Ever since May 2007, one of the strangest aspects of Scottish politics has been the poisonous hostility of the Scottish Liberal Democrats to the SNP. The parties sit very close to each other on the political spectrum, and the SNP are sympathetic to some key Lib Dem policies – most obviously a local income tax – which the Lib Dems stood no chance of implementing in coalition with anyone but the nationalists.
(The Lib Dems are also still officially a party of federalism, committed to far stronger devolution than Labour or the Tories.)
Yet a succession of leaders have treated the SNP as little short of pure evil. Nicol Stephen, Tavish Scott (especially) and now Willie Rennie appear to regard Alex Salmond’s party with undisguised hatred, for no immediately obvious reason, and the idea of any sort of co-operation on any issue about as unthinkable as Barack Obama announcing a treaty of friendship with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In this site’s view, that approach was at least as responsible for the Scottish Lib Dems’ humiliation in 2011 as the UK party’s Westminster coalition with the Conservatives. Most people had expected the Lib Dems to form a coalition with the SNP in 2007, and when they refused we suspect that middle-ground Scottish voters no longer saw the party as serving any sort of practical purpose.
But the reduction of the Scottish Lib Dems to a tiny, embarrassing rump of just five MSPs, without a single constituency on the entire Scottish mainland, has given them a useful role in the service of the anti-independence campaign: that of cannon fodder.
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