Tavish Scott: Lib Dems ‘dragged into the political gutter’ by coalition with Tories

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by a Newsnet reporter

In an article published yesterday in the Scotsman newspaper former Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott attacked the party’s UK leadership, and accused them of dragging the Scottish party “into the political gutter” by forming a coalition with the Conservatives.

In an article where the blame for the Scottish Lib Dems’ current sorry predicament is laid squarely on everyone but the party’s former Scottish leader, Mr Scott also lays into the SNP for “opportunism” for suggesting that a ‘rainbow’ coalition should be formed in order to keep the Conservatives out of office.  Although strongly rejecting the SNP’s offer, Mr Scott apparently recognised that a formal coalition with the Conservatives would prove to be the kiss of death for the party in Scotland.

Writing in the Scotsman, Mr Scott said:  “Any deal with the Tories would make fighting the Holyrood elections, then a year away, impossible.  It wouldn’t matter how good the agreement was or if we had delivered our entire manifesto.  Going in with the Tories was not a strategy that would find favour north of the Border.”

Although being contemptuous of the SNP offer, Mr Scott did not offer any alternative solution to the quandary, merely contenting himself with noting that the decision was a matter for the party’s Westminster contingent.  

Mr Scott also recognised that the Liberal Democrats’ policy change to support student fees in England, despite campaigning against them during the election, had seriously damaged the party’s standing in Scotland.  Acknowledging that the perceptions of Scottish voters are distorted by coverage on the UK news of purely English matters.  Mr Scott said

“We both feared the electoral consequences and for the same reason.  Despite protestations to the contrary from BBC Scotland and STV, the average Scots voter’s perspective on politics is massively influenced by ‘big’ news.  The national 10pm bulletins punch serious holes in Scots’ understanding of what’s devolved and reserved.

“So despite having an impeccable record on abolishing tuition fees in Scotland – fees imposed by the first Blair government – Scottish Lib Dems were dragged into the political gutter by the decision in London. “

The Liberal Democrats have failed to support moves to transfer control of broadcasting to Holyrood.  

The party went on to perform disastrously at the elections to Holyrood, being reduced to a rump of 5 seats.  The party continues to poll poorly in voting intention polls, and performs badly in local council by-elections in regions where it has traditionally done well.  There are fears within the party that next year’s local elections will see its local councillors decimated in the same way its Holyrood members were.

In another development, yesterday’s Daily Mail newspaper revealed that the Lib Dems are plotting a secret pact with the Conservatives not to campaign against one another in certain ‘key’ seats.  The move is a tacit admission that the party can only hope to remain in power by attracting votes from Conservatives.

SNP MSP Chic Brodie pointed out the inconsistency of Tavish Scott’s attacks on SNP efforts to stop a Tory government by creating a progressive coalition, while the LibDems opened the door to Tory rule in Scotland. Mr Brodie, who was a member of the LibDems for more than thirty years, said:

“They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, and as Tavish Scott’s outpouring confirms, the Liberal Democrats have a real problem.

“Given his own bitterness about the coalition, it is extraordinary that Tavish Scott simultaneously attempts to attack SNP efforts to stop the Tories getting into government by trying to create a progressive coalition.

“Indeed, while the SNP were trying to stop the Tories after last year’s UK General Election – when Scotland once again gave the Tories the thumbs down – and help build a progressive coalition, the Liberal Democrats were enthusiastically opening the door to a Tory government.

“Tavish Scott should reflect that this may be one of the reasons why the SNP won this year’s Holyrood election, and why the Lib Dems were removed from every single seat in mainland Scotland, and have lost over half of their vote in the council by-elections since May.

“Instead of just writing about it, Tavish Scott should travel to Birmingham and tell his party conference about his experience of being dragged into the ‘political gutter’ by his coalition colleagues. Perhaps he can stop his party before they agree to the new electoral pact with the Tories that is being reported this weekend.

“The Lib Dems have become a non-entity in the Scottish political arena and it is little wonder even their few remaining supporters are turning towards the SNP, with already five former Lib Dem councillors switching to the SNP.”

However it is uncertain whether Mr Scott would receive much of a hearing at the party’s Birmingham conference when it came to light yesterday that Willie Rennie, the leader chosen by the party’s five remaining MSPs to replace Mr Scott, has been sidelined by the conference.  

For the first time since devolution, the party’s Scottish leader will not address the UK conference and will instead be relegated to a fringe event.  Rumours suggest that the party leadership is seeking to minimise public disagreements over their strategy of coalition with the Conservatives and to downplay the serious difficulties they now face in Scotland.  

Mr Brodie commented on his former party’s demotion saying:  “This must be the final humiliation for the Scottish LibDems, after being rejected by voters in Scotland, now they have even been dumped from their own conference agenda!

“Of course, you can not help but think that Willie Rennie does not actually want to share a platform with his Westminster leadership who support the Tories in Government.

“To add insult to injury Kirsty Williams – the leader of the Welsh Lib Dems – still has her slot on stage.

“By adopting Tory policies and Tory beliefs they have turned their back on Scotland and turned their back on everyone who lent them their support in the past.

“Whatever happened to the party that once proclaimed themselves as the party for Home Rule for Scotland?

“The party has gone from the party of federalism to the ultimate doom-mongers of Scottish politics, obsessed by the union and squarely focused on ensuring that Scotland does not get the powers it needs to properly support our economy and create jobs.”