Over the last year journalists, opponents, perhaps even some supporters were writing us off. How could a group of five MSPs, cut by two thirds in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections, make any impact on the Scottish political scene? Although our opponents will always deride us in public, I know that in private they are fizzing that Liberal Democrats continue to punch above our weight.
Scotland is, by and large, a tolerant, liberal, understanding, compassionate country. Its people are altruistic and generous. These are familiar values at Christmas, but they form the core of the liberal approach to politics all year round.
That is why our liberal message will endure and I am determined that we will have our say in all the big issues facing Scotland in the years in ahead.
In the short-term, that inevitably means carving out a distinct liberal approach to the debate over our country’s future. While I will be campaigning with the other parties to secure Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, I also want to use the campaign to set out my vision for Scotland.
Our Home Rule plan transfers more financial power to the Scottish Parliament so we have responsibility for raising what we spend, transfers more power to local communities to reflect the diversity of needs and priorities for different parts of Scotland and retains our strength as part of the UK. With these detailed plans, a no vote in 2014 doesn’t need to mean no change.
Despite the pace that the referendum debate has moved at over the last twelve months, it is still the economy, jobs and cost of living that continues to occupy the minds of most.
The coalition government’s choices are not easy and our popularity has suffered and many good councillors have lost their seats as a result. Yet if doing the wrong thing is necessary in order to become popular then count me out. Creating an enduring economy that is more balanced across the UK, is environmentally sustainable and is fairer is something that I know my colleagues in the Coalition Government are determined to achieve.
Over the last year, Liberal Democrats have invested in green technologies through the Green Investment Bank headquarters in Edinburgh. We have cut income tax for two million Scots on low and middle incomes by hundreds of pounds to help make work pay. We have created opportunities for young people through the Youth Contract, argued for more college funding, stood up to vested interests and worked constructively with others when we can.
These are the actions of strong liberal voices across Scotland who will never cower but head into the New Year with our heads held high ready to do our bit to meet the challenges we face.
* Willie Rennie MSP is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats