Jo Swinson, who resigned as Liberal Democrat leader after losing her seat in the general election, should return to politics because the rise of nationalism in Scotland and the UK means it is vital to have strong, Liberal and internationalist voices like hers, writes Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP.
When Theresa May heard the results of the exit poll at 10pm on the night of the 2017 snap general election she dashed from the room. The subject of what happened next is the matter of some conjecture. Some say she threw up, some say she burst into tears. Irrespective of what actually happened, I learned on Thursday night exactly how she must have felt.
The exit poll at 10pm at close of poll made me consider both of the physiological responses attributed to May. It showed that an unforeseen wave of Scottish Nationalism was once again sweeping our country.
They were projected to get 55 seats and wipe my party (the Liberal Democrats) out in Scotland entirely. Added to which, Boris Johnson’s Tory Party were projected to sweep the table south of the border and achieve a thumping majority with which to slow cook the ‘oven-ready’ EU withdrawal agreement alongside a nice plum pudding in time for Christmas.
As it happened, reports of our demise were somewhat overstated. The pollster’s modelling had not accounted for the grit of Liberal activists on the ground in the three Scottish seats we held and in North East Fife where Wendy Chamberlain proved to be the unstoppable force to the SNP’s otherwise immovable tenure.
One of the finest politicians I know
All told, we withstood the Nationalist tide far better than any other party in Scotland. Our vote went up, we maintained the same haul of seats we’d achieved in 2017 and only missed out on a fifth by 149 votes.
Those 149 votes, however, give the lie to my celebratory and defiant prose. Those 149 votes severed my leader from her party, a decent MP from the people of East Dunbartonshire and one of the finest politicians I know from UK public life.
I love Jo Swinson like a sister. She and I were young candidates together, attending training weekends and swapping tips for selection contests. We still message each other jokes, anecdotes about our kids and support on an almost daily basis and I am incredibly proud of how far she has risen within our party.
To my mind, she acquitted herself with grace and passion throughout this campaign in the face of some pretty vile abuse. All politicians get their fair share of stick, I get that, we sign up for it, but what Jo encountered in this campaign was on another level.
People and news outlets repeatedly challenged her ambition (did she not know her place?!), her voting record, and a range of personal attributes entirely irrelevant to her ability to govern. These were, incidentally, flaws that to this day I have never heard remarked upon in the context of a male politician and yet still she soldiered on.
I hope with all my heart that she comes back to politics, to prove her detractors wrong and to continue the mission. She’s done it before and boy, do we need her.
The rise of nationalism both north and south of the Border commands the need for strong, Liberal and internationalist voices. Voices like that of my friend, the ‘girly swot’ from Milngavie, the one with a nut allergy and a 50-calibre mind.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western