7 May 2007






















(Don Foster, Liberal Democrat, Bath)

Dear Mr Foster,

I wanted to write to you to express my sincere gratitude for your efforts and attention as my MP for the last several years. On the two or three occasions I’ve had cause to contact you about various matters, you’ve been helpful and prompt. I couldn’t have asked for more from a constituency MP within the constraints of opposition, and have always been happy to vote for you at every opportunity during my 17 years here.

The reason I feel compelled to tell you this now is that with the greatest regret, I shall not be voting for the Liberal Democrats again, in protest at the utterly disgraceful way the party is acting in the wake of the recent elections to the Scottish Parliament. It is abundantly plain from the election results and every published opinion poll that the great majority of the people of Scotland (of which I am one in exile) wish to have a referendum on the subject of Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom, including the possibility of independence. Given that the Lib Dems finished in fourth place in the election, I find it disgusting and shameful that they are using this position to block the clear will of the Scottish people. The majority of Liberal Democrat supporters – the majority of the Scottish electorate across ALL parties, regardless of their views on independence itself – want a referendum. If the party’s position is in favour of retaining the Union, it is entitled to put that position to the people and attempt to persuade them to vote for it (indeed, the same polls that indicate the support for a referendum suggest strongly that they would do exactly that). What it is NOT morally entitled to do is use a small minority vote to take advantage of the quirks of PR and prevent the electorate from having a voice on the subject at all. It is not only a betrayal of the Scots, but a betrayal of the most fundamental principles of democracy itself.

(It's also rather curious given that the Lib Dems strongly oppose major and important Labour policies like the war in Iraq, the wasting of billions on Trident, the introduction of ID cards and the building of more nuclear power stations, yet still felt able to support the last Labour-led Scottish administration in coalition for eight years despite those issues. Are we to believe that the mere act of giving the people of Scotland a vote on their future is really a more terrifying and unconscionable prospect than all of those things?)

I learn from family and friends that it is widely – almost universally, in fact – held in Scotland that this policy is the result of a secret agreement between the Lib Dems and Labour aimed at running a coalition government after the next Westminster election. It’s a highly believable scenario, given the Lib Dems’ aforementioned history of propping up the unpopular Labour administration in Scotland. However, the recent local election results appear to suggest that it would be a fool’s bargain. The momentum appears to be very much with the Conservatives on the South side of the border (and what a feat it is to now be less popular than the Tories in Scotland), and I suspect the Lib Dems will find that they’re giving up a share in power in Scotland in return for nothing more than a declining share of opposition at both Holyrood and Westminster.

I mention this to you because I think it’s important for the party to understand that it’s not only in Scotland that this misguided and indefensible policy will lose the Liberal Democrats votes. I promise you, sadly but most faithfully, that you or any other Liberal Democrat candidate shall never again be the recipient of my vote in any election, local or general, as long as the policy of denying the people of Scotland their democratic right is pursued. Given the wholesale contemptibility of New Labour, and the unfairness of the Westminster electoral system which makes it pointless to vote for smaller parties, I shall most likely be forced to vote, with the heaviest of hearts, for the Conservatives. I doubt you can imagine how desperate a situation I, as someone who grew up in Scotland during the Thatcher era, find such a prospect to be. And for that, I’m afraid, your party will never, ever be forgiven.

Should you be considering a reply to this letter – and I don’t anticipate one, for I’m at a loss to even begin to fathom what you could say in the party’s defence – then please don’t waste your time and mine repeating the embarrassing, pathetic weasel words already uttered by Nicol Stephen and Tavish Scott in the aftermath of the election.

“But this is what we always said we would do! If people wanted a referendum they would all have voted for the SNP!”

I’m sure you’re an intelligent man, Don, and I know for certain that I am. Both of us, then, are well aware of how rarely any party anywhere on this planet ever wins more than 50% of the vote in any election. I would imagine that most Lib Dem voters in Scotland expected that, particularly under a PR-based system, their candidates would act in the interests of the nation as a whole, even where that involved some compromise – that is, after all, the nature of coalition. It's evident that the SNP have already tabled several compromise proposals, but as the largest party it would clearly be naïve in the extreme to expect them to entirely abandon their main manifesto commitment. Given that that commitment is actually in concordance with the wishes of most opposition voters too, it would in fact be nothing short of highly irresponsible and improper of them to do so. Indeed, it would represent exactly the sort of instant betrayal of their voters that the Liberal Democrats are now perpetrating.

It is absolutely unquestionable that the vast majority of Scots wish to be given a free vote about the nation’s constitutional future. It is equally unquestionable that a large number of them wish to use that vote to say “No” to independence, and thereby hopefully lay the matter to rest for years to come. That the three Unionist parties are nevertheless so implacably determined to deny them that voice leads inescapably to a single conclusion: that those three parties so fear the power and intellect of Alex Salmond that they believe him to be capable – even when set against three far better-funded opponents and a poisonously hostile media - of persuading the Scottish electorate to change their minds en masse. In other words, despite having every possible advantage and starting from a winning position, the Unionist parties are frightened that they’d lose the argument. The Liberal Democrats would be better served, I suspect, by people with rather more confidence in their convictions. To refuse the people a voice because you’re afraid of what that voice might say is no form of democracy that I recognise.

Yours regretfully,

Rev. Stuart Campbell


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