Tories' farcical meltdown means next general election will be no referendum on Scottish independence – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

There’s an episode of the 1980s’ sitcom, Yes Prime Minister, when newly elected Prime Minister Jim Hacker tells his foremost civil servant, Sir Humphrey, of a radical new economic policy which will reshape the government and the country.

Paul Eddington, right, and Nigel Hawthorne, aka Prime Minister Jim Hacker and 'Sir Humphrey' from sitcom Yes, Prime Minister (Picture: Reg Lancaster/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Paul Eddington, right, and Nigel Hawthorne, aka Prime Minister Jim Hacker and 'Sir Humphrey' from sitcom Yes, Prime Minister (Picture: Reg Lancaster/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

After a brief pause, Sir Humphrey replies: “That would be most courageous of you Prime Minister.” To which Hacker replies in horror: “I don’t want to be courageous, I want to be liked!” After this week, it’s clear Liz Truss is badly in need of a Sir Humphrey figure in Number 10.

An old adage tells us that opposition parties don’t win elections, governments lose them and there’s a real sense that the Truss administration are doing their level best to prove that theory correct.

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It’s now clear that neither Truss nor Kwasi Kwarteng sought advice or opinions from key economic advisers like the Office for Budget Responsibility or for that matter, any member of their Cabinet before launching their disastrous mini-budget.

As a result, they’ve seen a catastrophic collapse in Conservative support in the polls and mutiny in their parliamentary party, in turn leading them to one of the most embarrassing U-turns in history.

Whisper it, but there is a palpable sense of change in the air. There is widespread and active discussion that the Conservatives will likely lose power at the next General Election. The lesser-told story in that narrative is how vital the Lib Dems are to that reality.

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For change to come, there needs to be a Lib Dem revival in areas of traditional Conservative strength and that revival has already started.

In the Tory strongholds of Chesham & Amersham, North Shropshire and Tiverton & Honiton, Lib Dems leap-frogged Labour and destroyed Tory majorities of over 20,000 votes in recent by-elections. More and more people are seeing for themselves that when you elect a Liberal Democrat, you get a representative who will fight for you all year round.

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With the Tory collapse underway, there are now seats in the so-called ‘blue wall’ where we could be poised to repeat those upsets. It’s clear that for Britain to prosper, the Conservatives have got to lose, and the Lib Dems will play our part in making that happen.

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In all this, there’s also a fascinating Scottish dimension. The events of the past week will fuel the discontent fomenting in the ranks of the Scottish Conservatives.

Douglas Ross was forced into yet another embarrassing climb-down on Monday after breathlessly supporting the Truss-Kwarteng plan. This is the same Douglas Ross who performed the hokey-cokey with his letter to the 1922 Committee calling for Boris Johnson’s removal. It’s not clear at all what (if anything) Douglas now stands for.

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Meanwhile, these developments have left the SNP with threats on all sides. After years of telling us the prospect of Tory governments from here on in was reason to break up the UK, people are starting to see a different outcome may be possible.

It also puts Nicola Sturgeon’s gambit of claiming the election is a de facto referendum in jeopardy. It was always arrogant of her to assume she could make this all about her fixation. With a wind of change in the air, the electorate may punish her party for that arrogance.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western