Scottish Liberal Democrats: Since I became leader, I've been having the time of my life – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

Last summer didn’t feel like much of a break. On returning from a lovely few days in Anglesey with my family, Willie Rennie called to ask if I’d had a nice trip, then said he was going to resign the leadership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and that I should begin preparing myself to take the helm.

Alex Cole-Hamilton has been officially sanctioned by the Kremlin (Picture: Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Alex Cole-Hamilton has been officially sanctioned by the Kremlin (Picture: Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Though our party had gone backwards by one seat at the Scottish Parliament elections that May, my remaining colleagues and I had secured some of the biggest majorities in Scottish parliamentary history.

I personally received more votes than any other candidate in the history of devolution. So, as frustrating as the national results were, Willie Rennie had consolidated the survival of my party by building citadels in our seats and I will be eternally grateful to him for that.

What followed was a whirlwind of meetings and speechwriting, photo opportunities and strategy sessions. I declared my intention to stand for the leadership in this column and was appointed leader a few weeks later, a year ago this Saturday.

Over the past year, I’ve taken the fight to the SNP on key neglected issues like the plight of Long Covid sufferers, the illiberal use of pandemic powers, and the lack of preparation for Ukrainian refugees.

I’ve sought to identify Russian interest and influence in Scottish life to the point where I’ve been officially sanctioned by the Kremlin. All the while challenging the SNP to leave talk of breaking up the UK to one side and focus on the day job.

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On a range of policy issues, I’ve sought to refresh and restate the Liberal Democrat case, offer new hope to Scottish households on the cost of living, and draw on my experience as a former youth worker to set out policies to help young people.

When it comes to health, on the SNP’s watch we have seen record drug deaths, record waits for cancer treatment and children waiting more than a year for mental health support. After 15 years of their mismanagement, the NHS is on its knees. This past year I’ve been laying out a vision of new hope for our nation’s health.

I’ve also sought to bring new hope about the climate emergency. Once-in-a-generation monsoons now hit Scotland almost every year, while heatwaves hit new records.

Despite the climate chaos the Scottish Government have missed their emissions reduction targets year after year. If the SNP/Green coalition won’t champion the cause of the environment, my Scottish Liberal Democrats will.

I’ve worked to rejuvenate our party, appointing new spokespeople and new staff behind the scenes, bringing in some of our largest-ever donations, touring the country to recruit candidates and helping local parties get our new and liberal message out to voters.

Our dedicated activists always work tirelessly and at the local elections these efforts finally bore fruit. Despite being widely expected to go backwards again, we won 87 seats, increasing our number of councillors by a third and making the most gains of any opposition party. These council results will be the bedrock on which our future electoral success will be built.

It’s fair to say that since I took over the leadership of my party, I’ve been having the time of my life.

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