THE end of 2022 marks the completion of the first full year of Alex Cole-Hamilton’s leadership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Mr Cole-Hamilton, MSP for Edinburgh Western, took up the reins of the party in August 2021 after former leader Willie Rennie stood down following the Holyrood elections the previous May when its number of MSPs fell by five to four. 

The move reduced their status in the Scottish Parliament to that of a minor party losing the right to quiz Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions.

However, despite that knock the Lib Dems have still been able to make a strong contribution in the Scottish Parliament chamber, in committees and in wider public life.

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Mr Cole-Hamilton was sanctioned by the Kremlin in August following his public criticism of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and his efforts to highlight President Vladimir Putin regime’s influence in Scotland – something he regards as a badge of honour.

His party has taken a leading role in highlighting the plight of Ukrainian refugees setting out a five point plan in August to persuade the Scottish Government to give more support to the people from the warn torn country who have fled to Scotland. 

Key demands include more help in seeking permanent housing, the extension of the discretionary travel scheme (free bus passes) to all Ukrainian refugees for at least their first year in Scotland, increased support for local authorities to conduct disclosure checks of hosts, vetting of accommodation and matching of guests and early identification of the skills of those arriving so that they can be matched with job opportunities and given the chance to contribute.

Matching action to words, Mr Cole-Hamilton and his family themselves took in a Ukrainian refugee after they signed up to the Homes for Ukraine scheme in August.
In other policies in Holyrood, the Lib Dems have played a prominent role in highlighting the plight of people suffering from long Covid.

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Mr Cole-Hamilton has become a thorn in the side of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her health secretary Humza Yousaf with his sustained questioning over the growing number of people suffering from the condition and the apparent lack of sufficient support to meet their needs.

The persistent approach the party has taken mirrors the one adopted and still pursued by their members on mental health. 

Sometimes regarded as a cinderella service, both Mr Rennie and Mr Cole-Hamilton made these issues their own and in so doing they have been successful in highlighting the long waiting lists for treatment, including for children and young people, and pushing the matter to the forefront of political debate in Scotland.

On education too, the party’s voice has been loud with Mr Rennie regularly challenging the Scottish Government over promises to increase the number of teachers in schools by 3,500 and on the plight of temporary teachers unable to get permanent jobs. 

A further notable success this year has been on the windfall tax.  The Lib Dems were certainly among the first parties to propose support for households to tackle the soaring cost of energy and to propose funding it through a windfall tax on the profits of the energy giants making vast sums of money.

Also in Holyrood, the Lib Dem’s Liam McArthur has been preparing for the introduction of his assisted dying legislation. 
The bill will be the latest bid by an MSP since the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 to legalise assisted dying and follows thwarted attempts by the late Margo MacDonald in 2010 and 2013 and by Patrick Harvie in 2015.

The Orkney MSP is confident his bill will be successful citing a change  in the ‘political mood’ since previous bills were defeated.

Mr McArthur plans to bring his bill into parliament early next year with the legislation proposing to introduce the right to an assisted death for terminally ill, mentally competent adults. 

There would be a requirement that the person seeking assistance must be 16 years of age or over, which is the age of majority in Scotland, and have been a resident of Scotland for at least twelve months.

Should it become law, it has the potential to highlight the Scottish Parliament’s credentials in being at the forefront of progressive liberal reforms in the UK following on from the changes made under the Gender Recognition Reform Bill which make the process easier for trans gender people to obtain a gender recognition certificate.

And on the important issue of male violence to women, Mr Cole-Hamilton established a new Scottish Liberal Democrat Policy Commission on Men’s Violence, convened by deputy party leader, Wendy Chamberlain MP. 

The group was set up in the aftermath of the nationwide shock over the murder of Sarah Everard by serving police officer Wayne  Couzens in London in March 2021.
Ms Chamberlain, the MP for North East Fife, was put in charge of the commission in part because of her previous career as a police officer. 

In terms of electoral politics the Lib Dems managed to expand its representatives on councils at the May elections gaining 20 more seats with a total tally or 87.