How the Lib Dems blew their chance

Lib Dem Mental Health investment
Lib Dem Mental Health investment by Liberal Democrats, on Flickr.
Forgive me, for I have sinned: I used to be a member of the Liberal Democrats.

Looking back, it’s tempting to think I must have been mad. I know there are many other people like me who were members or at least voted for them every time, who now look at them and wonder what on Earth they were thinking. However, it actually made sense at the time.

So what has happened? I believe the explanation is two-fold: I (and others) probably misunderstood them to some extent, but more importantly, they reacted to events in a way that alienated their supporters. Let’s look at a few issues in more detail:

Firstly, I believed all their talk about federalism meant they were in favour of more devolution for Scotland. I would have placed the Scottish political parties on a scale like this: At one extreme, the Tories were against devolution and wanted to scale it back; Labour were quite happy with the status quo and definitely didn’t want to expand it drastically; the Lib Dems wanted to expand devolution and introduce federalism and perhaps home rule; and the SNP wanted home rule and eventually independence. (I wasn’t too sure where to place the Greens back then.) At the time, it looked like the SNP would never gain power on its own, so it made sense to press for further devolution by voting Lib Dem.

Secondly, I thought their support for proportional representation meant they actually would work with different parties to achieve their aims, and perhaps that they had thought through how best to wield influence in a coalition.

Thirdly, I naïvely thought their support for federalism stemmed from a lack of belief in British Unionism — I didn’t realise that it was the opposite, a way to protect the Union.

Given these assumptions, I started getting annoyed at them during the Labour-LD coalitions at Holyrood for not achieving enough, but I put it down to the lack of experience. It got worse when Sir Ming claimed that “liberalism and nationalism are the antithesis of each other“, but I only got really angry when they refused to sit down with the SNP in 2007 to discuss a potential coalition unless the SNP stopped believing in independence — I thought at the time that an SNP-LD coalition would have been a great way to advance Scottish home rule. When the Conservative-LD coalition was formed, I was dismayed that they got so few things through — no more powers for Scotland, a horrible little compromise about a voting system referendum — and of course their conversion to being cheerleaders for tuition fees was an unmitigated disaster.

I left the party around this time, but their vitriolic hatred of the SNP during the Scottish elections in 2011 was really off-putting for somebody like me who had considered themselves almost equidistant between the two parties. If I had still been a member when the Scottish independence referendum was being planned, I would surely have left in disgust at their refusal to campaign to put Devo Max on the ballot paper.

It could all have been so different. If they had pursued a home rule strategy, working constructively with the SNP in 2007 and again in 2011, they could effectively have become the natural political home for the third of Scots who traditionally have been in favour of this option. After the referendum campaign, all the disenchanted Labour voters would potentially have moved in great numbers to the Lib Dems instead of the SNP, and Scotland could now have been heading for home rule under Lib Dem leadership.

They really blew their chance.

The difference between Tory rule in Scotland and SNP rule in England

Lady Thatcher alongside former PMs on the Grand Staircase
Lady Thatcher alongside former PMs on the Grand Staircase by Number 10, on Flickr.
David Torrance seems to have become the latest cheerleader for the (wrong) idea that the largest party must form the government:

[T]he SNP appears to have given no thought to the perceived legitimacy of a nationalist-tinged government in swaths of England, not to forget Wales and Northern Ireland – while it also risks coming across as arrogant: promising to implement “progressive politics” in the rest of the UK, whether it likes it or not, just as Margaret Thatcher “imposed” rightwing policies on Scotland in the 1980s.

Under current SNP logic, the Iron Lady had a perfect right to do so, for she commanded an overall majority within the “Westminster system”. Funnily enough, nationalists did not defend her governments on that basis at the time. Rather, up went the cry of “no mandate”. Where, then, would the English, Welsh and Northern Irish mandate be for the policies of a party that doesn’t even field candidates outside Scotland?

This is total nonsense. The problem with Thatcher’s governments was that they had very little support in Scotland and yet ruled Scotland (in those ancient times before the recreation of the Scottish Parliament, providing the Secretary of State for Scotland was the equivalent of running the Scottish Government). However, even if all the three smaller nations in the UK ganged up together, they’d only have 117 MPs in total (59 Scottish ones, 40 Welsh ones and 18 Northern Irish ones), but a majority in the House of Commons requires 326 seats, so at least 209 English MPs would need to take part, too.

In other words, in the worst case England will be ruled by its second-largest party in a coalition in which at least half the MPs are English. I don’t think Scotland would have found such a situation intolerable at all.

What’s really happening is of course that English politicians have become so used to the fact that Scotland has almost never made a difference to who governed at Westminster that they think it’s undemocratic for the other constituent nations of the UK to exercise real influence.

They should probably have thought of that before they begged us to stay.

Making Scotland a British region

Day 150
Day 150 by Matt Preston, on Flickr.
Effie Deans (a.k.a. Lily of St. Leonards), who is well-known for suggesting last year that Unionists should vote tactically to keep out the SNP, has written a long article about how to defeat the independence movement and the SNP.

It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s the main argument:

There’s only one good argument for an independent Scotland. But it is a very good argument indeed. It can be stated in the following way:

  1. Scotland is a country.
  2. Countries ought to be independent.
  3. Therefore Scotland ought to be independent.


In order to defeat an opponent it is necessary to put forward his best argument and then refute it. The only way to refute an argument is by either refuting the reasoning or the assumptions. […] In order to defeat the SNP we must defeat their assumptions. The initial assumption “Scotland is a country” must not be allowed, for if we do allow it, the rest of the argument follows as a matter of course.


We must attack the SNP at their roots. I have tried to outline how to do this in the past few weeks. First, accept that the UK is one nation, that is indivisible. Therefore, cease treating the parts of the UK as if they were really countries. […] It has turned out to be a long-term historical mistake that in a number of respects the parts of the UK have been treated as if they were independent countries. No other nation state in the world allows its parts to have separate money and separate international football teams. […] Secondly, rule out any further referendums ever. No-one would allow Aberdeenshire a referendum on independence. Well, on the same basis we should say that Aberdeenshire is to Scotland as Scotland is to the UK. Because it is an indivisible part of the whole, there is no right to secede. […] Thirdly, don’t make any sort of deal with those who have only the goal of destroying our country. Don’t work with them even if they pretend to be our friends. They are nothing of the sort. They are the greatest threat to the UK in over 300 years of history. Treat them as such. […] Fourthly, we must find a way to bring about more unity into the UK and promote a feeling of common identity.

Effie Deans is not very explicit here about what exactly will need to happen to stop Scots from perceiving Scotland as a country, but I reckon it will include the following:

  • Abolish Scottish separateness in sports, such as the Scottish national football and rugby teams and the Scottish football leagues.
  • Abolish Scots law and introduce English law in Scotland.
  • Abolish the Scottish education system and introduce the English curriculum, GCSEs and A Levels in Scotland.
  • Force all charities to set up UK-wide bodies (outlaw Scottish charities).
  • Merge the Scottish NHS with the English NHS.
  • Remove all powers from the Scottish Parliament that wouldn’t be granted to an English regional assembly (if these are ever created).

In my opinion, Effie Deans is both right and wrong. She’s right that only by making Scots think of Scotland as a British region (like Yorkshire) would the dream of independence ever die. However, she’s wrong to think that a plan such as this could ever gain widespread support in Scotland. I reckon only a very small part of Scots (perhaps 10%) think of Scotland as a region of the UK, and the rest of us agree that Scotland is a nation within a political union called the United Kingdom — we just disagree whether this union is a good or a bad thing.

Unless I’m completely mistaken, any plan to execute Effie Deans’s plan would cause opinion polls to show at least 80% support for independence within a fortnight, and Scotland would become independent soon afterwards.

Perhaps her plan could have been implemented successfully in the 1980s, when Scottish self-confidence was at a historic low. Not today.

That said, many leading Unionists — both in Scotland and in England — might quietly agree with Effie Deans, and we should watch out for any threats to Scotland’s status as a constituent nation of the UK. They’d probably start with small things and only deal with the highly symbolic areas (such as the education system) after many years.

Finally, I’d like to quote her request that many more Scots should join the SNP:

Some people who voted No in Scotland will object to what I write here. My answer is as follows. If you think that Scotland is a country in the same sense as France is a country, you should join the SNP. If you don’t feel particularly British, you likewise should join the SNP.

I very much agree, but how she can possibly think that’d help the Unionist cause is beyond me.

Could the Lib Dems and the Tories overtake Labour in Scotland?

A map of the predicted result.
A map of the predicted result.
I’ve decided to update my prediction of winnable SNP seats which I wrote two weeks after we lost the referendum. At the time it seemed incredibly optimistic, but since then it’s been overtaken by lots of polls by YouGov and other well-known SNP cheerleaders.

Apart from the much more positive opinion polls (from an SNP point of view), the past months have also seen the publication of Lord Ashcroft’s constituency polls (which found a greater-than-average swing towards the SNP in Labour-held constituencies) and more recently by tactical voting polls.

I’ve put the detailed analysis in separate pages (please click on the constituency names below), but in summary format my findings are as follows:

Constituency 2010 MP 2010 2015 pred. Pred. maj.
Orkney and Shetland Alistair Carmichael LIB LIB 3349
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale David Mundell CON CON 2066
Ross, Skye and Lochaber Charles Kennedy LIB LIB 1575
North East Fife Sir Menzies Campbell LIB LIB 853
Glasgow North East Willie Bain LAB LAB 695
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk Michael Moore LIB CON 392
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Gordon Brown LAB SNP 119
Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill Tom Clarke LAB SNP 479
East Dunbartonshire Jo Swinson LIB SNP 540
East Renfrewshire Jim Murphy LAB SNP 718
Glasgow South West Ian Davidson LAB SNP 1674
Rutherglen and Hamilton West Tom Greatrex LAB SNP 2664
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross John Thurso LIB SNP 2689
Motherwell and Wishaw Frank Roy LAB SNP 2943
Paisley and Renfrewshire South Douglas Alexander LAB SNP 3495
Glasgow North Ann McKechin LAB SNP 3628
Dunfermline and West Fife Thomas Docherty LAB SNP 3850
Glasgow North West John Robertson LAB SNP 3962
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Sir Robert Smith LIB SNP 4164
West Dunbartonshire Gemma Doyle LAB SNP 4169
Inverclyde David Cairns LAB SNP 4181
Glenrothes Lindsay Roy LAB SNP 4290
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Danny Alexander LIB SNP 4549
Glasgow East Margaret Curran LAB SNP 4924
Glasgow Central Anas Sarwar LAB SNP 4947
Airdrie and Shotts Pamela Nash LAB SNP 5762
Paisley and Renfrewshire North James Sheridan LAB SNP 6002
Edinburgh South West Alistair Darling LAB SNP 6149
Edinburgh North and Leith Mark Lazarowicz LAB SNP 6338
Edinburgh West Michael Crockart LIB SNP 6402
Dumfries and Galloway Russell Brown LAB SNP 6509
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East Gregg McClymont LAB SNP 7167
Na h-Eileanan an Iar Angus MacNeil SNP SNP 7207
Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock Sandra Osborne LAB SNP 7285
Glasgow South Tom Harris LAB SNP 7294
Gordon Malcolm Bruce LIB SNP 7508
Edinburgh South Ian Murray LAB SNP 7831
Central Ayrshire Brian Donohoe LAB SNP 7937
Argyll and Bute Alan Reid LIB SNP 8461
East Lothian Fiona O’Donnell LAB SNP 8682
Midlothian David Hamilton LAB SNP 8786
Lanark and Hamilton East Jimmy Hood LAB SNP 9128
Aberdeen North Frank Doran LAB SNP 9742
Aberdeen South Anne Begg LAB SNP 9873
Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore LAB SNP 10022
Kilmarnock and Loudoun Cathy Jamieson LAB SNP 10360
East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow Michael McCann LAB SNP 10586
Dundee West James McGovern LAB SNP 11466
Stirling Anne McGuire LAB SNP 11732
Angus Michael Weir SNP SNP 12301
North Ayrshire and Arran Katy Clark LAB SNP 12397
Linlithgow and East Falkirk Michael Connarty LAB SNP 12964
Livingston Graeme Morrice LAB SNP 13160
Banff and Buchan Eilidh Whiteford SNP SNP 13178
Moray Angus Robertson SNP SNP 15332
Perth and North Perthshire Peter Wishart SNP SNP 15850
Dundee East Stewart Hosie SNP SNP 17278
Falkirk Eric Joyce LAB SNP 17465
Ochil and South Perthshire Gordon Banks LAB SNP 19651

Shockingly, it looks like the LibDems and the Tories might fare slightly better than expected due to the inverse Ashcroft effect (if the swing towards the SNP is greater in Labour-held seats, it must be smaller in other seats) and tactical voting.

If this prediction is correct, the Lib Dems will hold onto three of their seats, the Tories will go from one to two (by winning a Lib Dem seat), Labour will be reduced to one, and the SNP will win the remaining 53 Westminster seats.

The English SNP

For England and King George.
For England and King George. by William, on Flickr.
BBC Scotlandshire’s April Fool’s story about the SNP standing for election in England was very amusing, but it also made me wonder whether it could happen.

Naturally the SNP in its own right would never stand in England (not even in South Berwick or Corby), but the excellent partnership between the SNP and Plaid Cymru could — and should — be extended to England.

Unfortunately, English political parties have tended to belong to the xenophobic right, but now that Nicola Sturgeon is taking part in the leadership debates, the SNP’s political programme will become better known in England, and surely a lot of voters there will be thinking to themselves that they agree with her (and with PC) more than with any of the parties standing in England.

I therefore call on such English voters to create their own English version of the SNP. To ensure that voters don’t mistake it for a UKIP or BNP clone, perhaps the best name for this party would be “England’s Social Democrats” or similar.

The SNP could liaise with the ESD to ensure their aims were compatible, and they could be voting together at Westminster a lot of the time.

The ESD would define itself as a non-violent, non-xenophobic, anti-austerity social democratic party in favour of the creation of an English parliament as a step towards English independence.

Being English rather than Scottish, it would of course not agree with the SNP in every regard, just like Plaid Cymru doesn’t. However, using the SNP’s policies as a blueprint for this new English party would surely be a winning formula.