Today I've e-mailed Willie Rennie to discuss my concerns about potential Liberal Democrat involvement in any anti-independence "no" campaign.
I accept that the Scottish Liberal Democrats, as a party, will not support independence. I understand that many party members feel that independence is not the kind of thing that a federalist party with a strong devolutionist history should be promoting. But I also feel that such a party should not support the only other option likely to make it onto the ballot form - that of the status quo. Some party members find that equally, if not more, objectionable to independence, particularly as in some respects it sits less comfortably with our history and liberal aims.
I've asked Willie to consider finding the kind of middle ground Nick Clegg appeared to be promoting in his misguided "extremist" intervention. Unwise though some of his words may have been, he was making a valid point that we are not a unionist party but a devolutionist one. Not for us the closed attitudes of the Conservative and Labour parties. There are considerable opportunities for the Liberal Democrats if they are able to take advantage of them, but an alliance with any "no" campaign is likely to negate these.
There is absolutely no advantage into being tied into a Lab-Con-Lib alliance in which our distinctive voice and vision would be drowned out. We can do little for the cause of Scottish liberalism if for the next three years we are simply a minor partner in a coalition of negativity. In any case, the "no" campaign does not need us, and we don't need it. Instead, we have to find means of informing the political debate, speak common sense where necessary, to act as a sobering force, questioning detail and empowering the electorate to make an informed choice.
Already anti-independence campaigners, barely organised, have been attempting to take a lead - however inarticulately. It's been impossible to use twitter in the last few days without reading the normal lines about "ripping Scotland out of the UK" and other ridiculous stereotypes. Not only do such people misjudge the nature of the SNP, they show themselves to be the product of black-and-white thinking in regards the political nature of UK. Others - and some of them respected Labour figures - have targeted Salmond, making silly claims that he somehow lacks a mandate even to ask the question.
Then we've had the three leaders of the main parties in Westminster "uniting against Salmond" - according to The Independent. Nothing is less likely to win Scottish voters over to a cause than having Cameron, Clegg and Miliband backing it. And then there's the criticism from Labour parliamentarians who have suddenly found a voice and are urging an instant referendum in spite of demonstrating no interest in the matter for the previous decade, content to repeat the tired anti-SNP rhetoric without ever advocating a new idea or even suggesting that they understand how the SNP has successfully moved away from the simplistic arguments they naively believe they're challenging.
A unionist group on facebook created the above poster, which is so simplistic in its analysis and conclusions as to be laughable. Why anyone would be positively attracted to such propaganda, I can't begin to imagine. As for the notion of a "Unionist Party" - if that isn't an early warning to the Lib Dems to distance ourselves from this kind of idiotic political talk I don't know what is. It should be pointed out that this is not the product of a political party or an established campaigning unit, but I did see a senior Labour figure making almost identical claims on twitter last night.
Slightly more articulate, but barely any more sober, is Financial Times journalist John Lloyd who sees the pro-independence lobby and the SNP in particular as "narcissistic... with their bilious, medieval populism, slaves to a romanticized tartan past." Such people fail to grasp what drives Salmond, the SNP or non-nationalist sympathisers of independence. Other than the odd eccentric nationalist, no-one is motivated by a nostalgia for the medieval or the kitschy kind of Scottish identity so loved by foreign visitors to Edinburgh. What actually matters is the prospect of building a better society and how this can best be achieved, the role Scotland can have in Europe, future co-operative relations with the UK, creating a prosperous future and becoming a force for global good. These, and other pertinent issues relating to the nature of an independent Scotland should be at the forefront of the political conversation, not backward looking stereotypes of kilts and bagpipes - or juvenile, simplistic and tribalist dialogue coming from elected representatives who should no better.
So far, it's mainly Labour politicians who have done most of the running in recent days - apparently determined to outgun Cameron in their attempts to ensure that the SNP recruitment drive continues in earnest. The Scottish Tories, to their credit, have been more careful in their choice of words. But Toryism remains a toxic brand and however capable Ruth Davidson might be, she's singing from a completely different hymnsheet from the Lib Dems as far as Scotland's constitutional future is concerned.
We have to stop and think - will being associated with this lot be good for us? Already it's beginning to look rather acrimonious and heated - and the campaign hasn't even begun yet.
And just to show the nationalists can be every inch as unpleasant, Joan McAlpine MSP weighed in by accusing opposition parties of being anti-Scottish: "I make no apology for saying that the Liberals, the Labour Party and the Tories are anti-Scottish ... in coming together to defy the will of the Scottish people." Obviously a very sensible choice as Parliamentary Liaison officer. Lib Dem blogger Caron Lindsay responded: "We really don't need poisonous language from either side in this. What I want more than anything else is for Scotland to have a passionate and positive debate on its future."
Whatever our views on independence, I suspect little will be gained by siding - and being seen to side - with the Tories or even with Labour, who have only negativity to offer on this matter. The danger is we could sink without trace, overshadowed by the main parties and an intemperate debate we can't possibly hope to influence. A friend and fellow Lib Dem blogger, Nic Prigg, observed that it "doesn't seem like we can be grown-up about it". Well, it seems true that many can't - but the Lib Dems have the opportunity to stand aside from the hideous, shallow spectacle of political immaturity and articulate something more reasonable, more sensible, more liberal...
I hope Willie Rennie will manage to find the middle ground Nick Clegg referred to and avoid the temptation to become simply another anti-independence voice. He, and the Liberal Democrats, have so much positive to say about Scotland's future if they can only find their voice - and abandon the Lab-Con unionist fundamentalists to their tired prejudices and idiocies.