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.
The memo attack on Nicola Sturgeon, a day after she had been lauded at the leaders’ debates, was certainly an attempt by the Daily Telegraph to discredit her. If the Telegraph employees who contacted Labour and the LibDems for comment were subtle enough, it was also an attempt to discredit those two parties.
The Head of Content (as Peter Oborne noted, the Telegraph no longer has an editor) may have been instructed by David and Frederick Barclay to win the general election for the Conservatives: and it is a matter of simple Parliamentary arithmetic to see that if the polls hold good, providing Labour and the SNP are willing to vote together against the Tories, the Tories cannot form a government.
Scottish Labour had a night to howl about this: between the first tweet from Simon Johnson at the Daily Telegraph at 9:42pm, to a final tweet by Scottish Labour at 7:55am on Saturday 4th April, the Scottish Labour twitter account either tweeted or retweeted 22 tweets, including one apiece from Kezia Dugdale and Jim Murphy, and two from Scottish Labour candidates, Margaret Curran and Douglas Alexander. (If Mhairi Black, the SNP candidate for Paisley, unseats Douglas Alexander, she will be the youngest MP ever to be elected, aged 20.)
Nicola Sturgeon is – as we know in Scotland – an experienced, able politician, with ten years experience as the leader of the Opposition, as the Deputy First Minister, and now as the First Minister, in Holyrood.
A Yougov panel of undecided voters failed to recognise Nicola Sturgeon at all when shown her photo in advance of the leaders’ debate on 2nd April: but after the leaders’ debate, Sturgeon was topping UK-wide polls, her results comparable to those for Miliband and Cameron.
Nicola Sturgeon spoke as older voters will remember Labour politicians once speaking – of an economy that should support the people, against people being ground up by austerity to “support the economy”, of concern for immigrants and asylum seekers as human beings. Ed Miliband and David Cameron both looked scripted: Miliband constantly turned to speak to “you at home”, not to the audience or to his six fellow debaters: Cameron seemed to have a checklist of things he’d been told to repeat when he was stuck for answer, and he was stuck for an answer a lot.