Clegg on campaign trail in Scotland as Lib Dems head for another meltdown

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By a Newsnet reporter

Commenting ahead of Nick Clegg’s expected visit to Scotland on Wednesday, SNP MSP Derek Mackay has challenged the Lib Dem leader to explain why his party in Scotland is fielding significantly fewer candidates in this election compared to 2007. 

Across Scotland, the Liberal Democrats are standing just 247 candidates, compared to 331 in 2007.

By a Newsnet reporter

Commenting ahead of Nick Clegg’s expected visit to Scotland on Wednesday, SNP MSP Derek Mackay has challenged the Lib Dem leader to explain why his party in Scotland is fielding significantly fewer candidates in this election compared to 2007. 

Across Scotland, the Liberal Democrats are standing just 247 candidates, compared to 331 in 2007.

With the Lib Dems seemingly heading for another election disaster, Mr Clegg’s visit is set to remind thousands of supporters why they abandoned the party and voted for the SNP in the 2011 election. 

Leading Scottish Liberal Democrats, such as Danny Alexander, MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, have become closely associated in the public mind with the unpopular Budget introduced by Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, and are seen as apologists for the Conservatives’ agenda of cuts to public services while giving tax breaks to the highest paid. 

The party has also come under severe criticism for dropping its key manifesto commitment to fight against student fees in England, only to support fees once in coalition with the Tories.

A deep malaise has spread widely within the Liberal Democrats in Scotland as a result. The party was all but annihilated during last year’s Holyrood election, losing all its constituency seats outside of Orkney and Shetland.  The party witnessed a catastrophic decline in its vote in its traditional strongholds in the Highlands and Borders.  In this Thursday’s local authority poll the party looks set to repeat its dire performance.

There are many anecdotal reports of disheartened party members quietly withdrawing from politics, or even defecting.  Around a quarter of all councillors’ defections identified over the last five years have been from the Lib Dems (16 out of 62). After the May 2011 election, four councillors defected to the SNP in the space of a few weeks – Glynis Sinclair of Highland, Mike Dillon and Marie McGurk of Renfrewshire and Mary-Jean Devon of Argyll & Bute.

The four issued a joint statement which was published in the Scotsman on 3 July 2011, saying: “By becoming the spokespeople for the Cameron government they [the Lib Dems] have abandoned the very principles that the Scottish Liberal Democrats were founded upon.

The party is now unrecognisable to all of us. Members and supporters of the Lib Dems do not understand why their party leadership in Scotland have become the cheerleaders to Tory policy and Tory beliefs. They’ve had enough.”

Mr Mackay, the SNP’s Campaign Director, said:

“Hard-pressed Lib Dem candidates will no doubt have been dreading this visit. In Scotland, Nick Clegg is the embodiment of everything that has gone wrong for the Lib Dems – he is the man who let the Tories into Government.

“With Nick Clegg’s help, the Tories at Westminster have been able to unleash an unprecedented assault on the welfare state – at a time when the most vulnerable members of society need it most.

“They abandoned the Lib Dem promise not to raise VAT to 20%, which has taken £1bn out of the Scottish economy and is damaging our retail sector,

“And Scottish Lib Dems have zealously aided and abetted the Tories’ cuts to Scotland’s budget – slashing our Capital funding by a third at the very time when we should be investing in Scotland’s future and protecting jobs.

“So it’s no wonder that our extensive canvassing data is showing that the Lib Dems are heading for another election meltdown. And it’s no wonder that the Lib Dems are standing an astonishing 84 fewer candidates than in 2007, which underlines their lack of ambition for themselves and for Scotland.

“We know Clegg answers for the Tories, but will the Lib Dem leader give the explanation that the rest of his party has failed to – why field 84 fewer candidates?”