Scottish election 2021: Big re-election wins for Liberal Democrat MSPs shows just how popular they are – Willie Rennie MSP

For me this Scottish election started posing for the cameras on a giant deckchair in front of the Forth Rail Bridge and ended in snow and hail as I knocked doors in the Highlands.

Normally by the evening after an election, we would have a clear idea of the make-up of the next Parliament. Instead, the Covid pandemic has meant that we are still waiting to hear the results of the regional lists and a handful of stubborn constituencies.

So far Scottish Liberal Democrats have had some astonishing constituency results.

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In Orkney, Liam McArthur won a huge victory with 62.3 per cent of the vote. As the candidate with the highest vote share at the last election, I know Liam was desperate to repeat the feat and it looks like he may be able to claim the title once more.

Over in Shetland, Beatrice Wishart first won her seat in a by-election in 2019 in the face of a determined challenge from the SNP, but at this election she triumphed again, growing her vote share to almost 50 per cent. This is a sign of the shift Beatrice has put in as a local MSP over the past 18 months and shows the valuable of a hard-working local representative.

In Edinburgh Western, as it stands, my good friend Alex Cole-Hamilton has secured the highest vote for any constituency MSP since the formation of the parliament in 1999 with almost 26,000 votes.

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That’s a tremendous achievement for Alex and his team and a fitting reward for the many long hours of door knocking and canvassing they’ve done since such campaign activities resumed after the Duke of Edinburgh’s death.

Liberal Democrat candidate Alex Cole-Hamilton celebrates after holding his Edinburgh Western seat (Picture: Lesley Martin/PA Wire)

Finally in North East Fife, I was absolutely honoured that 55 per cent of voters chose to put their cross next to my name. As I write this, Scottish Liberal Democrats currently hold more constituencies than the other pro-UK parties combined.

Our message – that the next Parliament needs to put recovery first – clearly got through and had big appeal on the doorsteps in our strongest areas.

It is frustrating that we weren’t able to move the dial in other constituencies. Some were up, others down.

The issues we highlighted will be important in the next parliament. We built our campaign around helping the country to bounce back from the pandemic.

The pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on our national mental health. Children have missed out on education. We need to take action after SNP plans for early years education fell short. I spoke out about the need to protect people’s jobs and deliver an industrial strategy for recovery. And of course, the biggest challenge of our age, action on the climate emergency.

Over the next five years, Scottish Liberal Democrats will pursue these issues. And we will persuade more people to switch their MSP to a Lib Dem next time because people can see the quality of the service they get which results in big re-election wins in those seats.

On day two of the count, we find out what the regional list vote holds. For now Scottish Liberal Democrats will enjoy our status as Scotland’s biggest opposition party.

Willie Rennie is Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and MSP for North East Fife

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