Alex Cole-Hamilton named new Scottish Liberal Democrats leader

Alex Cole-Hamilton has been named the new leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, succeeding Willie Rennie.

The Edinburgh Western MSP, who was the only candidate for the top job, was first elected to Holyrood in 2016 and was most recently the Lib Dem spokesman for health and sport at Holyrood.

His ascension to party leader comes after Mr Rennie last month announced he was standing down after 10 years.

Mr Cole-Hamilton told a party meeting on Friday: “There is a sense of optimism in our party that we might have turned a corner, that there might be something better coming over the horizon and my goodness, couldn’t the people Scotland do with a bit of that right now?

“Things were rubbish in Scotland before the pandemic for many, many people, and for many, many reasons – but people want us to succeed and reach for something better.

“Let’s reach for that Scotland, reach for a Scotland of new hope for young people so that they can get the best education in the world, they can get a job of their choosing, and they can get onto the housing ladder if they wish, no matter where they come from.

“Let’s reach for a Scotland with new hope in the fight against climate change so we drive down our reliance on fossil fuels and we ramp up our renewable potential.

“And let’s reach for a new Scotland with new hope for business, big and small so we can leverage inward investment and build the economy that we need to deliver this standard of public services that our people deserve and that they are crying out for.

“We have that Scotland within our reach and Liberal Democrats will drive that vision with energy and with confidence. I am proud beyond words to stand before you as your new leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and I tell you, the journey towards that hope starts today.”

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Lib Dem national leader Sir Ed Davey tweeted: “A huge congratulations to @agcolehamilton on his election as Leader of @scotlibdems.

“Alex is a true liberal and tireless campaigner. I look forward to working closely with him to fight the climate crisis, value carers, and deliver world-class education and services for Scotland.”

The Scottish Lib Dems lost one seat in May’s Holyrood election, leaving the party with four MSPs.

However, Mr Cole-Hamilton secured the highest number of votes of any candidate in the history of the Scottish Parliament, with 25,578 people casting their constituency ballot for him.

He added: “When the results started coming through on the night of the Scottish general election it was clear, despite polls suggesting that we could have been wiped out in mainland Scotland, Willie Rennie taught the meaning of the word fortress to the people of Scotland.

“With record-breaking results across our seats he has confounded any expectations of our extinction.

“Willie, your legacy is as important as it is substantial. Because of you children have a fighting chance of being able to get the mental health treatment that they need in time, because of you vulnerable families have access to state from the childcare, and because of you governments will never again be able to do business with companies and countries without checking their human rights record first.

“It is a pleasure to have served alongside you, you are one of my best friends, and you have raised the standard of public debate with one of the most recognisable smiles in Scottish politics.

“You have carried the affection of the public along with you… and I am delighted that you’re going to be helping me to shape that liberal society beside me in the Scottish Parliament.”

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Christine Jardine, Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West, announced Mr Cole-Hamilton’s success.

She told the crowd: “He’s not just someone who’s in this because of politics, he’s in this because of what he believes and it will be his vision, his views, his direction that will take the party forward into the next phase.

“We all have a job to do in supporting Alex, we all have a job to do in getting the message out there, and we all have a job to do in ensuring that this next phase of our history is a strong, positive one.

“Alex is the one who’s going to lead us forward in portraying that to the Scottish people, winning their support again, and making sure that we change Scottish politics.”