Alistair Carmichael’s battle to remain an MP is turning into a debate about whether it's acceptable to lie in public office. The SNP are keen to talk the up the notion that Carmichael lied (and got caught) and therefore has to go. On the Today programme, his SNP opponent in Orkney and Shetland Danus Skene focused what Carmichael said when the memo was leaked vs. what has become apparent during the investigation:
‘The issue is not the offence but the cover-up, he did actually lie about this, by claiming at the beginning of April that he didn’t know about this memo until the journalist approached him about this … there is a lie here and that’s the difference between a slightly juvenile mistake.’
The former deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Malcolm Bruce lead the rebuttal on behalf of Carmichael. He blamed the SNP for the continuing furor, saying that ‘the nationalists are in full hue and cry':
‘They have managed to win 56 out of 59 sets in Scotland on just about half the vote. Scotland is a divide and bruised country at the moment — with just one Liberal Democrat, one Conservative and one Labour. The SNP want to extinguish all opposition in Scotland. That’s their objective and they will stop at nothing to do it.’
Bruce also suggested that his misconduct as Scotland Secretary is unrelated to his role as an MP:
‘His misconducted himself as a minister. He has accepted the consequences of that as a minister. That does not prejudge his capacity to be a first class MP for the people of Orkney and Shetland. ‘
And bizarrely, Bruce appeared to suggest that the main point of contention (that Carmichael lied) is something that happens every day and is therefore acceptable:
'My point is that if you’re suggesting that every MP who has never quite told the truth or indeed told a brazen lie, including ministers and including Cabinet ministers, including Prime Ministers, we’d clear out the House of Commons very fast I would suggest.'
When pressed by Mishal Husain if he was suggesting that lying in public life is widespread, Bruce said 'no, well yes. Lots of people have told lies and you know what to be perfectly true.'
Although bending the truth is an everyday part of politics, it’s not the strongest defence for a party on the back foot. Carmichael’s local branch are meeting soon to discuss the matter further, but its clear that the Liberal Democrats are going to fight hard to keep him in place. At this point, it would seem that only further revelations about his misconduct would tip the momentum in the SNP’s favour. But the Nats should remember that no politicians are in a particularly strong position when it comes to telling the truth. Just remember the independence referendum.