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Election / Lib Dems vote was squeezed by polarised politics – Carmichael

The party will enter the constitutional debate once recovery from the Covid pandemic is under way

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael MP.
Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael.

THE LIBERAL Democrats’ disappointing election result will lead to some “serious reflection” – but is not a cause for panic according to Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael, who also headed the party’s election campaign.

Analysing the party’s performance on Monday, the Shetland and Orkney MP said the Lib Dems’ positive campaign was “squeezed” from two sides as the national debate became increasingly polarised and thus benefitted the two parties at opposite ends of the constitutional debate to the detriment of the middle ground.

He pointed out that, locally, the vote for Beatrice Wishart had gone up compared to her 2019 by-election success, and acknowledged the party’s slide in the regional list to just 26.5 per cent of the vote as “a reflection in which politics has polarised”.

He further said that he did not expect a dramatic impact as a consequence of going down from five to four MSPs in the new parliament. The Lib Dems will lose their seat in the parliament’s business bureau but they expect to continue being heard in parliament and to quiz the government.

“The right to question the first minister is still in the gift of the presiding officer, and as a national party we would still expect, even without an automatic right, to be heard at first minister’s questions. It affects the automaticity but it doesn’t remove your voice,” Carmichael said.

Speaking to Shetland News on Monday, he said it was his view that the Lib Dems had managed to influence the debate during the election campaign “quite significantly in as much as it brought the SNP back on to the ground by saying that they would attend to the recovery first before they thought about the referendum”.

He said it is critical and in the national interest to have “a sensible and mature debate” about recovery, as the economic impact of the pandemic is still to hit, with potentially dramatic consequences for many.

“We are living in a fool’s paradise at the moment because the government is still pumping massive amounts of money into the economy to keep things going, and that’s right, but that’s not going to last forever, it can’t last forever,” Carmichael said.

He said the crisis for the country was still to come, and added that in order to respond adequately to the challenges ahead all parties needed to work together with a “common national purpose”.

And only once the pandemic and the economic fallout from that crisis has been dealt with, the Liberal Democrats are prepared to enter the constitutional debate themselves.

Carmichael is adamant that the Lib Dems “never stood for the status quo” and the party will put forward its own proposals to find a federal solution to the UK’s constitutional question once the time is right.

“We must and we will talk about a distinctively liberal argument in the constitutional space but I still hold the view that the time for that constitutional debate should be on the other side of recovery,” he said.

“Even if we are putting out a different view from the Nationalists and the Conservatives then we are not helping the debate by talking about the constitution when what we need to talk about is jobs, economy, recovery, health, drugs, pupil attainment – the list goes on.”

Turning to the Shetland constituency election result Carmichael is quick to point out that Beatrice Wishart’s share in votes had gone up, both in actual numbers and in percentages (up by 144 to 5,803 votes and by almost one per cent to 48.6 per cent).

“The vote that Beatrice got is bigger than the vote that I got in a number of elections over the years,” he said.

“On the face of it looks like those who voted for Ryan Thomson in the by-election have transferred en-bloc to Tom Wills, but it may be more sophisticated than that, maybe more nuanced.”carmichael

The MP added: “We need to take stock, so it is not business as usual for the party, but at the same time I don’t think there is anything that should be a cause for panic.”