Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish Liberal Democrats
Libearalaich Deamocratach na h-Alba
Scots Leeberal Democrats
Leader Willie Rennie MSP
Deputy Leader Alistair Carmichael MP
President Cllr Eileen McCartin
Founded 8 March 1988 (1988-03-08)
Headquarters 4 Clifton Terrace
EH12 5DR
Youth wing Liberal Youth Scotland
Membership  (Dec. 2013) 2,831 [1]
Ideology Liberalism[2]
Social liberalism[3]
British unionism[4]
Political position Centre
European affiliation Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
International affiliation Liberal International
European Parliament group Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
Colours Gold
Scottish seats in the House of Commons
1 / 59
Scottish seats in the European Parliament
0 / 6
Scottish Parliament
5 / 129
Local government in Scotland
65 / 1,223

The Scottish Liberal Democrats (Scottish Gaelic: Libearal Deamocratach nla h-Alba, Scots: Scots Leeberal Democrats) is a liberal and social-liberal political party in Scotland.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats hold 5 of 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament and 1 of 59 Scottish seats in the UK Parliament.


The Scottish Liberal Democrats are one of the three state parties[5] within the federal[6] Liberal Democrats, the others being the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the English Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats do not contest elections in Northern Ireland.


Deputy Leaders


In keeping with its basis as a federation of organisations, the Scottish party also consists of a number of local parties (which mostly follow the boundaries of the 73 Scottish Parliament constituencies, although many instead operate within an area which matches a local Council Area eg Perth & Kinross Local Party), which are each distinct accounting units under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Local parties are predominantly responsible for the party's political campaigning and for selecting candidates for parliamentary and local authority elections.

There are also eight regional parties (based on the boundaries of the eight Scottish Parliament electoral regions).


The party's headquarters are located at 4 Clifton Terrace, Edinburgh.

The conference is the highest decision-making body of the party on both policy and strategic issues. The day-to-day organisation of the party is the responsibility of the party's Executive Committee, which is chaired by the Convener of the party and includes the Leader, the Depute Leader and the President of the party, as well as the party Treasurer and the three Vice-Conveners. See below for the current office-bearers and all other members of the Party's three management committees (Executive Committee, Policy Committee and Conference Committee). All party members vote every two years in internal elections to elect people to all the below positions, except Leader & Depute Leader.

Current Party Leadership, Office Bearers & Committee Members

Scottish Headquarters Staff

The party employs a small team of staff at their HQ in Edinburgh.


Like the Federal party, the Scottish party holds two conferences per year; a Spring Conference, and an Autumn Conference.

Associated organisations

Associated organisations generally seek to influence the direction of the party on a specific issue or represent a section of the party membership. The party has five associated organisations:

Association of Scottish Liberal Democrat Councillors and Campaigners

The Association of Scottish Liberal Democrat Councillors (ASLDC)[7] is a network of Liberal Democrat councillors and local campaigners across Scotland which works to support and develop Liberal Democrat involvement in Scottish Local Government.

Following the Local Council Election of May 2012, under the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, 71 Liberal Democrats were elected, a drop of 95 on Local Council Election of May 2007.

A voluntary Executive Committee meets several times a year to run the organisation.

ASLDC works alongside Liberal Democrats in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) where Cllr Peter Barrett is leader of the Lib Dem Group.


The Scottish Liberal Democrat party was formed by the merger of the Scottish Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party in Scotland, as part of the merger of the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party parties on 3 March 1988.[8]

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 devolution referendum.

1999–2007: Coalition government with Labour

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.

2007–present: Opposition and electoral decline

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 sat as an opposition party in the Parliament.

On 2 July 2008, Nicol Stephen resigned as the party leader. The former 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. (See also Scottish Liberal Democrats leadership election, 2008.)

At the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, the party lost all its mainland constituencies, retaining only the two constituencies of Orkney and Shetland. It also secured three List MSPs. This was by far the party's worst electoral performance since the re-establishment of a Scottish parliament in 1999.

At the 2014 European Parliament elections, the party lost its only MEP.

At the 2015 general election, the party lost 10 of its 11 MPs with only Alistair Carmichael narrowly retaining Orkney and Shetland with a 3.6% majority.

At the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, the party again had 5 MSPs elected but was pushed into 5th place by the Scottish Greens. While it gained constituency seats, its vote share fell overall.

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.[9] 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.[10]

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 Britain.

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 had earlier in the same year launched a "National Conversation" which includes the option of independence for Scotland.

Elected representatives (current)

Scottish Parliament

Member of the Scottish Parliament Constituency or Region First elected Spokespersons[11]
Willie Rennie North East Fife 2011 Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats
Liam McArthur Orkney 2007 Education and Energy
Tavish Scott Shetland 1999 Business and the Economy
Alex Cole-Hamilton Edinburgh Western 2016
Mike Rumbles North East Scotland 2016 health and housing

House of Commons of the United Kingdom

Member of Parliament Constituency First elected Notes
Alistair Carmichael Orkney and Shetland 2001 Only MP elected in the 2015 general election.

Electoral performance

Scottish Parliament Elections

Election Constituency votes Regional votes Total seats Share of seats Position Outcome Notes
Share Seats Share Seats
1999 14% 12 12% 5
17 / 129
13% 4th Coalition Government First election to the re-constituted Scottish Parliament. Formed a coalition with the Labour Party.
2003 15% 13 12% 4
17 / 129
13% 4th Coalition Government
2007 16% 11 11% 5
16 / 129
13% 4th Opposition
2011 7.9% 2 5.2% 3
5 / 129
4% 4th Opposition
2016 7.8% 4 5.2% 1
5 / 129
4% 5th Opposition

UK General Elections

This chart shows the electoral results of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, from its first election in 1992. Total number of seats, and vote percentage, is for Scotland only. For results prior to 1992 see Scottish Liberal Party.

Election Vote % Seats Outcome of election
1992 13.1
9 / 72
Conservative Overall Majority
1997 13.0
10 / 72
Labour Overall Majority
2001 16.3
10 / 72
Labour Overall Majority
2005 22.6
11 / 59
Labour Overall Majority
2010 18.9
11 / 59
Conservative & Liberal Democrat Coalition
2015 7.5
1 / 59
Conservative Overall Majority

Liberal Democrat Scottish peers in the House of Lords

Peer Ennobled Notes
Patrick Boyle, 10th Earl of Glasgow 1984 Current chief of Clan Boyle
Elizabeth Barker, Baroness Barker 1999
Malcolm Bruce, Baron Bruce of Bennachie 2015
Menzies Campbell, Baron Campbell of Pittenweem 2015
James Erskine, 14th Earl of Mar 2000
Archy Kirkwood, Baron Kirkwood of Kirkhope 2005 MP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire from 1983 to 2005
Robert Maclennan, Baron Maclennan of Rogart 2001 Leader of the Social Democratic Party & Leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats (1987 to 1988)
Jeremy Purvis, Baron Purvis of Tweed 2013 MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (2003 to 2011)
David Steel, Baron Steel of Aikwood 1997 Leader of the Liberal Party & Leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats (1976 to 1988)
Nicol Stephen, Baron Stephen 2011 Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats (2005 to 2008)
Alison Suttie, Baroness Suttie 2013 Deputy chief of staff to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (2010 to 2011)
John Sinclair, 3rd Viscount Thurso 2016
Iain Vallance, Baron Vallance of Tummel 2004
Jim Wallace, Baron Wallace of Tankerness 2007 Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats (1992 to 2005)

See also


  1. "Search - The Electoral Commission".
  2. Eve Hepburn (2010). Using Europe: Territorial Party Strategies in a Multi-level System. Oxford University Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-7190-8138-5.
  3. Helma Gerritje Engelien de Vries (2007). Insiders and Outsiders: Global Social Movements, Party Politics, and Democracy in Europe and North America. ProQuest. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-549-45223-2.
  4. Where do the Scottish Lib Dems stand on independence?
    'We want to see a strong Scotland, with control of its own affairs as a part of a federal United Kingdom'.
    Published 08/03/16. Retrieved 15/11/16.
    Posted by Greg Foster.
  5. "The party is led by Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen MSP and is a state party within the Liberal Democrats",, accessed 23 September 2006 (cached)
  6. "Party Structure",
  7. "Scotland and ASLDC - Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors".
  8. "Liberal Democrat History Group". Retrieved 2011-05-07.
  9. "Scottish policy responsibilities include all devolved matters plus matters that we believe should be the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.",
  10. "Microsoft Word - Steel Commission Report March 2006 formatted.doc" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-05-07.
  11. "Labour and Lib Dems reveal detail of reshuffles".
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