by Hazel Lewry
Since the Holyrood parliament was reconvened in 1999 the Liberal Democrats have held vast swathes of Scotland, primarily in the Highlands and Islands. Together with pockets of Lib Dem support in other regions, the party could be said to have an air of legitimacy in Scotland.
However current trends indicate the times they are a changing, particularly in the North where it appears that the Lib Dem seats may finally be about to fall.
The recent council by-election in Wick showed a staggering vote transference towards the SNP. It was a worrying sign for the Lib Dems, as it confirmed reports from party canvassers and activists on the ground leading to fears that previously safe seats could now be lost. The Lib Dems are reported to be pouring resources into constituencies previously thought “untouchable” and safe from threat, diverting funds and personnel from the seats the party had targetted as possible gains.
The Nationalists’ goal is to prise seats such as North East Fife and West Aberdeenshire from the incumbent Lib Dems. SNP activists on the ground report these two being particularly ripe for plucking in May’s poll. The loss of NE Fife in particular would be a severe blow to the LibDems, the home ground of ex-Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell has been held by Iain Smith since 1999. But that would pale beside the consequences of West Aberdeenshire falling. In the latter seat Lib Dem deputy leader Mike Rumbles is defending a majority of 5,000, yet local activists report that his vote “is crumbling”.
SNP campaign boss Angus Robertson said: “The feedback across Scotland is former Lib Dem voters are switching to the SNP. That’s even in places previously thought to be safe. A number of Lib Dem seats were originally won, and since defended, on an anti-Tory basis. But voters do not want to support a party that is propping up a Westminster Tory government.” He added: “The SNP have the big momentum.”
Certainly it’s a momentum giving heart the SNP’s activists on the ground. There is a spring in the step of party activists as the resurgent voter tide flows back in favour of an SNP administration after May. So much so that Labrokes had to suspend betting on the SNP last weekend.
Speaking in response to these issues Tavish Scott acknowledged Nick Clegg’s ties with the Tories had been “difficult” and that his party was finding campaigning “tough”. He stated: “I’m not going to play the blame game. We’ve got to make sure we get across to people there are some good things happening like taking Scots out of tax. But sure it’s a tough election.”
Based on the predictions of opinion polls from before the start of the election campaign the SNP looked unlikely to be able to maintain even their meagre single seat advantage over Labour. Many pundits predicted a clear Labour victory.
However with the Lib Dem vote now seemingly melting away, the picture has begun to change. The SNP have also been aided by the ineffective and gaffe ridden Labour campaign, which so far has hindered rather than assisted Iain Gray’s bid to become the next First Minister. Latest opinion polls show a narrow SNP lead.