The Scottish Lib Dems line up to attack...

Having been told on Twitter that it was clear that I “really hate the Lib Dems” I did wonder for a second if this post was merited.  But then I remembered a quote from my favourite TV show:  “if they’re shooting at you, you must be doing something right.”  So I decided I’d write it anyway.

I don’t hate the Lib Dems.  Well, I don’t hate the Lib Dems any more than I hate other political parties.  What I can’t stand is the way political parties will make a political stand about something on Monday, then reverse their stance by Friday and criticise those who still hold the position they originally held.  Now, there is something to be said for the Mario Cuomo quote that “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

But even so, this is a great example of a complete 180.

In May, then-leader Tavish Scott did his best to scaremonger on the eve of the Scottish Parliament election, telling voters that:

“A vote for the SNP is a vote for independence and a five-year political campaign for separatism. That five-year campaign would start on Friday.”

He was so serious, he even used the I-word (which I understand those who support the Union aren’t supposed to say any more – apparently there was a memo).  Remember, this was on May 4th – the day before the election.  So, according to the Lib Dems then, if we all voted for the SNP the following day, it was an indication of our support for the SNP.

Fast forward seven months – to December 5th.  New leader Willie Rennie is responding to a poll which said that 65% of Scots would support independence (sorry, separation/divorce) if they would be £500 better off.  He said:

“This poll will be a short, sharp wake-up call for people across Scotland who voted for the SNP without believing in its core principle.”

So, in contrast to the Lib Dem message in May, which was “if you vote SNP we’ll take it that you support independence, since I’m telling you that a vote for the SNP is a vote for independence” the message is now “well, we know you voted SNP in May, but despite us telling you that it was a vote for independence, we know that it wasn’t really a vote for independence, it was really just a vote for the SNP.  Oh, and by the way, call it separation instead…”

Clearly, we’re coming to panto season.  Tavish says, “it’s a vote for independence”.  Willie says, “oh not it isn’t”.  You couldn’t script it.  Except you kind of could, and we’re likely to see more of it as the referendum approaches.

Look – of course I know that people primarily voted for an SNP Scottish Government in May for reasons other than independence.  I’ve read the data.  I even went to the seminar on the topic by Prof Mitchell, Dr Carman and Dr Johns.  I get that the Lib Dems are now trying to appeal to those who voted for the SNP in May but who don’t support independence.  My thing is simply that people would have much more truck with political parties who aren’t willing to sell their granny in order to win an election.  The electorate can see right through it – which is probably why people ignored Tavish Scott and voted SNP anyway.

I don’t really hate the Lib Dems.  I’m a classical liberal at heart (though there are, I suspect, few of them in the Scottish Lib Dems) and I think Scotland needs a liberal party.  I’m trying to be constructive here – don’t take the electorate for mugs.  They knew in May, as they know now, that a vote for the SNP wasn’t equated with a vote for independence, just as they know that voting for a party in the Scottish Parliament is very different to voting for one at Westminster.  The Scottish electorate (and you can ask the guys at the Scottish Election Study) has become incredibly sophisticated.  They won’t fall for the old scare tactics.  They’ll judge the referendum question on its merits.

So here’s my thing.  Pick a message – and stick with it.  Because if you don’t, annoying folk like me will point out your inconsistencies.  And the electorate will notice.