Monday, May 07, 2007

Deal or No Deal?

I am pretty well disposed to the idea of talking to the SNP. Apart from the obvious disagreement on independence, we do have some similar ideas on policy and could probably form a stable government which would be good for Scotland.

However, having said repeatedly since way before the start of the election that we would not support a referendum on independence, we can't really go back on that now. To do so would be a betrayal of our commitment to the people who voted for us and would make us look like we had no integrity whatsoever. There might be an argument for changing our position if there had been a majority within the Parliament for such a referendum, but there isn't.

Ultimately it is for Alex Salmond to decide whether the most important issue is pursuing a policy that most people don't care about or providing Scotland with stable and responsible government.

On the campaign trail, not one single person raised the issue of a referendum as being of any importance to them. They were more concerned about health, education and crime. The Party had very kindly provided me with lots of facts about why a referendum would not be a good idea and not once did I have to use them. At the major hustings meetings, the subject was not even raised.

The Scotsman poll today shows that a referendum with the SNP's chosen wording would be lost anyway. If Mr Salmond and his colleagues want to show themselves as responsible leaders, they should recognise this, forget the idea for now and get on with the business of governing the country.

16 comments:

Tom Papworth said...

If we're dead set on being in government (and it does seem that Lib Dems have to seize any opportunity available to them) we could always make clear that we'll support and even join an SNP-led government but will not support a referendum vote.

That way, a referendum is dead in the water even if the SNP do form a government.

Caron said...

I don't think there's any doubt that the SNP will form a government, although most likely a minority one.

I don't think the issue of the referendum is a negotiable one for them - they want support on it.

fifeliberal said...

I am of the opinion that the election itself was a referendum on independance and was rejected by two thirds of the scottish electorate. The SNP have a real cheek pushing for it now.

Helpful Suggester said...

"I am pretty well disposed to the idea of talking to the SNP."

Glad to hear that. So why can't Tavish and Nicol sit round a table and talk with them since they have said they will not set any preconditions?

What are they afraid of since it's clear that they won't support a referendum and the SNP are sending out signals that they're prepared to compromise?

Last Thursday wasn't a great result but neither was it a disaster nor as bad as what happened in England.

Going to the backbenches as the fourth party will only signal that the LibDems in Scotland are part of that defeat south of the border and add to the impression of being on a downward spiral. It will also give the Scottish LibDems less of a voice and create the impression of irrelevance.

It seems astonishing that with manifestos sharing 80-90% of similar policies that they don't take up this opportunity to sit down and talk when previously it was done with a Labour party with whom they shared even less in terms of policy.

Unlike the last eight years this is a chance to get through a substantial amount of LibDem policies that couldn't be achieved before.

Such an opportunity would provide even greater examples to help revilatise what is a demoralised party south of the border.

It's astounding that Tavish and Nicol look set to pass this opportunity up.

Scott said...

I thnink Nicol and co have taken the right line. No referendum and no deal. Soime of us are implacably Unionist and after havind sat on platforms refusing to countenance a referendum it would look totally lacking in principle to do a deal. In any case, the best thing for our Party is a spell out of power to have a long hard think about what it means to be a Liberal Party in Scotland today and to rediscover something of our identity, and a meta narrative for being involved in Scottish politics.

Caron said...

I do feel that it would be political suicide for us to take any action which would lead to supporting a referendum on independence. However you package a constitutional convention, the SNP's suggestion would still involve a referendum on independence at the end of it.

The question of whether we should have taken the line we have is one issue, but the fact is we have and we can't go back from it without losing all our credibility. We would be accused of being the Prostitute Party that swaps its principles for ministerial mondeos.

We have feedback that many voted for us because of that line and it would be a betrayal of them to go back on it as well.

The SNP do have the authority to govern, but only by a whisker. They know that there is not a majority in the Parliament for this referendum and they aren't going get it through in the next 4 years.

If they had any sense, they would shelve it for now and build themselves a reputation as strong, capable, responsible and efficient governors. They can re-visit the issue in 2011 and beyond if they are still in power.

Richard Thomson said...

"However you package a constitutional convention, the SNP's suggestion would still involve a referendum on independence at the end of it".

Well, the independence question isn't going to go away just by refusing to ask it. However, I can envisage circumstances where it might be possible to make progress on a shared agenda for greater powers, without an independence referendum appearing in a partnership agreement. That would leave the Lib Dems in the clear, and leave the SNP to square any agreement with its supporters.

Which kind of begs the question of why the Lib Dems are refusing even to talk to the SNP and the Greens? Talks without preconditions, in any language, would suggest that nothing at all, not even any future independence referendum, is on the table at this stage...

Caron said...

I think there is every possibility of a good partnership agreement being negotiated. Even a cursory glance at the two manifestos shows that there is much common ground. However, there's no point in going into negotiations while the big yellow elephant called Referendum is sitting on the table. I guess it's up to the SNP to choose whether proving themselves as a stable and responsible administration or insisting on one of its pet policies which there is no evidence anyone cares about is more important.

Richard Thomson said...

But there's nothing on the table, Caron! No referendum, no nothing at all at this stage!

If the Lib Dem MSPs don't want to work with the SNP, then they should be honest enough to say so up front. Citing a referendum as a reason for keeping out of discussions, which the SNP has now all but conceded is not going to happen, then accusing the SNP of putting dogma ahead of a deal, is simply not credible. Right now, I get the feeling that even if the SNP renounced independence entirely, the colour of Alex Salmond's ties would be enough to get some Lib Dems to oppose discussions :-)

If I'm completely wrong and the SNP is still insisting on a referendum, then the Lib Dems could easily walk away from discussions under no obligation to agree to anything. Could it be that secretly, Nicol Stephen would be happy to enter talks, but certain others (Tavish Scott, Menzies Campbell) are pulling his strings for him?

Caron said...

Or could it be that Alex Salmond would be pragmatic about this and realise that the independence referendum is maybe not for this parliament, but his party won't let him drop it?

I am sure that the only barrier is the matter of the independence referendum - I don't see why the Lib Dems should have to commit political suicide on an issue we don't agree with just to benefit the SNP, much though I want to see a deal between the parties.

Chic Broon said...

Caron said..."Or could it be that Alex Salmond would be pragmatic about this"

He has been. Offer of a question on "more powers" (what powers?); putting the issue to a convention. He has also made no demands on the LibDems to adopt it.

Caron said..."and realise that the independence referendum is maybe not for this parliament"

Maybe he will. But don't they have to sit down and talk about it?

Caron said..."but his party won't let him drop it?"

How will we know unless the SNP and LibDems sit down and talk?

Caron said..."I am sure that the only barrier is the matter of the independence referendum - I don't see why the Lib Dems should have to commit political suicide on an issue we don't agree with just to benefit the SNP,"

Which pre-supposes that the SNP are demanding the LibDems adopt it. But they aren't. Talks with no pre-conditions.

Caron said..."much though I want to see a deal between the parties."

But to deal they have to sit down and talk.

It's all a bit bizzare as the focus on the LibDems has been on a negative proposition - what they oppose - rather than bigging up their positives - what they propose: scrapping council tax, abolishing the graduate endowment, lower business rates, renewable energy.

A greater amount than what is opposed and would make the LibDems look like they are in the (shared) driving seat of progress in Scotland. The council groups in several areas are already grasping that opportunity. Why not the MSPs?

But it all seems to be hung up on one negative proposition about something that is opposed and which the SNP is not making a condition of talks. So why can't they sit down and talk?

But those are only a questions the MSPs can answer and you might be in a better position to get an answer than I.

Caron said...

As I understand it there have been several discussions between the respective leaders. At no point has any option which did not include a referendum on independence ever been offered.

If that changes, then negotiations would start pretty quickly. This is not something which can be fudged - you either have a referendum on independence or you don't. The Liberal Democrats simply can't agree to it because of his daily assertions during the campaign that he wouldn't. The Scottish people would never trust us again if we gave way and they would have a point.

It's perfectly clear that a reasonable deal for both parties could be reached without too much trouble if this issue were not there. The reality of the situation is that it is there, for both and unless it is removed, there's no point in entering into full blown negotiations.

It's wrong to suggest that no talks have taken place, because they have, and this is where we are.

Richard Thomson said...

But Caron, the phone calls have basically been about the Lib Dems saying "renounce a referendum or we won't talk to you", while the SNP have said "why don't we sit down and see what we can agree on".

You can't get away with this argument that the SNP and a referendum are the obstacles, since it's clear to anyone with half a brain that the SNP would agree to drop the referendum as soon as the Lib Dems sat down to talk!

Sad to say, your party leaders have invented a figleaf to cover their reluctance to deal with the SNP. As Tom Gordon writes in today's Sunday Times of the first group meeting of the returned Lib Dem MSPs:

'The decision to rebuff Salmond's overtures to support the SNP in a coalition was swift.

'Amongst those most fiercely opposed to a deal were Tavish Scott , the party's deputy leader, and Mike Rumbles, an influential backbencher. "If Nicol had made a deal with the SNP, EVEN IF THE REFERENDUM WAS OFF THE TABLE [my caps], there was a fear that Tavish and Mike would have walked," said one of those present. "There was a power struggle going on between Nicol, who wanted another coalition, and Tavish, who wanted no deal at all costs.'

Tom Gordon is not a journalist in the habit of making things up. If that's the true state of the Lib Dem MSP group, then they've probably done the SNP a favour by walking away from a deal. At least you know where you are with minority government...

Caron said...

since it's clear to anyone with half a brain that the SNP would agree to drop the referendum as soon as the Lib Dems sat down to talk!

Richard, I think I have more than half a brain, and I would like nothing more than to see negotiations take place, but if you take what you say to its logical conclusion, then why doesn't the SNP just drop the referendum? It's not going to get through the Parliament anyway, and there's no way we are going to agree with it. If we had been offered any glimmer that the referendum might be dropped, I'm sure that we would have set up the negotiating team.

It's very sad that our two parties are separated by an artificial barrier - but it's a pretty fundamental one. The pragmatic thing would be for the SNP to remove the referendum from the coalition negotiations. They can still introduce the bill but the Lib Dems cannot be obliged to support it.

Just as an aside, I shared a train journey with a Nationalist friend of mine the other day - if it had been down to us, I'm sure we could have sorted this out in 5 minutes, but then we're women:-)

Richard Thomson said...

I hope I've never suggested that I thought you had anything less than a full and very good brain, Caron. That's why I keep coming back here :-)

"The pragmatic thing would be for the SNP to remove the referendum from the coalition negotiations. They can still introduce the bill but the Lib Dems cannot be obliged to support it." - I couldn't agree more, and had the negotiations started, then I bet that's exactly the sort of outcome there would have been.

I take your point about formally dropping the referendum in advance. However, I think we both know that this demand was nothing more than a piece of gamesmanship. If the ST article is correct, and I don't see any reason to doubt that it is, then nothing at all, not even a concession of this magnitude, would have seen a deal result.

It's sad, because there's an awful lot the parties could have achieved together. Let's hope there might still be scope for some co-operation between the groups yet, whether in a formal coalition or not.

Caron said...

I don't think we intend to be curmudgeonly and truculent in opposition - and if I saw any signs of that I would be the first in a pretty long queue to try to change things. There are many policies on which we agree - there may be differences on the small print, but these could be talked about - and I can't see that we would oppose them if they were put before Parliament.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails