Last post for the Liberal Democrats

by Elias Blum

Photos from the Liberal Democrat party conference show rows of empty seats. The party that trrid for forty years to cast itself as the reforming voice of British politics, and which, in that time, crept slowly up from about six seats to sixty, is finished.

But I don’t gloat over the demise of the Liberal Democrats. I lament it. I used to support them. I was attracted by their commitment to civil liberties and to electoral and constitutional reform, to peace, to environmentalism, and to pragmatically centre-leftish economic, fiscal and industrial policies. I wanted to see a third force in UK politics that would break the two-party duopoly and offer a real alternative – one with democratic and humane values.

I supported them until about 2007, when they refused to go into coalition with the SNP in the Scottish Parliament – we could have had a three option referendum much sooner. I felt that their refusal to even talk about independence was short-sighted and petty – and I joined the SNP soon after, because they were the only party that combined a centre-left stance with a clear commitment to independence (which by then had become the only realistic option as far as I was concerned, given the inability of the UK to reform itself along democratic lines). 

After Nick Clegg became leader, I saw the LibDems drift to the right and morph into the other two – and squander all its moral authority in the process. The phrase that kept echoing around my mind was ‘if the salt loses its savour, wherewith shall it be made salty again.’ By 2011 it was clear that they were fatally diminished, not only in Scotland but also across northern England.

The liberal democrats – the heirs of names such as Charles James Fox, William Gladstone, David Lloyd George, John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge, David Steel and Paddy Ashdown – are finished. They’re done. They’re through. They are balloney without the mayo. And that’s a sad thing. I’m pleased that people have rejected what the liberal democrats have become, but sad for what they were and might have been. It’s worrying that their place as the party of anti-establishment protest has been usurped, in England, by the far-right nutty nutcases of UKIP. That’s what first-past-the-post and a right-wing press will do to you.

Thankfully, in Scotland we have proportional representation, so we have a wider and more effective choice. We have other options – SNP, Greens, SSP etc. But we wouldn’t have had proportional representation, for the Scottish Parliament and for local Councils, were it not for the patient and long-suffering insistence of the Liberal Democrats. For that, at least, we owe them some gratitude.