Does it matter that Campbell is Scottish?

At the next election it is likely that Labour will be led by a Scot, representing a Scottish constituency. So, if they elect Ming Campbell, will the Lib Dems. But elections are primarily won and lost in England, where 85% of the population lives. Not entirely, but primarily. The Conservative Party topped the poll in England last year, but still lost overall.

Will it matter if the Conservatives are led by the only English party leader? The last time a party won an election with a leader sitting for a non-English constituency was 1929, when Labour was led by Ramsay MacDonald, a Scot representing a Welsh constituency. Tony Blair is Scottish, and Harold MacMillan was of Scottish descent, but both represented English constituencies. By contrast two Englishmen, representing Welsh constituencies, led Labour to disastrous defeats in 1979 and 1983. Labour followed that with a Welsh leader, also sitting for a Welsh seat, who lost them a further two.

In 2005, the Conservatives topped the poll in England under a Welsh leader representing an English constituency.

Is this just a collection of trivia, or does it matter? It might. I don't think the English have any particular prejudice against Scots or Welsh, but a leader who lives in a bubble, and is cut off from English concerns, can never be an effective leader of a UK party. That is why being Scottish is more of a handicap than being Welsh, despite Labour's poor run under leaders from Cardiff and the Welsh valleys.

Scotland has a political establishment in a way that Wales and England don't. Top Scottish lawyers, journalists, businesspeople and politicians all hang around the same clubs and bars in Edinburgh. The 80s passed them by. When pressed to name something that got better during the 80s, John Smith, a Scottish advocate, could think of nothing. When further pressed he suggested "maybe management got a bit better". Tony Blair, Scottish by birth and schooling, but a practitioner at the English bar, gets it in a way Smith never could.

Michael Howard is a Welsh barrister. But a Welsh barrister is no different from an English barrister, and can practice anywhere in England or Wales. Neil Kinnock also lived in a bubble, but it was not a specifically Welsh bubble, and was more tied up with the fact that he had never had a job at all than that his job was Welsh.

So do Ming Campbell (Scottish advocate) and Gordon Brown (Scottish journalist) have more of a problem reaching out to the English electorate than David Cameron (Scottish name, but English upbringing and constituency)? Maybe. If Campbell wins, Cameron being the only English leader at the next election could have real traction.

So will Campbell win? Some 25-30% of LibDem members live in the South East, where people will be most sensitive to the idea that yet another Scottish leader may not be the best thing. Furthermore, Chris Huhne twice topped the poll in a ballot of members in the South East to head the party's list for the European elections. People are writing off this candidate too early. The first preferences will produce a much more even split between Campbell, Hughes, and Huhne than most commentators have predicted.

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