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With the Tories and SNP left flailing in Scottish waters, the Lib Dems can swim to victory

3 min read

A possibly apocryphal story tells of a military commander who was told his forces were surrounded. His response? “Perfect. They can’t get away from us this time!”

There have been moments when the task of Liberal Democrats in Scotland, facing off against the identity politics and nationalist extremes of both the SNP and the Tories, has felt like being squeezed in all directions. Now with the tide turning, it feels rather liberating to have two ready targets on both sides. They can’t get away from us this time!

It took less than three years for the Conservatives to turn a dominant position in UK politics into an abject rout. Between the shambolic Boris Johnson, the cataclysmic Liz Truss and the empty suit that is Rishi Sunak, the Tories have alienated just about every part of the country piece by piece.

Meanwhile, having crowed for years about the trials of other parties, the SNP looks far less comfortable defending its record these days. Voters across Scotland are rebelling against the nationalist hegemony in a way not seen since before the 2015 election.

A political tsunami came in for the nationalists in 2015 and swept almost everyone else away. As anyone in the Northern Isles will tell you, however, when the tide turns back it can turn hard – bringing change and a new chance for liberal voices. 

That both the Tories and the SNP are flailing in the water now should not really be a surprise. Despite their pantomimed enmity, both parties trade in the same politics of identity. They are two sides of a nationalist coin.

For years they have both relied on driving fear of one another and a polarised Scottish electorate to avoid electoral scrutiny. As long as they kept up the constitutional game-playing, the SNP and the Conservatives thought they could keep the public from looking behind the curtain and demanding something better.

No longer. Whether it is the Tories in Westminster or the SNP in Holyrood (or indeed the SNP contingent in Westminster), voters are getting sick of played out populism. We have had years of rote slogan campaigning from those in power who would rather pretend they are outside government.

People know deep down that neither party of government is fit for purpose

People know deep down that neither party of government is fit for purpose. On health, on education, on transport and more, there are only so many times that you can offer simplistic excuses and blame-shifting to explain why you have not delivered.

That move against the politics of identity and populism has opened up new opportunities for the Liberal Democrats in Scotland.

After years of paddling against the current, we now have a healthy set of targets in the works. There is plenty of work to do – but that is par for the course for liberals. 

Across the Highlands and elsewhere throughout Scotland, Liberal voters and campaigners old and new are re-emerging. While you may not see a sweep of Lib Dem gold from Berwick to Unst quite yet, we know where we can win in 2024 – and where we can build a winning platform for the years to come. We know what it takes to win. The formula is no great secret. It is about hard-working local representatives and campaigners, who care less about which flag you wear and more about what works for their communities. 

After all, that is what Liberal Democrats have always done – fight centralisation and challenge complacent parties who think that they barely have to show up to win. That is something that you can rely on – just like the tide going in and out. 

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