Thursday, 3 July 2008

Stephen's Step-down Shocker

I'll admit last night the news that Nicol Stephen had stepped down as leader of the Scottish Lib Dems still leaves me stunned.

Most of the recent leadership changes had not been out of the blue like this one. Jim Wallace had led a decent campaign into the 2005 General Election but felt it was time to go, Charles was a long drawn out affair which came to a head like a raging bull even though the BBC were calling me up for interview in the morning to support him still not a surprise, even Ming's short stint was back-dropped by ugly rumours from Westminster or knives being readied.

Nicol was young and as a result did have a young family and it was they, and his marriage to Caris, who have taken priority according to his resignation statement:

"Everyone involved in politics knows that there are stresses and strains on family life. But when it goes beyond that, when it crosses a line, something has to be done. And at that stage — when you have to make a choice between family and politics — there can only be one answer. The health and well being of your family has got to come first.

"With four children between the ages of 4 and 12, my family has got to be my priority."

I can fully empathise with him on that as everyone who knows me knows just what sort of personal toll the 2005 election took on me personally and how I've had to reappraise the balance of things since. In 2005 he stood out as the dynamic person to take our party on to the next challenge and I think he was the quickest candidate for leadership I've ever stepped forward to support, the day he announced I believe.

Yes he's had a tough time with the return to Scottish politics of Alex Salmond who overshadows so many others at Holyrood these days. But unlike Wendy Alexander he didn't appear to make doing much wrong, the issue over whether he should have at least talked to the SNP after last Mays elections aside.

So with the leader gone who is likely to be next. It has to be one of the other 15 MSPs in Holyrood under the party's rules who is the Leader of the Scottish Party.

The papers are already speculating that Tavish Scott the Enterprise Spokesperson is the strong favourite. He was the Minister of Transport up to last May, a role he followed Nicol Stephen into. Is he ready to follow Nicol's footsteps again? Well he has cabinet experience, was a loyal lieutenant of Nicol during his leadership election and is very similar in standpoint to Nicol. So if nothing has changed and the party still feel that the course we set out on is correct he would be an obvious heir.

On the negative side is the reason that Nicol resigned, as MSP for Shetland Tavish with his three young children will have to consider the balance between his family and the demands on him should he become leader, the same trouble may well be too much for him. It is a sad situation that the party has this past year lost one leader due to him being perceived as too old and another though young due to family pressures. However, if he weighs it up and considers he can strike the right balance his would be a strong contender.

Already declaring he will stand againis Mike Rumbles the only challenger to Nicol 3 years ago. He stood on a distinct platform from Nicol then and though seen as a bit of a maverick is not scared of straight talking and laying out his stall. Having taken 23.4% of the vote last time he said last night;

"I am heartened by the numbers of people contacting me and asking me to stand. Having stood before I am ready to do it again. I feel I have a lot to offer the party."

It may be possible that a strong voice is just what the party needs against the pugnaciousness of Mr Salmond. Mike would certainly not be easy fodder for the First Minister on a Thursday at FMQs, The two of them could conceivably go toe to toe. While single mindedness can be an asset at times is it the right mindset for the leader of a democratic party where he would have to follow the policy decided by the party at large. Mike has been at the forefront of shaping some of that in the past occasionally against the majority of his Parliamentary colleagues. That of course doesn't make his course wrong as visionaries often stand out alone, just look at Churchill before War broke out, it could be a brave and courageous step if the party went for Rumbles.

Casting my eye of the rest of the party after the obvious two I can see possibly only two other people with a serious chance of taking on the challenge, of course I may be proved wrong.

Of the rest I see Iain Smith as the strongest other potential candidate. Iain is greatly admired throughout the party has held junior minister roles in Holyrood as well as leading positions in the party. He would make a little bit of history if he were to stand and win as he would be the first opening gay leader of any major political party in the UK. Iain has learnt from a master as his Westminster Parliamentary colleague in North East Fife is Menzies Campbell for whom he was constituency agent and organiser. The one thing that may prevent Iain from standing is potentially the fact that he is seen by many as a natural successor to step up to Westminster when Ming finally retires from his seat. if he were to stand however I could well see Ian being a dark horse that might upset the pundits predictions.

The only other contender I could see emerging from the pack could be Ross Finnie the former Rural Development Minister. He served as Minister for the full first eights years of the Scottish Parliament a feat only matched by Jack McConnell. He was in charge of Scotland's good handling of the food and mouth outbreak in 2001, as well as taking the fight of Scottish fisheries to the EU. Although having undergone heart by-pass surgery 4 years ago Ross may well consider the top seat in the party in Scotland may be too much for him and his health, he certainly is a man with enough experience to take the party forward.

So apart from Mike Rumbles we have yet to see who will step up to plate though that may become slightly clearer later today once others talk to family and friends and consider their positions.


  1. I think Liam McArthur is fairly impressive but is it too soon for him?

  2. I agree with you there STB. It's why I didn't consider him a serious option. Unlike Clegg or Huhne who had experience in the Eurpean Parliament Liam only has a years experience at this sort of level.