Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blaming the interviewer for Tavish Scott's Newsnight meltdown won't wash

I've just caught up with Caron Lindsay's defence of Tavish Scott's now-infamous performance on Newsnight Scotland earlier in the week. She broadly blames the meltdown on Gordon Brewer's impertinent questions (© Peter Cook). But, to put it mildly, a few points simply aren't stacking up -

"We can't pretend that the UK coalition doesn't exist - and nor do we want to, to be honest. It ain't perfect, but at least we're delivering Lib Dem policies..."

Which is fine, but if you want to credibly share the credit for the supposedly good things the coalition have done, you have to do one of two things in relation to the somewhat less good things they've also done - either a) back them up and take the flak for them, or b) condemn your southern colleagues for the mistakes they've made. What you can't reasonably do is say "if you like things the London Lib Dems have done, ask me and I'll tell you all about it, but if you don't like things they've done, for heaven's sake go and ask them - nothing to do with me, guv".

Caron goes on -

"Nor is he a member of the UK Parliament and as such is not responsible for the actions of our Scottish MPs and how they might have voted on tuition fees."

Well, I think he kind of is responsible for it when one of those Scottish MPs (Jo Swinson) is his own deputy as party leader, and when every single one of them was elected on the "Scottish Liberal Democrat" ticket last year. If Caron doesn't want the Scottish Lib Dem chief to be held to account for these people's actions, perhaps instead of moaning about an interviewer asking perfectly logical questions she should press for future Lib Dem candidates in Scottish Westminster contests to stand on a "British Liberal Democrat" label instead? Indeed, in relation to the Higher Education issue it would be more logical for them to go the whole hog and stand on an "English Liberal Democrat" label, given that Swinson, Bruce, Alexander and Moore voted through higher tuition fees for English students alone.

"One other low point was Brewer's line of questioning on a press release our George Lyon had put out attacking Labour for shifting position on closure of Accident and Emergency Units at Monklands and Ayr. What George was doing was rightly to point out the opportunism of the Labour party bending over backwards to be on the same page as the SNP in this election. Yes, Liberal Democrats were in the Government which attempted to close those units, but doing so was a Labour initiative, when Andy Kerr, Labour's current finance spokesman, was health minister."

Brewer was in fact making a very straightforward point - that Lyon was being hypocritical in criticising Labour for making a U-turn and supporting an SNP policy when the U-turn the Lib Dems have made on the same topic is identical. Literally identical. They supported the A&E closures in government (it doesn't matter if it wasn't their original idea because it couldn't have gone through without their backing) and now they support the SNP's popular decision to keep those departments open. That fact is absolutely irrefutable, which is why Tavish looked so foolish in trying to deny it, and indeed initially pretending that he didn't understand the question. He'd have been far better off simply distancing himself from Lyon's view.


  1. Excellent post James.

    Everyone is entitled to be a little biased when reviewing how their own party leader comes across, but I read Caron's post this morning with growing incredulity.

    Your analysis is just perfect.

    I was amused to read that she felt that Brewer might have the same level of responsibility in the BBC that Tavish, as a senior party leader might be expected to have in the LibDems.

    The guy simply did badly. From what I can see he is a nice enough bloke, and probably relatively sincere in his beliefs, but he is no national party leader.

    As with Iain Gray, he has been promoted well above his capabilities. I see Tavish as an environment spokesman on Shetland Island's Council, and Gray as the housing convenor in the central belt.

    It speaks volumes for the disdain that the unionist parties feel for Scotland that they put forward such weak candidates for first minister.

  2. Loving the attention you are giving me at the moment:0).

    Brewer behaved like a bully and his aggressive style of interviewing was appalling and entirely off-putting. I have a hunch that he'll go easier on your guy, though. Let's wait and see.

    Don't you think, though, that out of a 19 minute interview, to give less than 6 minutes to the policies being advocated by that party in this election was simply a disservice to the viewer?

    Look at Brian Taylor and Laura Kuenssberg. They often get much more clarity out of people. They may have a nice manner, but they are incisive and clever. Their results are much better than Brewer's.

    You don't really understand a party with a federal structure, do you? Put simply, Tavish can't tell Nick what to do and Nick can't tell Tavish what to do. Nick leads his parliamentary group and Tavish leads his parliamentary group.

    As for the issue with the West Lothian question, we as a party have taken the view that we don't want to have 2 classes of MPs. Who votes on what in Westminster needs to be determined by a wider constitutional debate and settlement.

    I hope one day we will have a proper federal structure in the UK and then all MPs will only vote on things which affect the whole of the UK and Northern Ireland.

  3. I couldn't believe how poor Tavish Scott was.

    He admitted the Lib Dems couldn't leave the coalition as it would lead to another general election where they would be wiped out.

    HE admitted that he was part of the goverment that wanted to shut Monklands and supported that decision at that time, but that the SNP were correct to save it.

    He admitted that he didn't want free prescription charges but wouldn't change it.

    He admitted that the Lib Dems had criticised Labour for copying SNP policy and handed Gordon Brewer the easiest tap in ever seen in a political interview by then conceding that the Lib Dems had come around to copying at least 3 other major SNP initiatives...

    This election as far as I can see will come down to those who can't bring themselves not to vote Labour, those who will vote SNP and those who will refuse to refuse to vote. The Tories will get some of those who've always voted Tory and see no reason to change. The Lib Dems might lose a few deposits at this rate though, which is a damn shame as they seem such decent types - maybe just not cut out for politics.

  4. Federal. Lovely word. What does it mean?

    It means that the regional units of a government, party, or organisation have their rights protected in a constitution or other founding document. It doesn't meant that the regional units are powerful or that they are in any way separate organisations with decision making powers beyond their federally circumscribed powers.

    In the Lib-Dems case it means that the Scottish section of the Lib-Dems have the right to do anything they like as long as it doesn't have an impact on any UK policy in which case the UK party over-rules them as per the constitution.

    Tavish might be willing to be flexible on an independence referendum in a future coalition in Holyrood but as it will have an impact well beyond Scotland's borders across the entire UK I can't see him being capable of making the decision without permission from his boss Clegg. When it's a UK matter when Nick says jump Tavish says how high?

    As to a federal structure in the UK I've never been able to pin the Lib-Dems down on what geographic regions they want to create with federal powers, Scotland, Wales, NI and English regions or just Scotland, Wales, NI and England and I've never been able to pin down what powers they want to give to each region.

    They've only had 23 years to come up with a solution.

  5. "You don't really understand a party with a federal structure, do you? Put simply, Tavish can't tell Nick what to do and Nick can't tell Tavish what to do."

    But he seemingly can tell Tavish Scott's deputy as Scottish Lib Dem leader precisely what to do - indeed Clegg can get the whips to take disciplinary action against any Westminster MP elected on a Scottish Lib Dem ticket if they don't vote the way he wants on an exclusively English issue. Are you quite sure that it's me who doesn't understand the concept of federalism, or is it the federal UK party leader and the enforcers in his command?

    As for your explanation about not having two classes of MP, that's fine as an argument, but its crebibility rests on you dropping the pretence that the federal principle is being consistently applied within your party. You simply can't have it both ways - Tavish Scott cannot claim that the Scottish Lib Dems aren't accountable for higher tuition fees for English students when his own deputy as party leader helped to vote them through at Westminster.

    As for Gordon Brewer, I've got no reason to expect on past form that he'll go easier on Salmond, and who knows, I may even end up thinking that some of his questions are unfair. I do anticipate that Salmond will be better at handling them, though. Time will tell.

  6. "He admitted the Lib Dems couldn't leave the coalition as it would lead to another general election where they would be wiped out."

    Jim, what I found equally bizarre is that he then claimed to know for certain that the Tories would go on to win any such general election. Where's he getting that from? The Tories are several points behind in all the GB-wide polls that I've seen.

  7. I don't think he went any easier on Nicola last night. He tried the usual tactic of not listening or letting her answer but she handled it like a politician should and she is not even the party leader...I wonder how Mike Rumbles would have done?