Ed Jacobs with the latest news north of the border: the Lib Dem Scottish leader Tavish Scott's PR campaign to distance himself from the Westminster coalition.
As new polling for the Scottish elections put the Liberal Democrats on course to gain just six seats in May’s elections to Holyrood, the party’s leader north of the border, Tavish Scott, has used a series of interviews over the weekend to put as much distance between himself and Nick Clegg as possible.
Questioned on the BBC’s Politics Show about the impact that the Lib Dem/Conservative coalition was having on his party, Scott made clear:
“It’s simply that the Liberal Democrats in Scotland are related to the Conservatives. I am not particularly comfortable about that.”
He continued by telling the Sunday Herald:
“I grew up with Thatcher. I grew up with all that stuff going on. We all too well remember what they did to manufacturing industry in Scotland. It’s not naturally where I’d be in politics.”
During his interview with the BBC, he continued by dubbing the prime minister’s recent immigration speech as “pretty extraordinary” given that it was the Lib Dems which made possible the closure of the Dungavel facility, used to house children of asylum seekers. He went on to explain:
“That would not have happened if we had left the Conservatives on their own. In the same breath we have seen this weekend the AV referendum discussed in pretty ridiculous terms by a Tory who said apparently it could lead to race riots.
“Just extraordinary language from the Conservatives and not language that I am in any way comfortable with.”
His comments followed those of Willie Rennie, formerly a Lib Dem MP and special adviser to Danny Alexander when he was Scottish secretary and now the party’s top candidate for Holyrood in the list vote for the Mid Scotland and Fife Seat who said in a leaked email that the party didn’t like working with the Conservative because, “we remember what they did to Scotland”.
These efforts by the Lib Dems north of the border, are part of a two prong strategy to distance themselves from London and make themselves more appealing to the SNP and Labour as potential coalition partners in the likely event of no single party gaining an overall majority in the Scottish parliament.
This explains Scott’s recent interview with STV in which he failed to rule out the possibility of an independence referendum if it could secure a stable government with the SNP, whilst simultaneously making clear that he would have preferred a Labour/Lib Dem coalition at Westminster.
On the question of coalitions, he continued by telling the Sunday Herald in no uncertain terms that his party in London would have no part to play in deciding who they might speak to over a possible coalition government in Scotland. He continued:
“Why would I pay attention to London on this issue where we fought a campaign having to deal with the consequences of London for the last six, seven weeks.
“The last thing I’ll pay attention to is whatever London thinks on this issue. That’s a decision for Scottish MSPs.
“If (a Labour-LibDem Scottish coalition) happens that’s their problem not mine. My desire is a stable Scottish government.
“That’s not London’s call in any way whatsoever.”
For all their efforts however, the basic fact for the Lib Dems in Scotland remains simple – it is they, rather than the Conservatives that voters are seeking to punish for the actions of the Westminster government. As Martin Kettle, writing for the Guardian has recently explained:
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“The large fact, therefore, is this. In 2007, one Scottish voter in three voted for either the Tories or the Lib Dems. Eleven months after the formation of the Cameron-Clegg coalition, that is down to one voter in six.
“The Tories are defending their position reasonably well. But the Lib Dems are not. Unless they can turn things round, which no one to whom I have spoken believes they can, they are facing a disastrous 5 May and possibly even long-term oblivion.”