Nicola Sturgeon's resignation brings Scotland to a real political turning point – Alex Cole-Hamilton
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More unexpected yet was that one betting website had me at 14-1 to be the new First Minister. My mum was chuffed, however I can confirm there’s happily zero chance of my becoming the new SNP leader!
The departing FM leaves a huge in-tray for whoever takes over: crippling NHS waiting times, school gates closed because of strikes, and a Scotland more divided than ever. However, her leaving also presents an opportunity for the country to transcend the worn-out divisions we’ve been stuck with and build something new.
As an opposition party leader, it’s my job to lay out a liberal vision for a renewed Scotland, then work day and night to bring people with us. That success is already starting to take shape. It began last year when my party gained more seats than any other opposition party at the Scottish council elections. It’s also been mirrored in a sustained uptick in opinion polling which could see us double our haul of Scottish Parliament seats if an election were held tomorrow. Liberal Democrats are out there working to change the direction of the whole UK.
Of course, I’m not measuring up for curtains in Bute House. But it feels like we’re approaching a crossroads where there may be a huge opportunity to do politics differently. And, my goodness, we need to do politics differently. The SNP leadership race is a case in point.
Already the tone of the contest speaks to a disconnect between the governing party’s focus and people’s needs and interests that has existed for a long time. Put simply, the SNP’s priorities are not your priorities.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has emerged as frontrunner to succeed Nicola Sturgeon. You’d think his central offer ought to be pinned around his day job. After all, the crisis in our NHS is next only to the cost-of-living emergency in the minds of the people he seeks to govern.
Our health service is on its knees with staff burnout and record-breaking waiting lists. But the Health Secretary has barely mentioned the emergency during his leadership bid. Instead, his focus, like those of his rivals is on breaking up the UK. It’s taking people for granted.
They want to know what will be done to stop people dying from drugs, insulate cold homes, get more staff into schools and hospitals. Those are the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ priorities.
There’s a time coming when that disconnect starts to become apparent to the voting public. It may already have started. I’ve been canvassing a lot over the past few days and I keep meeting former SNP voters who just may be using Nicola Sturgeon’s departure as an opportunity to try something new. It could be that, after all this time, the SNP are starting to feel the irresistible pull of political gravity.
The sands of politics are shifting in big, unpredictable ways. Change may finally be coming over the horizon. Make no mistake, while the top job may be out of reach for me, for now, the Scottish Liberal Democrats are going to be an important part of what comes next.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western