Paddy: Scottish Lib Dems wrong to veto independence referendum

by Stephen Tall on February 17, 2009

The Scotsman reports on the intervention of former Lib Dem leader, Lord (Paddy) Ashdown:

THE Unionist parties in Scotland should back a referendum on independence to finish off the SNP as a political force once and for all, former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has claimed. Lord Ashdown told The Scotsman that he believes his own party has got its tactics wrong in Scotland in dealing with the Nationalists. And he said that Wendy Alexander was on the right lines when she challenged First Minister Alex Salmond to “bring it on” and hold a referendum on independence. …

The former Liberal Democrat leader still believes that devolution has “killed off” attempts to break up the UK, but has argued that his own and other pro-Union parties should be more willing to take on the SNP head to head.

“This is where I do disagree with my colleagues,” he said. “I don’t want to criticise their tactics following the (Holyrood] election (in 2007], but let’s put it like this: I would not have ruled out a referendum and I think it would have been a good time to hold it. The fact is that there has never been a majority for independence in Scotland. If a referendum was held, then the SNP would lose and would be finished. They are just playing a long game in the hope that they can persuade people to support independence by showing that they can govern competently. In that sense, Wendy Alexander was right last year, although the circumstances when she made her argument were quite a mess.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats said: “Paddy Ashdown is entitled to his own views on this matter, but the Scottish party has made its position on this clear. At this time, people should not be focusing on an independence referendum, but rather on the recession and supporting the economy and protecting people’s jobs.”

Which side of the debate do LDV readers favour? Do you believe, like Paddy, that the Lib Dems should call the SNP’s bluff; or do you think, like the Scottish party leadership, that it’s all just a distraction, and that Scotland has far bigger things to worry about just now?

PS: look out on LDV tomorrow for our first Scottish Lib Dem column, a companion to the Welsh Lib Dems’ Y Barcud Oren.