There has been a considerable reaction to Tuesday's blog post - Is this the stupidest cartoon in Scottish political history? It seems I struck a chord with many and touched a nerve with others; while not anticipating the level of the response I am pleased I appear to have kick-started a rather interesting and overdue discussion about both the strategy of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and their attitude towards the SNP and Scottish independence.
I'm going to reproduce a lot of the comments that have been made in various forums, as well as some of the messages I have received in recent days. What has become astonishingly clear is the frustration of many Lib Dems towards the leadership's negativity, as well as the number of former liberals who have found a new home within the SNP. The "cartoon" was received extremely negatively, even by Lib Dem members who were questioning the judgement of its publication and (in some instances) their membership of the party.
Comments from Lib Dem members and supporters:
“Excellent post by Andrew. It's about time someone called out HQ on this relentless negative SNP bashing. Are we really so poor on reasons why people should vote SLD that we resort to tactics that we actually went to Court over in Oldham?”
“I'm not sure whether it is the stupidest cartoon. It is indicative of a party that has yet to produce much consistent confident leadership over same-sex issues. Policy generated by members has been fine. Gaffs and scandals by senior party members have been numerous.”
“For what it is worth, I've not renewed my party membership. It is as much these issues that I'm uneasy about as the coalition.”
“Andrew's a decent guy. I met him at Conference and he's one of a significant number (myself included) who really can't understand the leadership's obsession with the SNP at all.”
“An excellent post and one that certainly sums up my own feelings. If HQ have so much spare time on their hands maybe they could actually consider a new positive narrative for our party which addresses the key question - Why should people choose to vote SLD.”
“As a party member it worries me that someone at HQ thought this juvenilia was worth putting out. Beyond that, it worries me more that much of our campaigning has been relentlessly negative and personal without in any way offering an alternative vision for Scotland.”
“I've also considered my membership. There is nothing or little positive coming from the top. No inspiring message or vision. It's like Willie is under direct instructions by Clegg/Alexander/Moore to go hard against Salmond nonstop just to win brownie points from the press. There is a difference between holding government to account and tasteless propaganda. I hope people at SLD HQ have this read this eloquent blogpost.”
“As a longtime member of the party and former candidate for in Scotland and Westminster I was pretty appalled at the poster. It hints at some of the worst aspects of US political campaigning and is not in keeping with either the tradition or the spirit of the Lib Dems.”
“Last night's disaster proved to me the Liberal Dems in Scotland have lost the plot. Rennie is out of his depth as are Moore and Alexander - they care more for themselves and their own future than they do for the people of Scotland. Last night I joined the SNP because they are the only party with a realistic view of Scotland's potential and future”
“Well said. When I left the party I didn’t rule our rejoining at some point, but at the moment I can’t see myself even voting Lib Dem unless there is a change in tone of the message – which as you point out highly negative and overly critical of the SNP”.
“Your article reveals good liberal thinking...”
“A good blogpost, encapsulating what appears to be the general consensus on that dreadful cartoon”
“The SNP shouldn’t have a monopoly on independence!”
“I would suggest that Andrew is more instinctively a 'Liberal' than a Libdem robot climbing the slippery rope, than he understands. This piece reflects old fashioned Liberal views on society and its conduct - maybe he is channelling the ghost of Jo Grimmond ....”
and just in case you thought it was all positively supportive:
"I have to say that Andrew's blog comment is the very acme of over-reaction. Its one thing to be critical of a schoolyard-level snipe and quite another to indulge in a massively dramatic production of horror and disgust."
“While I can see the obvious errors involved in the publication of this cartoon, I'm not going to condemn colleagues for one mistake when I've seen them work hard and long hours, putting in excellent effort in the past. Nobody would ever have wanted to put the leader in this position and I'm absolutely certain that they will learn from this for the future.”
To which I will respond that my motivation wasn't simply expresing anger towards a distasteful and insensitive cartoon. The real issue I was attempting to address is the extreme negativity running through our message, of which the cartoon is merely a symptom. I'm not simply asking for Lib Dem HQ to be more careful in how they produce and release propaganda, but to completely rethink their message and the tone of what the party is saying. This is the latest in a long line of unnecessary assaults on the SNP, which only serve to strengthen Alex Salmond and make Scottish Lib Dems look petty and silly. As I've observed in the last week, many members seem to agree...
Also, a fair number of SNP members and supporters took the time to make their own views known (a surprising number of them being former Liberals):
“Let's not forget that people in the Lib Dems sat down and spent time working out this pathetic piece of garbage. They are perhaps even more infantile than the Labour Party.”
"I tend to agree with your assessment of Liberal "little Labourism" & its queer anti-Nat pathologies."
“I used to vote Lib Dem, but they stopped talking about home rule and became unionist”
“More positive discourse like this Is badly needed in politics. Time to put the horrendous media and Westminster style of Politics in the bin."
“I hope the fool who dreamt up the ridiculous "cartoon" reads your article and apologises for the damage it has done on so many levels.”
“I slag the Lib Dems a lot, and have done for years, I think its the sense of betrayal more than anything else, given that I agree with some of their principles. But when it comes down to it, their hypocrisy on independence frequently disgusts me, to the extent that I hope that party is obliterated. However, this is an excellent piece by a Lib Dem member.”
"I very much understand your frustration at that silly poster - if such an infantile act had been done by the SNP, heads would have rolled. It really shows a party who has lost its way and sense of reasoned political coherence."
“Whatever happened to your party? I would expect this sort of 'tripe' from Labour but not the Lib Dems.
“I would be happy to return to a Liberal Party who could define what they stand for and a series of clear policies which seek to achieve it. That is not the case with the Libdems either in Scotland or the UK overall so, for now, I have lent my support and vote to the SNP because they know what they stand for and have a clear plan on how to achieve it. If you really want to see a Liberal Party revival there needs to be a clear understanding of what we mean by 'Liberal' in the Scottish context and a clear idea of how we will achieve it.”
“Eloquent, moderate and well reasoned. Need one say more? I look forward to a multiparty movement for independence”
“Nice to see such positivity from a different shade of the spectrum. “
"The constant negative line taken against the SNP be it in this or saying no to SNP polices for the sake of saying no makes you look opportunistic, petty and frankly more interested in yourselves than Scotland. I find Willie Rennie, in combination with Michael Moore, to be an appalling advert for the Lib Dems in Scotland. Both come across as blinkered unionists devoid of ideas and integrity."
“I'm glad you saw fit to write this very eloquent, thoughtful and hard-hitting response to what was clearly a very irresponsible deed. Sadly, however, I'm uncertain as to whether the Liberal Democrats in Scotland will ever recover from dire consequences of their own actions over the last two years.”
Andrew, you are to be applauded for your honesty and your integrity in posting this critique of the situation. Serious debate in the run up the referendum is required from all corners of our political spectrum. There is no place for the yah-boo politics of this flyer and thanks for condemning it."
“I'm an SNP member but had always respected your Party and hoped for a day when PR would give you a fair place in politics. But your party's attitude to coalition with an SNP minority government and the subsequent behaviour like Wallace's over the North Sea territorial line andin coalition of people like Moore and Alexander have damaged you almost beyond redemption. I hope there are more like you and you can take your party back?”
“Andrew you have shown more political vision and leadership in this article than Willie Rennie has in 6 months.”
"As a natural Liberal but a supporter of the SNP I am heartened to hear that there is still a small candle of true liberalism at the heart of the party in Scotland as demostrated by Andrews article and many of the responses to it. That candle is in real danger of being extinguished by the boorishness or the current leadership (Moore and Rennie in particular). I truely hope that the party does survive the referendum and that it flourishes in a new and confident independent Scotland."
“Just think, after Independence, you could be the first Liberal Prime Minister of Scotland!”
“I came over from NNS to read your blog and I was pleasantly surprised. I did not expect honesty from what I consider your party to be a Unionist party. For the sake of independence I implore you to stop being honest and continue with the rabid lies that originate from the Unionist parties because your summing up of the situation is spot on. I look forward to the time when all politicians follow the will of the constituency rather than their party line.”
“A brave and honest post”
“I respect you for taking a principled stand on this though, Its not often one does stand up and be counted.”
“Andrew has hit several nails bang on the head.”
“It seems to me the leadership of the Libdems focussed entirely on hating the SNP and Alex Salmond in particular.Personally,I dont understand why the Libdem leadership is so anti-independence,to the point it would not allow a referendum in the past parliament”
Willie Rennie's challenge couldn't be more obvious. A softening of our approach towards the independence question in combination with a less adversarial form of politics would be a positive start on our road to recovery; it seems obvious to me that our recent attitudes (as much as the unpopularity of Nick Clegg) have alienated many who have traditionally voted Lib Dem.
A Labour supporter added "I couldn't agree more. I know SLDs having a rough time but this surprised even me." While a Morton fan, over on the supporters' forum, posted a link to "a forthright and honest article by Lib-dem activist Andrew Page".
Other commenters, of unknown political affiliation, weren't slow in expressing themselves either:
“Andrew - you deserve the appellations liberal and democratic. You have my respect for a courageous and principled stand.”
“Is this the stupidest cartoon in Scottish political history? Agreed in regards tone of LD media recently”
"I am less concerned about this cartoon slipping through the net than I am about the existence of the net, behind which presumably there must be a lot more of this kind of drivel. What a waste of energy! Given the Liberal Democrat's current standing in Scotland and the upcoming local elections, surely they should be expending every iota of available effort trying to communicate a positive message about what they stand for instead of this guff."
“Some great points there, and all well put. Andrew is exactly right to feel angry about this so-called 'cartoon'; it's so ill-considered in nature that it's almost inconceivable that someone in a position of authority at a political party looked at the completed image and thought, 'Aye, that'll get 'em riled.'"
"A rational and measured response. Well done Andrew, your party does not deserve you."
I think the Liberals' problems run exceptionally deeply. I have been interested in politics all my life and, quite frankly, I have no idea what the Lib/Dems really stand for and I certainly don't like the apparently childish way they have been acting in the Scottish Parliament either.
I have had a conversation with Willie Rennie about this and the various issues I perceive to be at the heart of it. Private conversations with the party leader should remain just that, but Willie did admit that "I set the strategy and agree the message content and tone. If you disagree with any of the party's message and strategy then that's my fault...If have any specific suggestions in the future don’t hesitate to [contact] me at any time."
I would invite all those within and outwith the party who have concerns about the direction, purpose, vision and strategy of the Scottish Liberal Democrats to get in touch with Willie and make your feelings known. It seems that there is a groundswell of support for a positive, less adversarial and more collaborative political direction being championed by our leadership, as well as a desire for a more professional campaigning unit. It also seems there is significant apprehension about the stance adopted on the independence question, while some have expressed understandable fears about the actions of the coalition in Westminster and the Scottish party leadership's apparent willingness to be its mouthpiece. So, while I appreciate the many messages I've received both supportive and otherwise, I would ask you to take Willie up on his challenge and forward him your own constructive ideas and suggestions for rising to the various challenges ahead.
Friends, it's over to you...