HeraldScotland:

 

The king of the political photo op is passing on his crown.

Farmyard animals are feeling a sense of relief and photographers are now looking at holiday brochures for the next election.

Bringing a friendly and fun face to politics is a difficult task but at every chance he got, we always saw that wide Willie Rennie grin on our TVs and in our papers. 

It was infectious.

There is a lot more to Willie Rennie than his stylish photo ops, including his direct impact on issues such as mental health, which has come to the forefront of Scottish politics because of the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader getting up every week at FMQs and holding the First Minister’s feet to the fire.

He has repeatedly set the direction of national debate. 

Rennie’s slogan, ‘put recovery first’ was repeated every day during the last election and it hit home to many people in Scotland.

While ultimately it didn’t translate into votes, it did result in a narrative which forced the SNP to cool its mad rush for independence in the final days before polling day. 

It is this political experience and intuition that the party will desperately miss.

Over the last decade, Willie Rennie has shown the party what fundamentals it needs to survive. 

That is no small feat for a party doesn’t have the luxury of regular media reach and is still feeling the impact from 2010.

However, surviving as a political party is not enough for an electorate who want to use their vote where it will have an impact. 

The party needs to thrive and show people in Scotland what a vote for a LibDem gets you. 

The recent deal with the Scottish Government over the latest budget is an example of what is needed in the future for a party wanting to build relevance.

Although Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton is the current frontrunner, the first test for the next leader comes at the next set of council elections. 

Whoever takes on the mantel must quickly forge a path through a political landscape that is stuck in a rut over the constitution.

The party has always put forward a ‘third way’, however federalism isn’t a concept that slips off the tongue easily and the party is in desperate need to position itself as a vehicle for change that goes beyond the bitter fight between two sides of the constitution. 

That means focusing on everyday issues front and centre and building political space on issues such as mental health and education which other parties are too distracted to fill.

The next leader will inherit a party that is fundamentally stronger than what was inherited in 2011. 

However, the stakes are even higher for a party that is still stuttering into gear.

Tim Hustler is a former press officer for the Scottish Liberal Democrats