Following Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael’s crushing victory over the SNP’s Miriam Brett, congratulations seem in order. Indeed, he ran a strong campaign.
An interesting question however is why did he win so overwhelmingly, in the face of lingering resentment over the “ConDem’ coalition and his own ‘French-gate’ scandal? Was it the LibDems’ much-vaunted anti-Brexit stance? Or was it something else?
South of the border the Lib Dems’ two most high profile anti-Brexit campaigners, leader Tim Farron and former leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, fared poorly. Clegg lost his seat and Farron’s majority shrank from 9,000 to 777. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the anti-Brexit policy so enthusiastically embraced by Mr Carmichael.
In Scotland the Lib Dems took three seats from the SNP as the electorate recoiled from SNP efforts to re-frame Brexit as a reason for demanding a second independence referendum.
Capping that, in Shetland and Orkney, toxic local issues including: heavy council funding cuts on top of Westminster cuts; intention to rejoin the EU and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP); refusal to sign the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) pledge; and unfulfilled pledges on internal ferry funding and NorthLink fares,were hugely damaging for the SNP campaign.
Early in the campaign pollsters reportedly put Ms Brett ahead. However, a week before the election, Electoral Calculus had Carmichael in front (32 per cent) and Tory hopeful Jamie Halcro Johnston (28 per cent) neck and neck with Brett (29 per cent). Two days before the election, YouGov reported Carmichael had advanced to 42 per cent with Brett slipping to 26 percent. In the final result Carmichael registered 49 per cent to Brett’s 29 percent while Halcro Johnston sank dramatically to just eight per cent.
Both Lib Dems and SNP insisted the election was a “two-horse race” and that is certainly how it ended. However, there appears to have been a late voter stampede as Tory supporters, dreading an SNP win, deserted Halcro Johnston and voted Carmichael, en masse.
Meanwhile, SNP hopes of gutting the Labour vote via their high profile ex-Shetland Labour defectors failed to materialise due to Labour’s national resurgence and able candidate, and the ineffectiveness of the SNP’s local campaign.
It appears then that the extent of Mr Carmichael’s overwhelming victory had little to do with Lib Dem anti-Brexit posturing and plenty to do with wholesale tactical voting, aimed at keeping out the SNP.
Back at national level, the surprise outcome of a hung parliament provides an opportunity for smaller parties to gain political leverage. In particular, Scottish parties should be enabled more effectively to block the government’s alleged intention to “bargain away” the UK fishing industry in Brexit negotiations.
The SNP and LibDems should seek, therefore, to ally themselves with fishing constituency Tory MPs to protect the Scottish fishing industry from any possible sell-out.
The SNP, having snubbed the SFF pledge, are undependable however Mr Carmichael signed and doubtless, keen to live down Nick Clegg’s notorious tuition fees renege and his own indiscretion may, one hopes, be relied upon to fight hard for full abrogation of the CFP.