Why I'm cheerful about the future for Lib Dems - Alex Cole-Hamilton

When I was ten years old, my father woke me at 4.30am to help him shove Ming Campbell leaflets through letter boxes on the morning of the 1987 general election.

Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 7:00 am
Scottish Liberal Demcrat leader Willie Rennie meets the penguins at Edinburgh Zoo on the Holyrood campaign trail

When I was ten years old, my father woke me at 4.30am to help him shove Ming Campbell leaflets through letter boxes on the morning of the 1987 general election.

For a child barely out of single digits, I actually had a surprisingly keen interest in politics. My dad was (and still is) an active Lib Dem and at the time, my North American mum’s political compass was fixed towards the Canadian Liberal Party of Pierre Trudeau. While my Liberal Values were baked in from birth, I had a rebellious phase and dabbled with the politics of the left for a time, but by the end of university I came home to my party.

The results of Thursday’s election were a setback for the Lib Dems in Scotland, but not a massive one. I still bear the scars of 2011 and 2015 which saw us all but annihilated in Holyrood and Westminster respectively – those were setbacks. Whilst we have been reduced by one MSP in Holyrood, we have consolidated our survival by becoming the third biggest Scottish party at Westminster and by building citadels in our Holyrood seats. We now have a base in our constituencies that will gives us confidence to grow and grow we shall.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Nobody joins the Liberal Democrats as a career move. They join us because we speak to a set of values that is absent from any other party. It’s summed up with elegance in the first line of our constitution: The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. To my mind, no other party offers that.

When you boil Scottish politics down right now, you are left with two kinds of nationalism, the British Nationalism of the Conservative Party and the Scottish Nationalism of the SNP and the Greens. Labour offer a kind of hesitant socialism on top of those choices, but I can’t accept that’s all there is. We have admittedly been squeezed by the titanic constitutional battle in recent years, but we actually stand where a good number of Scots stand. Those who want environmentalism without nationalism, those who care about human rights and civil liberties, community empowerment and social mobility, no other party covers all that ground in quite the same way. Put simply, if the Lib Dems didn’t exist you’d need to invent us.

Our challenge is relevance, we make great strides when we’re saying something different from anyone else. Then people look more closely and discover all the other things they like about us. We surged under Charles Kennedy when he stood as the lone voice of opposition to the war in Iraq and then again under Vince Cable as he led the charge against Brexit.

The fundamentals of the party haven’t changed. The challenge for the next five years is to reintroduce ourselves to people beyond our constituency boundaries again. When they see us at close hand- our values and how hard we work for our communities, they reward us with handsome majorities.

So I’m cheerful about the future. We may be small in number but that’s never held us back before.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western