Now for a better country – Alex Cole-Hamilton’s pitch for First Minister

Alex Cole-Hamilton’s speech to Holyrood when he stood for First Minister on Tuesday is below. He knew he would lose, obviously, with only 4 MSPs. However a Birgitte Nyborg moment was not what he was going for. It was a simple choice between getting on the news setting out a Liberal Democrat Vision for Scotland or not. Enjoy. The text from the Official Report is below.

I rise to speak to my candidacy for the office of First Minister of Scotland. I am a candidate in this contest because this is a democracy. Democracies are about the presentation of differing visions of how things could be and about bringing to the fore the priorities of the constituents who sent us all here to this place.

Here and now, we are as far as it is possible to be from a Scottish parliamentary election. We are midstream and have a governing party that is in disarray, adrift and out of ideas. It brings to mind the words of Robert Browning, who, nearly two centuries ago, wrote:

“Glad was I when I reached the other bank.
Now for a better country.”

The members in the chamber will reject my candidacy today. I understand that, but ours is a vision for that better country. You will not find a prospectus that is more positive and more ambitious from anyone else, because Liberal Democrats believe in a Scotland that is industrious, innovative and internationalist of outlook.

I want us to imagine things again, to make things again and to harness the collective potential of our people and our natural resources—a Scotland that delivers for those working in our schools, hospitals and fields. They are tired of the ministerial disinterest that has characterised much of the past 16 years and of a Government that is fixated on the break-up of the United Kingdom.

We have to put the people first. Liberal Democrats understand what matters to them because we asked them, door by door and street by street, in the villages and towns of Scotland. They want to know when they will get that hip replacement. They want to know why their kid has been left behind in school or is left waiting for mental health treatment. They want to know why they have to live in a cold home. They are looking to this chamber for the answer and that is why I am in politics. It is what keeps me awake at night.

Liberal Democrats would cut waiting times and abandon the SNP paradigm of social care. We would deliver an emergency insulation programme that would make every home warm, while slashing our carbon emissions. We would strive to make our classrooms into inviting places to work and to learn by always paying our teachers what they are worth, tackling violence in our schools and scrapping national testing. Liberal Democrats are, by nature, solutions focused. We are crackling with policy ideas and, my goodness, do we not need some of those right now?

Our world is changing. Scotland faces big, international questions. Our world is on fire in the climate emergency. We are witness to the mass displacement of people fleeing unimaginable atrocities, and we will come to look back on this time with an understanding that we were already living in the early days of a new cold war. Those challenges demand a new politics of hope and of democratic reform, and of common endeavour across nations that share our values and our corner of this world. I stand today on that ticket.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats are the party of co-operation across these islands. We are the party of local power through federalism and, yes, we are the true party of Europe. Members should make no mistake: there is more water behind this Government than lies ahead of it. Change is coming and the Liberal Democrats will be a part of what is next. If we want it to, that change could start with this vote this afternoon. We do not have to settle for continuity, for mediocrity, or for more of the divisive and dreary same. That other bank could be in sight, so we just have to reach for it now, for a better country.

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  • Mel Borthwaite 30th Mar '23 - 4:32pm

    I still find it embarrassing that Alex Cole-Hamilton leads a group of just 4 MSPs. It makes one wonder as to what may have happened to Scottish Liberal Democrat fortunes had the Party accepted the SNP invitation to join a coalition after the 2007 election. In the end, the Liberal Democrat position was to reject any deal with the SNP – and over the next 3 elections were reduced from 16 MSPs to just the 4. Meanwhile the SNP has been in power for almost 16 unbroken years and currently holds 64 seats (one more than the total of SNP and Lib Dem combined in 2007.)

  • ‘ It makes one wonder as to what may have happened…’ About the same as happened with the Westminster coalition, I’d imagine. For sure, the SNP have not been our friends since. They’ve benefited hugely from mopping up all the pro-Indy votes (and from the Tories being in power in Westminster), while the pro-Union votes have been split between three parties.
    I’d also say: look to Wales. Where we did have a coalition with Labour. And currently have just one seat.

  • Andrew Melmoth 30th Mar '23 - 5:54pm

    @Mel Borthwaite
    If live in Scotland and you believe in PR, rejoining the EU, and further devolution of power why would you vote Lib Dem? Westminster will never deliver those things. There is some residue support in former Lib Dem strongholds in Scotland but there isn’t much future for a party that sets itself against the only realistic route to achieving it’s aims.

  • @Andrew – the SNP have been in power since 2007 and have failed to do any of those things. In fact, if anything their commitment to STV for Scottish elections has vanished completely (the Scottish Parliament can change its voting system, and there is a clear majority in the Parliament for it – if the SNP still want it….)

  • Excuse my ignorance but have the Scottish Lib Dems recognised the justice of the SNP case for a further independence referendum after their years of overwhelming success at the ballot box? We can of course argue for a no vote in that event

  • @ Leek Liberal. In answer to your question, it’s over 103 years since the former Liberal Prime Minister, H.H. Asquith, (M.P. for a Scottish constituency at the time) advocated Dominion status for Ireland (then part of the UK). This was for the most part accepted in the 1921 Irish settlement.

    Why the modern Liberal Democrat Party can’t advocate (or at least examine) this …. but instead seems rigidly committed to Unionism…… is beyond me. Maybe somebody can enlighten me.

  • nvelope2003 31st Mar '23 - 4:22pm

    Alex Cole – Hamilton’s speech was a bit more optimistic than the dreary ramblings of the SNP leadership candidates, except for the Wee Free Candidate. I saw the 3 of them on Channel 4 news but did not want to see any more of their irrelevant posturing. I can understand that some Scots might in their hearts want to have independence from a British State run by the present Government but I cannot see why anyone would want to be Governed by the equally incompetent SNP.
    Is the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party controlled by the UK party as the only reason they could justify their position would be to retain the Scots Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons to make up the numbers. There seems to be a bit of an uplift in support for the Lib Dems lately and a slight fall in the Labour position.

  • @Leekliberal The Scottish LibDems recognise the brassed necked nature of the SNP claims they have a mandate for another referendum. They did not win a majority vote share (it wasn’t a majority when you include the Greens either), and Sturgeon made a point of saying that a vote for her was not a vote for another independence referendum.

    Polling shows most Scots don’t want independence, and fewer want another referendum any time soon. Polling shows that amongst those who want independence, many want ‘independence’ that comes with sharing the British army, Sterling and no borders.

    @Andrew, if you think independence is a realistic way back into the EU, never mind the best one, it’s because you’ve been lied to. If the SNP had their way in 2014 we’d have been out of the UK AND the EU. They lied about Scotland’s easy return to the EU then, and are lying about it now.

  • Mel Borthwaite 31st Mar '23 - 5:46pm

    I think you have been misinformed when you say ‘Sturgeon made a point of saying that a vote for her was not a vote for another independence referendum. The SNP manifesto states clearly on page 2, “We are seeking your permission for an independence referendum to be held after covid”. The Scottish Greens also made clear in their manifesto also made clear that they supported a referendum in the next parliament. The SNP and Greens then won 72 MSPs out of 129 – if we who use the word ‘Democrats’ as part of our name do not recognise that as an electoral mandate in a parliamentary democracy, we have some serious problems.

  • @Mel. She said it on the main tv debate in the immediate run up to the election in response to someone who asked who to vote for if they didn’t want a referendum, but was otherwise happy with the SNP administration.

    You may think that nobody votes without reading a manifesto and supporting every aspect of it, but in reality some people don’t. Or do you suggest voters knew Sturgeon was lying and no-one voted Green for environmental policies?

    What about those who understand that the Scottish Parliament has no more power to call another referendum than my local council or the Rotary Club. Mixed messaging does nothing to undo that fundamental fact.

    You’ll also need to decide on what you think a mandate is. The SNP and Greens did not get a majority of votes at the last election. So even if you ignore the lying during the campaign, the SNP don’t have a mandate via the popular vote. The voting system used at Holyrood is more proportional than Westminster, but it’s still an adapted FPTP that is weighted more to FPTP than the list aspect. But even then it’s not exactly a secret that the Greens were encouraging people to game the system (entirely legally) so as to over-represent the SNP/Green block.

  • Andrew Melmoth 31st Mar '23 - 6:34pm

    No-one has put forward a credible reason why an independent Scotland wouldn’t be able to join the EU. But even if there was some impediment there is no reason why Scotland could not join EFTA/EAA gaining membership of the single market and FoM.

    I always find it a bit odd how these discussions always get cast in terms of tribal party politics rather than principle. I’m a former Lib Dem voter. I’ve never voted SNP. I just want to live in a normal, European country that elects its government via PR and I don’t really understand why the Lib Dems want to prevent that. Or why they continue to defend a unionism that has visited Brexit and a corrupt, hard right government on a country that voted for neither. And don’t fool yourself, even if Starmer wins it won’t be long before there is another Tory government and it will be even worse than this one.

  • The EU’s published rules for accession explain why it would be so hard.

    I find it odd that people think Brexit was bad, but doing the equivalent to an older, more integrated union will fix it. Sturgeon called an emergency press conference within hours of the publication by LSE of a study on the harms of a no-deal Brexit, but claimed she hadn’t bothered to skim read their equivalent study on the harms of Scexit. Spoiler alert – it would be 10 times worse. Have you read the SNP’s own Growth Commission Report? Even with SNP spin it concedes 10 years of year on year austerity (more than now), to meet the deficit requirements. How will that fix the (already devolved) NHS?

    And yes, it may be possible for an iScot to align with the EU on some issues without joining, but that would require a hard border with rUK, which would inflict far more damage on iScot than Brexit did. The UK mucking things up with our biggest trading partners was reckless. Some say we shot ourselves in the foot. Scotland repeating that with rUK would be like cutting off our other leg to make it better.

    Remember that the SNP have been campaigning for independence for decades, much that time as a low tax, pro-oil, anti-EU party. In all that time they’ve still not quite managed to come up with a currency plan beyond flag waving bluster.

  • Jason Connor 1st Apr '23 - 4:33pm

    I agree with Andrew. I always fail to understand the appeal of insular unionism these days. I am sure that there are many voters of other parties outside the SNP who support independence from the UK for Scotland especially as the majority of voters in Scotland voted by majority to stay in the EU. There is no hope of that happening under a future majority Conservative or Labour government. The EU would welcome Scotland’s membership with open arms. These members of other parties need to set up a pro independence campaign group.

  • Scotland is historically and culturally a separate nation from the rest of the UK with its own legal structure and national church. The Union is ultimately a confederation i.e a more or less permanent union of states with some or most political power vested in Westminster Parliament.
    As David Raw notes in his comment “Why the modern Liberal Democrat Party can’t advocate for maximum devolution seems somewhat contradictory”.
    The establishment of a free state in Ireland rather than a devolved parliament in Dublin was brought about by revolutionary events that saw Redmond’s Home rule Irish Parliamentary party overwhelmingly defeated by Sinn Fein in the 1918 elections. The SNP have arguably achieved the same feat in Scotland in recent years. Not to respond effectively to that swing in public opinion would seem rather short-sighted.

  • Martin Gray 2nd Apr '23 - 6:51am

    @Jason…..”The EU would welcome Scotland’s membership with open arms” …
    The only route back into the EU for Scotland is the UK rejoining at some stage …Other than that – it’s fantasy politics to think that an independent Scotland with no currency , border , and huge pension liabilities wedded to the UK – could gain membership of the EU.

  • Martin Gray 2nd Apr '23 - 12:38pm

    @Martin…..I know enough not to make unrealistic comments on Scotland’s potential for EU membership.
    Others on the other hand – can indulge – as we’ve been here before … Remember…?
    “A revoke policy is honest and direct; it attracts attention to the key issues. Were a political earthquake be sufficiently seismic to return a Liberal Democrat government, would anyone seriously suggest that such a government would lack a mandate? I think not”

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