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Friday, 21 January 2011

Clegg urges realism and optimism

According to today's Herald (Scots ‘will see through SNP and Labour’)
Nick Clegg has suggested that Lib Dems should be "realistic that we have got a challenge" while being "optimistic about the good sense of the Scottish people".

Scottish voters, argues Mr Clegg, are "much more level-headed than the day-to-day breathless coverage of politics". He added that the electorate would be able to see beyond the SNP (which offers "just complaining from the sidelines, scaremongering, just constantly blaming everything on everybody else") and Labour ("who are so cynically living in denial about their own responsibility for the terrible mess we are in"). While admitting that defending "over and over again" the decision to enter into coalition with the Conservatives is a challenge, Mr Clegg was positive about the forthcoming Holyrood elections.

Referring to the opinion polls, he wryly observed that they have historically overemphasised his party's difficulties: "My response is the same as every prediction of the demise of the Liberal Democrats delivered by polls, articles and by commentators pretty well every single week since the Liberal Democrats were formed...each time we confound people. We did most recently in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election."

And if a week in politics is a long time, three and a half months is an eternity. The press talk as if the results of a single opinion poll somehow constitutes a firm indication of the Lib Dems' demise. Certain sections of the media have already pre-determined the attitudes of voters: this is not only unwise but also premature. They also seem to forget that not only can opinion polls be spectacularly wrong (as in the General Election, when experts refused to believe the exit polls because they were so different to the opinion polls) but that a Labour resurgence in certain areas might actually help the Lib Dems, as explained in my previous post.

Clegg is right to be positive. In fact, you won't be finding much negativity among the Lib Dem candidates, or amongst the Scottish leadership. No doubt Tavish Scott recognises the peculiar challenge the Lib Dems face this time around but he will have a strategy for communicating the party's distinctive message. He will also be aware that the SNP have hardly covered themselves in glory in recent months and that Iain Gray's personal approval rating is lagging behind public support for his party.

I'm not into predicting outcomes, other than to say the "massacre" the media hope for won't happen. We might lose a few seats - I'm certainly not going to plum for many dramatic gains. But for the press to attach so much significance to one opinion poll really is short-sighted. A YouGov poll yesterday had us up 3 points already...if we can maintain this for another few weeks...!

Whatever the result of the Holyrood elections, I strongly believe that Tavish Scott will lead a positive campaign focusing on the party's strengths and achievements. The fact that this election will provide probably the toughest test yet for any Scottish Lib Dem leader should not be taken to mean that negativity is rife. Unlike the press, we have a real faith in the Scottish people to make decisions based on policy and the respective parties' records rather than simply following, sheep-like, the views of polls or the predictions of newspapers who simply play up perceived weaknesses for the need of a "good story".

It's not just the SNP and Labour that voters will see through, but the negative rhetoric of the media.

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