Barely a blink of an eye has passed since we were quietly rejoicing at the creation of the Independent Group (now Change UK) because we thought it would split the unionist vote and make it easier for the SNP to win a first-past-the-post election. As absurd as that seems in retrospect, there were actually sound reasons for believing that was true at the time. Although Change UK's potential electoral appeal was wildly overstated in the media, opinion polls were nevertheless showing that they were attracting a non-trivial share of the vote, and in Scotland it appeared to be coming more from the unionist parties than from the SNP. Initially Labour took the biggest hit - remember how the Tories burst into a significant lead across the UK, and it briefly appeared that Change UK were about to follow in the SDP's footsteps by indirectly delivering a Tory landslide? Yes, that does seem a very long time ago now, which just goes to show that we've lived through several years' worth of twists and turns over the last few weeks. Brexit is severely compressing the political cycle.
The voters that transiently flirted with Change UK seem to be mostly coalescing behind the Liberal Democrats now. That's less optimal for the SNP, because the Lib Dems are much more of a seat-winning threat at a general election than Change UK would have been. But everything is relative - better to see the Lib Dems prosper at a modest level than to have Labour emerge as the Britain-wide party of Remain and enjoy a bandwagon effect that could sweep away the SNP's seats in the central belt. And in any case, there's not much point mourning one missed opportunity to split the unionist vote when another has come along right on cue. As long as the general election takes place before Britain leaves the EU, Nigel Farage's new party looks set to deal a killer blow to Scottish Tory hopes.
It's less clear whether the Brexit Party threat to the Tories would fade away if the election takes place after Brexit, but that's certainly a possibility. Paradoxically, though, any Lib Dem threat to the SNP might also be neutralised by Brexit being delivered, because it's very hard to see how the Lib Dems would adapt to the new environment. Vince Cable has already said that it wouldn't be credible for Britain to apply to rejoin the EU in the foreseeable future, which would effectively leave the party fighting for a softer Brexit - an objective unlikely to capture the public imagination in quite the same way as "B******* to Brexit". The SNP, by contrast, would still be able to speak to the Remain true believers by promising that an independent Scotland will be a full member of the EU.
At the moment, it looks like the Brexit Party pose a much bigger danger to the Scottish Tories than the Lib Dems do to the SNP, so on balance it would probably be better for the SNP if an election takes place before Halloween.
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The break-up of Change UK yesterday was eerily reminiscent of the last days of the SDP in 1987-88. From my vague recollection of something I once read in a book, the fracturing of the SDP was completely unnecessary, because although there was a clear majority in favour of a merger with the Liberals, there was also a clause in the party constitution that would have allowed David Owen to prevent the merger taking place by means of a blocking minority. But he waived his right to do that, because he actually wanted a split. He wanted to be free of the pro-Liberal faction that he was sick to death of dealing with, even though following that course clearly posed an existential threat to his political cause. Change UK seem to have reached the same point - they just couldn't be bothered thrashing out a compromise that nobody would have been happy with but ultimately would have been in the best interests of all concerned.
It seems to be the case that some of the Change UK MPs wanted to throw in their lot with the Lib Dems, some wanted to carry on with their own party, and some wanted to leave behind party politics altogether. The obvious compromise between those three positions would have been to persevere with Change UK as an independent force, but negotiate an electoral pact with the Lib Dems. And I'm not sure it's true that the Lib Dems would no longer have been interested after the European election result, because Change UK would still have brought eleven MPs to the table, including some bigger personalities than the Lib Dems have in their own ranks.
One thing we know for sure now is that Nigel Farage would beat Chuka Umunna in a game of chess. Farage thought several moves ahead and timed the Brexit Party's entry onto the electoral stage to perfection. Change UK's timing couldn't have been worse. They'd probably point out that they didn't see the European elections coming - well, OK, but Farage did, and in any case it was the local elections a few weeks earlier that generated the Lib Dem momentum and snuffed out Change UK's chances of a breakthrough. The split from Labour should either have taken place early enough to allow for participation in the local elections, or it should have been delayed for several months until the elections were safely out of the way. By that point, they could have used their own novelty value to combat the Lib Dem surge.
I of course derive no satisfaction whatever from the fact that the loathsome Chris Leslie and Mike Gapes don't seem to realise that the decision they've just made to soldier on in a rump fringe party means that their parliamentary careers are drawing inexorably to a close.
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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 6 of the fundraiser, and so far £3575 has been raised. That's 42% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.