21 January 2007

Flouncing into irrelevance?

According to today's Scotland on Sunday, Tavish Scott, the LibDems' Deputy Leader and Nicol Stephen's campaign manager has ruled out a LibDem Coalition with the SNP, saying that 'if I wanted to put a separatist party into power I would be a Nationalist.' Well, it's nice to know that Tavish Scott's own hang-ups now determine Liberal Democrat policy, and that those hang-ups will stop a party from leading a government even if the SNP are the largest group in terms of votes and seats after the Election. Some Liberals! Some Democrats!

Anyway, leaving aside any implications for the LibDems in terms of the Trades Descriptions Act, let's take a look at LibDem positions on the post-May outcome. We've heard, ad nauseam, Nicol Stephen claiming that the LibDems will be the largest party and he'll be First Minister. That contrasts with his refusal to vote for McConnell as First Minister or to support any Labour Ministerial nominations if the current FM tries to form a minority Executive. The fact that Stephen got dragged into this argument is a giveaway as to the actual expectations of the party: that far from having a shot at Bute House, the LibDems will still be a junior partner (or in Opposition), and the highest political office Stephen can hope for is his current post of Deputy FM.

This position is bolstered by Scott, who has piped up to announce that they oppose the SNP on principle and won't have anything to do with them. Again, a senior Party figure talking about them supporting (or not supporting) a larger Party, rather than leading a government themselves.

And yet, can we believe what's being said? No. I think this is an attempt to play hardball, to extract the best possible deal (from a LibDem perspective) from either Party. The problem is, there's the election beforehand, and they now look like the Party who will prop up another Party. "Vote for us, get someone else, but we don't know who yet."

And even so, if they have to talk in terms of themselves as junior partner, why are they focussing on why they won't support Party X? All they're doing is antagonising the two larger parties, who themselves will play hardball come May. So what's going to happen is there will be negotiations between the LibDems and Labour and/or the SNP, but that they'll be more acrimonious. Either that, or the larger parties might find a way to bypass the LibDems completely.

If that happens, the LibDems will lose everything, and they'll fade into the irrelevance that the Tories currently find themselves in. And while the Tories ended up in that state due to the actions of the UK Tory government, which was perceived at best as English and at worst as anti-Scottish, the LibDems will bring it on themselves, by taking the huff now.

And if it doesn't happen, the parties that don't get incolved in government will go back over all these LibDem pronouncements now, and accuse the LibDems of being willing to talk a good game, but rolling over for a Ministerial car.

One way or another, the LibDems are playing a stupid game in the long-term. The best thing they can do is talk about anything except who they'll support. All they ever speak about is the make-up of the next Executive, why don't they tell us what they'd want to do if they were a part of it?

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