Christine Jardine: PR vote would stand better chance

Nick Clegg and wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez leave after winning his Sheffield Hallam seat. Picture: AP
Nick Clegg and wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez leave after winning his Sheffield Hallam seat. Picture: AP
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IT wasn’t until Nick Clegg spoke about whether the achievements of the past five years had made it all worth while that I finally cracked.

Several hours after the Liberal Democrats’ 32-year majority in Gordon was swept away by the SNP tide, I was hit by its magnitude. And irony.

As one of those who had been offered the privilege of serving government in a way that previous generations of Liberals had been denied, Nick spoke directly to what hurt me the most. He recalled the sentiment of a colleague – Alex Cole-Hamilton after the 2011 Holyrood elections – saying that if the price of what we achieved in the coalition was the night’s defeat, then it had been worth it.

And as I thought about those achievements – equal marriage, lower taxes, a stronger Scottish Parliament – I felt a sense of pride and, for a moment, full accord with his sentiments.

But then it struck me that the full cost of the night’s defeats, particularly in Scotland, will not be measured simply in lost parliamentary seats.

The scale of the SNP victory has all but silenced every other voice in the political debate.

In Gordon, where I was the candidate, my party gained more votes than five years ago, and yet those people now find themselves represented by a party whose primary purpose – separatism – they overwhelmingly rejected just eight months ago.

In all but three seats in Scotland, the voice which prevails is that of the Nationalists and those singular Lib Dem, Labour and Conservative MPs may struggle to make themselves heard.

And from where will the SNP now be challenged? Who are the dissenting voices? How shall we question their assertions and scrutinise their behaviour?

Similarly, will the Conservatives at Westminster now feel they have free rein to pursue policies which their coalition partners denied them?

A new party leader will be chosen in the coming weeks. Its likely the former president Tim Farron will head the contenders, and Norman Lamb may throw his hat into the ring. But it won’t be a woman. This parliamentary session will begin without a female Liberal Democrat.

Those women who achieved so much of what Clegg urged us to be proud – Lynne Featherstone on equal marriage and Jo Swinson on parental leave and childcare – are gone.

Ironically, four years ago we, as a nation, may have had the solution in our hands and rejected it when we decided to stick with the idiocy of our electoral system. I wonder whether a referendum on any form of proportional representation now would be rejected as overwhelmingly as it was in 2011.

Christine Jardine, a former BBC journalist, was the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Gordon constituency