09 May 2007

The LibDems

Readers might by now have noticed that I'm making my way through the parties. Having tackled the Left, the Independents and the Greens, I'm now on to the Big 4. The problem is, my thoughts are still pretty much half-formed, especially on the Liberal Democrats, today's instalments.

Mainly because I'm still red faced about saying this in January: "the LibDems won't go backwards and the most likely negative outcome will be 17 MSPs." Now, in my defence, I also predicted that Dundee United would beat Falkirk that day, and that prediction went disastrously wrong as well, so this should have been taken with a pinch of salt, but I was far from the only person who believed this (About the LibDems, I mean, not Dundee United), and it was only once opinion polls started showing them with a possible loss in early April that I started to wonder.

And so, a lot of people, particularly the LibDems, find themselves in an unexpected situation: a smaller LibDem group than before the Election. This has hit the Party hard, so it's no surprise that they're taking a step back from Coalition politics. They need time to think about what happened, why it happened, and how they react. There's little they can do about Menzies Campbell's leadership of the Federal party, but could Nicol Stephen be this election's John Swinney: leading a Party that should have been in a position to make gains only to go backwards? And even if he were not under the microscope, doesn't the fact that he personally suffered an 11.2% swing to the SNP in his own constituency, with a majority slashed to just 2,732 make his position far weaker? The LibDems are in a less secure position than they were a month ago, they need to reflect on that and they can't do that, undertake Coalition negotiations and be part of an Executive at the same time.

But this creates further problems: they are confirmed in fourth place. They were a Party in government, with Liberal Democrat ministers on the news. They are now just another Opposition Party, eclipsed by Labour (assuming that Alex Salmond gets the FM post) and even the Tories. Nicol Stephen would (probably) get the third spot at FMQs, which did absolutely nothing for the Greens, SSP and Independents. And in any case, just as the Election watchers did, the FMQ watchers will focus on the battle between Alex Salmond and the Labour Party Leader (note that I have not said Jack McConnell). Where the Greens and even the Tories lost seats but gained influence, the LibDems have lost a seat, and some big hitters too, AND lost influence. They are out of government, and in a weakened part of Opposition. Meanwhile, they used to be the first and only Party that the larger beasts looked to for support. They're still needed, but they have to share the limelight with either the Tories (in the case of support for Labour policies) or the Greens (to support the SNP).

But that's only the first problem. The second is the nature of their new-found isolationism. It seems, well, sniffy. They've said that they won't enter a Coalition with Labour, full stop. They also refuse to talk to the SNP as long as the independence referendum is on the table. The SNP have since shown flexibility, by proposing alternatives, but the LibDems still won't even meet. Now, given their internal issues that are now a factor, you can sympathise with that, but they keep blaming their refusal on the pro-independence stance of the SNP and the Greens, a stance which both of the other two are expressing a willingness to work around. It appears that they've taken their ball home, and that can't be good for the Party's image.

They could turn things around tomorrow by saying, "We've been part of a Coalition for eight years; for the Party's sake and for Scotland's sake, it's time for a new way of conducting relations with other parties. We feel that minority government would stimulate debate and make politics more interesting, it would also leave us free to support an Executive wholeheartedly when we agree with it, and oppose it when we do not." Or something like that. Something positive rather than "We won't even talk to X because of Y." By persisting in the negative approach, they're harming themselves.

If they persist with this sulk, they'll lose even more influence. If they lose influence, they'll lose prominence in the Parliament. If they lose prominence, they'll lose publicity. And if they lose publicity, they will certainly lose votes.


Surreptitious Evil said...

Don't be rude. My brother is a (the?) Dundee United supporter :)


Jeff said...

Great post!

Taking their ball home, sums it up perfectly.

Charlie Kennedy should have taken over as leader months ago. They missed a trick there....