Willie Rennie’s silence on his misleading letter and the prospect of a LibDem-SNP coalition at Fife Council

I was pleased to see the Courier reporting Willie Rennie’s misleading letter to voters in NE Fife today. In the letter which a number of voters have complained to me about, he tries to scare them away from voting Conservative on May 4 by pretending a Conservative vote would let in SNP councillors.

Mr Rennie might owe his own seat at Holyrood to such tactical voting in 2016, just as the failure of tactical voting may account for Stephen Gethins’ win in the Westminster election a year earlier. But tactical voting makes no sense in council elections which operate on the principle of a single transferrable vote and where each ward elects not just one winner, but three or four. It’s irrelevant which of the three or four winners gets the most votes – all of them win seats.

Several Conservative candidates have demanded Mr Rennie apologise to voters for misleading them, and it is striking that the Courier article omits this demand and indeed any apology or clarification from Mr Rennie. In fact there is no comment from the Lib Dem leader at all. Is he a tad embarrassed?

All we do get is a Scottish Liberal Democrat spokesman saying that “having a pro-union councillor elected first in north-east Fife wards will send a message that the area does not want a second independence referendum”. This is quite true, but it’s a very significant climbdown from the claims in Mr Rennie’s letter to voters.

Mr Rennie’s desperate tactics betray a well-founded fear that the Lib Dems might lose council seats to the Conservatives in Fife. That’s certainly what happened across Scotland in the Holyrood elections last May, and in by-elections since. The fact is the major opposition to the SNP in Scotland is not Lib Dem or Labour, but Scottish Conservative. Ruth Davidson is a far more powerful voice against Nicola Sturgeon than either Kezia Dugdale or Mr Rennie.

On a Fife level, Mr Rennie will we worried that instinctive conservatives who for years voted for Menzies Campbell as an honorary conservative, will lose the Lib Dem habit and return to their natural allegiance, now that Scottish Conservatives are a meaningful force in Scottish politics and a credible government-in-waiting for the 2021 Holyrood elections. This is a direct threat to Mr Rennie’s own re-election.

On a more immediate council level, the Lib Dems must be wondering if they might have the chance of another coalition with the SNP at Fife House, like the one they enjoyed in 2007-12. But that possibility will be scotched if a significant number of Conservatives are elected over Lib Dems as councillors.

Anyone who is keen to stop a coalition with the SNP in Fife should know that the Fife Conservative leader Dave Dempsey has explicitly ruled out such a coalition following May’s election. Up to now Fife’s Lib Dems have declined to rule out a Lib Dem – SNP coalition.

Featured image credit: Iain Green (http://www.politicalcartoons.com/artist/Iain+Green.html)

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