NICOLA Sturgeon does not have a mandate for a second independence referendum, a candidate to be the next leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has said. 

Alex Cole-Hamilton insisted the First Minister's Holyrood election mandate is "tainted" as he launched his party leadership bid in Edinburgh.

It came as the Edinburgh Western MSP also opened the door to a possible coalition with Labour in the Scottish Parliament.

READ MORE: Scottish LibDem leadership candidate Alex Cole-Hamilton opens door to Labour coalition

Mr Cole-Hamilton, 44, is so far the only candidate to replace Willie Rennie, who announced he was stepping down earlier this month after a decade in charge of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said Scotland has moved backwards on mental health, child poverty, hospital waiting times and school attainment.

He said the country "has been gripped by a clash of nationalisms", with the SNP on one side and "Boris Johnson's Brexiteers" on the other.

Speaking to journalists, he dismissed the idea that the SNP has a mandate for a second referendum following the Holyrood election, in which the party won 64 out of 129 seats, while the LibDems secured four.

He said: "For all the questions Scotland faces right now, the answer to none of them is another divisive independence referendum. 

"Let's remember also – Nicola Sturgeon talks about a mandate for a second independence referendum. 

"That mandate is tainted, it's no good. And I'll tell you why. 

"Two weeks out from the election, they could see the polls start to slump.

"We were picking it up on the doorsteps in my constituency and other constituencies around the country. 

"People were telling you, 'Look, I think I like independence, but just not now, not with everything going on.'

"And so suddenly the SNP pivoted, and if you remember there was that quite famous mail-shot that went out which had an empty lectern, an empty podium, with 'Who do we trust to lead Scotland out of the pandemic?'

"So it suddenly became a 'let's not change horses' election, rather than a 'give us a mandate for another push to an independence referendum'.

"So I think any way you slice it, the SNP don't have a mandate. They need to get on with the day job."

Mr Cole-Hamilton launched his leadership bid this morning at the Boardwalk Beach Club cafe in Edinburgh.

He said he did not "fear power", adding: "In fact, I want Liberals to be in power, because without power you can't change things effectively."

He said: "I will try to find consensus with those people who share my values on a broad range of things. 

"And it's inevitable that if we are to see a change in government from the SNP, who have stagnated for 14 years in power, then we need to seek out a progressive alternative.

"And that might be coalition with Labour, but I'm not saying that that's a given.

"There is still a great distance between me and the Labour Party on many, many things."