Only Lib Dems can fix broken Britain - Alex Cole-Hamilton
Politicians always say that the mood of their party conference is buoyant, but hand on heart, this conference was one of the most uplifting I’ve been to. When I last travelled to Bournemouth we were in a time of peak Brexit chaos. Theresa May’s divided government was in a tailspin, while Jeremy Corbyn’s equally divided Labour party lurched from scandal to scandal offering only confusion in response to the Brexit stalemate. No-one had yet heard of Covid-19.
Returning to the same Bournemouth venue at the same time of year brought back memories of that earlier event with crystal clarity.
MPs of every stripe were defecting to the Liberal Democrats buoyed by our defence of European collaboration. Some of these new Lib Dem MPs were unveiled in person on the conference stage, others spoke to packed Fringe events about what made them make the switch.
It felt like we were on the verge of a huge and historic breakthrough. As the only resolutely pro-EU UK party, we had a newfound appeal for half the population and anything seemed possible. The snap general election of 2019, a few months later, quickly revealed this for the false dawn that it turned out to be.
So when I say this week was uplifting, I mean it. Our by-election victories both north and south of the border offer the promise of revival and resurgence, but the injury of what happened four years ago is keeping our feet on the ground and our heads in the game. Rebuilding close ties to our European partners is important but our party knows that we also need to be relentlessly focused on the issues that are affecting people day-in, day-out.
We live in a time of great change and great challenge. Everything about our country feels broken and in need of the creativity and reform that only Liberal Democrats can offer. The equivalent of one in seven Scots are waiting for treatment in the NHS, the worst cost of living emergency since the end of rationing is causing hardship in every community in Scotland, while strikes and industrial action punctuate and disrupt our daily lives.
At conference our party shaped big and meaningful policies to tackle these challenges like a comprehensive support package for families struggling to pay their mortgage, and a massive overhaul of our health and social care sectors starting with a transformational investment in mental health care.
The Conservative government looks to be beyond salvation and there’s a real sense that the same is true for the SNP. Good. Ministerial disinterest and obsession with the constitution in both Edinburgh and London have held us back for too long – this country needs change. If the polls are to be believed, that change is coming and I’m certain that the Liberal Democrats have both the ideas and the grit to be part of what’s next.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is MSP for Edinburgh Western Constituency and Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats