Tag Archives: willie rennie

15 May 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Windermere illegal sewage dumps: A complete scandal that can’t go on
  • PMQs: Armed forces homes only to be repaired in emergencies as PM refuses to stump up extra cash
  • Sewage vote: Conservative MPs vote against law that would have sent water companies to court
  • 80,000 Scottish households face mortgage rate hike by November
  • Accounts Commission report shows councils have faced a scythe to their funds
  • “Deliver a payment scheme that farmers can have faith in” – Welsh Lib Dems call for Welsh Gov to listen to farmers over SFS reforms

Windermere illegal sewage dumps: A complete scandal that can’t go on

Responding to the news that untreated sewage was illegally pumped into Lake Windermere, Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson Tim Farron MP said:

This is a scandal. We can’t let them get away with this any longer.

The public are rightly furious that their favourite local rivers and lakes are being spoiled while water company bosses accept huge bonuses.

I hope Parliament accept my amendment today which could see water company bosses prosecuted for sewage pollution.

Rishi Sunak and his government must finally take tough action to tackle sewage dumping now instead of cosying up with the big water company bosses.

PMQs: Armed forces homes only to be repaired in emergencies as PM refuses to stump up extra cash

The Prime Minister today refused to commit extra cash for repairs for armed forces families homes despite the Head of Accommodation for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation revealing that military families could only expect repairs to their home in emergencies.

The lack of money for repairs was revealed by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s new Head of Accommodation in her first update to military families this month.

Air Commodore Leah Griffin assured families that she was working to challenge the budget settlement but said non-urgent repairs and home improvements were “not currently affordable”.

Air Commodore Griffin also said that she was having to “make the case for investing in Service family housing” due to finances in the DIO that are “more challenging than ever”.

It comes as serving personnel and their families are having important requests for home repairs and upgrades denied as a lack of funding means only emergency work is being approved.

This is despite long-running problems that have seen many families forced to live in damp, cold and mouldy accommodation and troops put up in shipping style containers at Tern Hill Barracks.

Lib Dem MP Helen Morgan challenged Rishi Sunak over his commitment to the armed forces today at PMQs after this shocking admission. In response, the Prime Minister refused to commit to any additional funding to address this situation.

The North Shropshire MP has had constituents report to her that their military housing has experienced horror stories ranging from exploding boilers to collapsing roofs. In one case, a constituent recently required alterations to their shower to access it after major surgery but was told this was not possible due to the lack of budget for housing repairs. The problem was only fixed when Helen became involved.

The news undermines the Prime Minister’s claims to be prioritising defence and the Government’s recent commitment to bringing all military accommodation up to the Decent Homes Standard – a pledge that came in response to a proposed law change from Helen Morgan who has been a long-time campaigner on this issue.

In response to the Prime Minister’s answer, Liberal Democrat MP for North Shropshire Helen Morgan MP said:

Rishi Sunak talks a big game about defence but he isn’t even prepared to guarantee service families decent quality homes to live in.

Military morale is lower than ever because those who serve our country have been subject to years of neglect by this Conservative government.

Service people put their lives on the line to keep us and our allies safe. The least they should get in return is a clean, warm and safe home.

Our armed forces deserve a Government that takes their needs seriously and backs up its words with real actions.

That means upgrading military housing and removing repair contracts from companies that don’t do their job.

We used to talk about building homes fit for heroes – and that’s the very least we can deliver.

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1 May 2024 – yesterday’s other press releases

  • Sadiq Khan’s record of failure exposed
  • Fiefdoms of filth: Scottish Lib Dems unveil new sewage league table
  • Lib Dems on verge of historic breakthrough in London
  • “Bringing truth back into politics”- Welsh Lib Dems back anti-deception proposal
  • Rennie speaks in motion of no confidence in Scottish Government

Sadiq Khan’s record of failure exposed

Sadiq Khan has once again failed to deliver on key manifesto promises, says Liberal Democrat London Mayoral candidate Rob Blackie.

On the eve of the elections he listed 2021 manifesto pledges that the London Mayor failed to implement:

  • Deliver a ferry at Hammersmith Bridge
  • End rough sleeping
  • Pilot a new City Hall housing developer to directly build

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5 April 2024 – today’s press releases

  • NICs: Prime Minister is still peddling this deception
  • Chamberlains’s Carer’s Leave Bill to come into force
  • 91,000 people call 999 or turn to A&E after struggling to get GP appointment
  • Rennie: Fall in modern languages teachers jeopardises vision for Scotland
  • Blackie: ‘My top priority: fix the Met’

NICs: Prime Minister is still peddling this deception

Responding to the changes to National Insurance (NI) and freezing of income tax thresholds coming into force tomorrow, Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson, Sarah Olney MP said:

The Prime Minister is still peddling this deception and voters will see straight through it.

Hammering the public with unfair stealth taxes and then claiming people will be taking home more in their pay packets is frankly offensive.

This is an out of touch Prime Minister leading a directionless Conservative government with his party more interested in clinging on to power than ensuring people are better off. They do not deserve to be in power for a moment longer.

Chamberlains’s Carer’s Leave Bill to come into force

The “landmark” Carer’s Leave Bill introduced by North East Fife MP and Scottish Liberal Democrat deputy leader Wendy Chamberlain will come into force on Saturday 6th April.

The Bill will give an estimated 2.4 million carers across the UK a statutory right to take five days of unpaid leave per year. Carer’s UK have described this as a ‘landmark’ piece of legislation which would help carers to better balance work and care.

Wendy Chamberlain introduced the Carer’s Leave Bill in June 2022 after winning a place in the Private Member’s Bill lottery. The Bill enjoyed cross-party support and was passed on 19 May 2023. The legislation comes into effect on 6th April 2024

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4 April 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Police taking up to 28 hours to attend burglaries
  • Sharp decline in STEM teacher numbers
  • Scottish Liberal Democrats respond to Loch Lomond Highland Games cancellation

Police taking up to 28 hours to attend burglaries

Average burglary response times have increased by a shocking 25% in just one year, with some forces taking an average of 28 hours for an officer to arrive at the scene, damning figures uncovered by the Liberal Democrats have revealed.

The figures were obtained through a series of Freedom of Information requests to all police forces in England. 26 forces provided responses.

Burglaries are often considered as Grade 2 priority incidents, which most police forces aim to respond to within one hour. The College of Policing defines these as “incidents where a witness or other evidence is likely to be lost”, and “a degree of urgency is still associated with immediate police action.”

But in the 2022/23 financial year, it took an average of 9 hours and 8 minutes across police forces for an officer to turn up to the scene when a burglary was reported. This is an increase of 25% from the previous year, when average wait times across police forces stood at 7 hours and 17 minutes. 20 of the 26 police forces reported longer wait times in 2022/23, compared to 2021/22.

When compared to figures from 2020/21, the deterioration in wait times was even more stark. 11 forces saw their burglary response times more than double in that time period. South Yorkshire experienced the largest deterioration in wait times, which increased by a shocking 443% – up from 2 hours and 21 minutes in 2020/21, to 12 hours and 47 minutes in 2022/23.

The figures also revealed a disturbing postcode lottery, with response times varying significantly depending on the police force. The worst performing force was Northamptonshire, with a staggering average response time of 28 hours and 2 minutes for burglary calls. They were followed closely behind by Durham, where victims were left waiting nearly 26 hours for an officer to arrive. Meanwhile, average response times in Bedfordshire were nearly 15 minutes, while Cumbria response times sat at just a little over one hour.

It comes just months after the latest Home Office statistics revealed that 3 in 4 burglaries went unsolved in the year ending September 2023.

The Liberal Democrats have slammed the Conservative Government for these figures, arguing that years of ineffective resourcing have left local police forces overstretched, under-resourced and unable to effectively respond to local crime. This includes taking more than 4,500 community officers (PCSOs) off the streets since 2015.

The party is calling for a return to proper community policing, where officers are visible and trusted, with the time and resources to focus on tackling neighbourhood crime like burglaries.

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3 April 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Aid worker deaths: Davey calls on government to suspend arms sales to Israel
  • Royal Mail proposal to cut second class deliveries: Another slap in the face
  • London Lib Dems response to Khan economic announcement
  • Worst hit rivers for sewage dumps revealed as Lib Dems call for new Blue Flag status
  • Rennie responds to CalMac boss stepping down

Aid worker deaths: Davey calls on government to suspend arms sales to Israel

The Liberal Democrats have called on the government to suspend arms sales to Israel, following the deaths of seven aid workers including three British nationals in an Israeli air strike in Gaza.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said:

The deaths of these British aid workers in Gaza is an absolute disgrace. These brave people were trying to help starving families in Gaza.

Clearly, the thought that British-made arms could have been used in strikes such as these is completely unacceptable.

The government must take swift action to suspend arms exports to Israel. We must redouble our efforts to secure an immediate bilateral ceasefire.

Royal Mail proposal to cut second class deliveries: Another slap in the face

Responding to the news that Royal Mail wants to reduce second class deliveries to three days a week, Liberal Democrat Business Spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said:

These plans are a slap in the face for families being asked to pay more for less.

The cost of first and second class stamps has gone up sharply in recent years. It risks creating a cost of postage crisis, as people feel forced to pay for first class stamps because second class delivery days are being slashed.

People shouldn’t have to pay the price for Royal Mail’s failure, after executives missed their delivery targets and paid themselves eye-watering bonuses.

London Lib Dems response to Khan economic announcement

Responding to Sadiq Khan’s joint economic announcement with Rachel Reeves today (Weds), Rob Blackie, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London, said:

Labour’s plan ignores London’s biggest economic problem – Brexit. Labour are too scared to say that Brexit has damaged London’s economy, making us poorer and costing us jobs.

For instance, technology companies now have to spend time and money complying with two data laws, one each from the EU and the UK. And too many European citizens in London are made to feel unwelcome.

As Liberal Democrat Mayor I will campaign to fix the damage done by Brexit, and bring in a London passport to protect London’s EU citizen rights.

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27 March 2024 – today’s press releases (part 2)

  • Ed Davey warns Sunak facing sewage local elections backlash on campaign visit to Dorset
  • Khan already failing on Met recruitment
  • Sewage spills rise: 21,660 “disgusting” sewage dumps in 2023
  • Scottish Liberal Democrats respond to Housing Bill
  • Cole-Hamilton responds to hackers’ threat of publishing NHS stolen data
  • Rennie: Ministers’ fingerprints all over Tydeman sacking

Ed Davey warns Sunak facing sewage local elections backlash on campaign visit to Dorset

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey will today warn that Rishi Sunak is facing a “sewage backlash” at the ballot box in May’s local elections, on a visit to West Dorset as part of his campaign tour of the West Country.

Ed Davey will be meeting CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, Giles Bristow, and visiting West Bay beach, a popular tourist destination where pollution alerts were put in place after raw sewage was discharged last year.

The Liberal Democrats have led the campaign in Westminster to tackle the sewage scandal since 2021, and it’s been a key issue in their big victories in previous local election campaigns and four parliamentary by-election wins.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for the water industry to be “ripped up from top to bottom” to ensure profit is no longer put above environmental goals, and the creation of a new tougher regulator to replace Ofwat. Since the Liberal Democrats were the first party to call for a ban on water firm executive bonuses over two years ago, a number of water CEOs have given theirs up.

Speaking ahead of the visit, Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said:

Rishi Sunak and Conservative MPs are facing a sewage backlash after years of blocking tough measures to crack down on water firms. The water industry needs to be ripped up from top to bottom, to stop profits and shareholders’ dividends driving everything. It is time to start again.

Sunak may have bottled a General Election, but he cannot hide from voters in the local elections where communities will voice real anger at this environmental scandal.

From Dorset to Yorkshire, lifelong Conservative voters across the country are switching to the Liberal Democrats because they’re fed up with seeing their rivers and beaches ruined by sewage.

Under this Conservative government both sewage in our rivers and water company profits have increased hand in hand. Enough is enough: it is clear the only way to end this sewage scandal is to boot the Conservatives out of government.

Khan already failing on Met recruitment

Responding to Sadiq Khan’s announcement that a possible Labour Government would give London more resources to recruit police officers, Lib Dem Mayoral Candidate Rob Blackie said:

This smacks of another pre-election gimmick from the Mayor. Surely any future Government wouldn’t deny London the resources it needs if it decides to elect a different party into the Mayoralty?

In any case, the Mayor is already failing on police recruitment. Numbers are going backwards and he has had to hand money back to the Government for his lack of success. So Londoners will be sceptical. Sadiq Khan has made similar promises before and not delivered.

Under Sadiq Khan’s leadership, a police officer told the Casey enquiry into the Met police that detection rates for sexual offences and rape had fallen so low that ‘it may as well be legal’ in London.

Today the Metropolitan police are catching rapists half as often as when Sadiq Khan became Mayor in 2016. And 6,000 police are stuck in the back office instead of the frontline.

This is not a policing record to be proud of. The Liberal Democrats’ top priority will be to fix the Met.

Sewage spills rise: 21,660 “disgusting” sewage dumps in 2023

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has today demanded that the SNP and Greens stop defending outdated sewage standards as new Scottish Water figures revealed a 10% increase in the number of sewage dumps in 2023.

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26 March 2024 – today’s press releases

  • No progress on A&E after a year of Humza Yousaf as FM
  • Rennie responds to David Tydeman sacking
  • Scottish Liberal Democrats respond to housing figures

No progress on A&E after a year of Humza Yousaf as FM

Responding to new figures showing only 62.9% of people attending A&E were seen within the 4 hour target in the week ending 17th March, just as bad as when Humza Yousaf became First Minister, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said:

Waiting times in A&E are just as bad as they were a year ago when Humza Yousaf moved from being Health Secretary to First

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25 March 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Cameron must address the Commons not just Tory MPs on 1922 Committee
  • Lib Dems welcome motion passed by UN Security Council
  • Rennie responds to former Scottish Government adviser dismantling independence claims

Cameron must address the Commons not just Tory MPs on 1922 Committee

Commenting on the reports that the only Conservative MPs on the 1922 Committee will be given the opportunity to question Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron this afternoon, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Layla Moran MP said:

When we’re facing such serious national security threats, it is outrageous that only Conservative backbenchers will hear from the Foreign Secretary and have the chance to question

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21 March 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Interest rates: Families are still facing a mortgage cliff edge
  • Khan ‘failing’ on Met Police reform – Lib Dems slam mayor’s record on first anniversary of Casey report
  • Cole-Hamilton challenges Yousaf on SNP Government’s climate record
  • Rennie responds to poverty statistics
  • Water Industry Commission for Scotland branded an embarrassment

Interest rates: Families are still facing a mortgage cliff edge

Responding to the Bank of England’s decision to keep interest rates at 5.25%, Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said:

This is cold comfort for millions of homeowners who still face massive hikes in their mortgage bills after Liz Truss crashed the economy. Many families still face a mortgage cliff edge despite this news.

Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget and the Conservative party’s economic vandalism has put intolerable pressure on people’s finances.

This Conservative government has no good story to tell on the economy.

The only way to break this cycle of stagnation and financial hardship is to kick this out of touch government out of office. Rishi Sunak needs to stop his desperate attempt to cling on to power and call an election.

Khan ‘failing’ on Met Police reform – Lib Dems slam mayor’s record on first anniversary of Casey report

A year on from the publication of Baroness Casey’s damning report on the Met police, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has made “no or only slow progress on key issues”, according to analysis by the Lib Dems.

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20 March 2024 – the overnight press releases

  • Chamberlain to lead debate on electoral fairness and calls out attempts to “rig the rules”
  • PAC report on Social Care: Too many vulnerable people struggling to get the care they need
  • McArthur sets out response to embargoed climate report
  • Rennie comments on new claims from Pregnant Then Screwed

Chamberlain to lead debate on electoral fairness and calls out attempts to “rig the rules”

Scottish Liberal Democrat deputy leader Wendy Chamberlain MP will lead a debate in Westminster Hall on Wednesday about strengthening electoral fairness and preventing parties from “rigging the rules,” following recent moves by the Conservative Party to introduce certain changes ahead of the upcoming General Election.

The debate will take place in Westminster Hall tomorrow (Wednesday) and is expected to begin at 11am. Ms Chamberlain will pick up on a variety of changes recently introduced by the Conservatives, including compulsory Voter ID requirements and almost doubling the spending limit for UK elections to around £35 million.

In November, the UK election watchdog, the Electoral Commission, said it had “not seen evidence” to support changes to spending limits.

Ms Chamberlain’s debate comes just one week after her party called for the Conservatives to return donations from Frank Hester, a Tory party donor who reportedly said that the MP Diane Abbott made him “want to hate all black women.”

Speaking ahead of the debate, Ms Chamberlain said:

I am concerned that some of the latest moves by this Conservative Government represent a desperate and dirty attempt to rig the rules in their favour because they know they’ve lost the support of the public.

Last year, thousands of people were denied at a voice at the local elections because of the Voter ID rules ushered in by the Tories. Hundreds of thousands of people now risk being turned away at the next election at a cost to the taxpayer of £120,000,000 over the next decade.

Their unjustified doubling of the national spending limits points to the Conservatives Party’s eagerness to design the system and play it to their advantage. We also know from the Frank Hester scandal that they will excuse the inexcusable if it means bringing in big money and clinging onto power.

Liberal Democrats have been and continue to be long-standing advocates for fairness, transparency and electoral reform. I want to show that our politics should not be tilted towards those with the deepest pockets, and that we need constructive discussions about how to make the system better and work in the interests of all.

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19 March 2024 – today’s press releases (part 2)

  • Almost 20,000 older people waited over four hours for an ambulance after falls last year
  • Half of places on secondary postgrad teaching courses unfilled
  • Almost a third of pupils missing school and decline in support for teachers and pupils

Almost 20,000 older people waited over four hours for an ambulance after falls last year

  • The Liberal Democrats launch their local election campaign unveiling shocking new figures of elderly patients waiting too long for an ambulance
  • Ed Davey to visit Hertfordshire where he will declare this May “the chance to send this out of touch Conservative government a message”
  • Number of older patients waiting over 4 hours for an ambulance after falling has almost doubled since 2019/20
  • One patient waited close to three days for an ambulance to arrive after a fall

Almost 20,000 older people in England waited more than four hours for an ambulance to arrive after having a fall last year, more than double the number in 2019/20, figures uncovered by the Liberal Democrats have revealed.

The Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey will visit the Blue Wall battleground of Hertfordshire to launch his party’s local election campaign. Ed Davey will focus his party’s campaign on local health services.

The new data was uncovered by the Liberal Democrats through Freedom of Information requests to ambulance trusts in England. It shows there were 19,904 incidents in 2022/23 where someone aged over 65 had a fall and had to wait more than four hours for an ambulance to arrive, or an average of 54 people a day.

This is a stark 96.5% rise since before the pandemic in 2019/20 for the trusts that provided data across the full four years.

Even more shockingly, 1,411 older patients waited over 12 hours for an ambulance to arrive after falling last year, a more than tenfold increase compared to 2019/20. The East of England Ambulance Trust had the worst record with nearly 8,000 incidents that took longer than four hours and 769 that took longer than 12 hours to respond last year.

The West Midlands had an average response time for elderly falls of one hour 54 minutes and in that region a patient waited close to three days after experiencing a fall.

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11 March 2024 – yesterday’s press releases (part 2)

  • McArthur looks to include cruises ships in visitor levy bill
  • Prison exec admits no plans to bring back rehabilitation services
  • Yousaf’s economic credibility is down the drain

McArthur looks to include cruises ships in visitor levy bill

Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur has lodged amendments to the Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill to allow a debate on the inclusion of cruise ship visitors within the scope of the legislation.

In light of concerns raised by local tourism businesses in Orkney, as well as Orkney islands Council, Mr McArthur is seeking to ensure the bill is both more flexible and fairer in the way that any levy might be applied by local authorities.

Commenting ahead of the Local Government Committee meeting that will begin consideration of Stage 2 amendments on the bill on Tuesday, Mr McArthur said:

Providing local councils with the power to set a visitor levy is a reasonable step to take. As ever, though, the devil is in the detail.

At present, Ministers have come forward with a bill that would apply to some parts of the tourism sector but not others. People in Orkney will not be alone in wondering why visitors to our islands who stay in hotels, self-catering or B&Bs should be charged, but not the increasingly large numbers who visit Orkney on cruise ships or indeed in mobile homes. All place demands on the local infrastructure and services, and all should therefore contribute. Anything else would be unfair and undermine business and public confidence in the scheme.

I am concerned too at the lack of flexibility local councils will have in the way any levy will apply. Just because it works in Edinburgh or Glasgow doesn’t mean it will work in our islands. Councils should therefore have scope to apply any levy in ways that make sense in local circumstances, such as collection via airlines and ferry companies.”

I support the principle behind this legislation but getting the detail right will be crucial. Unfortunately, that has not been a strong suit of this SNP/Green Government over recent years.

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7 March 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Resolution Foundation reveals £8bn pensioner tax bombshell in Budget
  • “All the hallmarks of a backroom deal”- Welsh Lib Dems react to decision to keep new controversial Senedd voting system
  • Donelan scandal: Lib Dems demand ethics advisor probe and Science Minister to step aside whilst investigation ongoing
  • Carmichael calls for UK ban on imports from illegal Israeli settlements
  • SNP cancel bus fund after spending less than 6% – Rennie
  • McArthur responds to news that more crimes will not be investigated

Resolution Foundation reveals £8bn pensioner tax bombshell in Budget

Jeremy Hunt’s Budget includes an £8bn tax bombshell for pensioners, analysis from the Resolution Foundation has revealed.

All 8 million tax-paying pensioners will see their taxes increase due to the freezing of income tax thresholds. This will leave the average taxpaying pensioner £1,000 worse off by 2027-28, – or an £8 billion collective hit.

Responding to the analysis, Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said:

Buried in the small print of this Budget is a disgraceful £8 billion pensioner tax bombshell.

People who have worked hard and done the right thing all their lives are being hammered by Jeremy Hunt with years of unfair tax hikes, leaving them an average of £1,000 worse off each.

This Conservative government has shown their true colours, pensioners are not their priority. They would rather cut taxes for the big banks than look after those who have given so much for so long to our society.

“All the hallmarks of a backroom deal”- Welsh Lib Dems react to decision to keep new controversial Senedd voting system

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have described the decision to keep the new Senedd voting system as having “all the hallmarks of a backroom deal”.

From 2026, votes will be cast for parties instead of individual candidates as part of plans to expand the Senedd.

Critics of the new voting system say that it takes power away from the voter and places it in the hands of political party bosses.

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5 March 2024 – today’s press releases (part 2)

  • More than 1,800 people stuck in hospital
  • Cole-Hamilton: SNP cut £30m from mental health despite missing targets yet again
  • Lib Dems reveal some of the biggest nationalist failures on the international stage
  • Lib Dem Mayoral candidate beats cancer

More than 1,800 people stuck in hospital

Responding to new Public Health Scotland figures which show 1,860 people were stuck in hospital due to their discharge being delayed, with 57,860 days being spent in hospital by people waiting to be discharged, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said:

Amid a chaotic turnover of SNP health secretaries, the Scottish Government has completely failed to tackle core problems that are leaving far too many languishing in hospital wards.

People should never have to wait weeks or months in hospital for a care home place or help to return home.

The SNP’s ill-fated centralisation of social care will do absolutely nothing to ease pressures. This billion-pound bureaucracy must be scrapped, not salved.

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5 March 2024 – today’s press releases (part 1)

We’ve now managed to gain access to press releases from our Scottish colleagues, and so, welcome to our newly enhanced press release coverage…

  • Lords Rwanda Bill votes: “Morally bankrupt government” defeated five times
  • Ed Davey visits Chancellor’s seat ahead of Budget as GP funding in Surrey slashed by £10 million
  • January the worst month on record for waits over 12 hours at A&E
  • Scot Lib Dems respond as council debt at record levels

Lords Rwanda Bill votes: “Morally bankrupt government” defeated five times

Responding to the series of five heavy defeats for the government on their Rwanda Bill in the House of Lords this evening, which saw several Conservative peers voting against the government’s position, Liberal Democrat Leader in the Lords Dick Newby said:

For months this Conservative government has been pushing this policy that does nothing to solve the asylum backlog. This Bill has cost hundreds of millions of pounds, and doesn’t combat dangerous Channel crossings or create safe, legal routes.

By declaring Rwanda safe when it is clearly anything but, and excluding the courts, the Bill also undermines the rule of law. It is the product of a morally and politically bankrupt Government.

Ed Davey visits Chancellor’s seat ahead of Budget as GP funding in Surrey slashed by £10 million

  • GP funding in Surrey fell by 5.3% in real terms between 2018/19 and 2022/23, equivalent to a £9.2 million cut when accounting for inflation
  • Funding per patient took an even starker hit, falling by 8.6% in real terms resulting in a £14 per patient shortfall
  • Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey will visit a GP surgery in Jeremy Hunt’s seat ahead of the Budget to call on the Chancellor to cancel his planned £1.3 billion real terms cut to NHS spending
  • A recent poll of the Chancellor’s seat showed it was at risk of falling to the Lib Dems with voters in the seat naming the NHS as their top priority as 59% of them had close friends and family who had struggled to get a GP appointment

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey will today (Tuesday 5th March) visit a GP surgery in the Chancellor’s Godalming and Ash constituency ahead of the Budget to demand that Hunt cancel his planned real terms NHS spending cuts.

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In Full: Willie Rennie’s Charles Kennedy Lecture on the importance of listening in a noisy world

Every year, round about Charles Kennedy’s birthday on 25th November, the Charles Kennedy Lecture takes place in his memory. Willie Rennie was invited to deliver this year’s and chose the topic “Listening in a noisy World.”

It’s worth reading the whole thing as it sets out how we as liberals have such an important role in breaking down barriers and bringing people together. He also gives examples of how really persisting with someone can help us all.

One of the things I noticed from reading his speech was that there don’t seem to have been any women giving this lecture so far. Maybe that should change next year.

Anyway, here’s Willie’s lecture in full:

Charles Kennedy was the secret ingredient that made me the new and 63rd Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament: the highest water mark, so far, of Liberal Democrat MPs at Westminster.

I was the candidate in the 2006 Dunfermline by election when the party was enduring a series of scandals.  For the party it felt like a crisis.

Charles had just stood down as Leader acknowledging, for the first time, his alcoholism.

And there seemed to be other daily revelations which bedevilled the party.

Despite all this scandal and the fact that Dunfermline had been Labour for an age and Communist before that, we still believed we had a chance, but we needed something extra to get us over the line.

Charles was persuaded to campaign for me – his first public appearance since his resignation.

As we slowly made our way down Dunfermline High Street surrounded by the press scrum, yes I said SCRUM, an elderly lady shouted loudly from the side-lines: ‘Charles, we love you.’

Charles composed himself. Then with a smile emerging across his face he replied.  “Now madame, I’m in quite enough trouble as it is without any of that kind of thing.”

Everyone laughed, it broke the tension, and we went onto to win the seat.

It was Charles at his best. Warm, engaging, humorous, self-effacing, and above all, a fully paid-up member of the human race

Through all the noise and fuss he listened and connected in an instant.

Subject and previous speakers

That’s the subject of my lecture this evening.

‘Listening in a noisy world’.

It is an honour to be here following some impressive contributors but most of all to honour Charles.  Your series of lectures is a fine one, and I want to thank you for that.  

I want to also thank Ally and Ferguson Transport & Shipping for sponsoring this evening’s event.  Without a good sponsor these occasions just would not happen.

Previous speakers have some common themes: Charles’ character is at the centre.

Jim Wallace, delivered the first lecture, covering the issue of respect. 

Alistair Campbell talked about friendship, mental health, addiction, and what Charles would have thought of Brexit.  

It spoke to the fondness that Nicola Sturgeon had for Charles that she delivered the lecture despite competing demands as First Minister.

Brian Taylor spoke of Charles’ compassion.

David Steel gave his perspective on the role of spin doctors.

And John Thurso shared Charles’ highland character.

Rebel, not rebel

When you look back over the life of Charles Kennedy you see a man who balanced the competing tensions of independence of mind and partnership with others.  

He was never branded a rebel although he did often tilt against the prevailing view.

Coalition

Charles was one of only a handful who opposed the coalition with the Conservatives.

Although he did oppose it, he did so in the most respectful way possible. 

Charles politely and intelligently expressed his difference of opinion.  

He made the argument to the MPs.  He articulated that opposition fairly in public.  He listened.

Iraq

On Iraq, he was decried as a quisling by supporters of the war.  In the commons he was surrounded by them, but he carried on making his case through the noise.  

He was careful not to be misunderstood by opponents of the war.  He was not a pacifist he told a London rally, that it was a finely balanced judgement, that the solution was a technical one involving weapons inspectors. 

He could have easily played to the noisy gallery, but he didn’t just tell them what they wanted to hear.  That would not have reflected his true position. And he preferred honesty no matter how difficult.

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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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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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Half of all new primary teachers in Scotland are without a job

Newly qualified primary teachers in Scotland have been the victim of mismanaged recruitment planning.

According to the TES this year only 50% of those who have completed their training and probationary year have found a job in the profession. This has dropped from 77% last year (which was still a rather worrying figure).

And we are not just talking about full-time permanent contracts – the fact is that only half of the cohort will get any teaching job at all, whether full or part-time, permanent or temporary. Many will be forced to take up irregular supply teaching, or to abandon the profession before they have even started.

Within the overall figures, the numbers obtaining permanent posts is falling quite rapidly. Back in 2017, 58% of all newly qualified teachers were given permanent contracts, whereas in 2021 only 32% had found permanent jobs. However, by 2021 there was a marked difference between primary and secondary teachers – 45% of secondary teachers got permanent jobs but only 23% of primary teachers.

All this, of course, makes life very difficult for teachers who were hoping for some stability in their careers, especially those lured into teaching as mature entrants.

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Carmichael accuses Scottish Government of flip-flopping on vaccine passports

Alistair Carmichael has accused the Scottish Government of flip-flopping on vaccine passports for domestic use.

Way back last December, when questioned by Willie Rennie, Nicola Sturgeon sounded pretty sceptical about them. Here’s the excchange:

WR: With the great news about the vaccine, people will want to know how the restrictions will be eased. As a Liberal, I am nervous about talk of immunity passports for getting into shops and restaurants or on to planes. Putting personal information on to large databases means risks to privacy and the possibility of fraud, hacking and theft. The World Health Organization questions the value of immunity passports, and the UK Government has said that it has no plans to introduce them. I want to go further, and I think that we need guidance. We might need to make changes to the law to protect people from its misuse. What is the Scottish Government’s policy on immunity passports?

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Lib Dem researcher discovers proof that the Queen lobbied ministers to change climate change law

Lily Humphries is one of the Lib Dem team in the Scottish Parliament and the brains behind many of our scoops with her freedom of information requests.

She features in in today’s Guardian which reports that Lily discovered that the Queen had successfully lobbied Scottish Government ministers to get an exemption from a new law which “requires landowners to facilitate the construction of pipelines to heat buildings using renewable energy.”

That’s not bad for someone who owns as much land as Her Majesty does. As the Guardian reports:

Her lawyers secured the dispensation from Scotland’s government five months ago by exploiting an obscure parliamentary procedure known as Queen’s consent, which gives the monarch advance sight of legislation.

The arcane parliamentary mechanism has been borrowed from Westminster, where it has existed as a custom since the 1700s.

The article explains:

The new documents, uncovered by Lily Humphreys, a researcher for the Scottish Liberal Democrats using freedom of information laws, disclose how the monarch used her special access to Scottish legislation to intervene in the parliamentary process as recently as February.

Not only that, but the Government didn’t tell Parliament about this as Willie Rennie pointed out:

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Willie Rennie: “A cheerful voice for a more decent politics”

Willie Rennie has done two major interviews this weekend talking about his decision to stand aside as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and his hopes for the future.

The Times (£) leader had praise for him yesterday, too:

It is to be hoped that Mr Rennie remains active in public life. He has been a cheerful voice for a more decent politics and his brand of low-key, relaxed liberalism is more necessary than ever. After a summer running in the hills he should return to the fray, ready to play his part in building a bigger and better centre.

Willie spoke to Magnus Linklater for the paper (£) and talked about his hope that Labour and the Lib Dems would work more closely together to present a progressive, pro-UK alternative to the nationalism and populism of the SNP and Conservatives:

“I think working together with Labour on issues of common interest would be a good thing,” he said in an interview with The Times. “I wouldn’t run before we can walk. But build confidence between the parties and also amongst the electorate to show we’re getting our act together.”

This is about trying to show that for middle Scotland there is something better and stronger than the Conservatives or the SNP, that it’s got energy, it’s got momentum, it’s got ideas, and that’s the most important thing, so people know that if they vote for it, it will be worth it,” he added. “The actual mechanism is less important — it’s the energy behind it that matters.”

He talked about how much Scotland had changed in the past decade or so – and not for the better:

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Willie Rennie stands aside as Scottish Lib Dem leader

After more than a decade in the role, Willie Rennie announced this evening that he is standing aside as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Watch his statement here:

He leaves while he is still incredibly popular within the party – and the tributes he has received from outside it show how valued he is across politics.

When he took over in 2011, he inherited a party that had been given the hoofing of its life in the Scottish Parliament elections, reduced from 16 MSPs to just 5.

The small group he led had a big voice, though. Over the years, the Scottish Lib Dems have been the go-to people on issues like education and mental health. Willie’s dogged persistence, challenging Scottish Ministers week in and week out on issues like police centralisation, college places, mental health waiting times, childcare and free school meals shifted government policy on many occasions.

He stared wipeout in the eye in the Scottish Parliamentary elections of 2016. If you had told me we would emerge with 5 MSPs from that election after the disaster of 2015, I would not have dared to believe it. But he showed what he could do with a bright and optimistic campaign which include him launching the manifesto while running down a soft-play volcano and being interviewed on a slide. When his photocall at a city farm was overshadowed by two amorous pigs, journalists were given a packet of Percy Pigs each at the next big event.

His commitment to improving the party’s diversity saw him ensure that we had all women shortlists for both 2017 and 2021 elections, a gender balanced team of spokespeople and serious money invested in diversity projects in each year’s Scottish budget. He put his own neck on the line to get these measures approved by Conference. He needed a two thirds majority and he got it by basically ringing everyone who had registered and talking them round.

And he has travelled the length and breadth of the country so many times supporting candidates at every possible level of election. He’s encouraged people to stand who have now been elected. He has led campaigning with boundless energy, enthusiasm and a huge smile.

I am incredibly sad to see him go, but I can understand that after 10 years of unrelenting graft, he relishes the chance to do something a bit different. He’ll stay on as MSP for North East Fife, of course – but don’t expect him to stop speaking out on th issues he has championed.

And as a campaigner who has been responsible for many of the party’s successes over the past three decades, his skills in that direction will be in demand.

So what now?

The Scottish Executive will set a timetable for a leadership election in which any of the party’s other three MSPs will be eligible to stand.

But for now, let’s look at some of the lovely things people are saying about Willie:

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Willie Rennie; I will work for a liberal country – an open, internationalist, reformed, caring, fair and green country

Yesterday the Scottish Parliament chose its First Minister. Nicola Sturgeon was always going to win, although she is one short of an overall majority. Willie Rennie announced his intention to stand against her because “Most people did not vote for the largest party and it is important that their voices are heard.” Conservative leader Douglas Ross followed suit.

Willie gave a really strong speech, setting out the sort of country he wanted Scotland to be. He addressed the deep divisions in the country, which is pretty much split down the middle on independence and attacked both SNP and Conservatives for reinforcing these divisions.

The Conservatives, he said, were the biggest threat to the Union, rather than defenders of it.

That is certainly true. The SNP and the Conservatives need each other to take attention away from their failing governments and on to a bitter fight over the Constitution. Willie was right to call it out and to give a vision of what Scotland really could be like.

Nicola Sturgeon was pretty graceless, to be honest, attacking both of the leaders who dared to oppose her personally rather than on ideas. She proved Willie’s point, really. And his generous words when she was elected are a stark contrast to her disrespect:

It has been an extraordinary time with extraordinary pressures, both Covid and political. I have admired Nicola Sturgeon’s personal leadership through the pandemic; she has made life-and-death decisions every day. I was impressed by the clarity of the communications and I agreed with the caution, too.

The fact that we have political differences in the chamber should not prevent us from respecting each other, and we should appreciate the personal sacrifice that comes with public service and office. Of course, that personal sacrifice pales in comparison with the many struggles that our constituents face every day, but it is sacrifice nonetheless, so I thank Nicola Sturgeon for that service and offer my support as well.

I suspect Scotland will look back on Willie’s speech in 5 years’ time and realise that there was a lot of truth in his words.

I want Scotland to be a liberal country where everyone can live as they wish, not held back by prejudice or expectations, and where every person can achieve their potential, lifted up by a healthy body and an educated mind.

I want an open and outward-looking Scotland, not one that blames its neighbours for our problems. I want a country that looks to the needs of people next door and around the world, and of people in the future, and not just to our own interests today. I want a Scotland with people who come together to overcome the enormous challenges that time throws our way. That would be my driving philosophy as First Minister.

I would start by putting recovery first. The people who are waiting up to three years for mental health treatment need recovery to come first. The friends and family of the 1,256 people who lost their lives in a single year to drugs deserve our attention. Those who are looking for work cannot wait. Those who are desperate for a hip replacement or cancer treatment cannot wait, nor can those who wait for a good education and nor can future generations who want a healthy planet. They all deserve our focus, because they cannot wait behind another debate on the constitution. That is why I would put recovery first.

When no single party has a majority, no one should assume a right to the office of First Minister. Most people did not vote for the largest party, so it is important that their voices be heard today. I stand for nomination as First Minister with great hope, but with a liberal dose of realism.

This country is divided like never before—right down the middle, according to the polls and the election. Yet the situation is worse than that: hardened supporters on both sides cannot understand each other any more. They have stopped listening to each other, and the election campaign entrenched those differences. The Scottish National Party’s materials often featured Boris Johnson more than Nicola Sturgeon. The Conservatives were more interested in attacking Labour and the Liberal Democrats than in trying to win over SNP supporters. They both stoked up people’s fear, which resulted in thousands of people voting for one extreme for fear of the other.

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Parties adopt Kennedy Commitment to disagree well with open and respectful debate

Earlier today I  joined Willie Rennie in calling on all parties in Scotland to commit to a zero-tolerance approach to abuse and to lead a respectful campaign.

In the course of the Scottish campaign to date a brick has been thrown at Scottish Liberal Democrat HQ and the new Labour Leader Anas Sarwar has been racially abused outside Holyrood.

It just isn’t how politics should be done.

It was also worryingly reminiscent of an attitude in the 2015 campaign which resulted in the unacceptable campaign of intimidation against Charles Kennedy. And if the reaction to BBC Alba’s recent documentary about Charles’ life showed me anything, it was that this sort of behaviour is as unpopular now as it was then.

We must never go back to those old divisions.

With social media playing an increasingly prominent role in elections, politicians can show they have learned the lessons of the past and send a clear message of the value we hold in open, honest and respectful debate.

Our democracy is at its best when it is open, inclusive and free from intimidation or abuse. That is what Charles believed. He understood the importance of disagreeing well with political opponents. So the Kennedy Commitments put these values into practice:

Publicly challenge and denounce derogatory, untrue, or hateful messages on social media.
To disagree well and treat my political opponents, journalists and the public with respect.
Run an honest campaign that does not permit character defamation, libel, or slander against political opponents.

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Rennie: Tackle drug addiction with compassion and treatment, not imprisonment

Liberal Democrats care about people being able to fulfil their potential and getting the care and support they need to recover from illness and addiction. That’s why our Scottish manifesto highlights the need to take a public health approach to addiction. Scotland has the highest drug deaths rate in Europe, something which became very real to a friend of mine recently when her son died after taking street valium. Typically, she thought of others before herself and allowed the BBC to film his funeral.

Willie Rennie said today that the next Scottish Government will only end the drug deaths crisis through compassion and health treatment, not prosecution, as he revealed new figures showing 605 people convicted of possession without intent to supply being sent to prison.

Meanwhile, only 108 people received a Drug Treatment and Testing Order during the same three year period (2016/17 to 2018/19).

1264 people died of drug related causes in 2019. Each of them were individuals with talents and skills. Each of them loved and had people loving them. Pretty much 3 people a day lose their lives and each one of them, with the right intervention, could still be alive today.

So the Scottish Liberal Democrats, looking to the best evidence, has the following measures to tackle the harm that drug addiction causes to people and communities that are focused on help and support. The party will:

  • Reduce the misery of drug abuse with compassion and health treatment rather than prosecution.
  • Take radical steps with the prosecution authorities and the Lord Advocate to help establish heroin assisted treatment and safe consumption spaces.
  • Establish new specialist Family Drug and Alcohol Commissions to help provide wraparound services and to take a holistic approach to those reported for drug offences, learning from best international practice such as that in Portugal.
  • Divert people caught in possession of drugs for personal use into education, treatment and recovery, ceasing imprisonment in these circumstances.
  • Protect and enhance drug and alcohol partnership budgets, and adopt the principle that individuals and families shouldn’t have to pay for the care and treatment of those at risk of death from drugs or alcohol.
  • Use emergency housing funding to help people keep their homes and tenancies while they undergo treatment and rehabilitation.

Willie Rennie said:

The SNPs failure was more than just a political failure, it was a failure that cost the lives of hundreds of people.

Not only did the SNP fail to take the necessary action to save lives, they made it worse by cutting the alcohol and drug partnership budgets, surrendering services and expertise.

It was admitted in 2017 that essential drug reforms weren’t pursued because it wasn’t seen as a vote winner. This is political negligence of the highest order.

Scottish Liberal Democrats will put recovery first. We will reduce the misery of drug abuse with compassion and health treatment rather than prosecution. After years of being told no, Scottish Liberal Democrats have just won cross-party agreement for that important principle.

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Brick thrown at Scottish Lib Dem HQ

So, yesterday morning, this happened:

This would have been awful if it had happened to any political party, but you always feel it more deeply when the building is full of your friends, people you really care about.

You have to wonder what goes through the mind of someone who thinks it is ok to put human beings in danger like that.

Elections are stressful enough for any party’s staff. By this time, they’ve been working ridiculous hours for months, and the idea of work/life balance has completely gone out the window.

They shouldn’t have to worry about missiles coming in the window or any other threat to their safety.

Alistair Carmichael, our campaign chair, said:

This morning a brick was thrown through the window of our HQ in Edinburgh.

“Fortunately no one was hurt but it could have been very different and our staff are understandably shaken by this.

“I’m dismayed that this kind of behaviour seems to have taken root in Scotland. Political campaigning should be about the clash of ideas, not about acts of violence.

“I would like to thank Police Scotland for their work in detaining a suspect. I also want to thank all our party staff who have been affected by this incident but who continue to give their all in delivering our campaign in this election.”

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Lib Dems’ parliamentary tributes to Prince Philip

I am sure that all our hearts will go out to the Queen today as we see her sitting alone in St George’s Chapel at the funeral of her husband of 73 years.

Bereavement is horrific at any time, but the pandemic has made it even more cruel for millions of people.

For the Queen there is a particularly difficult aspect. She’ll be on her own, but with the eyes of the entire world upon her. I just hope that she gets some comfort from knowing that she has the compassion and love of those millions of people.

This Monday, all our Parliaments were recalled to pay tribute to Prince Philip. Below are the tributes paid by Ed Davey, Willie Rennie, Kirsty Williams and Dick Newby, covering so many aspects of his life. Ed’s tales of Paddy’s encounters with the Duke will make you smile.

They are fitting tributes to someone who was such a huge part of our nation’s life for almost three quarters of a century.

Ed Davey

Princess Anne said yesterday:

“You know it is going to happen but you are never really ready.”

That is a truth shared by so many grieving families. Most people know that their loved one is near the end of their life because they are old or very sick, but that does not mean that they can avoid the tidal wave of grief—that moment of finality. This year more than most so many families have faced that moment, so I am sure that the Princess Royal speaks for not just the Queen and the royal family but the whole country: you are never really ready.

However, as people grieve, we can also say thank you— thank you to one of Britain’s greatest public servants of the last 100 years. As other party leaders have said, Prince Philip has been a rock in the life of our nation since his betrothal to our Queen, then the young Princess Elizabeth. Above all, he has always been her rock. After 73 years of marriage, it will be our Queen who feels this loss far more than anyone else. If anyone says that bereavement is easier when a loved one has lived a long life, I have to say that that is not my experience. So, ma’am, our hearts go out to you.

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The week in the Scottish Election – debate, baby badgers and up in the polls

This week saw the first leaders’ debate of the Scottish election campaign and Willie absolutely smashed it. Here’s his opening statement:

And can we afford to tackle climate change?

 

The photo-ops

No campaign is complete without  some great Willie photos. Here’s one with a well behaved animal:

Daphne, the star of the first photo opp in the giant deckchair, was back to show Willie finer points of Connect 4.

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Willie Rennie highlights Lib Dem plans for health, education and climate change in first major campaign interview

It’s been a good start to the Scottish Liberal Democrats election campaign with our first photo opportunity getting on the front pages of the two main Scottish broadsheets:

Willie was out and about early for his morning run today. He posted it on Twitter at 6:30 when it was still dark due to the clocks going forward:

He had to be up so early because he Willie had a great first interview of the campaign on the Sunday Show. He always sounds so joyful and optimistic and got across our main talking points while avoiding the usual traps. He contrasted the SNP and Conservatives constant arguing over independence, which would continue into the next Parliament with our approach to get our health and education services.

Here are the highlights:

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