Monday, 20 September 2010

Scottish Lib Dems go toe to toe with Tories

The Scottish contingent of Lib Dems, who had their reception with Nick Clegg last night, seem to be in fine fettle in Liverpool.

Sure, Holyrood leader Tavish Scott (the man most likely to be deputy First Minister in a few month's time) had to put some clear yellow water between himself and the Tories in his speech yesterday. He smothered Charles Kennedy in respect by echoing his call for a considered approach to cuts in Scotland.

Scott explained afterwards that he meant while cuts are inevitable, we all accept that, the Scottish parliament has considerable scope to determine how they will be executed.

Despite their natural Grimmond Liberal reservations about an alliance with the Tories and a realignment to the right they are loving it that their party is in government.

Think about it, until last May the Scottish Labour Party virtually was the Westminster government. From Alexander to Darling and Brown and Murphy - the frontbench was a Scottish artery into the heart of government.

Now it's the Scottish Lib Dems who have all the access to Westminster power and decision making. If a Lib Dem MSP now has a Westminster bone to pick, he or she could pick up the phone to Dover House, where their pointman Michael Moore is Secretary of State for Scotland. Or they could call Alistair Carmichael, the government's deputy chief whip to organise face time with a Minister. If they're really stuck the Scots Lib Dems could call the Treasury and ask to be put through to Danny Alexander.

This kind of "working in government" theme is what you can expect the Scottish Lib Dems to develop as the Holyrood election approaches. They have their people in Whitehall, plugged into the decision-making process, they'll say.

These Scots cabinet Ministers will be paraded as the Lib Dems next year, although that could flip the other way if the Westminster coalition becomes deeply unpopular as the cuts come in.

Either way, they seem to be settling in to what the coalition offers them just now. They'll keep that arms length distance from the Tories, like school hall pupils learning to ceilidh dance, and pump up the role their own Scots in the cabinet for all they are worth.

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