The BBC’s Scottish political editor Brian Taylor has some intriguing comments about the Lib Dem response to the Scottish Executive’s National Conversation.
They argue that it is significant that the SNP are now canvassing constitutional options short of independence.
They say further that this takes the SNP onto LibDem territory – strengthening devolution within the UK.
They say all parties can talk around this objective.
Being a student of subtle politics, I instantly wondered whether
this divergent response signalled a willingness for the Lib Dems to
talk to the SNP about coalition at Holyrood.
This, I was told, was an issue for the SNP, as the incumbent
Executive. Which certainly isn’t a Yes. But it isn’t exactly a blunt No
either. (Blether with Brian)
There must be more to this than meets the eye, because the reality is Salmond was prepared to make concessions to the Lib Dems from the beginning.
A senior SNP source said Mr Salmond had made it clear to Mr Stephen
that a number of options could be put on the table, but only if the Lib
Dems agreed to talk about the issues.
These would include: handing over the entire referendum issue to a
new constitutional convention and putting it on hold for two years,
allowing the Executive to work on other policies before dividing over
the referendum in 2009 or 2010. (Scotsman, 7 May)
So what’s changed? Perhaps it has something do with the Lib Dems poor poll showings in recent months. One Yougov poll last month had the Lib Dems at 4 per cent in Scotland, a quarter of its vote at the May assembly election. That may be something of an outlier, but more recent polls still show a serious decline.
[The poll findings will] be seen as an argument against the
trenchant opposition to any coalition deal with the SNP as advocated by
Tavish Scott, Mr Stephen’s Nat-hating deputy, in the immediate
aftermath of the election.
This is certainly how
many in the Nat leadership are seeking to portray the situation and it
will not surprise anyone to learn that the Nats were keen last night to
highlight the Lib Dems’ poor poll showing.
have not given up completely on a coalition deal with the Lib Dems and
by pointing out to them the error – as the Nats would put it – of Mr
Scott’s way, there are still some at the top of the SNP who hope to yet
persuade Lib Dem MSPs to think again about some form of partnership. (Telegraph, 2 August)
The SNP are clearly more flexible over the referendum issue than Labour are over fiscal autonomy. A coalition would allow the Lib Dems to pursue their distinct federalist vision, whereas at the moment they are in danger of becoming simply a redundant third unionist party.
It would also differentiate the Lib Dems from both Labour and the Tories at Westminster, and draw a line under Menzies Campbell’s disastrous flirtation with Gordon Brown.