when you’re really up against it s challenging. Today, the Scottish Liberal Democrats were gracious and respectful of each other. Honest and realistic about what was needed for the future, yet with no recrimination to anybody, including Nick Clegg.

It was definitely the right atmosphere in which to commence a rebuild.

In the short term, Jo Swinson MP becomes acting leader. The timetable for the election of the new leader will be announced in due course.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Philip Young 7th May '11 - 9:17pm

    I fail to understand the press-officer or aide who allowed him to be filmed playing golf for a national news programme during the campaign… this film-clip was obviously going to come across with air of complacency.

  • I think Tavish’s position might be best described as responsible but not to blame.

  • A good man – Shetland needs diversifying pdq, I hope to see some of that plan in action.

  • David Allen 7th May '11 - 11:16pm

    Wrong guy went.

  • The best thing for the Scottish LibDems would be to become a totally separate party like the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland. I doubt if anyone north of the border has the courage or vision to make this happen however.

  • It’s a shame that the Lib Dems north of the border are paying the price for Nick Clegg, but they clearly are, maybe they do need to have their own identity.

  • Tavish Scott said if the people of Scotland wanted a referendum on Independence they should vote SNP, and well it seams they did! As a liberal I can not believe we were scared to ask the people we should always support asking the people. We wanted referendums on everything else but Independence it was not logical and we have been found out.

    I did not understand what happened to our full federal vision for the UK so that they only difference between the LD and SNP on Independence should be the Army and foreign policy. This is was not articulated and we have been mauled.

    We should be extremely relaxed about independence – who cares about the British Empire one way or the other.

    When did the Scottish Liberal Democrats become Tory Unionists – last time I looked Tory Unionists (all 5 of them) vote Tory!

  • all I have to say 8th May '11 - 1:09am

    I can honestly say that I have never been so proud to be a Liberal Democrat.

    Really? Says it all. More proud of getting shafted in an election than any “achievement” in government.

  • He was given a very bad hand to play but even so I do wonder with everything else going on whether people have registered just how bad the results were in Scotland. There were dozens of seats whether Lib Dems were only managing a few hundred votes. The entire parliamentary party now fits in a taxi. Clearly the coalition is a major factor in this but the truth is that the campaign wasn’t much good either. It appeared to rest on the idea that the voters care passionately about the internal structures of the police force and looking a bit irritated with their English colleagues. Actually i think there is an even more profound problem – in the scottish political marketplace it’s not at all clear what distinctive proposition the Lib Dems have to advance that isn’t already covered by some other party.

  • “In the short term, Jo Swinson MP becomes acting leader.”

    And this is exactly why voters did not believe a word from Tavish during the campaign about being a distinct party from London and his anger with Clegg and the coalition – when your deputy voted for a rise in English tuition fees, how can you say that you will vote against them in Scotland and expect people to take you seriously?

    If the Scottish Lib Dems want to improve on their tiny rump of MSPs in five years then they need to break away from the UK party completely. Voters see right through the idea that you can talk about coalition successes and wear these proudly whilst simultaneously talking about your anger at the coalition and how it has caused you so many problems.

  • Don Lawrence 8th May '11 - 7:27am

    Why has the wrong leader resigned?

  • Philip Young 8th May '11 - 9:18am

    Good point from AndrewR.

    Who pays the £20,000 in lost-deposits, the candidates, the Scottish Party, or, does it get passed down to the even more hard-up Cowley St to foot the bill?

  • dave thawley 8th May '11 - 9:56am

    Its a real shame. The root cause of our demise should be the one who has resigned not Tavish who has paid the cost of clegg going against what most of the party want

  • By making Scotland a no go area for the Tories and the Lib Dems the Scottish people have registered their profound disgust with the coalition. (Yes, Labour had a bad night there but we didn’t lose as many seats as the Coalition) Tavish Scott is not reponsible for your defeat, Clegg is. He is the one who is responsible for your unpopularity. Get rid of him and get out of the coalition and your support all over the country will return.

  • I remarked on Caron’s own site that Tavish Scott is very much the author of the Liberal Democrats’ misfortunes in Scotland. As I recall he, with the likes of Jim Wallace and Menzies Campbell cheering from the sidelines, was a main proponent of the policy of not going into coalition with the SNP in 2007, unless they dropped the referendum. Doesn’t it occur to you that, if he had done the Liberal and Democratic thing and taken up the offer of a coalition, things would be completely different today? Can’t you just hear the flapping of Nemesis’ midnight wings?

  • I’m an SNP supporter, but I hope you’ll accept my friendly, outsider opinion.

    The Lib Dem campaign in Scotland was deeply misconceived. Can anyone even tell me what the flagship policies were? What’s the reason for voting Lib Dem? What’s the message you could put on a bumper sticker?

    This wasn’t just about the coalition, this had been coming before then. I know a lot of natural Lib Dems who were cross at two things – blocking an independence referendum, and the criticism of the Scottish Government over Megrahi. The latter wasn’t liberal and the former wasn’t democratic, and both came across as cowardly.

    The campaign was fought as a series of concurrent by-elections in the seats you already hold. But it was inevitable that most of these would be lost regardless, and the Scottish election is really won and lost on the list.

    In my neck of the woods, West Lothian, there was literally no Lib Dem campaign. neither candidate ever visited the constituencies, the top list candidate did the huistings. There were no posters put up anywhere, not even at polling stations. Not a single leaflet was delivered. What irritated me was that nobody – not a candidate, agent, activist or official – even attended the count. I thought that was a bit of an insult to your voters.

    That’s why you got thrashed on the list, when you should have focussed hard on this. The Tory campaign was all about the list and they put up a reasonable presence in both constituencies.

    922 more votes across Lothian region – 100 per constituency – would have got you a list MSP at the expense of the Tories. You could have done it.

    In the 2005 UK election you were second in Livingston. You fought the by-election there hard the year after. And now you’re on 3%.

    And most damning of all – from our ballot box samples (which were very good), in the constituency of Linlithgow, outside of the Linlithgow ward, you were beaten by the National Front.

    The first lesson that you need to learn is that, in a PR election, you can’t focus all your resources on a very small number of constituencies. The second lesson is that, though in the short term it doesn’t seem to make sense to work hard in constituencies you can’t win, in the long term, as the SNP have shown, second places can be turned into firsts.

    I hope you’ll take this in the spirit intended. I’d rather there were more of you and fewer Labour and Tories!

  • The only way in which we may regain any confidence at all as Scottish Liberal Democrats is to distance ourselves totally from the Federal Party. We may all be “Lib Dems” in principle but we have a vastly different and specific manifesto and ideas for the future of Scotland. We should not be handcuffed to the Party in Westminster – that was our downfall. Scottish Lib Dems were punished severely for being seen to be “the Party of the Westminster Coalition” – we sustained a serious “bloody nose” in this election. We need Scottish Lib Dem autonomy!

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