Hope rising: Alex Cole-Hamilton’s speech to Scottish Lib Dem Conference

Alex Cole-Hamilton gave his first in-person leader’s speech to Scottish Lib Dem Conference at the weekend. He talked about our success in the Council elections and announced his 150 rising strategy for the 2027 elections. He was emotional when he talked about people struggling with Long Covid, in particular his young constituent Anna. Ukraine, and the Scottish Government screwing up its support for refugees, the cost of living crisis, highlighting Lib Dems being the first to call for a price freeze, putting Wendy Chamberlain in charge of a Commission on men’s violence against women and our vision for a federal UK all featured. He set out his optimism for the party:

The flames of liberalism and hope are establishing themselves across Scotland once again.

Change is coming. Lift your eyes to the horizon. The old order of things is falling away and that better Britain is sight, we only have to reach for it.

Our renewal has already started, we should leave this place with growing confidence in our message, our candidates, and in our strategy.

Because 150 rising, is more than just a slogan. It signals the measure of our returning self-belief and our commitment to the people we seek to serve, to that new social contract we will forge in our communities.

Watch here:

Here is the text in full:

Sally Pattle is a legend, but more than that she is a Liberal to her finger tips.

She runs a bookshop in the heart of Linlithgow, she knows how hard it is to haul a small business up by its bootstraps.

She loves her community, and they love her.

It’s why when Sally ran a campaign in the finest traditions of our party she turned that affection into trust and won a seat the Liberal Democrats have never held before.

Conference, the roots of our movement lie in our communities, in public service, and in local government. In May this year, our revival began there too with big gains at the council elections.

In the villages and towns of Scotland, Liberal Democrat councillors are showing their communities the meaning of the word ‘hope’ once again and we are being rewarded for it.

This May, when pundits told us we’d slip backwards, we grew our council base by nearly a third.

That means an extra 255,000 Scots now have a councillor that will fight for them all year round. Conference, that’s a quarter of a million more people – how good does that sound.

A particular highlight for me was to see our friend Dobbie Aldridge elected Lord Provost of our nation’s capital, leading commemorations to mark the passing of our late Queen. Conference, when I first entered the Scottish Parliament we had just 2 councillors in Edinburgh. We are now the second biggest party in the city.

Across Scotland we gained more seats than any other opposition party. It’s not rocket science, it’s graft. It’s belief in the communities we seek to serve and it’s about having fun while we do it.

It is our party alone that puts in the hard yards of public service, that sweats the small stuff while fighting for big reforms, door by door and street by street.

In Edinburgh, Fife, Aberdeenshire, the Highlands, from the Borders to Thurso, in wards across Scotland our candidates and activists are beginning to forge a new kind of social contract.

A social contract with the people of this country, and it’s one that’s built on trust. Back the Liberal Democrats and you will see a return on that investment for you and those around you. Put your faith in us and we will work our hearts out for you.

Conference that social contract is the basis of the plan for our resurgence that I am announcing today.

After a night on the doors with our excellent new Black Isle councillor Morven-May MacCallum I was enjoying a dram with Jamie Stone at his home in Tain. It struck me that I was having the time of my life – not uncommon with Jamie’s hospitality, but that’s not what I mean.

What I do mean is that week after week I was joining campaign teams across the country, in places of traditional strength and places who had never seen a Liberal Democrat before. And we were absolutely smashing it. Winning people back, making real progress.

The energy and enthusiasm of those teams inspired me. It reminded me that the history of our movement is rooted in local politics and so too lies the promise of our future.

So here’s the plan. We will lift our vote across the country and in each of the coming parliamentary elections by starting our campaign for the 2027 council elections right here, right now.

In 2007, against a prevailing wind, we won 166 council seats. Today, I’m announcing our intention to get back there.

We will grow from the 87 councillors we won in May and return 150 or more in just four years’ time.

We’ve identified the wards, we just need people to fill them. And Conference, my goodness, I’m going to start with those who didn’t quite make it over the line in May. They deserved to win, and win they shall. 

We call the strategy: 150 Rising.

Rising, because one hundred and fifty council seats is just the floor of our ambition. As new candidates emerge, as people hear our message, as we build that social contract, our ambitions will rise with our polls. 

Conference I’m tired of fighting elections based on who we are not.

It’s time to be proud of who we are.

The first national 150 Rising action weekend is in just two weeks’ time.

I want you to sign up now if you haven’t already. Winning the safest of Conservative seats in record by-election wins, those big gains at the council elections, they got the ball rolling. But now more than ever, Liberal Democrats need to be out there working to change the direction of the whole UK.

And Conference I am quite certain many of the councillors of our future are in this hall right now.

You may not even realise it yourself yet, but I have a very particular set of skills that I have honed over a long career. I will look for you, I will find you, and I will help make you a Liberal Democrat councillor.

Conference, we have come together on the eve of a Supreme Court judgement that none of us sought.

SNP and Green ministers are fixated on breaking up the UK, but have no time for the things that actually need fixed.

Conference, we haven’t yet had the first frost of winter, the months that will put the hardest strain on our health service, but already our NHS is in crisis. People waiting days for an ambulance, months for a care home place, years for mental health treatment.

The measure of responsible government is how they treat our sick. By any reasonable analysis, the SNP have failed that test.

A whistleblower told me that on any given shift at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh they are 80 nurses short. Overwhelmed, demoralised, undervalued. With 1 in 7 Scots waiting for treatment, everybody knows someone on a waiting list.

It’s ironic, because we’ve been told by Nicola Sturgeon that Scotland is a nation in waiting. Well Conference, we are waiting.

  1. We’re waiting for cancer care and mental health support.
  2. For hospital operations and help with the rising cost of living.
  3. For action on the climate emergency and help to heat our homes. 
  4. For delayed ferries and cancelled trains. 
  5. For a plan to help our kids catch up in school. 

Conference, I am so very tired of waiting. So I say enough.

Conference, I’m not the only one tired of waiting. Every single person suffering long Covid in Scotland right now is waiting for this government to wake up to its responsibilities.

Air hunger, diarrhoea, muscle spasms, brain fog, chronic fatigue.

Long Covid is ruinous. It destroys livelihoods and lives.

Anna Goss contracted Coronavirus in the first wave. At just nine years old she is already considered a long hauler in the long Covid community.

Her schooling is restricted to what she has the energy to do on the sofa with her mum.

When asked to describe it to Parliament, Anna did so in just 3 words: “I hate it”.  Conference, I am haunted by those words.

Anna is just one of over 200,000 Scots suffering this terrible condition. It is perhaps the biggest mass disabling event since the first world war.
The Scottish Government should be moving heaven and earth to help people like Anna. But the dead-hand of ministerial disinterest hasn’t even touched the surface of their suffering.

This government blames the lasting impact of covid when it suits them, but they are silent about the impact of what covid can become.

So far, funding for interventions in England amounts to £100 for every person suffering. In Wales it’s £83. But in Scotland it is just £15.

£15 a head. That’s the price of a takeaway.

Liberal Democrats in government in Scotland would be delivering right now:

 

  1. long Covid clinics
  2. In-home support
  3. Dedicated care pathways
  4. And access to physio and rehab


Conference, I want to say something to everyone battling this terrible condition.

I know you feel like you have been left behind and that nobody is listening. But I and my party stand with you, and we will make sure you are heard. The Scottish Liberal Democrats are on your side.

Conference, it’s difficult to remember a time when life in Scotland was this hard.

For ourselves and the people we seek to serve, these are scary times.

But far from just shouting about it, we’ve been offering solutions.


I’m proud we were the first party to propose a freeze to the energy cap.

I’m proud we were the first party to propose a windfall tax on the profits of the energy giants. At this time of national crisis nobody should be making billions out of the hardship of millions.

Liberal Democrats offering constructive, responsible policies. Putting families and small businesses first.

But that must only be the start.Because people are still opening their bills with dread. Businesses are already shutting their doors. And Putin’s foot is still on the neck of Europe’s energy security.

Conference, on the 24th of February, our world shifted on its axis. Russian soldiers, tanks, and instruments of war crossed the border and rolled into the sovereign territory of Ukraine.

That day, newspapers carried headlines many of us thought and hoped we’d never see again: ‘War in Europe’.

Vladimir Putin has torn up the fabric of global security. He has sanctioned unimaginable atrocities. He doesn’t belong in the Kremlin, he belongs in the Hague.

He has turned historic cities into battlefields, reduced schools and hospitals to rubble and dust. The images of places like Mariupol, Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv could come to define our century.

I have never felt more motivated to help a group of people that I have never met.

In August, as punishment for speaking out against Putin’s regime, I was officially sanctioned by the Kremlin and banned from entering Russian territory. And conference let me say this: for as long as Putin and his gangsters rule Russia and wage war in Ukraine, I’ll treat that sanction as a badge of honour.

The Poet, Warsan Shire, reminds us: nobody chooses to leave home, unless home is the mouth of a shark.

Right now we are witness to the biggest displacement of people since the end of the second world war. While the fighting men and women of Ukraine roll back the Russian frontlines, millions of their fellow citizens are on the move and in need of safe harbour. 

Conference, Scotland should play it’s part and while at face value, the Scottish Government’s sponsor scheme would appear to be doing so, I’m afraid that’s only half the story.

I recently met aid workers based in Lviv, working to provide safe passage from Ukraine to Scotland, who described the Scottish Government as being “humiliatingly underprepared” for the needs of the refugees they had invited here.

Ministers banked the international praise, with goodwill cheques that refugees can’t cash.

There are still up to 15,000 Ukrainians making their way across Europe with a visa and a promise of home in Scotland.

But the promise of a new life has become a new limbo, with many still living out of suitcases.

2,000 are on a cruise ship docked in the shadow of Scottish Government headquarters. Gazing across the water, ministers’ concluded “we’re going to need a bigger boat”. So now there’s another in Glasgow.

So I am writing today to Nicola Sturgeon to ask her to do three things:

 

  1. Urgently issue a call for more hosts today
  2. Give councils the resources to check and match homes quicker
  3. And thirdly, make it easier for all refugees in Scotland – whether they are from Ukraine, Syria or Afghanistan – to move around by enrolling them in the free bus travel scheme for at least a year. That will make it easier for them take up offers of jobs and accommodation

So today, from this hall, let us say to Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister you’ve offered these people hope, it’s now time to offer them a home.

There has been one kernel of hope amidst the tragedy of the war in Ukraine.

People have opened their hearts, and their homes to those fleeing violence. Strangers, forced far from home, are greeted, and welcomed as friends.

It has brought out the very best of Scotland.

Community, generosity, and openness are the values which define the people of this nation.

And Conference, they are also the values which define our movement and our political family.

You see Conference, that is who we are.

As Liberals we care fiercely about those people we may never meet – those who may be half a world away, fighting the climate emergency, poverty or tyranny.

We will never turn our back on them.


In 1623 John Donne wrote, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind”. I’ve always found that to be such a Liberal sentiment.

Well Conference, any woman’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in womankind.

And right now, in the villages and cities of Iran, we see women fighting for their lives against the vicious morality police, fighting against the twisted interpretation of Islam used to justify and normalise the brutality of men.

They are casting off hijabs and cutting their hair in the name and in the memory of Mahsa Amini.

And Conference, whether it is in faraway Isfahan or nearby Clapham Common, that brutality is still far too normal an aspect of modern life.It’s why the phrase, ‘she was only walking home’, has now become an epitaph. 

Conference, we cannot go on like this. I am tired of waiting for the Scottish Government to act on Liberal Democrat proposals, led by Caron Lindsay, to establish a taskforce to better shape our policy response to this grim reality.

We must be agents of the change that we wish to see and that is why I’m announcing the creation of a new Scottish Liberal Democrat Policy Commission on Men’s Violence, to be convened by our deputy leader, Wendy Chamberlain. 

She is more than equipped to lead this vital work. Her years of service as a police officer gave her the grounding to take on the Metropolitan Police over its response to the murder of Sarah Everard.

If the SNP won’t act, then Scottish Liberal Democrats will.

Conference, at the very moment I became leader of our party, the Green party joined the Scottish Government.

They were hoping to emulate the partnership which saw Greens enter government in New Zealand.

Conference, it is a pale imitation of that arrangement. The Kiwi deal was signed amidst ash clouds drifting across the ocean from Australian bush fires.

It had the climate emergency unashamedly and explicitly at its heart. But the single issue that saw Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater join the government was not our warming planet – instead it was the break up of the United Kingdom.

They must be the only Green Party anywhere in the world to have abandoned their environmental roots for nationalism. Shame on them.

I want to say something to the thousands of green voters who feel abandoned. Who care about social justice and sustainability, but reject the idea that the answer to any of the global problems we face can be found in a border or a flag. Look to the Scottish Liberal Democrats, you have a home with us.

Of course, we’ve come to expect it from the SNP, for whom nothing will ever be above independence on the to-do list. And it shows.

Long waits for emergency care have contributed to hundreds of deaths this year.

Nicola Sturgeon even launched a fresh independence paper on the same day our A&E departments recorded their worst ever waiting times.

Children and young people are waiting over 1000 days for mental health treatment.

Drug deaths are four times worse than anywhere else in Europe.

Out of ideas on the cost of living.

Bin strikes that saw the streets of our capital overrun by rats in the middle of the festival.

Climate targets missed.

A widening educational attainment gap.

And lifeline ferries at least 5 years late and 3 times over budget, leaving islanders up a creek without a paddle.

The SNP may wish to hide their dismal 15 year record, but make no mistake, we will not let them, and I don’t believe the voters will either.

Conference, now more than ever, we are in need of strong, progressive liberal voices across the United Kingdom. 

Our country is on its knees, after the chaos of Brexit, came the calamitous handling of the pandemic. Covid contracts for rich Tory mates, partygate and a crushing cost of living emergency turbocharged by a reckless Tory budget.

Conference, make no mistake, the Conservatives have trashed our economy. They have sent mortgages skyrocketing. And they have diminished the great offices of state.

They can shuffle the ship’s crew all they like, but their moral compass is fundamentally broken.


The Prime Minister might have changed (again) but this government is still out of touch. It’s still conducting an assault on human rights. It’s still putting its rich mates first while more children are pushed into poverty.
And how lost at sea does Douglas Ross look. He will never run Scotland. He can barely run his own party.


For years now, our politics has been characterised by the regressive, narrow-minded, mirror-image identity politics of both the Conservatives and the SNP. Nationalism defines their response to everything, from the cost of living crisis to the climate emergency.

It is a politics of deflection and blame. It takes people for granted. It promises superficial solutions to complex problems. It is long past time that we got shot of it. 

We need politicians with a burning passion for improving people’s everyday lives, inspired by the idea of helping others reach their full potential.

Conference, that is us.

Conference, if the last month shows us anything, it is that the global markets do not suffer fools. If you do stupid things to the economy, there will be consequences and people will suffer.

Market turmoil and sterling collapse are not reasons for independence, they are a warning against it.

Chaos is still chaos whether it comes wrapped in Tory blue, or the acid yellow of the SNP. 

Conference I believe that we are at last in the end game of the clash of nationalisms that has held this country back for so long. We may finally be nearing a time where the constitution no longer suffocates our politics. 

And conference rejecting independence doesn’t mean settling for the status quo.

By our nature we are the party of reform. For a hundred years and more, in government and out of it, liberals have changed the face of British politics and by extension, the fabric of our country.

On internationalism and civil liberties, land reform and women’s reproductive rights, electoral reform and now assisted dying.

It is liberal parliamentarians who have led our nation to progress.

A golden opportunity presents itself for us to reimagine our United Kingdom.

Home rule, federalism, a more empowered Scotland in a strengthened family of nations.

As Liberals we believe in the power of our communities, and so we seek to channel power to them, to trust them with the leavers of decision making. It is why we want to reform democracy in Scotland and properly distribute power across England. I’m talking about real reform.

And my friends while we have largely walked the path to federalism alone these past 100 years, in recent times we have been joined by others. In 2016, Anas Sarwar chaired a commission on Labour’s approach to the constitution. It concluded that Labour should embrace the principle of federalism. That commitment is now being fleshed out by Gordon Brown.

Conference I am glad of it and I welcome them. The more people genuinely determined to reform the UK the better.

But more than that, I am optimistic that there will be common ground with Scottish Labour and Anas Sarwar on reforming the UK.

And I will work with those with an interest in shaping the vision for Scotland’s federal future.

I want to bring others to that cause.

That’s grown-up sensible politics.

It’s what people are crying out for.

In the face of immense challenges, we have one government that insists that Britain is broken and another falling over themselves to prove them right.

The Conservative Party is toxic and out of touch. While the SNP and Greens believe that the only thing that matters, now and at the next general election, is breaking up the UK. 

Conference, if they won’t fight the climate crisis,

If they won’t fight the NHS crisis,

If they won’t fight the cost of living crisis,

Scottish Liberal Democrats will.

Conference there is a vision of a better Britain. It has been shaped by generations of liberal activists, candidates and parliamentarians. Many of their names live on in our memory.

Names like Ashdown, Williams, Kennedy and Waddell, but the lion’s share of the work that has gone into the creation of that vision has been undertaken at conferences like this and by people like us. 

I know in recent years that vision has felt out of reach, we’ve been so focused on survival that sometimes it has felt as though it falls to our generation simply to carry the fire.

But the citadels we’ve built and the gains we made in May mean that nobody is talking about our extinction anymore.

The flames of liberalism and hope are establishing themselves across Scotland once again.

Change is coming. Lift your eyes to the horizon. The old order of things is falling away and that better Britain is sight, we only have to reach for it.

Our renewal has already started, we should leave this place with growing confidence in our message, our candidates, and in our strategy.

Because 150 rising, is more than just a slogan. It signals the measure of our returning self-belief and our commitment to the people we seek to serve, to that new social contract we will forge in our communities.

Public service rising,

Communities rising,

Hope rising.

To those would prefer us to decline and fold neatly away: I’m not sure you’ve seen us coming, but you should expect us.

To our candidates and activists working away in communities, forgotten by both of our governments – your time is nearly at hand. I want you to be ready for success.

And to you conference, my friends, take heart, move forward with pride, with confidence and with hope, for the best days of our party still lie ahead of us.

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