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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May, 2005, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Analysis: The Lib Dems' dilemma

By John Curtice
Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University

Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy has to decide where his party is heading
The 2005 election has undoubtedly thrown up an encouraging result for the Liberal Democrats across Scotland and across Britain as a whole.

I think the crucial thing to understand is that hitherto what we've seen is that the Liberal Democrats can challenge the Conservatives in Conservative seats, but they've struggled to challenge Labour in Labour seats.

About 10 years ago that started to change at the local government level.

Now it looks as though perhaps that change has already occurred at Westminster level.

There are now, across the UK as a whole, as many close Labour-Liberal Democrat contests in existence as there are Conservative-Liberal Democrat ones.

Coalition quandary

So it may well be that the Lib Dems have repositioned themselves.

This has opened up a new flank of British politics, which is the possibility that the Liberal Democrats will gain seats from Labour when Labour is in trouble.

But in Scotland there is an interesting conundrum that the party is going to be facing.

If they are going to argue that the Liberal Democrats are now the principal opposition to Labour, doesn't that suggest that perhaps they will need to pull out of the coalition sometime before the 2007 Scottish election?

It's going to be very difficult for them to argue that they are the principal opposition to Labour if, right the way through to 2007, they are still in coalition with Labour.

So this result raises an intriguing question in Scotland over how the party positions itself over the next two years.