Why the Lib Dems could become third biggest UK party ahead of SNP following general election

The Lib Dems want to overtake the SNP at the general election to become the third biggest party in the UK - but how will they do that?

As we enter the first full week of general election campaigning, the Lib Dems are feeling pretty confident.

So confident, they are claiming they could overtake the SNP to become the third biggest party in Westminster. Before the election was announced last week, the Lib Dems only had 15 MPs compared to the SNP’s 43.

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Only four of these 15 come from Scotland – Alistair Carmichael, Wendy Chamberlain, Jamie Stone and Christine Jardine. But with the SNP predicted to lose potentially half of their seats, based on recent polling,and the public crying out for change, the Lib Dems think they can turn their fortunes around on July 4.

UK party leader Sir Ed Davey said seats such as Mid Dunbartonshire and Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire would be target seats for the party, as they set out how they plan to woo Scottish voters.

But he would not be drawn on the exact number of seats he expected to win as he launched the Scottish campaign in North Queensferry on Monday morning.

Mid Dunbartonshire, which was previously East Dunbartonshire before it was amended under boundary changes, was won by the SNP with just 149 votes, with former Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson in second place.

Sir Ed said: “We have got great MPs, but I think we also have a great number of candidates who can beat the SNP in places like Dunbartonshire with Susan Murray, in places like Inverness, Skye and West Rossshire with Angus MacDonald. I believe we can make gains here in Scotland just as we’re going to make gains against the Conservatives in England.

“I think we can have more liberals in Parliament after this election.”

Sir Ed had earlier told the BBC: “The Lib Dems could be the third party in UK politics again, which would mean so many Scottish constituencies have fabulous champions who are representing their community and being a voice for change in Westminster.”

However, pollster Professor Sir John Curtice has previously told The Scotsman the Lib Dems were not likely to win in Charles Kennedy’s old seat of Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire, declaring the “Kennedy effect” has gone.

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So how are they going to appeal to more Scottish voters? During Tuesday’s visit the party will focus on the crisis facing NHS dentistry. Sir Ed said: “Increasing our numbers in Scotland means there is a voice for more investment in the health service.

“We want to reform NHS dentistry because Alex Cole-Hamilton is talking about ‘dental deserts’ here, where there just aren’t any NHS dentists. There has been a failure from the Scottish Government to deal with that and we can send a message at this election.

“The NHS is devolved, but we can send a huge message to the SNP and enable MPs to champion the case for more investment at Westminster.”

Another way the party hopes to attract Scottish voters is by focusing on the economy and the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with Europe. Despite being consistently pro-European since the 2016 referendum, Sir Ed has refused to confirm re-joining the EU will be in his party’s manifesto.

He said: “There needs to be a massive change to our economic policy and we need to rebuild our relationship with Europe. The trade deal the Tories agreed is disastrous to farmers, exporters and businesses and we are determined to change that to boost the economy.

“But we have to be realistic about what’s possible - the Conservatives have so damaged the relationship with Europe that it will take time for a pro-European government to rebuild that trust.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said there has been “significant interruption” due to the coronavirus pandemic, and that the government has introduced “significant” dental payment reform since.

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They added: “In the first month following these changes, almost 400,000 patients were seen by an NHS primary care dentist - an early indication that our reforms are working.

“We are also actively working with our counterparts across the UK on a range of initiatives to improve services through increases to the supply and diversity of the workforce.”

Dr Lucy Beattie, the SNP’s candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: “At this election we are asking people to vote SNP to put the interests of Scotland first.

“We are asking people to vote for a future made in Scotland, for Scotland.

“Voters in constituencies such as Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross haven’t forgotten that the Lib Dems worked along with the Tories to impose huge austerity cuts and cut household incomes.

“We need to get rid of the Tory government.

“The way to do that in Scotland is to vote SNP because we are the main challengers in every Tory held seat - voters can only rely on the SNP to put the interests of Scotland first.”

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