by Tim Farron, President of the Liberal Democrats
Scotland punches massively above its weight in the UK. It has often been punished for having the audacity to be progressive by UK governments that are not – especially in the 80s and 90s – but it has also suffered at the hands of governments that have taken it for granted. Labour’s record from 1997-2010 is a shameful one – their lazy assumption that Scotland would just vote Labour led to Scotland’s interests being ignored.
Scotland has progressive and radical heart, its strong sense of community makes it inclined towards social democracy, but it has a personality that is unmistakeably individualistic, dare I say Liberal. Scotland’s nature is to be Liberal. The job of Liberal Democrats is to connect with Scotland’s Liberalism and to campaign in a way that chimes naturally with the Scottish natural identity.
I’m an Englishman, but I consider myself a northerner and British before I consider myself English, as a Cumbrian MP, we share much of the same media and have incredibly strong economic and cultural ties. I’ve more in common with folks in Galashiels than I do with folks in Guildford for example, and the same can be said of my constituents.
It breaks my heart that Alex Salmond has an agenda to fracture Britain in a way that will make us all poorer. A proud Scottish identity is vital, but a centralising, intolerant nationalism is an anathema to what it is to be Scottish. Salmond is an effective politician, an admirable operator – but already he is showing that his instincts are illiberal, and proving the age old case which is that in opposition nationalists may be radicals and reformers, but in government they become centralist control freaks, with alarming traces of prejudice and reaction.
It’s questionable now whether we can really call the SNP a party of the left any more – nationalists rarely are. For Liberal Democrats, well our identity is in the spotlight too. We are in coalition in Westminster with the Tories and that has had a real impact on how the electorate sees us – almost irrespective of what policies we pursue!
But back in May 2010 we had no choice. The electoral maths meant that there simply were not enough Lib Dem and Labour MPs to form a government, but thanks to Nick’s incredible performances in the leaders debates the Tories absolutely did not get it their own way so instead of having a bunch of frightful Englishmen in the Scottish office, we have our own Mike Moore!
And when it comes to the other opposition in Scotland – well, the Tories had the choice of radical change in their leadership election, and despite the public declaration by Murdo Fraser that they were finished if they didn’t redefine their identity, they picked a candidate with a ‘steady as she goes’ approach and for Scottish Tories that means continued irrelevance. For Labour, their best talent opted to stay in Westminster, their second string got beaten in the May elections, and so on offer now is essentially the Labour 3rd team – not terribly enticing.
But despite some dreadful results for the Scottish Lib Dems in May, there has been a massive silver lining to that dark cloud – it was the election of my friend Willie Rennie, both as a Member of the Scottish Parliament and as the new Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Willie is comfortably the best, most tenacious and most effective opposition politician in Scotland. He’s the right man in the right place at the right time and I am confident that he will help to reinvigorate and rebuild the Party as we face our next electoral tests, starting with the local elections in May.