On 6th March 2015 an unnamed civil servant in the Scotland Office got a phone call from a friend in the French diplomatic service, who told him some bits of things the Scotland Office might find useful: the Scotland Office is the UK government’s Scottish department for matters reserved to Westminster. This was the memo that became Project Smear in the Telegraph on 3rd April, right after the leaders’ debate.
Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat candidate and former MP for Orkney & Shetland: he is the only Scottish Liberal Democrat reckoned likely to hold his seat on 7th May. He is still Secretary of State for Scotland, as he has been since October 2013, as ministers retain their ministerial powers until a new government is formed. He isn’t an MP – he hasn’t been since Parliament was dissolved on Monday 30th March – but he is still the Scotland Office minister.
The LibDems are about to lose three times over on 7th May: first of all, the most optimistic forecast for the LibDems has them losing over half their MPs: the highest estimate for LibDems post election is a maybe of 36, and most likely, in the region of 27 or so. While the LibDems have been trying to tell us for years that propping up a Tory government was really the best thing for them to do, voters would appear not to agree with them.
Secondly, there’s a solid likelihood that the SNP will have more MPs after 7th May than the LibDems: the lowest estimate for the SNP is 26, and the most likely is about 42 or so. It is likely that the LibDems will lose their position as the third party in the UK – that role will be taken by the SNP. This carries with it the privilege of asking two questions each week at PMQ, and various other roles and responsibilities that the LibDems have had for decades and they will lose, and lose to the SNP.
In less than four months, we’ll go to the polls to vote Yes or No to the question:
“Should Scotland be an independent country?”
And today, the campaign period for the referendum officially begins.
But as I pointed out a few weeks ago (and Simon Jenkins pointed out yesterday) the SNP are not offering independence: they want major decisions for Scotland’s governance to be made at Westminster/in London. (It’s all in the White Paper: haven’t you read it?)
Everyone in Scotland is so focussed on the referendum that they’re forgetting the European elections on 22nd May. (And that’s worrying, because low turnout is how parties like UKIP get in.)
Illustrating this forgetfulness about the European elections, last night on Have I Got News For You an English comedian made a joke about “Methadone elections” and Susan Calman took audible offence because she’d forgotten about the EuroElections and thought he meant the independence referendum was methadone: but the English comedian had forgotten about the Scottish referendum – he was making a joke about the methadone of the European Parliament elections compared to the heroin smack of a General Election.
The next General Election for the UK will be on 7th May 2015. In Scotland, we’re all looking at 18th September 2014, but for the Westminster parties, the general election campaigning has already begun.
At the 2010 general election, the results were Conservatives 307, Labour 258, Liberal Democrats 57: the LibDems dashed into a coalition with the Tories, and the hugely unpleasant mess that followed is still miring us up.
It’s fair to say that without the LibDem decision to join the Tory party and keep them in government (despite Tories not having won an election since 1992) – there likely would not have been a majority-SNP government in Holyrood: conceivably, if enough Scots had voted LibDem in 2011, there might not be an independence referendum this year.
You may think it’s a bit premature to dub Dunfermline “the last byelection” when there’s 11 months to go to the independence referendum and 73 MSPs on the wall. (Yes, there are 129 MSPs, but when a Regional MSP falls off the wall, he, she, or it is replaced by the next-senior name on the party list.)
Every time there is a Scottish byelection between now and next September, there will be the same drama. Only more so. And every time, the byelection will be dubbed “the last“, and deep significance found in the results.
The results were: