WILLIE Rennie has announced he is stepping down as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats after a decade in charge.

The North East Fife MSP said it was time for a "fresh face to lead our party forward". 

Mr Rennie, 53, posted a video on Twitter on Monday evening confirming his departure "after 11 elections and referendums over 10 years and a global pandemic".

In the video, recorded by Mr Rennie on a hill climb, he thanked the people of north-east Fife for re-electing him, adding: "I will continue to work for you."

Mr Rennie took over as leader in 2011 and his time in the top job has coincided with three UK general elections, two Holyrood elections, the 2014 independence referendum and the 2016 EU referendum.

However, it also coincided with the decline of the LibDems following the UK party's decision to enter a coalition with the Tories in 2010.

At the recent Holyrood election, the LibDems secured just four seats, down one from 2016.

Mr Rennie, a former MP who became an MSP in 2011, was known for his memorable photo stunts during election campaigns.

On one infamous occasion in 2016, a TV interview at Gorgie City Farm in Edinburgh was overshadowed by two amorous pigs in the background.

Scottish party bosses are due to meet this evening to thrash out a timetable for the election of a new leader before Holyrood returns after the summer recess. 

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the LibDem MSP for Edinburgh Western, is widely seen as the favourite.

Mr Rennie said: “After eleven elections and referendums over 10 years and a global pandemic, I have decided to stand aside as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. 

“I have always believed that politics can be a vehicle to tackle the big issues and transform the lives of the people we are elected to serve.  

“That’s why we have championed the case for better mental health services, world class schools and investment for early years education

“Ours was the lone but important voice speaking out against the centralisation of Scotland's police and for a more liberal justice system.  

“We moved the debate and delivered change so that many more people can now achieve their potential. 

“Liberal Democrats stand for an open, united and outward looking country.  

"We are on the side of those who want a better future for themselves and their families but who also want the same for others, from the people living next door to those in countries around the world that often lack the advantages that we enjoy here. 

“Standing up for Scotland’s place in the UK and in Europe is second nature to us.

"The divisive debates that have dominated our country over these issues have inflicted damage within families, communities and the economy.     

“Scotland deserves a strong progressive alternative to the twin nationalisms represented by the SNP and Conservatives.  

"They polarise and divide Scotland when we should unite to overcome the enormous challenges we face, from Covid-19 to climate change to the inequalities that continue to stain our society. 

“Over the last decade there have been both gains and losses along the way, but I have enjoyed every effort. I love a good campaign. 

“But it is time for a fresh face to lead our party forward. The new leader will have my full support in writing the next bright chapter of the Scottish Liberal Democrats' story. 

“To the people of North East Fife, thank you for re-electing me in May. I will continue to work for you.  

“To the members of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, it has been a privilege to lead you. I look forward to campaigning with you again soon – we have elections to win.” 

Paying tribute to her Holyrood colleague, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: "Best wishes to Willie Rennie. Despite our political disagreements, I've always respected his commitment and decency.

"Political leadership takes its toll and, after 10 years at the helm of his party, I'm sure he is looking forward to new challenges."

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar tweeted: "It’s not been a quiet ten years in Scottish politics…

"Throughout it all, Willie Rennie has led with humour, positivity, energy and compassion.

"He is a good friend and an inspiration to all those that love a photo op."

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross also sent his best wishes, tweeting: "He’s been leader all the way through a rollercoaster decade in Scottish politics and I hope he now gets to enjoy a lot more well-deserved time with family.

"Scottish election photo ops will never be the same again."

North East Fife MP and Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain tweeted: "@willie_rennie isn't just my constituency colleague, he's my friend.

"He's also the reason why I'm an MP because he asked me to stand.

"Thanks for everything you have done for the party in the last decade. Looking forward to knocking doors with you soon!"

UK party leader Sir Ed Davey said: "From banging the drum on mental health and education to those amazing photo ops, Willie Rennie has been a fantastic leader, he is the best of us.

"Delighted he is sticking around as an MSP. Our party and our country need him."