Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Rennie: "SNP must clear up two question confusion"

The Scottish Lib Dems yesterday issued a press release in which Willie Rennie argued that the SNP must "clear up the two question confusion".

Rennie suggests that "SNP plans for a multi-option referendum have been dominated by cluttered thinking and flawed logic. Their method for running a referendum with two questions has serious flaws." He goes on to make the case that a two-question referendum would result in an outcome other than the one the voters want: "if 70% of people support Devo-Max and 51% support Independence then Independence wins even though Devo-max is more popular. And now I can reveal that, if they follow the 1997 model, if Devo-Max got 49% and Independence 51% then the result would be the status quo."

Now, this is very strange logic and it appears to me that the only person who is either confused or attempting to create confusion is Willie Rennie. This press release is, to put it kindly, completely disingenuous. For a start, it simply isn't true that following the 1997 two-question model would result in the status quo or that if a higher proportion of the population support devo max in a second question than opt for independence in the first question that the outcome is somehow undemocratic. These Rennie-fabricated myths are effectively dispelled by Graeme Cowie.

A two question referendum does not run the risk of giving voters anything other than what they want. The first question would ask if Scots favour independence; the second whether "devo max" should be adopted if independence is not supported. So, as Graeme rightly points out and as everyone (other than a few Liberal Democrat politicians) seems to understand, the second question only becomes relevant if the first option is rejected. A converse of the 1997 situation if you like.

I'm not confused, Scottish voters wouldn't be confused and I can see no reason for Willie Rennie to be issuing this type of press release. As for the "cluttered thinking and flawed logic" Rennie speaks of - well, it's certainly in evidence but I wouldn't be levelling that accusation towards the SNP but instead towards the "unionist" parties determined to keep a two-question referendum off the agenda.

I can understand the logic of the Conservative and Labour parties in adopting this tactic. However, I can not comprehend what Willie Rennie could possibly hope to achieve with this. So much more would be gained by working with whoever possible (the SNP and, perhaps, Labour) to ensure that a solid proposal for "devo max" is on the table and is presented as a secondary option on the ballot paper. Rennie could be far more effective in making the case for a second question than in his misguided and rather pitiful attempts to destroy it.

There is one point on which I must admit to being confused. I'm really not sure what Willie Rennie stands for. On Sunday, the Sunday Herald featured an unusually positive piece which, while not revealing much new, at least hinted at the Lib Dem leader's commitment to facilitate a devo-max settlement. A day later, he is expressing opposition to the very principle of a two-question referendum that would have the potential to make this vision a reality.

Perhaps Willie Rennie should listen to his members. I already know a few who are independence-minded, largely because of frustration at the lack of moves towards further devolution. There are still more - and this represents a much larger section of the party - who, like Graeme, will be inclined to vote for independence if the only other option is the status quo. Most Liberal Democrats do not support the current arrangements, which Henry McLeish and Willie Rennie have already described as "unfit for purpose" and "dated" respectively. Banking on supporters of further devolution voting against independence is a very risky move on the part of the Lib Dem leadership, both at Holyrood and Westminster.

Tactics apart, here is an opportunity to work in collaboration with the SNP to ensure that the hope the Liberal Democrats have for Scotland's constitutional future is put to the Scottish people in the referendum. Refusing to even countenance the idea of asking two distinct questions amounts to the Scottish Lib Dems cutting their noses off to spite their faces. We will surrender any influence or voice we have, while aligning ourselves with the reactionary views of Ruth Davidson's Tories and Johann Lamont's Scottish Labour, neither of which have had much constructive or forward-thinking to say about devolution. It's vital we take this opportunity to press for "devo-max" and become identified once again as the radical party of devolution, rather than what Graeme describes as "the third wheel of a Unionist 'no' vote".

A senior Liberal Democrat who happens to be a close personal friend has suggested I should stop talking about the referendum. I know what he means; there are other things to get my teeth into. However, so long as our leadership continues to put forward rather bizarre and counter-productive press releases I will keep on talking.


Fourfolksache said...

Andrew you are a rare beast - an honest politician! Rennie is increasingly a laughing stock. It's time you joined a party which does not spend it time dissembling! None is perfect but yours is increasingly heading to oblivion. Ironically its only chance of survival would be post independence when the slate might be wiped clean and a new Scottish Liberal party formed - without wee Willie!Anyway whatever choice you make don't let them silence you!

Munguin said...

I’m at a loss to understand how the Scottish Lib Dems lumbered themselves with Rennie? What happened to all that puff about the Lib Dems in Scotland being independent of London and democratic? Who picked Rennie in the first place? For a change of leader in the SNP all the members are entitled to a vote it would not be up to the Parliamentary party to decide.

As to his crazy policy on devo-max... is that what he calls a fight back from the crushing defeat the Lib Dems got in Scotland last May? Does he wish to have any councillors left as well this May? The pro-London, do what Nick Clegg wants and cosy up to whatever the Tories want tack is getting you nowhere.

Anonymous said...

Come on over to our side of the pool, the water is warmer.

Andrew said...

Fourfolksache - agreed that our best chances would be post independence. Sadly few other Lib Dems seem able to grasp this.

Munguin - how did we become lumbered with Willie Rennie? Because, honestly, he's the best we've got. Reduced to 5 MSPs, and with Tavish resigning, the alternatives were Jim Tolson, Alison McInnes and Liam McArthur. Decent MSPs, but neither realistically leadership mamterial. I'd have preferred Ross Finnie, Margaret Smith, Robert Brown or even Jeremy Purvis - but they all lost their seats in the massacre. Rennie is as new to the leadership as he is to Holyrood and I'm sure he'd be the first to admit this has presented him with certain challenges. Following Tavish's departure he was the only person to put himself forward - it would have been good to have had a competition, but in fairness there were few alternatives.

As for his position on devo max, it is intellectual doubethink. We are a federalist party, he tells us - a devolutionist party. OK. But actions speak louder than words and unless he can do anything to further the cuause of further devolution (and this is the best chance in years) why should anyone believe the Lib Dems are anything other than arch-unionists?

It's interesting how many other Lib Dem members seem to agree with me. Not only does Rennie's approach seem out of touch with political reality, it's a long way from what the membership want him to be doing.

Gedguy said...

First: I admire those who stand by their principles; you being one of them.
Second: It looks like Rennie has already been got at which is why I think his letter to the Herald was so lacking in, not only detail but, direction. It looks like that wasn't enough for his UK masters hence the current 'attack'. The man, to me, is more interested in his career than caring for the country which bore him or the principles that he is meant to espouse. Sad, really.

Andrew said...

Thanks gedguy. I expected Rennie's piece to lack something in the way of detail because obviously he was working within a word limit. Rennie has talked about forging a "new identity" but I for one don't want that to be one of anti-independence and hostility to the SNP.

You make a fair point in relation to "UK masters". The interventions in the last weeks from Clegg, Moore, Cameron, Osborne and now Rennie suggest that there's an uncertainty as to who is actually leading us. Rennie seems strangely isolated, looking increasingly like an observer on the fringes than someone leading events. But it doesn't have to be that way if he can impose himself and show some positive leadership rather than simply responding to what Clegg and Moore are saying.

Dubbieside said...


Between them Rennie and Wallace appear determined to finish off the Lib Dems in Scotland for good. I was tempted to say for a generation, but I think they are making your partys problems worse than that.

I see that on a previous post you said that you would prefer to stay a Lib Dem and fight your corner from inside the tent. As much as I admire that stance I just wonder how much longer you are prepared to stay with a party that cares so little about its membership in Scotland, and appears oblivious to the damage their position is doing your party.

P.S. As your leadership talent pool at Holyrood is non existent why not pick a leader who is not an MSP? The way the Libs minus the dem bit are going the Scottish public will force that position on your party post May 2016.

Andrew said...

In regards the last question I am not sure that it is constitutionally possible to select a leader who is not an MSP (it's certainly the case that the federal party leader must be an MP). In any case, leading the party from outside would be pretty difficult and there would need to be an identifiable leader of the party within the Scottish parliament.

Then again, the party presidency will be up for election this year - and that is something that any member can stand for. Not that it provides the same level of influence, of course.

Paul said...

Seems to me you are not so much talking about the referendum as talking about the LibDems actions, comments and reactions to the referendum.

The SNP has made it clear that it would add a second question if a good proposal about what devo-max is made.

Why is Willie Rennie and the ScotLibDems not using this opportunity to get in there and add in a their ideas?

p.s. I don't know why SNP members want you to jump ship and join their party. Surely having independence supporters in other parties is a bigger advantage than one extra member in their own?

Andrew said...


The SNP has made it clear that a second question is a good idea. The Lib Dems should be in agreement on this point and work to put forward a decent proposal for a devo-max settlement. As for why Rennie and the Scottish Lib Dems are not using the opportunity to add their ideas - well, that's something I'd like an answer to. I think it's folly not to take advantage of what is a unique opportunity to advocate something better. I can only imagine that there are some people whose opposition to independence is more important to them than the federalist, pro-devolution principles on which they profess to stand, or that they're too afraid to rock the boat and put forward something Mr Clegg doesn't approve of.