Tavish Scott: Voters wanted answers to Wick maternity crisis, not indyref2

Jo Swinson returns to Westminster to serve as a Lib Dem MP with Tim Farron.
Jo Swinson returns to Westminster to serve as a Lib Dem MP with Tim Farron.
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Charles Kennedy represented the village of Evanton in Easter Ross for many years. But boundary changes mean the area is now in the far north Westminster constituency. I canvassed the village with Jamie Stone some weeks back and he got a fine reception.

As we knocked on doors I sensed the mood changing. People were openly fed up with the SNP’s demand for a second independence referendum. And they were hostile towards Nicola Sturgeon. Why can’t she concentrate on our schools, the Wick maternity crisis and the lack of rural buses, was the common refrain. I headed home thinking Jamie has a real chance to win. And so it proved.

The constituency was one of four that returned a Lib Dem MP this week. Jo Swinson proved that former government ministers can come back and win. She was helped by an opponent who seemed more unpopular in his own party than with the others. Christine Jardine’s strong performance in west Edinburgh was built on the campaigning prowess of Alex Cole Hamilton. The nationalist campaign against her was low and unpleasant. Not clever. There will be no slacking in serving the good people of the capital.

North East Fife was so close and yet so far. One vote is enough in a Westminster poll. But that is not over yet. Watch out for further developments in a seat where the SNP did their level best to say the Tories were the challenger. That was a delicately muddying of the water - an understandable tactic that nearly back fired. The electorate are not stupid.

Alistair Carmichael was returned with nearly half the vote in Orkney and Shetland. The nationalist charge that he would be punished for previous misdemeanours was not taken up by islanders.

But both Labour and the Lib Dems are acutely aware that the fortunes of the SNP and Tories are joined at the hip. They need each other. Sturgeon’s long term strategy is to destroy Labour in Scotland so perpetual Tory rule in London creates the circumstances for another push at independence. That does not look so clever now. The Tories love the nationalist obsession with independence because it means Ruth Davidson rarely has to explain away austerity, the so-called rape clause or social care u-turns that were the hallmark of Theresa May’s performance.

If the SNP persist with indyref2 then the next four years of this Scottish Parliament term will be like the last two years. The Lib Dems will contrast the need for sustained improvement in our schools, the health service and investment in mental health with the nationalists obsession. The SNP have a simple choice. That is the lesson of Thursday night.