Why don’t the Scottish Lib Dems support Independence?

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I am a founder member of the Liberal Democrats and I live in England. I respect the right of Scottish Lib Dems to decide their policy on Independence for Scotland. I hope, though, that they will permit me to ask the question “Why don’t you support Independence”.

We, that is Lib Dems on both sides of the border, are an outward-looking, pro-European Union party.  We argued long, hard and loudly that a Union of 28 member states with a home market of over 400 million citizens was better than a single state with 67 million.

The UK is no longer in the EU.  I don’t think anyone is optimistic that the UK will re-apply for membership any time soon, nor that England would be welcomed with open arms by our former colleagues if we did.

On the other hand, all indications are that an Independent Scotland would have the opportunity of a fast-track to membership, with a full say in shaping EU policy and allowing its citizen’s the benefits that are being taken away from the rest of us.

From the southern side of the border that looks like a very attractive option indeed.

* Maurice Leeke was for 24 years a Lib Dem councillor in Cambridgeshire.

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41 Comments

  • Scotland has always had strong European connections, and its liberal values and high standards are closely aligned with the EU. If Scotland can take up the vacant place at the top table formerly occupied by the UK, surely pro-Europeans everywhere should rejoice for them? This would strengthen both Scotland and the EU.

  • I, too, am bemused by contradictions in LibDem policies…A prime example is, on the one hand, a demand for a re-run (and, later, cancelling the verdict altogether) of the ‘Brexit’ vote and, on the other hand, refusing even to consider another Scottish independence vote…

    The UK has left the EU (although N.I. trade is. to all intents and purposes. EU in all but name) ..IMO any future UK trade deals with the ‘rest of the world’ will be shadows of those this nation had through our membership with the EU.. Scotland’s should be able to choose her future; if that means leaving an increasingly insular, right wing England then that should be their choice alone.

  • Even neutrality would be fine. It’s fine for some questions to have different answers that different liberals prefer.

  • Perhaps, Maurice, because they support a truely Federal United Kingdom?

  • Robert (Bristol) 2nd Jan '21 - 8:10am

    Subject to legislation to properly run a referendum, minimum turnouts, super majorities and a confirmatory follow up vote, I am coming round to the idea that we should support another vote in Scotland. That wouldn’t stop us as a party opposing Scottish independence but who are we to deny Scots that if that’s what they vote for.

  • Maurice’s views are shared by me. I also live in England, and have been a member of the party since is formation. However I am wondering about the new border in the Irish Sea between Scotland and Northern Ireland. This means to me that part of Ireland is a member of the EU without the being part of the democratic decision making.
    And how come the present chaotic partly finished deal gets an easy ride, whereas Theresa May was constantly attacked for her determination to make sure that the real issues were dealt with.

  • David Harcus 2nd Jan '21 - 11:23am

    We don’t support Scottish independence from the UK for exactly the same reasons we didn’t support the UK leaving the EU.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Jan '21 - 11:53am

    We don’t know how the uk/eu relationship will go over the next few years. We also don’t know the result of the next GE. If Scotland shows a clear desire for independence then that force will be unstoppable, especially if N Ireland goes in the same direction. Boris Johnson will need to decide how important the UK is to him and his Party.

  • Doug Chisholm 2nd Jan '21 - 11:57am

    Well said David Harcus! Two wrongs dont make a right. And it us a sad day when liberals are attracted to identity politics born out of frustration.

  • Lin Macmillan 2nd Jan '21 - 12:43pm

    We are not doing ourselves any favours by being so resolutely opposed to a second referendum, particularly when we supported this for Brexit. I am NOT saying we should be supporting independence, but our determined opposition makes us look undemocratic, and disconnected from the Scottish electorate. We should be prepared to accept another referendum, but with different questions, including one relating to a Federal UK. Speaking personally I would do almost anything (legal) to be a European citizen again.

  • Robin Bennett 2nd Jan '21 - 12:51pm

    Always encouraging to hear English voices saying “Why don’t you?”

    The seats we have in the central belt are in two of the areas where there has been a affluent, pro-Tory vote to eat into. This was brilliantly exploited in the last Westminster election in North East Fife when the Tory vote was slashed and we made our only UK gain. But a policy unnecessarily designed to hold these seats will condemn the party to remaining fifth in Holyrood, where the pro-indy Greens are expected to make further gains in May while we remain static at the five seats we have had in Holyrood since 2011.

    When I was canvassing in NE Fife in 2015, one man told me: ”I’ve voted Liberal for 40 years. Now I’ve joined the SNP.”

    That epitomises the problem. We may have consolidated our hold on Tory-leaning constituencies (where our excellent MSPs and MPs have built up strong personal followings), but over the nation as a whole we have lost a huge amount of our natural support. Liberals were pro-Home Rule over one hundred years ago, but have failed to move with the times and accept that the demand is now for independence. Federalism sparks no interest. In 2010 we had 10 MPs and 17 MSPs; now we are down to 4 and 5 respectively. It’s partly due to the loss of EU membership, and partly to the simple demographic of the SNP/Greens having the support of the young while Lib Dems support comes mainly from the No-voting elderly. What a future.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Jan '21 - 1:10pm

    @David Harcus “We don’t support Scottish independence from the UK for exactly the same reasons we didn’t support the UK leaving the EU.”
    Small-c conservatism?

  • Julian Ingram 2nd Jan '21 - 1:21pm

    Ithink this is an excellent question, but actually there are two questions we must answer and some of the respondants are answering only one, but often different ones.
    The first question is about a referendum. Should we support a referendum if the majority of scots want one? I think given our position on the Brexit referendum and wanting another vote I don’t see how we can question the democratic legitimacy of a second referendum in Scotland. A key part of referendum one was Scotland would fall out of the EU if it left. Say no more.
    The second question is should we support independence. The answer to that is no because we support a federal UK and reject nationalist/populist opportunism.
    This is perhaps a good example of how we confuse principles of democracy with a political position.
    I’m no Scot, but shouldn’t we as Liberals as a principle support people being able to make their decisions in a democratic way?

  • nvelope2003 2nd Jan '21 - 2:39pm

    If Scotland left the UK there would only be about 7 Liberal Democrat MPs in the rump UK Parliament and it would be hard for anyone other than the Conservatives to get a majority especially if the trend towards them in Wales and the North of England continued. However, the Scots should not be denied their referendum and it is up to the British parties to put forward believable policies to counteract those of the SNP. Scotland (Population 5 million) would be unlikely to be at the top table in the EU but more likely be alongside Denmark, Finland, Czech Republic etc and in any case might not support England as we will be blamed for any misfortunes which affect Scotland.

    The deal was accepted by the Conservatives because it was obvious even to the most blinkered Brexiteer that what with the Corona Virus the public would not stand for any more delays in coming to a deal of some sort and even this deal can be the basis of closer links with the EU in the future because there is provision for review so a different Government might wish and try to revise it.

  • nvelope2003 2nd Jan '21 - 2:43pm

    If Scotland left the UK there would only be about 7 Liberal Democrat MPs in the rump UK Parliament and it would be hard for anyone other than the Conservatives to get a majority especially if the trend towards them in Wales and the North of England continued. However, the Scots should not be denied their referendum and it is up to the British parties to put forward believable policies to counteract those of the SNP. Scotland (Population 5 million) would be unlikely to be at the top table in the EU but more likely be alongside Denmark, Finland, Czech Republic etc and in any case might not support England as we will be blamed for any misfortunes which might affect Scotland.

    The deal was accepted by the Conservatives because it was obvious even to the most blinkered Brexiteer that what with the Corona Virus the public would not stand for any more theatrical delays in coming to a deal of some sort and even this Santa Claus deal can be the basis of closer links with the EU in the future because there is provision for review so a different Government might wish and try to revise it.

  • Leekliberal 2nd Jan '21 - 5:35pm

    If l were a Scot l would now vote for independence and the opportunity to regain my EU citizenship and to escape further years of dominance by the ‘English National Party’ Government. If the Scottish people vote for parties favouring a new Independence referendum it would be political suicide for us in Scotland to deny them their choice. No doubt that Irish reunification will follow in a few years and the Tory Brexit will be seen to have brought about the end of the UK.

  • David Harcus 2nd Jan ’21 – 11:23am……….We don’t support Scottish independence from the UK for exactly the same reasons we didn’t support the UK leaving the EU……….

    The Scots were ‘shanghaied’ by England. Why deny them a lifeboat?

  • Nigel Jones 2nd Jan '21 - 8:57pm

    Leekliberal, you are right about the likely result of the Scottish election and its implication for us. We would not be able to stand in the way of another Scottish Referendum.
    This is only anecdotal, but a Lib-Dem from my local party spent much time in Scotland in the last few years and she told me in 2019 that Jo Swinson was likely to loose her seat due to our policy on Scottish Independence.

  • Thomas Robinson 2nd Jan '21 - 9:45pm

    I think most LibDems, voters and members, who support Scottish independence left the party a long time ago. That rather leaves a much smaller membership and voters who are committed to the concept of Britain. This rump group are opposed to Scottish independence-or they would have left like their former colleagues.

  • nvelope2003 3rd Jan '21 - 11:25am

    Opinion poll today gives Liberal Democrats just 2 MPs and none in Scotland

  • Nationalism is not always a force for the good, but the SNP version is a distinct and benign version known as”civic nationalism”. I did not appreciate the difference myself till recently – it is worth googling the term. Civic nationalism is a very different beast from English or German nationalism and has much to commend it.

    I think many of us in England would be sorry to see the Scots go, but few would deny them the right to decide their own future. Assuming they join the EU, it might set in motion a chain of events which would eventually see the UK become a loose federation of sovereign states under the overall umbrella of the EU.

  • JIm Alexander 3rd Jan '21 - 3:56pm

    We had a referendum in 2014 – we voted to remain in the UK

    There was a Brexit Referendum – the UK voted to leave the EU

    Possibly one of the reasons that the Party struggles in the Polls is that they refuse to accept the Democratic Will of the Electorate – given the scale of the problems Post Covid the UK will face – is it not about time the Party accepted that both in Indy and Brexit the People have spoken and start looking at the Future and how we shape it

    Or is the idea that you just keep holding referendums until it gets the result that you want ?

    Its an insult to the Voters demanding re-runs

  • Peter Martin 3rd Jan '21 - 5:05pm

    Tax revenue generated in Scotland amounts to about £66 billion, including North Sea oil revenue, but it benefits from about £81 billion in public spending. That’s a deficit of about $15 billion which would need to be financed.

    So an independent Scotland would, if it continued to use the pound, need to spend less, tax more or borrow at relatively high interest rates. It would probably be a mixture of all three. It wouldn’t be able to borrow at zero % from the BoE because it would no longer be a member of the UK. It couldn’t borrow from the ECB at ultra low interest rates because it would neither be a member of the EU nor part of the eurozone.

    It could start up its own currency, creating its own central bank, and which would be the sensible thing to do, but its value would be uncertain and this, no doubt, would spook a lot of people.

    If Scots people want independence they should go for it. But they shouldn’t make the same mistake as the Irish. Their economy was at its best when they had their own floating punt. It was a big mistake to try to carry on with the pound for as long as they did, and another mistake let the punt go in favour of the euro.

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Jan '21 - 5:11pm

    JIm Alexander: We have regular elections, each bestowing a mandate that replaces that from the previous election, not just one election whose result has to hold for all time to elect a government in perpetuity. So why should the result of one advisory referendum, held before 2 general elections, be treated as something that was handed down on tablets of stone? If we decide that the Brexit referendum is so sacrosanct, that no-one is allowed to do anything to override it, then this effectively renders any criticism of the government over the consequences of the policy illegitimate. And as most of what happens in the next ~4 years will be a direct result of Brexit, that effectively outlaws criticism of this government.
    That’s not how democracy works. It is absolutely legitimate to continue campaigning against the outcome of a previous vote, whether that’s an election or a referendum, in order to seek a mandate that replaces it.
    And I would take the poll cited by nvelope2003 with a pinch of salt. It asks people how they are going to vote in a totally contrived scenario of a general election tomorrow when there has been no serious ground campaigning in most of the country for nearly 9 months. Among UK political parties, Lib Dems are uniquely reliant on the electoral cycle to get noticed (our good local and Euro election results of 2019 were not predicted by national opinion polls; GE campaigns can be different which is where we screwed up). Polling evidence, such as it is, from actual elections in 2020 show us as having made the most gains.
    Anyway, barring extremely unlikely circumstances, there isn’t going to be a GE until 2024. And the next election, when it comes, will be fought under entirely different circumstances from the last two, as it will be the first to be fought on the real-life consequences of Brexit, as opposed to the contradictory fantasies peddled by the Brexiteers. The “mandate” of the 2016 referendum will be irrelevant by then, as it was discharged last month when Johnson’s deal took effect. Voters left worse off by it are not going to be grateful for the mandate being fulfilled. Having our hands clean of the whole process could be an advantage to us, if we play our hand well.

  • JIm Alexander 3rd Jan ’21 – 3:56pm:
    We had a referendum in 2014 – we voted to remain in the UK

    There was a Brexit Referendum – the UK voted to leave the EU

    Indeed. Over 20% more Scots voted for Scotland to remain in the UK than voted for the UK to remain in the EU (2,001,926 votes to 1,661,191 votes).

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jan '21 - 9:02am

    It doesn’t matter how big the majority was. All mandates are replaceable. We don’t go around saying that all opposition politicians have to get behind Boris Johnson’s government because it won an 80-seat majority at the last election, although, if we’re not allowed to oppose Brexit because of the 2016 referendum, this amounts to much the same thing in practice.

  • Keith Sharp 4th Jan '21 - 9:33am

    I’d like to see us advocate major devolution/devolved powers for Scotland within the UK – including the right to membership of the European Single Market.

    If that cannot be our policy, then I would personally support Scottish independence from the UK, in order to become a full EU member state.

    Scotland was shafted over independence and Europe – in 2014, all UK party leaders, Cameron, Miliband and yes, Nick Clegg dashed north to assure Scots that remaining in the UK was the way the stay in the EU. Well, we know how that ended up.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jan '21 - 4:26pm

    Looks like the methodology of the opinion poll that reduces us to 2 seats is rather suspect
    https://owenwntr.wordpress.com/2021/01/03/whats-up-with-the-sunday-times-mrp-projection/

  • Jim Alexander 4th Jan '21 - 5:58pm

    @Alex Macfie – Voters have had enough of Brexit – if we wanted a better deal we should have voted for Theresa Mays Soft Brexit – we didn’t we opted for a GE where Voters gave Boris a resounding mandate to “get Brexit Done” and we stood still – by the Next GE Brexit will be History – No one will care – the impact of Covid will be with us for a Generation – its time to move on from Brexit

    Boris stating there will be No Indy2 for a Generation is also welcome News

    We are dropping in the Polls – people want a Party that is going to fight for them on the basics like jobs education health

    Not self indulgence of Brexit or Indy2

    It matters how big the Majority was as it shows how out of touch with the Electorate the Party was ( and still is )

  • Jim Alexander 4th Jan '21 - 6:03pm

    @ Keith Sharp – so you would advocate the break up of a Union of 300 Years with a Country Scotland does 80% of our Trade with to join the EU who we do 10% of our Trade with

    Scotland isnt getting to join the EU
    1.Our Public Spending deficit ( pre Covid ) is 9% – it has to be 5%
    2. We dont have a Currency
    3.Spain wont vote for it

    Also how was Scotland “shafted” – sure being part of the EU was better but to the person on the Street – they wont notice much difference

    Fishing – 40% of Scottish Fishing is Controlled by Five Families ( most of them not Scottish ) Erasmus – Red Herring

    So to Joe Punter – Brexit will mean very little – 12 Months – its History

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jan '21 - 7:24pm

    @Jim Alexander: Why would the Lib Dems get behind a totally unworkable Brexit plan like Theresa May’s? It wasn’t a “soft Brexit” as much as a cake-and-eat-it Brexit. For us to put our name to it would have alienated many of our supporters.
    In any case you are utterly wrong. Brexit will NOT be “history” for a very long time. Its consequences will be felt for many years, and there will continue to be negotiations. It will continue to be an issue in the next election, and in the next few after that. And there is absolutely no point in chasing the polls this far from a general election. The danger with chasing public opinion is that you get left behind when it changes. This is the time to set out our stall so that we will be able to prove ourselves right in 2024, not to chase imaginary votes at a time when there are no elections at all.

  • nvelope2003 5th Jan '21 - 11:59am

    Alex Macfie: The voters do not vote for parties that got it right because they got it wrong and don’t want to admit it. We should stop banging on about Brexit as people just want to forget they got it wrong but at least as far as they are concerned it is over like the War in 1945. Of course the consequences will continue for many years and have to be dealt with but saying we told you so will do us absolutely no good whatsoever. According to the FT a large amount of share trading left the London Stock Exchange on 4th January costing the Treasury much revenue but I did not hear much about it elsewhere. What a surprise.

    The Liberal Democrats have been unable to find a dynamic charismatic leader such as Jo Grimond, Jeremy Thorpe, Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy and have lost ground because of this. Unless one is found soon I fear that we may see the end of the party as a national force although it might continue as one in local government. I suspect the same might happen to the SNP if Ms Sturgeon were to cease to be leader although they do have a distinctive policy which could keep them in business unlike the Liberal Democrats.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Jan '21 - 12:12pm

    nvelope2003: we don’t have to say, “we told you so” or anything similar. We just need to seize on every negative consequence of Brexit, and pin the blame for it on the architects of Brexit, i.e. this Tory government. We can also say that, unlike Labour, we did at no point support the project that that has brought such misery on the country.

    In doing this we might not even have to mention the B-word. Ordinary voters, the ones who don’t think deeply about politics, don’t generally think in terms of ideology or remember how they thought or voted at some point in the past. If people have found themselves worse off than they were before Brexit, they will be inclined to put the blame on the government and its policies under which their fortunes have declined. It won’t matter that many of them would have voted Leave in the referendum. If Brexit has failed them they won’t be grateful to the government for implementing it, and we’ll be able to exploit that. We shan’t have to tell voters they were wrong to vote the way they did last time, just point out the consequences of the present government’s policy, and say we are best placed to undo it because we were never part of it.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Jan '21 - 12:30pm

    PS if it appears that “acceptance of Brexit” is the new political consensus in this country, then that is not a reason for us as Lib Dems to go along with it. “Accepting Brexit” would mean co-owning all its negative consequences, We would not be credible. We would alienate our anti-Brexit voters, and we would not attract any new ones because of it. Anyone who still fervently believes in Brexit by the next election will vote for True Believers, not poll-chasers or bandwagon-hoppers.

  • Jim Alexander 5th Jan '21 - 4:22pm

    @Alex Macfie – well we chased the remainer vote at the last GE – that seemed to have worked well

    This is not about following public opinion – this is about recognizing that Brexit isn’t going to be a big issue – Covid and its future impact changed any future debate ref Brexit

    Theresa May put forward a Soft Brexit – the Electorate had Voted for it – by ignoring the outcome of the Referendum it was an insult to the Voters and they took there Revenge at the GE

    The harsh reality to most people they wont Notice Brexit – its about time the Party moved on from it – Economy – Education – Health thats what matters

    How do you close the attainment Gap in Education – How to you Support Small Businesses – How do you create Jobs for Young People – these are REAL issues

    What have we lost not being part of the EU – not a lot to be honest – that effects peoples daily lives

  • Alex Macfie 5th Jan '21 - 7:12pm

    Jim Alexander: Our share of the vote increased by 4 percentage points at the last election. Chasing the Remain vote was probably what saved us from a much worse result, as without it there would have been little or no reason to vote for us. At one point late last year our vote polls were putting us above 20%, and we had good local and Euro election results earlier last year. The principal factors that undermined our GE campaign were Coalition and Corbyn. It was nothing to do with voters “taking there [sic] Revenge” for failing to honour the referendum result — those voters were never going to vote for us anyway.

    “How do you close the attainment Gap in Education – How to you Support Small Businesses – How do you create Jobs for Young People – these are REAL issues”

    And all but the first one will be directly affected by Brexit (the EU has no competence in education).

    What have we lost not being part of the EU – not a lot to be honest

    Try saying that once prices of essential goods rocket, people can’t get their medication and people realise they can no longer travel freely throughout the EU as they used to be able to. And these consequences are also why Brexit WON’T go away as an issue. In any case, there are more negotiations to come, guaranteeing that it stays in the news.
    “Moving on” from Brexit seems to mean we have to accept those inevitable consequences and not say anything negative about our economic future, because that would undermine the Brexit referendum. Well no-one is going to give a Castlemaine about the 2016 referendum by the next election, which will be the first one to be fought on the real-world consequences of Brexit.

  • Jim Alexander 6th Jan '21 - 6:32pm

    If ” all ” of the issues are affected by Brexit why were the major issues Pre Brexit – therefore its complete nonsense to link UK Issues to Brexit – as for Rocketing Prices etc etc – there is zero proof of this – things will pretty much carry on as before and in 6 Months Brexit will be a Non Subject

    The simple fact is that to most people the EU means nothing – impact on there daily lives – marginal – the Lib Dem Obsession with Brexit is not healthy

    There are far more key issues to the Electorate than Brexit – I honestly hope that the Party has learnt its lesson and started to focus on issues that impact on people lives otherwise they are in danger of becoming an irrelevance and lets face it are pretty close to that at the moment

    Show me how the EU impacted on Education attainment – Show me how they created jobs for Young people – the EU is a big large inefficient organisation creating lots of jobs for those working in it – impact on peoples actual lives – marginal at best

  • Alex Macfie 10th Jan '21 - 4:26pm

    Jim Alexander: I explicitly stated excluded the matter of Education attainment by noting that the EU has no competence on education, so clearly you did not read my comment properly. And this is particularly fatuous:

    “If ” all ” of the issues are affected by Brexit why were the [sic] major issues Pre Brexit”

    It’s equivalent to asking “If Trump damaged race relations why was it a major issue in the US pre-Trump?” The point isn’t that things were perfect when we were in the EU, but that leaving the EU is going to make things much worse.
    Brexit is not an issue in isolation, separate from “UK issues”. An example of the impact of Brexit on jobs is the effect on the economy of having left the single market, the same as it is on prices of goods, due to disrupted supply chains and the extra paperwork involved in importing goods. Exporting as well, so one cause of job losses due to leaving the EU will be companies based here that export a lot to the EU relocating there.
    As for “to most people the EU means nothing,” well that may well have been true before Cameron foolishly called a referendum on EU membership to appease his party’s anti-EU bloc. After that it became, and remains, a major cleavage plain in UK politics.
    The idea that membership of the EU has no effect on people’s everyday lives was something that was pushed widely by the Leave camp in the referendum, the idea being that we could have all the benefits of the single market without any of the obligations. We are beginning to see now how false that is.
    As for the “relevance” of the Lib Dems, if there is any path to irrelevance for a small party such as us, it is uncritical acceptance of the consensus established by the larger parties. If we were to join Johnson’s and Starmer’s chorus of “move on” from the Brexit debate, then there would be absolutely no point in anyone voting Lib Dem. The best way for us to remain relevant (apart from ground campaigning) is to take distinctive positions on important issues, even if they are initially unpopular.

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