Tag Archives: Scotland

Alex Cole-Hamilton stands for First Minister

Alex Cole-Hamilton’s bid to become Scotland’s First Minister was never going to end in success, unfortunately. It was important that he did it though. The MSPs in the Chamber were not his audience. That snippet on Reporting Scotland where he got the chance to be on the record, speaking to the people of Scotland, was an important part in Liberal Democrats setting out our stall.  Hope, he said, was at the heart of everything the Scottish Liberal Democrats stood for as he outlined our vision for better healthcare, education and giving power back to communities.

Watch here:

The text is below

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Alex Cole-Hamilton calls for Scottish election

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Responding to the resignation of Humza Yousaf as First Minister, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said:

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Cole-Hamilton to Humza Yousaf: Your actions have eroded any trust you had

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has declined to help Scotland’s beleaguered First Minister Humza Yousaf.

We need to remember that Yousaf’s predicament is entirely of his own making. He would not be facing a confidence vote this week had he not unceremoniously handed the Greens their jotters and booted them out of the Government on Thursday this morning, just two days after saying they were worth their weight in gold.

Alex understandably responded to Yousaf’s invitation to talks by asking him how on earth he could expect anyone to trust a word he said, given the way he had acted.

He also then outlined a few of the biggest failures of the Scottish Government before saying that the best solution would be for the First Minister to resign and for there to be a Scottish election. Here’s the text of his letter in full:

 

Dear First Minister,

Thank you for your letter. Scottish Liberal Democrats have always believed in working together in the national interest and building consensus across all political traditions. Our history speaks to that and we will continue to do so in the change that is coming for Scotland. However, I have decided to decline your offer of talks at Bute House.

Successful minority administration must be rooted in compromise and a spirit of mutual trust with other parties. However, your actions this past week have eroded entirely any remaining trust that you enjoyed across the chamber. They suggest that rather than being motivated by the national interest, you are presently motivated only by your own self-interest and by political survival.

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Drama in Scotland – could there be a Holyrood election?

Who would have thought that Scottish voters could face two national elections this year – and the first one for the Scottish Parliament before the too-long awaited Westminster poll?

If First Minister Humza Yousaf is forced to resign in the next few days, if the SNP can’t agree on a successor, if the Parliament can’t agree on a new First Minister within 28 days, then Scottish voters could be going to the polls on 4th July.

The SNP has been sharing power with the Scottish Greens for the past two and a half years with Green Co-Conveners Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater holding ministerial office. This morning Humza Yousaf handed them their jotters in an early morning meeting before announcing to the world that he had decided that the SNP would be better off going it alone as a minority Government.

You have to wonder whether he had thought through the implications for his own future. It wasn’t difficult to imagine that someone would put up a motion of no confidence and equally predictable that the party that he had just unceremoniously booted out of Government would not find it in their hearts to support him.

As things stand, his best hope is a tied vote next week, relying on the casting vote of the Presiding Officer to save him. But even that can only be achieved by doing a deal with Ash Regan, his former leadership rival who went off and joined Alex Salmond’s socially conservative, populist Alba party. And even if he survives the vote, clinging to power by your fingernails is not the best way to lead your party into a UK General Election.

You have to wonder why he let that happen.

There are undoubtedly some in the SNP who have been wanting rid of Humza since he was elected.

Last year’s SNP leadership election was so close with Humza only just beating Kate Forbes. Deep divisions were exposed within the party. Now the SNP can take a fair amount of division. They are a very broad church. But the only thing they really care about is independence and when they are divided on how to achieve that, and the prospect of it ever happening is moving further and further away, they are going to implode.  It’s hard to think of anyone in their ranks who could come close to bringing them together.

Their Government is failing at pretty much everything, as Alex Cole-Hamilton said in no uncertain terms at First Minister’s Questions today.

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Behind the lurid headlines: What the Scottish hate crime legislation actually says

An author got herself a tonne of publicity earlier this week by posting some very unpleasant, disrespectful and insulting comments on social media. She basically dared the Police to arrest her under Scotland’s new hate crime legislation.

There was never a chance of that happening. The threshold of what actually counts as a hate crime is pretty high and Police Scotland confirmed that no action would be taken against this person.

Perhaps an unintended consequence of this fuss is that it drives a coach and horses through the claims of many on the right that this new law is going to end up with anyone who says anything that isn’t “woke” being put on a list and carted off to jail. This is, to be clear, complete and utter bollocks.

Someone I know had been scared by her GB News addict dad that she could lose her job if she blurted out some of the stuff she comes out with after a few glasses of wine.  To be fair to her, it’s sometimes a bit gross but none of it constitutes either hate or a crime. She was worried nonetheless.

Thankfully, the Equality Network has published a very helpful guide to the new legislation which reassured her. Essentially, to face consequences, you have to commit a crime that is motivated by prejudice:

It is important though to know that many forms of prejudiced or offensive behaviour are NOT hate crimes. It is not a crime to be prejudiced, and the right to freedom of expression means that people may express their prejudice in offensive, shocking or disturbing ways, without crossing the line into criminal behaviour.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton on Scottish Budget: SNP and Greens out of ideas

It was a depressing day in Holyrood yesterday as the SNP/Green budget passed. An unfunded Council Tax freeze crippling Scottish Councils, affordable housing cut by a third in the middle of a massive housing emergency, mental health support cut, education cut.

There was never a cat in hell’s chance that Lib Dems would vote for such an ill thought through budget. Alex Cole-Hamilton explained why:

In this budget, the Scottish Government is reaching for more tax rises. It is punishing low and middle-income families through fiscal drag, it is taking a hammer to the green renewables piggy bank and it is cutting public services for young and old alike. Why? It is doing so because Scottish National Party and Green ministers are completely out of ideas about how to spark growth, drive innovation or enlarge the tax base sustainably. They have a habit of making costly blunders—for example, the two ferries that are rusting in dry dock, the botched deposit return scheme, the independence papers and the selling of Scotland’s prized sea bed on the cheap. Next in their sights is the clueless and bureaucratic billion-pound ministerial takeover of social care that we are set to debate this week. In every case, taxpayers and public services are expected to pay the price.

The Government is out of touch and is taking people for granted. One thing that it must realise is that it needs the talents of everyone in order to grow the economy and make our country fairer. There is an intrinsic link between the health of our people and the health of our economy. People are waiting in pain for long-overdue operations. Their conditions are worsening by the day. It can take years for people to get the mental health treatment that they desperately need, which means that they cannot get on in life. There are now around 200,000 people in Scotland who are out of work because of mental ill health, long Covid and long-term conditions. According to the Our Scottish Future think tank, that costs our economy £870 million a year.

The longer people are out of work, the worse their prospects become. The longer they wait to be treated, the greater the cost to the NHS. That is why making yet another cut to overwhelmed mental health services makes no sense whatsoever.

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Jim Wallace remembers Donald Dewar

This week, our Jim Wallace delivered the annual Donald Dewar Memorial Lecture in Glasgow. This lecture, held every year in memory of Scotland’s First First Minister, has previously been delivered by senior political figures such as Alistair Darling and Jack McConnell. Donald Dewar died suddenly in October 2000.

Jim served as Deputy First Minister to him and was Acting First Minister when Donald Dewar had heart surgery and in the immediate aftermath of his death while Labour selected a new leader. The Labour/Lib Dem coalition, over 8 years, delivered things like freedom of information legislation, free eye and dental checks, STV for local government, free personal care and land reform.

Jim’s lecture gave insights into the coalition negotiations back in 1999, Dewar’s style of Government and his hopes for the future.

He said:

The most liberating election campaign which I ever fought was the first election to the Scottish Parliament in 1999. To a greater or lesser extent, all the general elections in which I’d been a candidate, had been fought against a backdrop of an ongoing constitutional debate about Scotland’s future. By 1999, we had a Parliament, endorsed overwhelmingly in the 1997 referendum; so now we could debate what the Parliament was going to do.

“With so many challenges today facing our NHS, our education system, our environment, transport links to islands and mainland destinations, in local government and not least in advancing Donald Dewar’s great passion for a more socially just Scotland, wouldn’t it be a refreshing change to think that these would be the issues which should again dominate the Parliament’s agenda.

“In that speech on 1st July, almost a quarter of a century ago, Donald also said,

“We are fallible. We will make mistakes. But we will never lose sight of what brought us here: the striving to do right by the people of Scotland; to respect their priorities; to better their lot; and to contribute to the commonweal.”

“It takes a special politician with great character to admit to fallibility and the possibility of mistakes. But at least they would be our mistakes. I can’t imagine him having the knee-jerk response always to blame Westminster. But compared to many countries with devolved powers, the competences of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Ministers are extensive – more extensive today than they were in 1999. So, wouldn’t a fitting tribute to the legacy of Donald Dewar be for today’s Scottish Parliamentarians to resolve again to focus on using these powers – to better the lot of the people of Scotland, and to contribute to the common weal.

The full text of Jim’s speech is below:

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Lib Dems need to practise what we preach on Federalism

Did you get excited when you got the Party’s email about our manifesto? How we are going to save the environment, based on our core values and vision? I did.

Then I made the mistake of actually reading it and I discover that our environment stops at the Scottish Border. 

I’m not naïve. This is a “sound bite” email. I don’t expect us to do into the nuances between the water company Scottish situation and that in England and Wales; that most of our sewage discharges don’t require to be recorded, as Neil Alexander has been highlighting in Moray; that  Scottish Water is publicly owned. After all, we still pay ludicrous bonuses to the top men (yes; they are men) and no-one seems to try to hold the Scottish Government to account for the failings of “the top water company in the UK”

But then we get to the specifics…

We will

double the size of the Protected Area Network 

The Protected Area Network is the creature of Natural England. There is no equivalent here.

 Strengthen the Office for Environmental Protection and increase funding for the Environment Agency and Natural England. 

Not a dickie about Environment Standards Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency/Scottish Water or NatureScot.

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Why would you cut energy efficiency funding in a climate emergency – Alex Cole-Hamilton

Yesterday’s Scottish Budget hit the headlines because of the introduction of a new top tax rate for higher earners, and a rise in tax for the richest. But there were some real devils in the detail.

The BBC’s report states that:

Plans to accelerate clean heating systems will receive £358m of funding.

This might be fine, but the figure last year was £367.5 million.

They have also cut the funding for fuel poverty and housing quality from £21.8 million to £1.7 million.

And that is before you even start to mention the effective cut to Council budgets because of the Council Tax freeze. A report last week suggested that a quarter of Scottish Councils fear bankruptcy.

Alex said in response to Finance Secretary Shona Robison’s statement:

The SNP has spent years ignoring expert warnings about the lack of a long-term economic strategy and the impact of its failure to grow the economy. Scotland needs predictability and a long-term plan for tax and the wider economy, not erratic changes that will undermine confidence.

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Cole-Hamilton: Reasonable minded people are re-thinking their support for the SNP

In a way I feel a bit sorry for Humza Yousaf.  Not because he’s taken over a failing Government that he has been a part of, but because of the way his party is imploding around him in a way that he probably didn’t expect. He definitely knew that he was inheriting a deeply divided party, but maybe didn’t realise that the chalice was so full of poison.

Since his election as First Minister 3 weeks ago, two senior figures in the SNP have been arrested and released without charge in an investigation in to the Party’s finances and he has discovered that the party’s auditors resigned six months ago. You can tell that my husband is getting way too interested in this story because he’s been getting adverts for camper vans on Facebook. Yesterday he faced the press in an encounter that will be shown at media training courses as an example as how not to do it for years to come:

We’ve been very used to Nicola Sturgeon’s very controlled media appearances for the past 8 years, so this was a massive contrast. Journalist Rob Hutton’s critique was brutal:

And let’s be clear, these surely are his thoughts, unmediated by anything as sophisticated as “spin” or “damage control”. The first minister seems to be gripped by a compulsion to speak whatever words have just popped into his brain, without the slightest consideration about what impact this might have on the situation. It’s compulsive viewing, the political equivalent of watching a toddler determinedly trying to work a fork into an electrical socket.

Our Rural Affairs spokesperson Molly Nolan drew another comparison on Twitter:

I know there’s many more pressing things going on at the moment but good grief. Mr Bean himself would surely have given a better interview than this

It was not the best build up to Yousaf’s big moment when he unveiled his programme for Government at Holyrood yesterday. And to be honest it wasn’t so much a programme for Government as a series of screeching U-turns. The deeply flawed deposit return scheme paused till next year, their flagship National Care Service paused. Those are both welcome, but I mean, if the only headlines that come out of such a statement is what you are not doing, you are in trouble.

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said that our party will be part of the change that is coming:

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Polls put SNP majority in doubt

Humza Yousaf has been Scotland’s First Minister for 5 days and it looks as though he’s not going to get a honeymoon. Two polls this week have shown the SNP vote falling and Labour surging while Lib Dems look as though we will gain and, in Alex Cole-Hamilton’s catchphrase of the moment, “be part of what’s next”

A Savanta poll published on Friday put us on 7 seats, giving us and Labour 49 seats between us. Between 2007 and 2011, the SNP minority government had just  47 MSPs.

This weekend, a Sunday Times/Pnaelbase poll showed a slightly different outcome, but still a significant drop for the SNP.

Humza Yousaf’s win by the cursed ratio of 52% to 48% means that the divisions opened up by a febrile campaign will be more difficult to heal. The refusal of Kate Forbes to take the post of Rural Affairs Secretary, a role which would have put her on a collision course with the Greens over the introduction of controversial Highly Protected Marine Areas  leaves her as a powerful rallying point on the back benches.

Unforced errors such as abolishing the job of Social Security Minister, sending its previous holder Ben Macpherson to the backbenches, have also raised concerns. It seems ridiculous to have a Minister for Independence and not one to be over the transfer of disability benefits to the new Scottish Social Security Agency.

The commentary on Yousaf’s debut at First Minister’s Questions was not positive. In fact, the Herald’s Tom Gordon  was brutal:

The banks of schoolkids flagged visibly, hating their teachers, hating democracy.

It was like detention without end. Oh, think of the children!

On and on Mr Yousaf went, clubbing his audience with the cliches of Nicola Sturgeon and the charm of Alex Salmond in a lift.

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Humza Yousaf narrowly elected as Scotland’s First Minister

When Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf entered the room at Murrayfield for the announcement of the SNP leadership election, Kate was smiling and looking like she had not a care in the world. Humza’s face was in his boots and he looked like he had the weight o the world on his shoulders.

I thought that Kate had won, but when the result came through, and Humza was proclaimed leader, you can maybe understand why he looked so miserable.

His margin of victory was that cursed ration of 52.1% to 47.9% over Kate Forbes, and we all know from Brexit how difficult it is to manage a situation where almost half of people are against you. On first preferences, he had 48% of the vote to Kate Forbes 40% and Ash Regan’s 11.1%, but Regan’s transfers broke overwhelmingly for Forbes.

There will be some relief in Scotland’s LGBT community that Yousaf, out of the three, has won. During the campaign, Kate Forbes expressed her opposition to same sex marriage and both she and Regan made clear their opposition to  the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

The leadership campaign was at times absolutely vicious. Kate Forbes demolition of his record in office may well come back to haunt the soon to be First Minister. In the first major debate, she basically told him he was being moved from his Health portfolio if she won, and said:

“You were a transport minister and the trains were never on time, when you were justice secretary the police were stretched to breaking point, and now as health minister we’ve got record high waiting times – what makes you think you can do a better job as first minister?”

The thing I found most weird, having spent my Summer three years ago, along with many others, phone canvassing in our leadership election, that the SNP didn’t allow their candidates to have membership data in order to canvass. Maybe that explains the low turnout of 70% in such a fiercely fought election for, effectively, the leader of the country.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton congratulated Humza but did not hold back about the challenge ahead of him:

I would like to congratulate Humza Yousaf on becoming the first minority ethnic leader of his party.

“Scotland is crying out for a First Minister who will put the people’s priorities first and be a leader for the whole country.

“There are huge challenges facing our country but sadly Humza Yousaf has not proven equal to those challenges in his previous roles. That’s not just my verdict but that of his colleague Kate Forbes.

“On his watch, 1 in 7 Scots are on a waiting list and his NHS recovery plan has completely failed to tackle crises in A&E, cancer care, mental health and dentistry.

“Reasonable, fair-minded people are turning away from the SNP and looking for someone who will fight their corner. This country is ready for change and Scottish Liberal Democrats will be part of what’s next.”

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Willie Rennie gets commitment from Sturgeon on tackling violence in schools

Following on from his article calling for action on violence in schools, Willie Rennie asked the First Minister for action this week. In her positive response, she paid tribute not once but twice to the work Willie has done on this issue and on mental health.

The text is below:

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Northern Ireland

It may be that the British lion may be learning how to wag its Irish tail instead of the reverse. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has negotiated a settlement of the Northern Ireland Protocol which has bedevilled UK-EU and UK-US relations and Britain’s standing in the world since the 2016 Brexit Referendum.

The chief stumbling block has been Northern Ireland’s ultra-nationalist, ultra-conservative, ultra-protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). For them Brexit was an opportunity to reverse the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which they never liked even though it ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The DUP’s hopes were seemingly dashed by Boris Johnson’s “Get Brexit it Done” settlement which moved the UK-EU border to the Irish Sea and left Northern Ireland in Europe’s Single Market and Customs Union. Then faith was restored by Johnson’s threat to withdraw from the agreement he made, damaging relations with the EU; undermining belief in British adherence to international law and, because the US is a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, making an eagerly-sought US-UK trade deal a distant prospect.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has replaced ideologically-driven threats with pragmatic compromise and negotiations and come up with what is called the “Windsor Framework.” It is not perfect. It leaves the EU with a great deal of say in Northern Irish affairs, but is possibly the best deal that could be secured with a weak British hand.

For a start, the Windsor Framework establishes “red and green lanes” for goods entering Northern Ireland from mainland Britain. The green lanes are for goods staying in the province and are customs free. The red lanes for goods transiting on to Eire and are subject to EU tariffs.

Of perhaps greater importance is the sovereignty issue. Disputes will now be discussed by a joint EU-UK consultative body with final arbitration by an independent arbitrator working within the framework of international law. The Stormont Assembly will have a say through a mechanism called “The Stormont Brake”, but this cannot be used for “trivial reasons” and Westminster can veto Stormont.

The “Stormont Brake” can be used if the Assembly is in session. At the moment it is not because the DUP refuses to attend as a protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP has neither accepted nor rejected the “Windsor Framework.” It has said it wants time – lots of it – to consider its options. Sunak has said fair enough. Take all the time you want. But the framework will be approved with or without your support. This is no empty threat. The prime minister has support from the Opposition Labour Party and Liberal Democrats and can easily outvote the DUP and any rebel right-wing Tories.

Covid-19

Donald Trump’s number one conspiracy theory may be right. That is according to FBI Director Christopher Wray.  Covid-19 may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory specialising in coronavirus research. America’s Department of Energy agrees with Christopher Wray and even the World Health Organisation is making noises about reversing its previous position and saying that the claims are worth a fresh investigation.

However, the CIA and other US intelligence agencies continue to report that the most likely scenario is that the virus jumped from animals to humans via the Wuhan food market. The vast majority of the world’s scientists agree with the spooks at Langley, Virginia and the White House says there is no firm proof either way.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese steadfastly maintain that the virus started in animals, not their lab. In fact, some officials have come up with a counter conspiracy claim that the virus was manufactured in a US research facility in Ft. Derick, Maryland and released in Wuhan by American agents.

Beijing is determined to avoid any blame. Not only does it undermine their claims to scientific competency, it also lays them open to lawsuits. Notoriously litiginous Trump has demanded that the Chinese pay $10 trillion and thousands of Floridians have signed up for a class action suit with Miami-based law firm the Bernard Law Group. Of course, the chances of collecting any money is nil.

Whether the virus started in a lab or a bat is important to know. The knowledge will help public health officials to prevent future pandemics. For that reason alone the lack of Chinese transparency is disturbing.

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WATCH: Alex Cole-Hamilton defend Scotland’s place in the UK in Oxford Union debate

Alex Cole-Hamilton recently took part in an Oxford Union debate on Scottish independence. His side, opposing the motion that “This House would support an independent Scotland” won comfortably.

Watch his speech here:

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Willie Rennie calls for action to end violence in schools

Willie Rennie has called on the Scottish Government and Scotland’s education leaders to do more to tackle the increasing problem of violence in schools.

He wrote in the Daily Record that images shown to him by a constituent of a young girl being kicked in the face by another will stay with him forever.

He said that there was a “conspiracy of silence” as those responsible didn’t admit to the extent of the problem, which led to staff at sone school taking industrial action because they didn’t feel their pleas for intervention were being heard.

He wants action to tackle a problem which has become much more severe since the pandemic closed schools for extended periods. Not only that, but there are fewer experienced staff around to help:

There has been a fall in specialist teachers, long waits for mental health treatment, a reduction in classroom assistants, insufficient educational psychologists and not enough staffed spaces to provide appropriate support to pupils. The list goes on. That needs to change.

But, he says, intervention has to be inclusive:

I am a liberal and I believe in tackling the root causes of behaviour rather than simply punishing the symptoms, so I support inclusion and the restorative approach adopted in Scottish education.

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Cole-Hamilton: People need change, not endless independence navel gazing

On the weekend that various SNP leadership bids are launched, Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton set out this party’s priorities for Government.

Two things have cheered him this week. First a poll suggesting that we would double our Holyrood group to 8 if there were a Scottish election today.

The second was unexpectedly finding himself on a list of potential successors to Nicola Sturgeon:

Seriously, I think we are much more lead than the SNP at the moment. I doubt he’ll be thinking the grass is greener.

Anyway, Alex made his remarks about the priorities for the next First Minister at the start of an action day in the Corstorphine/Murrayfield by-election in the heart of his Edinburgh Western constituency. I’m more surprised, to be honest, that organiser Ed and campaign manager Kevin Lang allowed activists to stand still for long enough to listen to him on the weekend before postal votes land. This is what he said:

Nicola Sturgeon’s launched ferries with painted on windows and failed to close the attainment gap in our schools. Drug deaths many times worse than anywhere else in Europe and a stagnant economy are the consequence of years of ministerial disinterest. The delivery rarely lived up to the hype.

I’m challenging the leadership contenders to recognise where timeworn SNP policies have failed to deliver for the NHS, schools, the economy and the efforts to reduce Scotland’s emissions.

I’ve set out positive policies for the would-be candidates today because being open to ideas from the opposition benches is a sign of good government. With three years until the next scheduled Holyrood election, people have the right to see change, not more of the same.

We will work hard to move the debate on from the divisions of the past because people can’t wait for years behind yet more arguments and navel-gazing about independence. All of the good things we want to do can’t play second fiddle any longer. Scotland needs new hope, right now.

When it comes to breaking up the UK, no price is too high and no amount of disruption too painful for the nationalists. Scottish Liberal Democrats will stand up for communities around the country being totally taken for granted by this SNP Government.

He is asking the SNP leadership contenders to do five things:

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Lib Dems react to Sturgeon resignation

I might disagree with Nicola Sturgeon on many things, but I have long liked her personally.  She is one of the best political communicators we have had, someone who is very good at empathy and emotional connection. Her resignation speech today was dignified, sincere and candid about the pressures she has faced after eight years in the role.

Sturgeon is standing down on her own terms at a time of her choosing. Her work ethic is pretty legendary and she feels that she doesn’t have within her the capacity to continue working at this pace after 8 years in the top job.

Her leadership during the pandemic, described today by Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton as “a hell of a shift,” was not perfect but had a clarity and compassion that others lacked. Alex said in a BBC interview that today was not a day for throwing political brick bats and paid tribute to the First Minister personally:

The leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats says Scotland faces “many challenges” and he calls on the SNP to “get stability restored” after the first minister steps down.

But today is “not a day for political attacks”, Alex Cole-Hamilton tells BBC News.

Despite having a “combative” relationship with the outgoing first minister, Cole-Hamilton recalls a warm moment between the two when the FM offered him “words of comfort” after his young daughter choked on a coin and had to be resuscitated around five years ago.

Watch here:

Later he added:

Nicola Sturgeon’s talent has undoubtedly shaped Scottish political life and she deserves to be thanked for her public service. Today is not a day for political attacks.  I wish her well for everything that comes next.

It is to Nicola Sturgeon’s credit that she has been open about the pressures and stresses that leadership has involved.  Everyone will recognise how hard it will have been particularly to steer the country during the pandemic and the weight of those decisions.

Scotland needs leadership that will focus on what really matters because every corner of our NHS is in crisis, the cost of living is punishing, islanders still need new ferries and education deserves to be a top priority.

Scottish Liberal Democrats will work hard to move the debate on from the divisions of the past because people can’t wait for years behind yet more arguments about independence. Scotland needs new hope, right now.

Alex is not the only person to have been impressed by her kindness. Back in 2011, she took time out of her day to send me, a random nobody activist in an opposition party, a lovely message of sympathy when our much loved campaigns director Andrew Reeves died.

It is also worth saying while she has recently been attacked on women’s rights, mainly by people who have never done anything for women in their lives, she is a committed feminist who has done a great deal to improve all diversity strands in her own party.  She also – eventually – delivered 30 hours of term-time childcare for 3 and 4 year olds and introduced the Scottish Child Payment which gives £25 per week to families on the lowest incomes.

Here’s what other Lib Dems have been saying about her resignation and we’ll update as more comments come in:

Christine later wrote a very generous column in the Express.

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LibLink: Christine Jardine – Sturgeon’s dead cat distracts from multiple failures

In her Scotsman column this week, Christine Jardine highlights 3 major SNP Government failures and suggests Nicola Sturgeon’s publication of her tax returns is merely a dead cat to distract from them.

The first failing is the lack of dualling the main route to the north of Scotland, the A9. It was supposed to be one by 2025 but that is not going to happen and fatalities on this road are going up.

Failure to make the promised improvements will impact the economy as well as the health and well-being of isolated communities with poor access to vital services. But most of all it is a failure to make the main route north safe for all of us. Safety was a major factor in the decision to upgrade a road on which the number of deaths still managed to record a heart-breaking 20-year high in 2022.

Thirteen people lost their lives on the stretch from Inverness to Perth of which approximately 77 miles remain to be dualled and the tender for the latest stretch – Tomatin to Moy – was announced this week to have been delayed. Promised improvements now will have to wait while thousands continue to face the real fear of driving on a road which switches intermittently from dual to single carriage and on which you can meet a tractor or road works at any moment.

And then there is the unbelievable capacity to make a mess of a good idea that is the proposed Deposit Return Scheme. Anyone who wants to sell drinks in bottles, or cans, in Scotland after August is supposed to sign up for the new scheme by the end of this month, but businesses are saying they may not bother because of the additional costs they will incur. This weekend no Scottish Government Minister would appear on the main Sunday morning shows to defend the scheme which has even been criticised by SNP MPs.

On a practical level, retailers are unhappy that the vending machines will cost around £20,000 to install and take up valuable retail space. Producers are also beginning to ask questions, and then there are the problems of different pricing for different parts of the UK. Which raises another not insignificant problem: the Internal Markets Bill.

A leading lawyer this week claimed that Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme could create an unlawful trade barrier with the rest of the UK where a similar scheme will be introduced in 2025.

Finally, the Government is yet again delaying the full implementation of welfare powers.

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Jardine challenges Scottish Secretary over Gender Reform

Women and Equalities spokesperson Christine Jardine challenged Scottish Secretary Alister Jack to come up with a single clause in Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill which undermined the provisions of the Equality Act. Spoiler, he couldn’t. She accused him of playing fast and loose by the Union by attempting to block the Bill.  Watch her comments here.

Later he issued a flimsy Statement of Reasons for issuing the Section 35 Order. In a later speech, Christine said that to call it weak would be to flatter it. There certainly is much in the way of conjecture within it and absolutely zero evidence to back that up.

At this point it is worth remembering that, not only was a Labour amendment stating the primacy of the Equality Act on the face of the Bill, but even before that every major feminist organisation in Scotland supported it. I can’t see how they would have done if they had thought for a second that it would harm women’s rights. They have certainly not held back in criticising government legislation before. This is one of the most scrutinised pieces of legislation ever, with several consultations, a draft Bill and, finally, the Bill that has been passed.

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“Cynical” move to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Bill

The Guardian reports:

Rishi Sunak’s government has blocked legislation passed by the Scottish parliament that would make Scotland the first part of the UK to introduce a self-identification system for people who want to change gender.

The Scottish secretary, Alister Jack, announced that he would use section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 for the first time to halt the gender recognition bill after a review by UK government lawyers.

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Paying for Social Care

The current crisis in the NHS should be persuading us to re-consider the idea of a 10 per cent retirement levy to pay for social care. Everyone knows that bed- blocking is at the root of the over-crowding in our hospitals and the long waits for ambulances and in accident and emergency departments. But “delayed discharge” cannot be solved without more resources in home care and nursing homes. Massively more resources.

The lack of political courage over this issue is shameful, from all parties. Back in 2011, the Dilmot Report called for something to be done. Since then, Andy Burnham’s attempt to introduce a 10 per cent retirement levy was abandoned, even by his own Labour Party. It was ignored by the Coalition. Theresa May and Boris Johnson made various suggestions but quickly backed away from them. And Rishi Sunak thinks that by spooning out a little more money for the NHS will solve the problem.

The issue is much bigger than that, with Britain’s population aging as fast as it is. Age UK reckons we need £10bn a year extra to fund a National Care Service similar to the NHS. To raise that kind of money, we need a radical solution. An obvious source of money is a tax on wealth, and most pensioners have plenty of it.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton’s Christmas Message

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has released his Christmas message:

Christmas is a time for reflection, and I think it’s important to take stock of the challenges we’ve faced over the last year.

In February we saw the return of war to Europe for the first time in decades. The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has rewritten international relationships and prompted an astonishing wave of generosity from Scots opening their homes to take in those fleeing Putin’s war.

The soaring cost of energy bills and inflation has bitten into household finances, and our health service has faced unprecedented challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and more than a decade of SNP mismanagement.

On each of these issues Scottish Liberal Democrats have sought to offer considered and constructive solutions, from pressing the government to support refugees, to an emergency national insultation programme and new support for mental health.

Despite these challenges, I remain optimistic about the future of our country. The spirit of Christmas reminds us that no matter how difficult things may seem, we can always find hope in the love and support of our friends, family, and community.

It would be strange to end any reflection on the year gone by without mentioning the death of Queen Elizabeth II. For many she has been a symbol of constancy in our lives and it will be strange for a Christmas to pass without her address to the nation.

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Scotland finally passes Gender Recognition Reform Bill

After 6 years of consultations, draft bills, more consultations and, finally, 3 days of debate with over 150 amendments, the Scottish Parliament passed the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill by 86 votes to 39. The Conservatives opposed the Bill, although two of their MSPs voted for it.  There were 9 SNP and 2 Labour rebels opposing it. That must be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, SNP rebellions ever.

Although the debate was often fractious, there was a lot of cross-party working on amendments to develop consensus.

Here’s Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton speaking in the debate:

All Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs voted for the measure which had the backing not just of LGBT+ organisations in Scotland, but also feminist organisations like Engender and organisations which support survivors of rape and domestic abuse. In its briefing to MSPs ahead of Stage 3, they said:

Another feature of the debate we are concerned by relates to the inference that trans inclusion, and as such trans people, pose a threat to women’s safety and experience of services. These claims are not borne out by evidence of women’s experience of services or violence at the hands of men, here in Scotland or internationally. They also risk stigmatisation and associated harm to trans people; a group who are already at increased risk of discrimination and violence.

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Christine Jardine: Donald Trump is a warning, not an inspiration

Christine Jardine has been sharing her dream in her Scotsman column this week. And it isn’t pretty:

In this sleep-induced scenario, some Donald Trump sound-alike was holding court in Edinburgh, draped in tartan, surrounded by saltires and spouting endless meaningless slogans. Fortunately, they had stopped short of wearing a bright blue Tam O’Shanter bearing the motif “Make Alba Great Again”.

And people in the crowd which had gathered were not all there to cheer and applaud the separatist dream being espoused at the flag-laden centre of events. No. Many of those in the imaginary demonstration were instead calling for help for the nurses and other health workers who have to cope with long shifts looking after wards with too many patients and too few staff.

This echoes the feeling of many Scots that the Scottish Government needs to sort out the crisis in its public services instead of looking to populism to stoke up division over the constitution.

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Wendy Chamberlain to lead Policy Commission on ending men’s violence against women

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has asked his Deputy Wendy Chamberlain to lead a Policy Commission on ending men’s violence against women and girls. Wendy, as the only former woman police officer in the House of Commons, is best placed to lead this work.

Back in March 2021, in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder, Scottish Liberal Democrats called on the Scottish Government to create such a Commission to look at all aspects of tackling this scourge on our society.

Since then the Government has made little progress.

Alex said:

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.

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Carmichael: Scottish Independence is a double dose of Brexit disease

Alistair Carmichael is in blistering form in a Scotsman article in which he argues that the SNP’s push for independence is like treating the Cold with Flu.

He compares Nicola Sturgeon’s pursuit of independence against all the evidence to Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s ideological trashing of the economy:

The accusation has never been that leaving the UK would be “too good” for our economy. The concern was that those advocating the nationalist cure-all were blithely or intentionally ignoring the harm to businesses and livelihoods.

In Brexit and the disruption of recent weeks, we have had an abject lesson in the harm caused by ignoring reality in favour of fervently held beliefs. The only surprise is the SNP think that these failures are an endorsement.

He reminds us all what the SNP Government does (or doesn’t) with the powers that they already have:

Set aside for a moment the cack-handed, indifferent approach taken by the SNP over the aspects of the economy they are already responsible for; the drip-drip of scandals around hundreds of millions spent on overdue ferries, the reckless gambling of our taxes in the Lochaber deal, or businesses’ struggles under their watch.

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Liam McArthur wins right to bring forward Assisted Dying Bill to Scottish Parliament

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has earned the right to introduce a Members’ Bill to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people in the Scottish Parliament.

His proposal is supported by 36 out of the 129 MSPs.

Last month Liam  published the outcome of his public consultation on the proposals.  Out of 14,038 responses, 76% of individuals who responded expressed full support with a further 2% partially supporting a change in the law.

Mr McArthur will now work with the Scottish Parliament’s Non-Governmental Bills Unit to draft the actual bill which he hopes to introduce in Parliament next year.

Liam said:

“I would like to offer my sincere thanks to all MSPs who have put their names behind my proposed change in the law. The support among colleagues has been deeply heartening, and demonstrates the growing recognition that there is a need to end the ban on assisted dying in Scotland.

“The Scottish public has long been ahead of the parliament on this issue. The public consultation on these proposals, published last month, demonstrated that there is strong and passionate support for offering people more choice at the end of their life.

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Liam McArthur lodges Assisted Dying Bill

Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney,  will today lodge a final proposal in the Scottish Parliament for his Members Bill  which would enable assisted dying in Scotland if passed.

A report detailing the responses to the public consultation on the bill’s proposals will also be published. In total, 14,038 consultation responses were received – the highest number of responses received to date for a consultation on a proposed Members Bill.

The report’s findings include:

  • A clear majority of respondents, 76%, were fully supportive of the proposal, with a further 2% partially supportive.
  • Many respondents gave first-hand experiences of living with, and caring for, family, friends and patients with a terminal illness who had experienced great pain and suffered what was often described as a “bad death”.
  • The majority of respondents believe that assisted dying should be available for terminally ill people in Scotland, as it is in other parts of the world, and that a humane society should make provision to spare its dying people from unbearable pain and suffering and allow them the autonomy to legally choose to end their lives in a safe and regulated manner.
  • Many supportive respondents believe the proposal is an improvement on previous attempts to legislate for assisted dying and are fully satisfied with the proposed safeguards. Many believe that the proposal successfully balances the provision of a right to assisted death for competent terminally ill adults with a clear and appropriate set of safeguards built in to every step of the process, together with a right for health professionals involved to conscientiously object.

Liam said:

The public consultation received an overwhelming response and I am grateful to everyone who took the time to engage in this vitally important process.

It is clear that a majority of people who responded are in favour of a new assisted dying law in Scotland and that the choices we have around how we die is an issue that needs addressing.

As well as thoughtful perspectives on how an assisted dying law would work in Scotland, I have heard from dying people who would very much like to have this choice available to them as their illness progresses. People who, right now, face a series of unimaginable choices and would have peace of mind in their final months knowing that if they need it when the time comes they can have a peaceful death that is right for them.

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Reflections on my first year as Drugs Policy spokesperson

It’s been a year since Alex Cole-Hamilton appointed me  Scottish Lib Dem  spokesperson for Drugs Policy. This is a new portfolio shadowing the Minister for Drugs Policy Angela Constance in response to an increasing trend of drug-related deaths in Scotland that has made us the Overdose Capital of Europe.

Since my appointment I have sought to learn, make connections and speak to people most affected by substance misuse while putting forward common sense proposals such as accelerating the rollout of Naloxone (overdose prevention kits), introducing supervised consumption centres, and calling for widespread drug law reform at the UK level. Here’s one TV interview with GB News where I put forward such proposals:

My primary focus  is reducing overdoses and drug-related deaths.  My first job involved travelling to Holyrood to attend a vigil  for Overdose Awareness Day.

I spoke to people who have lived with addictions and families who have lost loved ones to overdose. I even had the honour of meeting Peter Krykant, a former addict who took action into his own hands to start up Scotland’s first ever mobile overdose prevention centre in the back of a van. After being shown around the back of Peter’s old ambulance which  he’s modified into a mobile safe consumption centre, and upon hearing about all the lives he had saved, I was struck by the power of direct action, and how often it’s ordinary people taking matters in to their own hands who achieve far more than Government Ministers ever can.

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