Is it time for the Scottish Lib Dems to back an independence referendum?

by Stephen Tall on October 25, 2009

The Sunday Times reports:

Senior Liberal Democrat figures will hold talks in an attempt to halt a growing rebellion within the party’s ranks over its opposition to Alex Salmond’s Referendum Bill. Party managers will meet on Monday to decide the best way of tackling the revolt, which could seriously undermine Tavish Scott’s leadership of the party.

Strategists have yet to decide whether they will allow the issue to go to a vote at a special conference being held in Dunfermline next Saturday to confirm the party’s stance. It is understood that several of the party’s Westminster candidates are preparing to join rebels who support a referendum on the issue of Scottish independence.

One proposal being considered is for a series of votes that will enable the Liberal Democrats to agree to a referendum in principle but not along the lines being suggested by the Nationalists.

The party’s Scottish Affairs spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, said: “Put in the terms of the SNP’s plan to hold a referendum on St Andrews Day, when you have to turn up wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipes to vote, I don’t know of anyone in the Liberal Democrats who backs that.”

Mr Carmichael tried to play down the significance of the outcome of next week’s conference in a sign that the party leadership may be preparing the ground for losing the argument. “If there is a vote it is on a consultative basis. These are soundings we are taking — there will not be a vote binding on party policy,” he said.

“It is possible you could say that there may need to be some democractic settlement, but not to back Alex Salmond’s Bill. We have 16 MSPs who were elected on a platform of not supporting a referendum”.

What do LDV’s readers think: should the Scottish party stick by the official line that a vote on independence is a distraction from the real issues facing Scotland; or would it be better, both in principle and tactically, to say to the SNP, ‘Bring it on’?