Paul Edie: Light at the end of the Lib Dem tunnel

Mike Crockart speaks out after his election defeat, watched on by new Edinburgh West MP Michelle Thomson. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Mike Crockart speaks out after his election defeat, watched on by new Edinburgh West MP Michelle Thomson. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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The general election earlier this month has thrown up a majority Tory government with the SNP sweeping the boards in Scotland.

The Tories are back running the show on 36 per cent of the vote and in Scotland the Nationalists have 56 MPs representing 50 per cent of votes cast, while three other parties have three MPs representing 49 per cent. These anomalies clearly make the case for electoral reform.

I am sure history will be kinder to Nick Clegg and his role in the coalition government than the electorate were. His resignation speech was very moving and a superb restatement of basic liberal values. I know he has been an able and effective deputy prime minister but he could never throw off the albatross of the tuition 
fees vote and his leadership was 
permanently damaged as a result.

With a majority Tory government in place for the first time since 1997, we will see now just how much the Liberal Democrats held back the excesses of the Tories. Politics, like rugby, is a territorial game and bumping along on single-figure poll ratings for several years hurt us badly.

In the face of all of that, Mike Crockart bravely faced the electorate after a very creditable five years as MP for Edinburgh West. Principled and effective, he had fought to get better access to broadband for rural west Edinburgh, beefed up legislation on nuisance calls and played a key role in the Green Investment Bank coming to Edinburgh – the sort of things a good local MP does. He has also initiated a raft of schemes on employment with local businesses and showed 
admirable independence in rebelling and voting against tuition fees and the bedroom tax.

Landslides are no respecters of reputation and, in spite of gaining 1500 more votes than in 2010, Mike still lost his seat. He took his defeat with immense dignity and there was no disgrace in him or many other good MPs losing in such a way.

He was in good company with many excellent MPs and ministers shown the door – Jo Swinson had admirably campaigned for women’s right and Steve Webb, the universally admired pensions minister, to name just two.

At the moment right-wing commentators were preparing to bury the Lib Dems, David Cameron was appointing a Justice Secretary with a history of support for hanging whose first job is to repeal the Human Rights Act. The following day he appointed an Equalities Minister who had opposed gay marriage. With issues surrounding police centralisation in Holyrood to the proposed snoopers charters, Liberals are needed as the only reliable voices raised in protection of our traditional freedoms. We are a committed pro-European party and the in-out referendum is one that we will play an active and energetic role in and our long-held stance on UK federalism is one whose time has come.

With threats to our civil liberties and to our future in both Europe and the UK, there is a need now more than ever for strong liberal voices.

The fightback has started with more than 10,000 joining the party over the three days following polling. The Sunday after the election, several hundred Lib Dems descended upon Edinburgh to lick our wounds and work out where we go from here. The event had the feeling of a religious revival with many speeches from activists quoting the great liberal saints such as John Stuart Mill. It was cathartic. All were determined to learn from our mistakes and do what we can to retrieve the ground we have lost.

We have Holyrood elections next year which will have an element of proportional representation and the following year council elections by the single transferable vote. Without the shackles of coalition or the trams issue haunting us we will be well placed to begin our electoral recovery in both. It may be a long journey back but every long march starts with a footstep.

Paul Edie is Lib Dem councillor in Corstorphine/Murrayfield Ward