Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Rennie flexs New Home Rule muscles

We've seen signs of life, if not revival, in the Scottish Lib Dems at Birmingham this week, it has to be said.

The leadership has looked in the mirror and decided it was time to hit the gym. As a result we're seeing a more muscular response from the Lib Dems to the challenge of taking on Alex Salmond and the prospect of a referendum.

Scottish leader Willie Rennie is, in contrast to Cable, very chirpy about the future and getting stuck into the independence debate. Even Michael Moore is moving from quiet man to big man but I feel they’re both to a bit too decent for the short sword fighting that the SNP leader prefers to conduct politics.

I’m not convinced that Rennie’s opening gambit - a commission on New Home Rule, reclaiming devolution max for the Lib Dems - is the kind of chest expanding move that will cause the SNP to lose much sleep though.

Willie Rennie disagrees he says its not just about recapturing fiscal federalism and devolution from the SNP it is about power redistribution to local communities too.

“We can see the SNP wanting to pull power into Edinburgh, we want to go the other way,” Rennie tells me in an appeal to localism.

“In 1998 the biggest fear was that the Scottish parliament would be Strathclyde writ large and that rural Scotland would not be able to shape its own future. Who would have thought the SNP would be delivering Strathclyde writ large.”

Why indulge in navel gazing when the big issue is a referendum, I ask? Salmond offers a vision and the Lib Dems offer us a committee of grandees.You'd have to be an expert on the American Civil War to work out federalism and co-federalism, which is the kind of constitutional wrestle the Lib Dems want to get involved in.

That provokes a wee bit of passion from Rennie. "There is a debate to come on Scotland's future and people need to know what shape the country could take."

He adds: "Salmond is pretending he’s in favour of more powers for the parliament but that is just a stepping stone to independence for him. We believe in Home Rule as the final resting point."

It's not a bad line but it needs a bit more weight training before it can be deployed against Eck.

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