Monday, May 17, 2021

A liberal helping of failure

Alba finished in sixth place in seven of the eight electoral regions - the exception being South Scotland, where they finished seventh behind George Galloway's All for Unity.  However, there were two regions, Central Scotland and Glasgow, where they were within a tiny fraction of outpolling the Liberal Democrats and finishing fifth - a reminder that other parties also have their own difficult questions to ponder as they look to the future.  Andrew Page of A Scottish Liberal has offered a characteristically no-holds-barred analysis of the Lib Dems' shortcomings in this election, concluding that they've alienated potential pro-independence supporters by being too tribally unionist, and that they've put too much emphasis on a small number of constituency seats and not enough on the regional list.

If I was reading that from the perspective of a Lib Dem loyalist, I'm pretty sure I'd say that the elephant in the room is Westminster elections.  If the Lib Dems take a more ecumenical approach on the constitution in order to broaden their support, they'll lose tactical unionist votes in Edinburgh West, North-East Fife, and Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross, and those seats could essentially become unwinnable - with no regional list to compensate them in Westminster votes.  But if that is the main reason for the current strategy, it shows that they've become imprisoned by fear in the same way that the SNP were in the aftermath of the 2017 election - they're losing sight of the fact that the prize they could gain by being more radical is more important than what they stand to lose along the way.  In the long run, what do the Lib Dems achieve by perpetuating their own ghettoisation in a handful of locations?  Jo Grimond famously said in the 1950s that the Liberals needed to "get on or get out" - at the moment they seem resolutely determined to do neither.

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I finished my column for next month's iScot magazine earlier today, so now may be a good moment to gently point you in the direction of various subscription options.  Remember that it's available both online and in print.  A yearly digital subscription costs less than £30, although I know many people really look forward to receiving a print edition in the post every month.


  1. My feeling is the Scottish Lib Dem’s would be best served retreating from the ambition of being a national party and to find accommodation with the other Unionist parties in their small handful of areas of strength - seeking to find an accord with the Conservatives, and (less realistically) Labour to give them a free run. They could go down the root of Mid-century National Liberalism and secure a continued existence as a semi-independent faction within the Scottish Conservative-led Unionism.

  2. It's not something that I think or care much about but you're probably, broadly correct Thomas S. It's hard to see today's Lib Dems as any more than a residue that has become a variant of Toryism. A pointless appendage.

  3. There is room in Scotland for a party dedicated to improving the economy and the actions of all levels of government. The SNP, Labour and now ALBA are all social Democratic parties, insensitive to these concerns. The natural party to solve these problems the LibDems are denied the ability to find Scottish solutions to Scottish problems by there incorporation within a larger UK party. Like the Free Democrats in Germany they could be the natural party of coalition for the larger parties. All they need do is separate, abandon their undemocratic opposition to independence and concentrate on making devolution work.

  4. They're all basically social democratic parties. Labour and the Liberal Democrats too and to an extent even the Scottish Tories put forwards arguably socialist policies we know the UK Tories would never roll with.

    Take the independence question out of the equation and there isn't much Parliament disagrees about. This is why all parties struggle to come up with distinctive policies - exemplified by Labour putting "covid recovery" front and center. That got them nowhere because, is any party going to oppose that? No, they were all banging on about different ways of doing it.

    Acts have often been passed nearly unanimously or with just one or two dissenting parties. The majority of Scots are apparently fine with this and the minority don't care enough to vote for radically different parties, whether they be religious, fascists, ultra-conservatives, communists, libertarians... New centrists don't have any space to triangulate between the established parties due to their overlaps.

    If you're not a social democrat, I can see how this would be difficult to stomach. It probably won't change much after independence either, the whole point of independence is to guarantee that Scots get the government and parliament we vote for.