Letter from Westminster 29.08.08

THOSE who know me might be slightly surprised to hear of me striding on to the hallowed turf at Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby.

They would be right to be surprised. The striding lasted only a few steps as I made a call on my mobile phone and before I realised that I was not supposed to be as far out as I was. A dirty look from nearby ground staff confirmed this to be the case.

That I was able to do this was the result of the Scottish Liberal Demo­crats having booked Murrayfield as the venue for the declaration of our leadership election and Tavish Scott as our new leader. The election is something that has occupied no small amount of my time and attention in recent weeks since I agreed to be Tavish’s cam­paign manager. The media saw him from day one as being the front runner and sure enough he had the backing of the majority of the party’s MSPs and MPs.

In a party like ours, however, where elections are carried out by postal ballots of all party members, being a front runner can be a dangerous thing. Being campaign manager for the front runner is particularly fraught with danger.

It was, I think, Napoleon who said that victory has many fathers but defeat has only one. The modern political equivalent of that is that candidates win campaigns but it is agents who lose them.

It was with this thought in my mind that I turned up at the party HQ in Edinburgh on Tuesday morning to see the votes counted.

As it happened I need not have worried. It was soon apparent that Tavish had a healthy lead and in the event he won with 59 per cent of the first preference votes cast. So the Northern Isles have pro­duced another leader for the Liberal cause. The party maybe feels that after Jo Grimond and Jim Wallace it is a rich source of leadership. I think they may be right.

Both Jo and Jim took on the burdens of leadership at challenging times for the party. For Jo, with only a handful of MPs to lead, the chal­lenge was survival. Jim took on the leadership following a disappointing general election in 1992 which had seen the loss of votes and the recent by-election gain in Kincardine and Deeside.

Tavish too takes on the leadership at a challenging time for the party. The election of a minority SNP government in Edinburgh last May has changed the political landscape enormously.

The party has to resist the squeeze of two party politics. To do this it must first of all listen to the people and hear what concerns them. The party must then respond by pro­viding solutions based on sound liberal values and first principles.

This is not about setting up focus groups to tell people what they want to hear. Quite the opposite. It is about putting meaning and substance back into politics. It is a challenge but somehow I think we have the right man for the job.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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