The former Liberal Democrat leader's federalist vision offers a legitimate alternative to independenceby Serena Kutchinsky / July 4, 2014 / Leave a comment
“Menzies Campbell is one of the nicest men in politics,” said a Prospect colleague, as I set off to meet the former Liberal Democrat leader and retired athlete to hear his answer to the Scottish independence question. But, when I finally make it through the airport-style security, there is no trace of the man who some say could save the union. It seems Sir Menzies has stood me up.
A passionate advocate of federalism, Campbell has spent the past two years espousing a positive solution to the Scottish question. His most recent report on devolution, Campbell 2 (which could be the name of a spaceship), was published in March and contains a grounding alternative vision for the UK’s future. Think of it as living “apart together”. Despite announcing last November that he will retire from political life at the next general election (which could result in a damaging loss for the Lib Dems in his North East Fife seat), Campbell’s energy shows no signs of abating. Which makes his no-show even more surprising.
I’m back in Westminster the next morning, after several apologetic emails. With his lengthy frame clad in navy chinos, blue shirt and tie, Campbell looks more like a dapper, retired athlete than an ageing politico. All that’s missing is the Panama hat. This is possibly due to the fact that “Minger” was once a leading British sprinter who broke the British 100m record in 1967, earning him the nickname “the fastest white man in Britain.” I try to ignore the Chariots of Fire theme tune that’s buzzing around my head and focus on Campbell’s vision for the future of his homeland.
“The voter turnout for this referendum on 18th September is likely to be higher than for next year’s General Election,” says Campbell as I settle into an armchair and take in the view of Westminster spires through his window. “The question of Scotland’s place in the kingdom has been on the agenda since long before Alex Salmond’s SNP won a majority in the Scottish parliament in 2011. It even predates the 1979 referendum on devolution, as the SNP won, and then promptly lost, 11 seats in 1974. It’s time we settled it because it’s clouding people’s perception of Scotland,” he says.
Born in Glasgow in 1941, Campbell is the epitome of the proud Scotsman. Yes,…