I’d been working in the children’s charity sector for several years and I came across a young person who’d spent much of his life in care. He’d had 37 failed foster and care home placements before he was eight years old.
Thinking about the attachment disorder, trauma and loss that little boy had suffered kept me awake at night. His story and those of other young people like him, who I met through youthwork, lit a fire in me that rages to this day.
I started running because I wanted Scotland’s Parliament to use the levers at its disposal to improve lives.
Scotland is a beautiful, rich and dynamic country, but it is not an equal place to live. If you’re born into deprivation then the chances are that you’ll learn less, earn less and die sooner than someone living up the road in a well-off part of town.
It is the job of government to tackle inequality but, after 14 years in power, the SNP have failed to move the dial on child poverty, Scotland’s drug deaths are the worst in the developed world and the educational attainment gap between rich and poor remains devastating.
There are warning lights blinking across the dashboard of government, but the SNP are distracted by their own internal problems and their endless pursuit of independence. They are hopelessly unequal to the task of dealing with the challenges before us.
As we emerge from the pandemic, we need Scotland’s ministers and its parliament to focus on the day job: how we get learning back on track; on how we cope with the mental health crisis and clear the backlog of cancelled operations.
There is so much to repair, but aspiring to get back to where we were before Covid cannot be the limit of our ambitions. For many people, things were terrible the way they were.
We also can’t go back to politics as usual. For the best part of a decade, Scotland has been held back and stifled by the clash of nationalisms – the Scottish Nationalism of the SNP and the British Nationalism of Boris Johnson’s Brexiteers.
And we are repeatedly told that the only governments available to us are to be drawn from their number. I’m sorry but I just don’t accept that’s all there is.
After everything we’ve been through, Scotland needs new hope, right now.
A massive opportunity exists for an alternative kind of thinking to break through in Scottish politics. One that can capture the votes of Scots who are tired of having to choose between those extremes. I want to drive that alternative, so I’m putting my name forward as a candidate to be the next leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
I am an internationalist, I believe in forging unions with our neighbours wherever we can. I will always support our membership of the United Kingdom. But that doesn’t mean that I have to sign up to the Conservative vision of what that Union should look like.
Our United Kingdom needs to change. From devolving power to communities and working collaboratively through federalism, to changing our failed voting system and abolishing the House of Lords, there is much we should reform. Liberals have been in the vanguard of such reform for centuries.
People often underestimate the Lib Dems and we keep surprising them. In the Chesham and Amersham by-election, we took one of the safest Tory seats in the country and did so by a country mile.
It shows that if you want a Liberal Democrat parliamentarian, you can have one. In Scotland, Willie Rennie has ended any question over our party’s survival by building fortresses in our constituencies. It’s now time for us to look beyond those boundaries and reconnect with those Scots who stand where we do.
So many people are looking for a party that’s committed to tackling the climate emergency, without the baggage of nationalism; one that fights for the rights of minorities, and which pushes back against centralisation and state intrusion on our civil liberties. We are the answer they are looking for.
I do not underestimate the challenge before me, but I am committed to it, with all my heart. I am still kept awake at night by the faces of the children I’ve worked with, but I’ll use my waking hours to fight for them.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western