Tavish Scott: Clegg’s stance gives Lib Dems new hope
THIS was not a week to make a major political announcement. Gold medals galore have been delivered during the most exciting week of sport imaginable.
So Nick Clegg did well to make any front page this week in ripping up the UK government’s coalition agreement.
Clegg did not, in fact, end the working arrangement between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives at Westminster. That was achieved when Tory MPs stopped reform of the House of Lords and David Cameron failed to control his backbenchers.
Clegg’s intimation that Lib Dem MPs would now block the Tories’ desire to redraw the electoral boundaries of constituencies across the UK was the response to losing Lords reform.
For the party, this was a bitter pill to swallow. Many people were attracted to the Lib Dems because of constitutional reform. A Scottish Parliament, a Bill of Rights and elections using fairer voting systems are the DNA of most Lib Dems.
Getting rid of the unelected House of Lords is part of the package of moving Britain into the 21st century. Reform has now been lost because Conservatives either did not believe in democracy or stopped it because the change was proposed by a Lib Dem.
Labour could have saved Lords reform. They chose not to. Short-term political expediency ruled. The Labour leader’s decision to put aside a manifesto commitment in favour of destabilising the coalition is understandable politics.
But in 12 years of government Labour never found time to introduce a second elected chamber. So Lords reform is not a Labour priority.
The other political calculation for Ed Miliband was again easy. The Lib Dems’ threat to block the constituency changes is good news for Labour. They would have lost seats to the Tories under the plans. Cameron says he will push on with a vote on boundary changes. But with Labour and Lib Dem opposition, the Prime Minister will lose.
So is this the moment when Clegg’s foot soldiers start to have hope for the future? Many have always found coalition with the Tories unpalatable.
The sight of Jeremy Hunt, Cameron’s Culture Secretary shaking hands with Rupert Murdoch at the Olympics served to reinforce everything many Lib Dems find wrong with the coalition.
Why is Hunt still in a job? Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable was stripped of ministerial responsibility for broadcasting by Cameron because he criticised the Murdoch empire. Subsequent events entirely vindicated that position. Yet Hunt remains a Cabinet Minister. Lib Dems ask why.
Cable is much closer to Labour than others in the Lib Dem leadership. So Clegg’s decision to help Labour by helping them retain parliamentary seats is indicative of a change in the mood music of national politics. Once the last medal has been won in the Olympic Park, attention may swing back to an important point in judging the future of British politics.
• Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland
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