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:

 

 

 

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

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3 Comments

  • Thoroughly decent guy who took on the wreckage of a nearly wrecked party and began to rebuild the party. Coming from Cornwall I could not be further from Scotland but I enjoyed watching his energetic debating earlier this year. Along with Kirsty Williams we have lost two good people from front line politics this year.Good luck for the future.

  • A good, decent, kind and thoroughly nice approachable man. Very pleased he will still be there for North East Fife.

    Just a pity he couldn’t have been Leader in better times for the Liberal Democrats.

  • I’m sad to see him step down. He’s led us with the kind of compassion, dignity and sense of humour we need more of in politics. It has been a tough time for us in Scotland, but while I don’t think Willie or the party in general has been given the credit we deserve for the positive influence we’ve had on holding the Scottish Government to account, and applying pressure to improve decision-making, I am confident that we are all better for it.

    Will’s worked hard for us and thoroughly deserves a bit of a break – not that I can imagine him sitting around with his feet up.

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