IF anyone needed convincing that politics is a rough old game, then Michael Moore’s dismissal as Scottish Secretary will surely do the job.
It is true that the mild-mannered LibDem MP was an accidental Secretary of State, only getting the job after David Laws’ resignation in 2010 over his expenses left a vacancy in the job. It is also true that when the SNP’s 2011 election victory turned Scotland’s political world upside-down, some leading figures in his party had very little confidence in Mr Moore’s ability to cling on.
However, Mr Moore efficiently went about his job and played a central role in the vital negotiations that followed with the SNP. In particular, he was central to what may end up being seen as the most significant move by the pro-UK side in this entire marathon campaign - agreeing to give the SNP everything they wanted for the referendum, but at the price of a straight Yes-No choice. The move effectively killed off the idea of a second question on “Devo Max”. And Mr Moore’s reasonable, practical approach to the matter ensured the deal would have been virtually impossible to turn down. That there were hardly any blow-ups between Edinburgh and London prior to the signing of the referendum deal was in large part down to him.
But if you want thanks for a job well done, don’t get into politics. And on Monday, LibDem sources were noting that they now needed a “change of gear”. In short, process - in which Mr Moore excelled - is over. Now, hard-nosed campaigning - in which Mr Moore is deemed less gifted - is required. And so Mr Moore gets sacked and Alistair Carmichael, the MP for Orkney and Shetland, comes in. As the leader of the Scottish LibDems Willie Rennie declared, Mr Carmichael will be a “feisty” operator, something he proved in the 2010 General Election campaign when he was the party’s shadow Scottish Secretary of State. Other LibDem figures were also highlighting the fact that Mr Carmichael can bring an “islander viewpoint” to the debate, far removed from central-belt obsessions. He also speaks plain English, always a good thing. In the jargon, he is a politician with “cut-through”.
Some on the pro-UK side will no doubt miss Mr Moore’s reasonable and nuanced approach to the campaign over the coming year. But it was notable that, in one recent TV debate with Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Moore came off second best purely because Ms Sturgeon was throwing far more punches. In a campaign in which the key political figures will be on our TV screens so often, the LibDems have decided they need a fighter to do the same.