Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Paddy Ashdown is right to support a referendum on Scottish independence

The Scotsman reports Paddy Ashdown's comments on the Liberal Democrats and a referendum on Scottish Independence. You will recall that in the aftermath of the last Holyrood elections the Liberal Democrats refused to countenance joining an SNP-led administration because the Nats were committed to holding a referendum on Scottish independence.

Paddy's words are reported thus:

Lord Ashdown told The Scotsman that he believes his own party has got its tactics wrong in Scotland in dealing with the Nationalists. And he said that Wendy Alexander was on the right lines when she challenged First Minister Alex Salmond to “bring it on” and hold a referendum on independence …

The former Liberal Democrat leader still believes that devolution has “killed off” attempts to break up the UK, but has argued that his own and other pro-Union parties should be more willing to take on the SNP head to head.

“This is where I do disagree with my colleagues,” he said. “I don’t want to criticise their tactics following the (Holyrood] election (in 2007], but let’s put it like this: I would not have ruled out a referendum and I think it would have been a good time to hold it. The fact is that there has never been a majority for independence in Scotland. If a referendum was held, then the SNP would lose and would be finished.

Looking back at this blog, I am impressed to find that I wrote as follows after those elections:

I hesitate to offer advice from a distance, but should the Lib Dems be so opposed to a referendum on Scottish independence?

My instinct is that the SNP would never be able to win such a referendum. But if there is a majority for independence in Scotland, is it moral or realistic to think it can be permanently stymied simply by refusing to allow people a vote?

And I went on to say:

It is hard to argue that the Holyrood administration has been more liberal than Blair's government in London. It anything it has pursued the more nannyish aspects of the New Labour agenda with greater enthusiasm.

So much so, that the only policy Liberal Democrat policy I could name from last week's Scottish elections is the demand for more PE in schools.

A chance to think about what differentiates us from Labour would be no bad thing.

That distancing of ourselves from Labour has been achieved while both parties are in opposition and I can appreciate why Lib Dem MSPs would be reluctant to do a deal with the slippery Salmond. Even so, I still think Paddy's argument is essentially correct.

Lib Dem Voice has a readers' poll on this question, so vote early, vote often.

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