The Scottish Liberal Democrats are one of the three state parties within the federal structure of the Liberal Democrats; the others being the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrats of the central UK government. The party is the successor to the Scottish Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party in Scotland, following the merger of these parties in 1988.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats currently hold 16 of 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, 12 of 59 Scottish seats in the UK Parliament, and one of six Scottish seats in the European Parliament.

The party has approximately 4,000 members, as of August 2008.

Recent history

The party campaigned for the creation of a devolved Scottish Parliament as part of its wider policy of a federal United Kingdom. In the late 1980s and 1990s it and its representatives participated in the Scottish Constitutional Convention with the Scottish Labour Party, Scottish Green Party, trades unions and churches, and also campaigned for a "Yes-Yes" vote in the 1997 referendum.

In the first elections to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the party won 17 seats. Following this, the party formed a coalition government with the Scottish Labour Party in the Scottish Executive. The then party leader, Jim Wallace, became Deputy First Minister of Scotland and Minister for Justice. He also served as acting First Minister on three occasions, during the illness and then later death of the first First Minister Donald Dewar and following the resignation of his successor Henry McLeish. This partnership was renewed in 2003 and Wallace became Deputy First Minister and Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning. On 23 June 2005, Nicol Stephen MSP succeeded Wallace as party leader and took over his positions in the Executive until the 2007 elections.

Prior to the partnership government being formed in 1999, the UK had only limited experience of coalition government. The party's participation attracted criticism for involving compromises to its preferred policies, although several of its manifesto pledges were adopted as government policy or legislation. These included changes to the arrangements for student contributions to higher education costs (although whether that amounted to the claimed achievement of having abolished tuition fees was hotly contested), free personal care for the elderly and (during the second coalition government) changing the system of elections for Scottish local authorities to the single transferable vote, a long-standing Liberal Democrat policy.

In the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, the party won one fewer seat than in the two previous Scottish elections: this was the first parliamentary election for 28 years in which the party's parliamentary strength in Scotland was reduced. This experience led to some criticism of the party's election strategy and its leader. Although it was arithmetically possible to form a majority coalition with the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Green Party, the party refused to participate in coalition negotiations because of a disagreement over the SNP's policy of a referendum on Scottish independence, and now sits as an opposition party in the Parliament.

On 2 July 2008 Nicol Stephen resigned as the party leader. The deputy leader Michael Moore MP served as acting leader of the party until Tavish Scott MSP was elected party leader on 26 August 2008, winning 59% of the votes cast in a contest with parliamentary colleagues Ross Finnie and Mike Rumbles.

Policy platform

The Scottish Party decides its policy on state matters independently from the Federal Party. State matters include not only currently devolved issues but also those reserved matters which the party considers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, including broadcasting, energy, drugs and abortion. The party also believes that the Scottish Parliament should exercise greater responsibility on fiscal matters. A party commission chaired by former Liberal Party leader and Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer Sir David Steel set out the party's proposals on the constitutional issue.

According to its constitution, the party believes in a "fair, free and open society ... in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity". It has traditionally argued for both positive and negative liberties, tolerance of social diversity, decentralisation of political authority, including proportional representation for public elections, internationalism and greater involvement in the European Union. In the 2007 elections it campaigned for reforms to public services and local taxation, and for more powers for the Scottish Parliament within a federal United Kingdom.

In December 2007, the party (along with Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives) supported the creation of a new Commission on Scottish Devolution, along similar lines to the earlier Scottish Constitutional Convention, to discuss further powers for the Scottish Parliament. The SNP Government has instead launched a "National Conversation" which includes the option of independence for Scotland.

Their web site can be viewed at:
http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/

Alastair