By a Newsnet reporter
As the Liberal Democrats prepare to gather in Dundee for their Scottish conference, the latest polling figures make dire reading for party leaders.
According to last month’s Ipsos Mori poll, the Liberal Democrats have not recovered from their disastrous showing in May 2011, which saw the party left with a rump of 5 seats and without a single constituency MSP on the Scottish mainland.
With the party’s poll rating bumping along at 7%, the Lib Dems look set to repeat May 2011’s wipeout at the next elections. The SNP claim that the junior partners in the Tory-led UK coalition have only got themselves to blame for their poor showing and point to a litany of broken promises which have destroyed voters’ trust in Lib Dem commitments.
As well as the Lib Dem U-turn on student fees after going into coalition with the Conservatives, which forced party leader Nick Clegg to make a humiliating apology which was widely mocked on YouTube and in social media, the SNP cite a series of commitments the Lib Dems made on Scottish devolution, which they have since reneged on.
After the 2011 election, the LibDems opposed five of the six additional powers which the Scottish Government wanted included in the UK Government’s Scotland Bill – despite having themselves called for them previously. The Lib Dems have consistently opposed the addition of a ‘more powers’ question in next year’s referendum.
In 1998 the Liberal Democrats proposed amending the Scotland Bill to devolve the Crown Estates to the Scottish Parliament. They stopped this being added to the Scotland Bill. That same year the party also proposed amending the Scotland Bill to allow Scottish Executive Ministers to have the right of statutory representation in the Council of Ministers. However they also blocked this from being added to the Scotland Bill.
In his submission to the Calman Commission on behalf of the Scottish Lib Dems the then leader Tavish Scott called for corporation tax to be devolved with “all revenues accruing directly to the Scottish Parliament”. This was also stopped from being added to the Scotland Bill.
Mr Scott also called for tobacco and alcohol duties, along with fuel duty and vehicle excise duty, to be devolved with “all revenues accruing directly to the Scottish Parliament”. His Westminster colleagues stopped this being added to the Scotland Bill.
In his submission to the Calman Commission Mr Scott called for proper borrowing powers for Scotland and said they “should not be a one-way process, imposed by the Treasury and the UK Government on the Scottish Parliament … [but] by agreement a new framework of rules as to how, when and to what extent, Scottish borrowing powers could be exercised.” To date all the Lib Dems have allowed is a fastracking of the limited Scotland Bill proposals.
In the LibDems’ Steel Commission it was said that there should be much greater accountability to the Scottish Parliament and regular reporting from the BBC with a formal role for the Scottish Parliament in the charter renewal process. The Lib Dems opposed this being added to the Scotland Bill.
The Scottish National Party said the key lesson, therefore, is that only a Yes vote for independence in next year’s referendum can achieve the powers that Scotland needs to succeed.
Commenting, SNP MSP Maureen Watt said:
“It is no wonder that the LibDems are in their current sorry state, when time after time they have shown that they cannot be trusted. They have left a trail of broken promises in their wake as they plunge in the polls in Scotland.
“Year after year, time after time, the Lib Dems have called for more powers for Scotland – but actively opposed actually doing anything in the Scottish Parliament to achieve them. Indeed, they actually voted against having these extra powers for Scotland! The Lib Dems have tried to pull the wool over the eyes of people in Scotland, and it is no surprise that people simply do not believe them any longer.
“The Lib Dem approach to the constitution has clear echoes of 1979, when Scotland was promised a ‘better’ form of devolution if we voted No, but which Westminster did absolutely nothing to deliver – we got 18 years of a Tory government Scotland didn’t vote for instead.
“Whether it is on more powers for Scotland, on child poverty, on tuition fees south of the border, or on claims that they would oppose Tory austerity cuts, the Lib Dems have delivered nothing but broken promises.
“The clear lesson is that only a Yes vote for independence can achieve the powers Scotland needs to succeed – and deliver policies that are right for Scotland to build a fair society and strong economy.”