Alex Massie

A Liberal Red Herring

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James reports - and since it's James doing the reporting there's no reason to doubt him - that some of the strongest opposition to doing a deal with the Tories came from Scottish Lib Dem MPs. Apparently the poor lambs think they could be wiped out if they were tarred with the Tory brush.

I assume that they are fretting about the Holyrood elections next year, not the next Westminster election (though of course, all the jockeying and manoevering must be judged in the light of its potential impact on that contest). Because let's have a look at their Scottish seats:

Gordon: LD 36, SNP 22, Labour 20

Aberdeenshire West: LD 38, Con 30, SNP 15

Caithness: LD 41, Labif  24, SNP 19

Inverness: LD 40, Lab 22, SNP 18

Ross, Skye & Lochaber: LD 52, Lab 15, SNP 15

Argyll & Bute: LD 31, Con 24, Lab 22

Dunbartonshire East: LD 38, Lab 34, Con 15

North-East Fife: LD 44, Con 21, Lab 17

Edinburgh West: LD 35, Lab 27, Con 23

Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk: LD 45, Con 33, Lab 10.

Orkney & Shetland: LD 62, Lab 10, SNP 10, Con 10.

So, yes, Jo Swinson in Dunbarton, Michael Crockart in Ediburgh West and Alan Reid in Argyll could be vulnerable if a deal were done with the Tories. But Reid might be even more vulnerable if the Liberals shacked-up with Labour while Gordon, Aberdeenshire West and my own constituency of Roxburgh, Berwiskshire and Selkirk could all be at risk if the party did a deal with Labour.

These are nice, rural seats. There's no desire to see Labour back in power here and if the Liberals go with Labour they could easily more trouble in the countryside than they might avoid in the cities if they go with Labour. Easily? Nay, will.

What might be said is that future Lib Dem targets such as Edinburgh South and Edinburgh North are urban, not rural and that an association with the Tories might prevent them from winning seats they should have won this year. But, again, that just goes to show how much these negotiations are as much about the next election as they are about what happens next month.

Nevertheless, while I don't blame him for looking out for what he perceives to be his party's interest, my impression is that Nick Clegg has blundered badly today.

Then again, while democracy is more-or-less fine for a country it is a rotten, stupid way to run a political party. Especially, as we see, in situations such as these. It hands disproportionate power to the dimmest people in the room without there being enough people present for their daftness to be compensated for and overwhelmed by a degree of sense.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.