20 September 2009

Is this the LibDems' 'Bring It On' moment?

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that while a number of prominent Scottish LibDem supporters were broadly in favour of Megrahi's release, the Parliamentary group - with the exception of John Farquhar Munro who ended up falling into line for possibly the first time in his life - were out and out hostile to the decision.

Now, another fissure between the LibDems at Holyrood, and the wider party appears to be opening:

Tavish Scott, in the Legislative Programme Debate on 3 September:

We will not support the Government when the SNP's internal party politics are more important than the country. The referendum is about the SNP. The recession and jobs are about Scotland. We will put Scotland before the SNP.

Margaret Smith, in the same debate:

The Government's programme should have been a programme to re-energise Scotland's economy. Instead, in the face of continued recession, our nationalist Government puts party before country and focuses on a doomed referendum bill. Alex Salmond says that his Government was elected with a popular mandate for a referendum. The Opposition parties, which represent the majority of seats in this Parliament, stood on manifestos that made clear our opposition to that referendum, so the majority of representatives in Scotland's Parliament were elected on a popular mandate of Opposition to a referendum. The issue is quite simple.

Mike Rumbles, the same debate:

The SNP knows that it will lose a vote on the referendum. After all, it has done so already. Less than six months ago, our Parliament voted by a clear majority for an amendment that I lodged calling on the Scottish Government to concentrate its efforts on economic recovery and abandon its divisive plans for a Referendum Bill for the remainder of its term of office.

It is a matter of sincere regret and disappointment that the minority SNP Administration has, once again, chosen to disregard the clear will of Parliament.

Iain Smith, later that day:

There was more support in the Parliament for a local income tax and abolishing the council tax than there is for a referendum. Parliament has already expressed its opposition to a referendum, so the Government should stop wasting its time and the time of its officials, the Parliament and its committees and civic Scotland and ditch now a bill that has no chance of being passed.

But today at the LibDem Conference, we have both George Lyon MEP and Kevin Lang, the LibDem PPC in Edinburgh North & Leith, arguing that it's time to take on the SNP and have the referendum. Further, reaction to them appears to be broadly positive.

So on the issue of the Constitution, which has been a theme of Scottish politics since, well, 1603 when you think about it, the LibDems at Holyrood, and more importantly the Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, seem to be detached from the wider party.

This, like Labour's Week of Indecision, will come back to haunt the LibDems. I look forward to their reaction when the Referendum Bill is published.

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