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The Mid-Dumbartonshire Problem

Let's talk about Mid-Dunbartonshire politics. Polls suggest a potential Lib Dem gain (except for one), but I have my doubts. Why? Not learning from the past to sum it up. There's a long road ahead, so let's rewind and see where the problem started and what next for the Lib Dems out there.

In 2019, I landed a job as a campaign organiser for the Lib Dems in East Dunbartonshire. I was fully behind them, doing all sorts of council group campaign work and with Jo Swinson – you remember her, right? That unforgettable Nicola Sturgeon GIF is hard to forget.


But let me tell you, it wasn't an easy ride. The political atmosphere was intense and internal relationships were fractured. Dealing with conflicting personalities, infighting between higher-ups, and a constant "we know best" attitude took a toll on me and the campaign as a whole.


I used to be a loyal Labour member and even cheered on Ruth Davidson's Tories during the Better Together campaign (yeah, I know, don't judge). Then, along came the Lib Dems. Pro-UK and pro-EU – I was sold on that compromise during the heat of Brexit.


So there I was, fully amped up in the campaign office, getting into the flow of things, designing the campaign material, organizing data, and hitting the streets every day. Then suddenly, calls for a Brexit general election started pouring in, and Jo Swinson was right there, adding her voice to the chaos. After weeks of back and forth, the election was finally called! It was on!


Remember Jo Swinson's PM dreams? Total disaster! It damaged national credibility and even worse, her local standing. It became all about tactical voting in East Dunbartonshire. Her push for Brexit alienated local Tories, whom she desperately needed, and pushed them to choose the Conservative's Brexit over unionism. As for Labour, it was a mixed bag, but many were like, "No thanks," reviving old coalition grudges, with some even looking to the SNP for new EU hopes and escape plans. Swinson missed key local issues, like a significant bowling green closure in Milngavie. Every vote mattered on that issue considering she lost by 149 votes. Those local issues couldn't be overlooked.


Back then, it felt like we were running two separate campaigns: one London-centric and the other Scottish each doing their own thing. The remaining rivalries from the Lib Dem leadership contest divisions were clear, and there was a clear bias towards other target seats in different areas from the Scottish leadership. Closed WhatsApp groups only fuelled the gossip mill, adding to the chaos, and ultimately undermining Jo Swinson. It was like we were set up to fail in many ways.


Fast forward to today, a new face has emerged – a Kirkintilloch Councillor as the Lib Dem candidate for the upcoming general election. Willie Rennie was playing catch-up when I was involved, when he seemed to ghost the area last time. His plan was simple an anti-indyref campaign without much more spark than just that. It was all about the tactical voting or "squeeze message" as Lib Dems call it, they kept saying, leaving no room for showcasing local issues, policy or any form of political agenda.


Lib Dems are freaking out at Sadiq Khan, right now asking their London supporters to lend him their vote to keep the Tories out. But wait a minute, isn't that exactly what they're asking for in Scotland too? It's like tactical voting double standards if you ask me.


Some East Dunbartonshire elected representatives kept sharing concerns about this whole "one size fits all" deal with Willie Rennie's approach with me. They reckon Willie's got it all figured out for Fife, but "we need to do what's right for ED" (East Dunbartonshire), they said.


With the boundary change,  Kirkintilloch, Lennoxtown, Lenzie and at one point Kilsyth got all the attention back then. Now, East Dunbartonshire goes by Mid-Dunbartonshire. Lots of folks in these areas aren't keen on switching parties because, well, they're stuck in their old ways. And let's be real, they don't really get what the Lib Dems are about beyond being pro-UK and bragging about some council stuff that doesn't hit home.


The Scottish Liberal Democrats spoke positively about the possible change during my time but only mentioned things like "We're holding onto our three strongest wards," adding a pessimistic "but we're also taking in Kilsyth" in inner circle WhatsApp groups, which didn’t sit well with me.


The "Kilsyth" comment shows concern for unknown territory, rightfully so. It's worth remembering East Dunbartonshire Lib Dems are strong in more than three wards, almost everywhere but one. Focusing solely on placing hope on our three strongest wards risks repeating past mistakes, with a top-heavy campaign in Milngavie and Bearsden. It's like we're not learning from history, isn't it?


Let's also cut to the chase when it comes to progressive issues. Down south, the Lib Dems are seen as a safe place from the chaos of culture wars. But up here? They're cosying up to Conservatives in places like Bearsden and Milngavie while brushing aside issues like trans rights and who knows by now the hate crime bill. They've got their safe answers secured, approved and ready to go to appease the more socially conservative areas.


It's no wonder there aren't many boots on the ground. Who's going to get fired up by those dull messages and no real plan beyond "us vs. them"? Bar charts and all! The stalemate leaves room for internal drama and division on where next.


Yeah, back in the Brexit mess, I jumped on board with the Lib Dems, and I got to say, Jo Swinson had my respect in ways. I saw them as the progressive force, especially on a lot of LGBTQ issues. I admired the well-organised campaigns for trans rights by Young Liberals and how LGBTQ Liberals backed candidates. But now? It's like they're watering down their values to fit wherever they go, like in Dunbartonshire. The whole culture war situation is a fine thing to take in exchange for those tactical votes. And in the past, they teamed up with sketchy pro-UK groups for support. Yeah, I don't exactly feel like a safe space for folks like me anymore.


And they would never dare to dive into other issues the Lib Dems stand for, like their idea of a federal Scotland (still not entirely sure what that looks like), which once explored would surely put off unionists. And don't even get me started on legalising cannabis; that's bound to cause trouble. So, for now, let's keep those policies on the down-low, shall we?


Everywhere else in the UK, they're seen as a breath of fresh air, an alternative to those right-wing conservative policies. So why the switch-up in Scotland and Dunbartonshire? Can't they keep being vocal against the Conservatives and the SNP? It's not like one rules out the other. And most importantly, they need to be bold enough to stand by their policy decisions.


I'm just plain disappointed. It's been almost a year since I walked away from the Lib Dems and team Dunbartonshire to watch from the sidelines. Looking back, their campaign was happy to stoke voter anger, even if it meant ignoring what truly matters rather than "us vs them" tribalism. They've been too scared to take a stand against the culture wars, just going along with it to please soft conservatives who fall for misinformation. It's frustrating to see them keep repeating the same mistakes without even trying to change, except for some pointless paper reviews. And what ticks me off is that we're settling for tactical voting instead of pushing for real policies and agendas, rather of just sticking to the same old playbook that failed last time around.


Let's face it, things have changed in Dunbartonshire, and they need to change their campaign game too, or they'll lose the seat. Elections should be about more than just simplified issues, and that goes for all parties. I had high hopes for the Lib Dems to offer something more than just "vote for us because we're not them."


Well, who am I to say? I'm just the guy who organized stuff — a candidate, a national exec member, a champion doorknocker, and seen as a future leader. But hey, I could be wrong.


Sure, winning back Jo’s seat would be amazing and could make up for the past, but it's going to take more than just this mediocre effort to win it back the right way. I hope the Lib Dems see sense and rethink now before it's too late.

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Apr 23

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