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Tavish Scott takes to the leadership stage

Brian Taylor | 18:08 UK time, Tuesday, 26 August 2008

It was a jolly occasion: unsullied, mostly, by rough, nasty things like winning external popular support.

That was for later. For now, loyal Scottish Liberal Democrats had one thing in mind: to applaud their new leader, Tavish Scott. There was notably vigorous applause from those who had campaigned for rivals. There was even a token baby or two on hand, mewing gently.

True, there was a curious remark from the second-placed Ross Finnie to the effect that the leadership contest had shone a light upon some party issues which were more commonly consigned to the cupboard.

One can only presume that he was referring to relatively mild disputes about the correct strategy for the LibDems to follow, post Salmond.

But he said it with a roguish grin - and followed it with a vigorous pledge to work for the newly elected leader.

As for Tavish Scott, it was a good, gutsy opening performance. He kept his acceptance speech mercifully short: thanking those who merited thanks and delivering a brisk political message.

That, need one say, was aimed at the First Minister. According to Mr Scott, Mr Salmond is destined to follow Gordon Brown in losing popular support.

Here's the key quote re Alex Salmond: "What looks confident, sure-footed and wily today will be seen as arrogant, misguided and politically dishonest tomorrow."

In short, he was telling party activists: fight hard on issues of popular concern, target the incumbent SNP - and bide your time.

What might one surmise about the issue of the constitution? Mr Scott wasn't for saying, preferring to deal with those popular issues: the economy, housing, rising prices.

However, pressed by me and others, he said his objective would be to secure greater powers for Scotland - firmly within the UK.

That could point to support for a multi-option referendum: perhaps setting independence against whatever emerges from the Calman Commission.

But, again, Mr Scott wasn't for saying, stressing that this was an issue for another day - and not an issue which motivated the mass of the population, in contradistinction to the obsession of political activists and journalists.

In all, then, a taut, confident beginning. But with questions ahead. What, precisely, will be the role of the Liberal Democrats? All-out, gutsy opposition? Cross-party co-operation? Bit of both?


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