Alex Massie

Answering The Lib Dems’ Scottish Question

Text settings
Comments

Pete mentions Tim Montgomerie's suggestion that a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition at Holyrood could be the most likely result at next year's Holyrood elections. As Tim puts it:

One thing I've worried about for sometime is the implications for the Coalition of bad results for the LibDems in next year's Scottish elections but it is perfectly possible that Labour - like in 1999 and 2003 - will go into another Holyrood coalition with the LibDems. This double coalition deal could be an important tool for Clegg to keep his Left happy and for the new Labour leader to open the door to a future LibLab deal at Westminster.

Well, anything is possible but I'm not sure how probable this is. In the first place, the assumption that the Lib Dems will be hammered at the ballot box is itself questionable. They currently have 16 MSPs, 11 elected by first-past-the-post and five from the regional lists. Most of those 11 seats are rural constituencies that dislike Labour and are suspicious of west of Scotland rule. Voters could certainly abandon the Lib Dems but in most cases the beneficiaries would be either the Tories or the SNP - against whom people will also be casting protest ballots. In neither circumstance is it logical for even disgruntled Lib Dem voters to either stay home or support an alternative candidate. (This doesn't mean it can't happen of course.) And anyway, even if they lose a handful of FPTP seats the system is rigged in such a fashion as to ensure that they'll pick up a couple of additional list seats, cushioning the blow of losing some constituencies.

Secondly, I'd bet that Labour, having seen the SNP survive comfortably, will prefer to run* a minority ministry in Edinburgh. They didn't particularly enjoy cohabiting with the Liberals last time and, anyway, are sufficiently scunnered by the Lib Dems that they're not likely to issue an invitation to government to Tavish Scott's anonymous band.

It would be a strange invitation too, since the next Scottish government's defining characteristic is likely to be its opposition to Westminster. That is, the campaign will be a depressing auction between Labour and the SNP who will compete to promise greater levels of heroic resistance to evil London. It will not be an elevating campaign.

But this also means, in effect, that the Lib Dems would, were they to return to government, be in blood-sworn opposition to their own party leadership at Westminster. This would be interesting, dangerous and demand some impressive mental gymnastics. Perhaps it could be done but I don't fancy that the Lib Dems are supple enough for the job.

Still, Tavish Scott's suggestion that David Cameron doesn't spend much time thinking about Scotland is evidently, and despite the standard Tory denials, true. That probably won't help the Lib Dems next year but in truth voters are spoilt for choice since there will be no fewer than three parties on the ballot against whom one could cast protest ballots. That being so, it would be unkind to single out the poor Liberal Democrats for special levels of opprobrium.

*Assuming, as seems likely, they end up as the largest party.

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.

Comments