It’s a well-known fact that Scottish Labour MPs played a crucial part in imposing tuition fees on English students, feeling safe in the knowledge that their own constituents wouldn’t be affected directly.
Many voters did notice, however, and it surely played a part in the downfall of Scottish Labour.
So I was a bit surprised when I read the following in a long article in The Guardian called “The Clegg Catastrophe“:
Many senior figures […] warned that supporting a rise in tuition fees would be disastrous. […] Danny Alexander, who had taken over from Laws as chief secretary to the Treasury, insisted the party should go along with the rise in tuition fees. Alexander, who participated – alongside Clegg, Cameron, and Osborne – in the “quad” meetings where coalition policy was hammered out, was less interested in the politics of the issue than the economic impact; he believed it was a necessary step to reduce the deficit. Far from being abolished over six years, as the Lib Dem manifesto had promised, fees were to treble over two years. […]
In December, on the eve of the Commons vote to raise fees, Martin Shapland, the chairman of Liberal Youth, went to see the chief whip Alistair Carmichael to make a final attempt to persuade the party to change course. “I told him the damage was going to be permanent and he disagreed,” Shapland said.
It would appear the Scottish Lib Dems repeated the errors made a few years earlier by Labour: They assumed they were safe because Scottish students wouldn’t have to pay to attend university (thanks to the SNP), and so they were much keener to toe the party line and treble the fees than their English colleagues.
Were they really too naïve to understand that the consequent lack of trust in the Liberal Democrats would affect them, too?
It’s odd how Unionist politicians often are much worse at understanding the dynamics of post-devolution politics than the Nationalists.