Times: Tavish Scott expected to see off Lib Dem rebellion on opposition to referendum

A week ago, LDV asked the question, Is it time for the Scottish Lib Dems to back an independence referendum?, amid suggestions in The Sunday Times that there was “a growing rebellion within the party’s ranks over its opposition to Alex Salmond’s Referendum Bill.” Today’s Times reports that Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott will win overwhelming backing for the leadership line:

Senior Lib Dems were increasingly confident that a minority of “referendum rebels” would not succeed in forcing Mr Scott into a U-turn that could pose serious question marks over his continued leadership.

The issue of the Scottish government’s planned referendum will be the subject of a behind-closed-doors discussion at the Lib Dems’ one-day autumn conference today in Dunfermline. Senior figures are warning that any policy change would be tantamount to a betrayal of those who voted for the party in the 2007 Scottish election. The Lib Dems had pledged that they would not enter a coalition with the SNP unless the party dropped its referendum plan.

In the immediate aftermath of the election Mr Scott, then deputy leader, and Nicol Stephen, the then leader, carried that pledge through by refusing coalition talks with the SNP, forcing Alex Salmond’s party to opt for minority government. …

At the Dunfermline conference, however, Mr Scott may offer a compromise to the dissidents who want the party to agree to support a referendum in principle at some time in the future but not next year. More likely, though, is that he will ask Ross Finnie, one of his senior MSP colleagues, to head a party commission to examine all the party policy options on a referendum and report back before the 2011 Holyrood election.

I was intrigued by this contribution to the debate by Alistair Carmichael, though:

These discussions are not abstract or academic. They are a hard political choice for the party. Do we support Alex Salmond’s rigged referendum or do we keep faith with those voters to whom we gave a very clear commitment at the 2007 Scottish elections?”

Two points:

1) Are we really suggesting that Scottish Lib Dem voters would feel “betrayed” by the party opting to back an independence referendum? I don’t think they’d hold it against us.

2) There is a third option Alistair doesn’t mention: for the Lib Dems to back an un-rigged referendum, something which is within the gift of the party, as Alex Salmond needs Lib Dem MSPs’ support to get a bill approved by the Scottish Parliament. Lib Dem demands for a fair referendum, with the process overseen by an independent commission, would at least put the SNP on the backfoot.

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12 Comments

  • Tom Robinson 31st Oct '09 - 6:34pm

    If the Lib Dems fail to support a referendum they will never recover in Scotland from such a strategic error.

  • NoOffenceAlan 31st Oct '09 - 6:53pm

    Caron says that the SNP will campaign in May 2010 and May 2011 saying that we have stopped people having their say. Well, two votes in 12 months seems like plenty of opportunity to me. Why do we need 3 votes in 12 months?
    The worst-case scenario for Scotland would be a “no” vote in a referendum (and the result would certainly be “no”). It would give the incoming Westminster government an excuse to completely ignore Scotland and freeze the devolution process without a single extra power for the Holyrood parliament. Imagine another 8 or 12 years of Holyrood discussing school dinner menus.
    Better not to have a referendum, and keep the option of extra meaningful powers for the Scottish Parliament alive.

  • No call for it? Which is why every poll of Scottish opinion shows at the least 2/3 of Scots want a referendum.

    Right.

    To put it more accurately, the Liberal Democrat position is that “if the voters can’t be trusted to give us the result we want, we’re not allowing them to vote”.

    Liberal? Democrat?

    Don’t hold your breath…

  • cynicalHighlander 31st Oct '09 - 7:55pm

    As the LD’s are refusing to give Scots a voice on their constitutional future I can only see the SNP and Green party benefiting from your decision today.

  • Andrew Suffield 1st Nov '09 - 2:37am

    Yeah, seems pretty straightforward to me – come back with a stack of amendments to the bill that rips out the dodgy way it’s written. Rewrite the referendum as two simple yes/no questions and the problem’s mostly solved.

  • Tony Greaves 1st Nov '09 - 2:08pm

    It may be because the roads on the Isle of Lewis are pretty good.

    The issue of the Scottish government’s planned referendum will be the subject of a behind-closed-doors discussion at the Lib Dems’ one-day autumn conference today

    Good to see that the Scottish Party is maintaining our high standards of open politics.

    Tony Greaves

  • The plunging poll ratings and declining influence of the Scottish Lib Dems never get a mention.

    It’s really about tactics for taking on the SNP. It ought to be obvious thta these tactcis aren’t working.

    The minority SNP Government has been a disaster for the Lib Dems. Yes most people don’t want independence,
    so a referendum would have been lost and could have made the SNP less relevant for another 20 years.
    Instead the SNP have been given the chance to show they are “safe” or just as good/bad/indifferent as a Labour admin in Holyrood and the Lib Dems ahve been sidelined as irrelevant. Quite an achievement for the Party with the most popular policy position – i.e. more powers for holyrood.

    The Lib Dems who want a referendum on electoral and wanted one on the EU Constitution don’t want one on Scottish Independence or the Lisbon treaty. It makes no snese, its a nonsense and it’s not winning any support.

  • Scott confirmed today that he’s sticking with the policy of opposing the referendum bill, so a proper hiding at the next election is a little more likely now than was already the case.

  • Looks like LDV has finally been “cybernatted”…!

    Tony, the debate was held “behind closed doors” for the simple reason that Ross Finnie wanted to get the opportunity to hear freely from all sections of the party. What this meant in practice was that Cllrs, MPs, MSPs, MEPs and PPCs could take a view contrary to that of official party policy in a private session, in the full knowledge that comments wouldn’t be seized upon by the Scottish media. One contributor made just this point, that in Scotland any deviation from party policy, even a mild one, is reported negatively (actually, the whole reporting of politics in Scotland is even more negative than in England, which is difficult to believe.)

    Let’s clear up what came out of the discussion – I was there, I heard it all first hand, so I know. For possibly the first time ever, the spin being put on it by the party actually does completely reflect the tone of the debate. There was no support at all for the SNP bill. There was also no support for spending public money on an Alex Salmond “vanity” issue when this money would be better spent supporting those struggling through the recession. It’s also simply unrealistic for MSPs who have been elected on a clear policy simply to ditch it when it became inconvenient (something which the SNP are already guilty of on local income tax, abolishing tuition fees, and reducing class sizes.)

    However, the policy does need to be reviewed prior to 2011, and I wouldn’t rule out a referendum after that – but on our terms and worded in a less antagonistic way.

  • Liberal Neil 2nd Nov '09 - 10:51am

    I understand why the MSM describe every difference of opinion as a ‘rebellion’ but could LDV avoid that sort of language?

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