06 April 2007

On public opinion

The Herald reports that the LibDems have ditched their plan for Scotland introduce road pricing ahead of the rest of the UK. This comes as a BBC poll showed the policy to be unpopular. Rather than trying to convince the public of the merits of their policies, the LibDems have, therefore, decided to ditch the policy. Is there, then, any point in them having any policies at all? If this is their reaction, surely any manifesto they produce is just a waste of paper (but it would be churlish to suggest that most of it will be ditched once Coalition negotiations start)?

The fact is, social and environmental issues are ones where politicians have to try and lead public opinion rather than follow it. I wonder what public opinion was when then Liberal MP introduced his Bill to legalise abortion? Or what it was when homosexuality was decriminalised (and believe me, I'm glad it was)? Or when the death penalty was scrapped? The fact is, it's human nature to want our cheap flights, or our toll-free roads: that is why the Erskine and Skye Bridges are no longer tolled (but not, incidentally, the Forth or Tay - why is this?), and why the people of Edinburgh rejected the Congestion Charging scheme so overwhelmingly. The LibDems opposed that, too, by the way. What did their members in the capital think of the road pricing plan? In any case, a political party's job is to convince the voters of the merits of voting for it and for its policies. It is not its job to fold the moment opposition emerges.

And yet, how strange. In response to an opinion poll, the LibDems have changed their transport policy. But when another opinion poll showed that a majority in favour of a referendum on independence being held (including within their own party), even with the agreement of some anti-Independence voters, the LibDems still said that such a referendum was out of the question. If the LibDems are willing to 'listen to the public' (their words) on one poll, why not on another, and why not give the public a chance to have the final say in a direct vote?

It smacks of hypocrisy.

No comments: