Humza Yousaf becomes First Minister: Why I stood against him – Alex Cole-Hamilton

I’ll admit it. Three months ago, I didn’t expect to be standing in the Scottish Parliament making a bid to be the country’s next leader. But then, that’s politics – expect the unexpected.
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I didn’t do it contemplating victory, but there was a vital point of public importance behind my standing in yesterday’s parliamentary vote for the next First Minister. After 16 years of SNP rule, in which support for pupils and teachers has worsened, in which NHS waiting lists have spiralled, in which backbiting and bitterness have plagued our politics, people need to know that the nationalist option is not the only one.

There are other opinions, other ideas, other visions out there; Scottish Liberal Democrats want to articulate that brighter alternative. I recently came across a Robert Browning poem which resonates strongly with the events of this week: “Glad was I when I reached the other bank. Now for a better country.”

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What I told parliament was this: Scottish Liberal Democrats have a vision for that better country. We believe in a Scotland that is industrious, innovative and internationalist of outlook. We believe in a Scotland where we imagine things again, where we make things again, where we harness the potential of our people and our natural resources. And it’s more than a vision, it’s a reality we can achieve with pragmatic solutions and hard work.

My party is ready to put in the hours. We would cut waiting times and ditch the SNP takeover of social care, which puts more than £1 billion into a bureaucratic overhaul before providing better pay and conditions for staff. Every day, the cost of living becomes more biting. We would introduce an emergency insulation programme to make every house a warm one, slashing carbon emissions in the process.

Nicola Sturgeon asked to be judged on education. With the attainment gap as wide as ever, that judgement must be damning. We must make our classrooms inviting by always paying our teachers what they deserve, tackling violence in schools and scrapping national testing.

So, yes, this week, I was pipped at the post. But victories, losses and mandates are snapshots of a country at any given time, they can change – and Scotland is changing, in serious and seismic ways.

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Last May, the Liberal Democrats gained more seats than any other opposition party in the council elections. We haven’t stopped. Earlier this month, in the very Murrayfield ward where the SNP announced their new leader, my party won a landslide by-election.

Nicola Sturgeon signs her official letter of resignation as First Minister to King Charles III (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)Nicola Sturgeon signs her official letter of resignation as First Minister to King Charles III (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)
Nicola Sturgeon signs her official letter of resignation as First Minister to King Charles III (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

The Sturgeon/Salmond days, which radiated division, are ending. I may have lost the vote this time, but Humza Yousaf will bring more of the same drudgery and decline. He will not reverse the SNP's slide.

People are on the cusp of a decision. Do we want more of the same, or are we crying out for a new perspective? I think we all know the answer. When I knock on doors across the country, I find scores of reasonable, fair-minded voters who just want good governance. That’s exactly what my party will deliver.

When I think about Robert Browning, I think that the other bank could actually be in reach. Change is coming and Liberal Democrats will be part of what’s next.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western