Fasten Your Seatbelts

It promises to be a roller coaster. The names are in, let the contest begin. The next Scottish Liberal Democrat leader will be Ross Finnie, Tavish Scott or Mike Rumbles.

Mr Finnie is the most experienced and, arguably, the best known having spent the first eight years of the Scottish Parliament as the minister for rural affairs. I spent some time working in that department during his tenure. Unfortunately our paths never crossed: Ross was resting his dicky ticker and I was determined to get out of there as soon as I could.

The staff though seemed to like him, certainly more than his deputy. And I’m prepared to concede that the bullying, naked self interest and incompetence of the civil servants was symptomatic of wider problems within the Scottish Executive than a failure of his leadership.

So far Mr Finnie (how long before the old Captain Mainwaring jokes resurface) is stressing his experience. The problem with that tact is that, in the eyes of the wider electorate, Alex Salmond is the most experienced politician in Scotland. I don’t fancy Finnie’s chances in that head to head.

Tavish Scott is the like for like replacement for Nicol Stephen. He stood aside to let his friend stand and will see this as his time (sound familiar?). I think he’ll have the same problem making an impact with the electorate as Stephen had. And as one part of the Chuckle Brothers he’ll also have to work hard to brush off any lingering resentment over Stephen’s poor election and consequent mishandling of the coalition negotiations.

Which leaves Mike Rumbles, the beaten candidate from last time around. If Finnie and Stephen have a low profile then Rumbles’ is off the radar. He does, however, present himself as more of a renegade figure than his opponents and he seems likely to fight on a number of high profile issues – including the question of a independence referendum.

And Rumbles might well be onto something. The Lib Dems are struggling to carve out a niche in crowded opposition benches. They need something that voters can identify with, something that stands out as a Lib Dem principle. Rumbles might be more qualified than his opponents to provide that. With Labour on the run, this is an opportunity and the safe choice might not be the wise choice.

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