Willie Rennie on Lib Dem prospects in Scotland in 2015: “I know all 11 seats can be won.”

William RennieScotland’s Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie is interviewed in today’s Times by Magnus Linklater – who describes him as “resolutely cheerful”.

On Cowdenbeath…

Listing a load of reasons why he shouldn’t be in good spirits, he asks Willie specifically about the Cowdenbeath by-election, where the party trailed in fifth:

“We weren’t surprised by it. We didn’t put a lot into it, and if you don’t do that, you don’t get it back. We had lost our deposit at the last election, with something like 3 per cent, so we didn’t have great expectations. We wrote it off. It’s a one-day hit.”

On Lib Dem prospects in 2015…

But Willie tells a different, more upbeat, story about the Lib Dems’ prospects in the 2015 general election:

“We can win all 11 [Scottish] seats, but we are going to have to work consistently to do it.” What possible justification can he have for such an extravagant claim? “We can see a pathway to victory in every single seat,” he says. “I’m not saying we’re guaranteed to win all 11 seats, but what I am saying is that I can see us winning them, because we’ve got strong local MPs, a good set of issues, good record locally, good organisation, and if we put the long-term investment in we can win. I’m not some crazy idealist on these things, I’m a grassroots campaigner. It’s what I’ve done all my life, and I know all 11 seats can be won.”

On the Coalition…

Forming a coalition with the Conservatives has been particularly tough for the party in Scotland. But Willie sticks up for it – and says we should be prepared to do the same thing again if that’s how the country votes:

“But when you are faced with a decision to make, do you sit on the sidelines, or do you bring stability to the country? You come into politics to do the right thing, not just the popular things. If you just do the popular things, you end up in the wrong place, losing your values.”

So would he go down the same route again? He hesitates.

“If the electorate decided, you would do the right thing again. The electorate decides this, not us. Part of it is personalities, like Donald Dewar and Jim Wallace — they made a connection, the numbers worked, the coalition worked. David Cameron and Nick Clegg got on well, formed a trusting relationship, gave a stability to the coalition, but the most important thing was that the numbers worked. I would do it again,” he concludes.

And on the independence referendum…

Willie will be campaigning for a ‘No’ vote, keeping Scotland within the UK – while also pressing for some form of ‘devolution max’ to increase the Scottish Parliament’s powers. The question is will voters trust the pro-union parties to deliver on devo-max if they reject independence?

“I don’t know exactly what we will be able to agree before the referendum,” he says. “In some ways I don’t want to nail it down completely, because if we get a sustainable constitution in the long term, then everyone needs to be involved, and I think the SNP are part of that. We should be quite clear on two principles — one is that the majority of money we spend in this place is raised in this place. The second is that this parliament becomes a permanent institution, along the lines that Gordon Brown has been talking about, which is a written constitution that Westminster could not undo.”

You can read the interview in full here.

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12 Comments

  • “We can win all 11 [Scottish] seats, but we are going to have to work consistently to do it.” What possible justification can he have for such an extravagant claim? “We can see a pathway to victory in every single seat,” he says. “I’m not saying we’re guaranteed to win all 11 seats, but what I am saying is that I can see us winning them, because we’ve got strong local MPs, a good set of issues, good record locally, good organisation, and if we put the long-term investment in we can win. I’m not some crazy idealist on these things, I’m a grassroots campaigner. It’s what I’ve done all my life, and I know all 11 seats can be won.”

    Things must be really bad for the Scottish Lib Dems if the best they can do is aspire to match 2010’s lacklustre Scottish performance!

  • paul barker 8th Feb '14 - 6:04pm

    We know that both Tories & Labour are badly divided. If Scotland votes Yes presumably the General Election will have to be delayed, if No the what will The SNP have to say ? “Vote SNP & we promise to do all those things we said we couldnt do without Independence.”
    We have a great message if we have the confidenc to put it.

  • “We can see a pathway to victory in every single seat …”

    I can see a pathway to winning the Lottery tonight …

  • Just wonder if Paul Barker knows anything about Scotland. I used to split my vote in Scottish elections where we have some form of PR an d give some support for the Lib Dems. I would even vote Lib Dem in Westminster Parliament elections occasionally. But never again. The Tartan Tories now are the Lib Dems.

  • Honestly there are only two things anyone can say definitively about the 2015 UK Elections (which will not be delayed).

    If Scotland votes ‘Yes’ the 2015 campaign in Scotland will be about who can get the best deal possible using residual influence in Westminster. No Scottish MP so elected will be able to offer any real sustenance for an UK coalition or indeed for an UK majority government.

    If Scotland votes ‘No’ the internal convulsions in Scotland will be huge. Local and personal issues and ructions in the former Yes camp will dominate on the ground.

    Or so it looks from central England.

  • @ g
    “Things must be really bad for the Scottish Lib Dems if the best they can do is aspire to match 2010′s lacklustre Scottish performance!”

    Presumably you’d be the first to laugh scornfully if we said we could try to win more. Unsurprisingly, as far as g is concerned, on this matter as with many others the Lib Dems are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    Things ARE really bad. I don’t think over-reaching ourselves after having taken the brunt of all the difficult decisions needed to work with a party we have little in common with to sort out the massive budget deficit and bombed out economy bequeathed by the previous administration would help us, would it?

    No party going into power in 2010 was going to sail through into sunny uplands of higher popularity given the set of circumstances the UK has faced since then, ranging from soaring global oil and food prices to a collapse in our main export market, plus the influx of large numbers of new workers, bringing down wage inflation.

    However, if as looks likely from the polling on Scottish independence, the Yes campaign is defeated, the consequences for the SNP could be enormous. Since they are the party to which most of the Lib Dems’ votes in Scotland have gone, I think that in a little over seven months’ time, one way or another, things are going to change significantly in Scottish politics.

  • RC,

    Presumably you’d be the first to laugh scornfully if we said we could try to win more. Unsurprisingly, as far as g is concerned, on this matter as with many others the Lib Dems are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    Perhaps, but to be honest I expect party leader’s to be a bit more enthusiastic about their chances.

    However, every single Scottish Lib dem leader since devolution has presided over a steadily decreasing vote, indeed every single one of them has left after an election. This is a long term trend and not something that is a result of coalition with the tories.

    Although certainly that has made you deeply unpopular, it’s an odd electoral strategy to deliberately make a choice that results in collapsing support. I assume Clegg & co reasoned it would make them more popular, not less.

  • In a discussion on a recent previous thread I suggested that, far from being in danger of losing 10 of our 11 Scottish seats in the House of Commons as was being predicted at that particular time, we were likely to hold some of them and stood at least some chance of holding 10 out of the 11. At the time Caratacus rebuked me for being over-optimistic, but since then Iain Dale, no friend to our party and certainly no mindless optimist about our chances, has predicted, in more bullish terms than I had used, that we are indeed likely to hold 10 of our 11 seats. So it is not unreasonable that Willie Rennie should hold out the prospect that we might indeed be able to defend all of our 11 seats, but this will certainly not be easy, and to suggest, as g does, that this is a piffling ambition and that we should be aiming to do better than in 2010 is somewhat strange.

  • “However, every single Scottish Lib dem leader since devolution has presided over a steadily decreasing vote, indeed every single one of them has left after an election”

    That isn’t true. The Scottish Lib Dems increased their vote at the second Scottish elections. I accept Jim Wallace stepped down as leader after that election, but it was two years later which suggests it wasn’t as a result of the election results but more a decision to retire and hand on to someone new.

  • “it’s an odd electoral strategy to deliberately make a choice that results in collapsing support.”

    Who could not have predicted that going into government in 2010 would have resulted in a loss of popularity? All three main parties including Labour were agreed that there would have to be swingeing cuts.

    How was that going to the popular in the short run? Answer, never in a million years. The point is, whether we can take decisions that in the long run people will eventually see as being the right ones and win rewards from that. I think we have done exactly that and that history will judge us in a better light than many voters do currently. However, in order to survive till that point as an effective fighting force, we’ve got to hold on to a large chunk of our Westminster representation.

  • I don’t think that the problem is the coalition per se …. just saying!

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