How did it come to this? Five years on from an election where the Scottish LibDems won a modern record of 11 seats in Scotland on 19% of the vote, they have been left with Alistair Carmichael, 7.5% of the vote, 47 lost deposits and struggling to be taken seriously. Getting into bed with the Tories was always going to be disproportionately difficult for the party in Scotland. And of course as David Steel has pointed out they played the coalition game catastrophically badly.
However, in May 2010 the LibDems provided crucial cover to a Tory party that had won only one seat in Scotland. The prospect of Mundell as Secretary of State in a minority Tory Government, backed up by a couple of Tory Lords would have smacked of colonial farce (I know). Imagine if the Scottish LibDems had insisted on serious progress on Home Rule as part of the price of coalition. For the first time in almost a century the Scottish LibDems had real power, but they seemed to have no agenda in Scotland except a cabinet seat.
In May 2011 the SNP won a mandate to hold a referendum on independence. Salmond made quite plain that the Scottish Government was keen to have three options on the ballot. Imagine if the Scottish LibDems had put forward their avowed policy on Home Rule. It would almost certainly have been the winning option. The Scottish LibDems would have had the opportunity to argue for what they believed in and to win. It is hard to believe they would not be in a much stronger position today.
As the binary choice referendum came forward there was a brief glimpse of how an alternative narrative could have developed. Scottish Secretary Michael Moore insisted he was not a unionist. Imagine if the Scottish LibDems had broken free of Project Fear and made a positive case for radical constitutional reform within the UK. Imagine that they had argued for Home Rule.
There were at least three times when they could have used the power they won in 2010 to argue for the Home Rule policy they claim to support. On each occasion they flunked it because their antipathy to the SNP was more important to them. It was never inevitable that they would approach this election so badly discredited in Scotland, their position is largely self-inflicted. And ironically it is the SNP who have benefited, and who are now arguing for Home Rule.