Alex Cole-Hamilton: Liberals see the best in things. We celebrate diversity and nonconformity and if something isn’t working we try to fix it or we fight for reform.

One sentence to sum up the Liberal Democrats:

Liberals see the best in things. We celebrate diversity and nonconformity and if something isn’t working we try to fix it or we fight for reform.

Here, in full, is Alex Cole-Hamilton’s first speech as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. It was a belter that brought a tear to my eye. He started by talking about Maddy Planche, the young activist who introduced him. Another couple of decades and we might well be holding a big rally when she takes over the leadership.

Alex paid tribute to Willie Rennie’s 10 years of service, highlighting his achievements in getting more mental health support, expanding childcare and ensuring that disadvantaged kids get more money in school.

Then he set out the reasons Lib Dems offer new hope to Scotland. In a powerful section he invited people who shared our vision to come to us.

If you want a party that will fight the climate emergency with ferocity but without the baggage of nationalism, come with us.

If you want Scotland to make things again and capture the imagination of the world, through industry and innovation, come with us.

If you want to live in a country which offers the best education in the world, which values its carers and those they care for, then come with us.

If you want a party that stands for human rights at home and abroad. One which fights for the women fleeing Kabul and protects young people from gay conversion therapy, come with us.

If you are affected by the mental health emergency come with us.

If you are worried about state intrusion or big centralising government then come with us.

Come with us and I promise you, that Liberal Democrats in the villages and towns of Scotland will show you the meaning of the word hope once again.

 

Read the whole thing here:

Maddy Planche is a large part of the secret to our success in West Edinburgh. Throughout the campaign, rain or shine she was there on the doors with me every day. And Maddy is just one of a bright new generation of Lib Dem candidates rising through our party, they are crackling with talent, they inspire me and they should give us all such hope.

It’s amazing to see you in person and in three dimensions. And it’s clear from what I could hear back stage that nobody’s on mute, that’s a good start.

But there is one person here in particular that I want to recognise.

And that is Willie Rennie.

As the election results came in, despite polls suggesting that we could have been wiped out in mainland Scotland, Willie Rennie showed the Scottish people the meaning of the word ‘fortress’.

With record breaking results across our seats, he silenced talk of our extinction.

Willie, your legacy as our leader is as important as it is substantial.

Because of you,

– children waiting for first line mental health treatment will have a fighting chance of being seen in good time;

– thousands of families have access to state-funded childcare;

– children in every school get extra help through Pupil Equity Funding,

– and the government can’t so easily turn a blind eye to human rights violations by the companies or the countries it does business with.

The list of your achievements goes on and on. You have raised the standard of public debate in this country and with the most recognisable smile in Scottish Politics, you have captured the affection of the public along the way.

I am proud to call you and Janet my friends, I still have so much to learn from you and I am heartily glad that you will continue the fight for a more liberal Scotland beside me in Parliament.

Bobby Kennedy once said:

“Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it.”

And in recent times it’s felt like we’ve been walking a lonely road as Liberals in this country. We’ve suffered many setbacks and we have had to work hard to regain trust and belief.

But the one thing that has sustained us on that journey is the one thing our country is now crying out for.

And that’s hope.

After everything we’ve been through, Scotland needs new hope right now.

Whisper it, but there’s something in the air about our party, a growing sense of optimism and of confidence, and my goodness doesn’t the country need a bit of that.

After two of the hardest years any of us have known, people are crying out for the hint of new possibility, that as we come out of the pandemic, we could do things differently.

And we need to do things differently, because going back to the way things were cannot be the limit of our ambition.

They need us to reach for something better.

So let’s reach for a Scotland which gives new hope to young people so they can excel in education, get meaningful jobs and onto the housing ladder if they wish. No matter where they come from.

A Scotland that offers new hope in the fight against the climate emergency, which leverages our potential for renewable power and drives down our reliance on fossil fuels.

Let’s reach for a Scotland which offers new hope to business big and small. One that attracts investment to grow our economy and deliver the standard of public services our people are clamouring for.

Together we can reach for that Scotland with a vision that is steeped in energy and confidence.

I am honoured beyond words, to become the leader of our party and I am here to tell you:

That journey starts today.

I want to tell you what drives me.

If there are three words more important than any others in the English language, for a person to understand about themselves and to believe to be true, then they are these:

“You are loved”.

When Stephen Lawrence lay dying in the street, bleeding out from a knife attack by racist thugs, he was cradled by a passer-by named Louise Taaffe. As she held him, she said those words to him over and over again until he died in her arms. “You are loved”.

What an amazing act of compassion.

I wanted to make a difference in our country, because I have worked with too many children, in the care of this state who will never fully understand the meaning of those words or know them to be true. Like the young boy I met in a care home who’d been through 37 failed placements before he was 8.

Stories like his keep me awake at night.

Above all I got into politics because people matter to me. Like everyone in our party, I am inspired and thrilled by the idea of community.

When covid hit, people didn’t hunker down and padlock their doors. They came forward in their hundreds and their thousands to volunteer at test centres, in key worker hubs and to run errands for those in need around them.

Our movement is rooted in the hope and the belief of what the word community can mean. Neighbours looking out for neighbours, sharing with each other and caring for each other.

That is as important in our streets and towns as it is in the global village.

Everywhere I look there is a sense that people are remembering that about us. Understanding when they put trust and belief in the Liberal Democrats they get a return on that investment for them and for their communities.

We prove time and again door by door and street by street that a thousand seemingly tiny acts of public service can move a mountain of public opinion.

And there is evidence everywhere that we are winning the trust of communities across Scotland once again.

Now, I have heard some suggest since May, that we are a spent force beyond the boundaries of our constituencies. To them I say, there’s somebody I’d like you to meet.

Allow me to introduce you to Cllr Colin Aitken.

Our other new councillor in the Highlands, Jill Tilt, can’t be with us today, but her achievement is even more miraculous considering that from 3% and last place in 2017, last week she topped the poll when nobody saw her coming.

And between them they broke records. For the first time ever our party gained two council seats in Scottish by-elections on the same day.

In rural and urban communities alike, far beyond the boundaries of our parliamentary constituencies, Liberal Democrats are winning again and we are doing so emphatically.

I like unusual words. And one of my favourite words, describes our party down to the ground. That word is ‘Panglossian’.

It comes from the name of a character in a book by Voltaire and essentially it means,

“relentlessly optimistic in the face of overwhelming odds”.

That is us.

Liberals see the best in things. We celebrate diversity and nonconformity and if something isn’t working we try to fix it or we fight for reform.

And when it comes to things that aren’t working, we face a target rich environment right now.

The measure of effective government is in the delivery of public services. That is never more true than in a time of national crisis.

The pandemic demanded every ounce of the government’s attention, but that also allowed ministers to set aside the hard stuff.

There are warning lights blinking across the dashboard of public policy:

On the attainment gap, missed climate targets and record mental health waits.

On GRA reform, on the threadbare state of our police force.

Patients in pain, sent letters telling them their treatment would start in 12 weeks, when in fact, they wouldn’t be seen in 50.

All of these were matters of policy that presented a problem for the SNP and so it used the emergency to deflect and defer action on them.

And yet, despite all that, on the eve of a deadly second wave, the First Minister found time and space for a Bill about another independence referendum.

My friends, there is a muscle memory to the politics of Scotland.

We are told at every election, that each vote cast is either a mandate for another referendum or the only means of stopping it.

This has become the full extent of public debate in our country and our citizens are suffering because of it.

Our progress is stifled by a clash of nationalisms, the Scottish nationalism of the SNP, but also the Brexit nationalism of Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.

We are a people trapped between flags.

Between politicians who mythologise and pine for ancient nations and borders, when the world has moved on and demands international co-operation.

If this boils down to a choice between those two nationalisms, then everybody loses.

So, I say enough.

Liberals have imagined a better Britain for centuries and made big strides towards it. We need to rekindle that fire and that hope.

We, each of us have spent our time in politics fighting to build a liberal society in a united, federal Britain that walks in step with our European neighbours and recognises the extent of our responsibility to the world around us.

But the route to a federal Britain lies, in part, in making Scottish devolution attractive to the other parts of these islands.

Far from looking to us and thinking “we could do with some of that”, our neighbours to the south see the worst drug death crisis in the world, child poverty that has cascaded down through generations, and a nation utterly divided.

Scotland is a beautiful and dynamic place to live. Our people are proud and our history is magnificent.

But we have been subdued. By the collapse of industry, by failing health and by ministerial disinterest.

That is why Scotland is in such need of hope right now.

Well here we are.

It’s time to show the people of this country what we can do for them.

Because, I’m tired of winning elections based on who we’re not.

Ours is one of the oldest political traditions on the planet. It has defined the history of our islands and it has stood as a guardian of fairness, equality and freedom for generations.

If we can inspire people again, get them to believe in us again, to trust us again, as we have managed to do on the ground on which we stand right here in west Edinburgh, where they came to us in record numbers, then we can do it across the country.

But to do that we need to get people to understand what we’re for.

So, let me set that out.

If you want a party that will fight the climate emergency with ferocity but without the baggage of nationalism, come with us.

If you want Scotland to make things again and capture the imagination of the world, through industry and innovation, come with us.

If you want to live in a country which offers the best education in the world, which values its carers and those they care for, then come with us.

If you want a party that stands for human rights at home and abroad. One which fights for the women fleeing Kabul and protects young people from gay conversion therapy, come with us.

If you are affected by the mental health emergency come with us.

If you are worried about state intrusion or big centralising government then come with us.

Come with us and I promise you, that Liberal Democrats in the villages and towns of Scotland will show you the meaning of the word hope once again.

There are those who don’t believe I can be part of Scotland’s future because of where I’m from. But my story is common to many in this great country.

I was born among the new towns of greater London to a Canadian Mother, and a Welsh father.

I learned to walk and to write in the hills of Lancashire.

I sat my first exams in a state school gym hall in St Andrews.

My backstory stretches the length of the M6 corridor.

But my heart beats here.

My name is Alex Cole-Hamilton, I am from many places, but I am proud to stand before you as a Scot, as a Liberal and as the leader of our party.

My friends, today we turn a new page in the history of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and by so doing we look forward with new hope and brimming confidence to a brighter chapter in the future of our country.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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2 Comments

  • Trevor Andrews 21st Aug '21 - 8:06am

    I applaud the sentence but one thing that is not working is getting more people to vote for us. So far we have not fixed it and our efforts on reform have not been successful.

    I suspect very few people in the country knew of Sir Ed Davey’s excellent speech in the commons and until ordinary people can see what we are doing the status quo will remain.

  • As an ancient mariner, (a few months older than John Marriott and three weeks younger than my late much missed old school friend Tony Greaves, and I joined the Libs in 1960) I wonder if LDV will permit me to offer a few words of advice to young Alex Cole-Hamilton and his followers.

    Get some well worked out positive radical policies, young Eck…… particularly on social care and a real devo-max. It’s not enough to be snippy and agin the SNP or to be a little Sir Echo to Douglas Ross and his Tory Unionist dinosaurs. At it’s best, the old Liberal Party of Jo Grimond (St Andrews, Dundee. Oxford as well as Orkney) was an enlightened radical party. Start rebuilding a portfolio of policies on the economy, global warming, the environment, transport, employment rights, welfare and reducing poverty (a la Alston Report). Without those bricks in the wall, ‘Hope’ is an empty slogan.

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