WILLIE Rennie has launched the Liberal Democrats' council election campaign in Inverness, a city he says proves Scots are ready to get behind the party again.

The Scots party leader hailed a by-election result in the party's traditional heartland of the Highlands as a sign people had "started to listen".

The area used to be a LibDem bastion, but after the Holyrood elections the party was left with only two first-past-the-post MSPs, in Orkney and Shetland.

However, the LibDems won a by-election in Inverness South in November, beating the SNP by seven votes. This followed the sitting Labour councillor's conviction for benefits fraud, which saw him being jailed just three months earlier.

This success was a significant development, according to Mr Rennie. He said: "The by-election was a great victory in a Labour seat against a big campaign by the SNP who were determined to win it. That showed to me that people had started to listen again.

"They were prepared to think about voting Liberal Democrat again, in a way they hadn't in the (Scottish Parliament) elections in the previous May.

"We are not saying everything has dramatically changed since last May, or that millions are flooding back to the cause.

"But there are just the early signs that people are prepared to consider the Liberal Democrats again, which in an area like the Highlands is very important."

Mr Rennie said there would be local manifestos for different council areas rather than a national one. However, he unveiled policy areas at the heart of the party's campaign nationwide. Included in these was creating jobs and a commitment to support the young. He said the party would aim to ensure children from all kinds of backgrounds would get the support they needed.

Care for the elderly and vulnerable was also identified as a major priority, especially as people live for longer.

He said the party would also aim to protect the environment by meeting climate change obligations and boosting areas like recycling, and make the public sector more productive.

Mr Rennie said: "Today I set out the key priorities that Scottish Liberal Democrats will focus on in the next five years.

"Scottish Liberal Democrat councillors will not shy away from these challenges. We will confront them head on and get the best possible deal for communities across Scotland.

He said the SNP was not interested in local issues, only in the build-up to the independence referendum.

Mr Rennie said: "Scottish Liberal Democrats have a track record of delivering for local communities across Scotland.

"Over the last five years we have served in 13 council administrations, more than any other party. From helping young people back to work in Edinburgh to clearing up the mess left by Labour in Aberdeen, from increasing recycling rates in Fife to building new council houses in Perthshire, our councillors get results.

"We have done so much, but we have only just got started.

"The next few years will present some tough challenges for local authorities to continue to provide the services we all rely on despite falling budgets. That is why Scotland needs competent councillors who have a record of action and can be trusted to do more with less."