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Reflections on Perth

Spending a couple of days in Perth was a real pleasure, and I sense that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are in the best shape that I have seen them for years: just as well since in 2009 we have a tough fight to keep a Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP, in 2010 the British general election will take place and in 2011 the next Scottish Parliamentary elections will also provide some interesting fights.

Tavish Scott has certainly steadied the ship, and I was impressed also with the way that Jeremy Purvis- who I must admit I did not know before his election- has emerged as a solid, rather owlish, figure in the financial brief.

The star of the conference, though, was clearly Vince Cable. His own address to the conference- an unscripted and extremely thoughtful tour d'horizon of the current state of the British economy and British politics- was exceptional. In the face of the inadequacies of Darling and Osborne it is perfectly clear how far ahead Cable is of the competition. As one who has written about economics professionally myself, I remain awe struck by his clarity and lucidity of purpose. It is not just amongst the Liberal Democrats that the idea that Vince Cable should be the Chancellor of the Exchequer is taking a very firm hold. Whereas once our opponents considered that the Liberal Democrats were rather flaky about economic realities, now they fear to take us on even on such critically important issues.

As to the overall state of Scottish politics, the Nationalists and their oft-time allies the Conservatives are now seeing the chickens coming home to roost. the over-promising and under-delivering SNP has been caught flat footed again and again. As Malcolm Bruce put it, the Nationalists have abandoned so much of their programme that their is little left for them to abandon further- except office.

Meanwhile it becomes ever clearer what a mess the Scottish Labour Party is in. Across the whole Scottish Liberal Democrat conference there was much talk of rejuvenation and opportunity. The party is making progress back from its nadir of two or three years ago, and there is the real hope that far from going backwards at the next elections, there is instead every chance of gains.

That is a prospect that the Scottish Liberal Democrats must relish- and our opponents should fear.


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