Scottish Election 2021: Liberal Democrat manifesto is full of light and hope in contrast to Tories' tax cuts for the wealthy – Willie Rennie

Picture this: a beautiful clear sky, the sunshine warming your skin, and the fresh breeze gently pushing through the first post-lockdown haircut. It’s Lib Dem manifesto launch.

Normally the manifesto process involves months of roadshows in different corners of the country and meetings with hosts of charities, industry bodies and the like. This year has been somewhat different with our hardworking staff having to Zoom their way around a host of enthusiastic stakeholders and wannabe MSPs, each with their own personal causes they wish to champion.

Manifesto day is always exciting, and quite possibly one of the best and most rewarding days of the campaign. This year we were particularly lucky to have such gorgeous weather, which made the whole experience even more enjoyable.

All the effort, hours of research and hard work finally are tangible. All that work is finally printed and presented to the world. Everyone can see what our vision for Scotland looks like.

This year’s manifesto is called Put Recovery First and the vision it contains within it is one that is liberal, green and fair.

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Rebuilding the NHS

There are a number of key themes running throughout the document. The first is the recovery.

Ruth Davidson and Douglas Ross are very different kinds of Conservatives, says Willie Rennie (Picture: Andrew MIlligan/PA)

Over the past year, Scotland has been through a lot. On a clear and crisp day like last Friday, it can be easy to forget that for many the last year has been impossibly hard. Thousands of our fellow Scots have died. Children have missed out on in-person schooling. People’s mental health has suffered.

We’ve have also seen the very best of our country. Community groups coming together to help neighbours through the pandemic, hardworking NHS staff going above and beyond and even some unlikely political allies working together to get us through.

Rather than return to the divisions of the past, I want to ensure that the next Parliament is focused on putting the recovery first. First of all we need to rebuild our NHS, delivering faster treatment after months of missed appointments, recruiting new staff to tackle mental health waits and delivering a bigger range of specialists, diagnosis and treatment in local communities.

Tackling the climate emergency

Willie Rennie visits a foodbank at Gogarburn Conference Centre in Edinburgh (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

On education we need to ensure that every teacher has a job in order to cut class sizes. We need to extend free nursery education to all two-year-olds and we need to begin the long overdue task of closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

We need to create well-paid jobs with a skilled workforce, a jobs guarantee for 16 to 24-year-olds, who have been the worst hit by the economic impact of the pandemic, and a tax cut for high street businesses so that they can compete against online giants. The clear blue sky is the limit.

The second thread running through the manifesto is a green one. The pandemic has shaken all of our lives but that will be nothing compared to the upheaval we will face unless action is taken now to tackle the climate emergency.

This recognition can be found in every corner of our manifesto. To reduce transport emissions, Scotland needs a new network of superfast electric chargers. It needs more publicly owned land dedicated to rewilding. It needs our schools and homes refitted to make them more energy efficient, cut bills and tackle fuel poverty. These are the type of policies which could really make a difference in people’s everyday life.

Davidson and Ross are very different

Over the past few years, Scottish Liberal Democrats have won money in the budget for education and agriculture, the declaration of a mental health crisis and tougher targets on climate change action. But now I want us to go further.

Unlike the SNP, who will always put a second referendum first, there is nothing to distract the Liberal Democrats from our work to help Scotland bounce back from the pandemic.

This is at the heart of our liberal offer. We want every individual to achieve their potential. Sadly not every other party leader appears to share our same goals.

I will let you in on a secret. We’ve had plenty of political disagreements but in person I always got on well with Ruth Davidson. She’s entertaining company and an energetic advocate for her cause.

Ruth clambered up on a tank and looked like she had a great time. Douglas Ross did the same and presented a far darker image.

Now under new leadership, the Conservative campaign so far has been relentlessly negative. It’s not an appealing vision. I am as opposed to an independence referendum as the next person but the duty on opposition parties is to offer something better.

Focused on the future

The new Scottish Conservatives are nothing like those we got to know under Ruth Davidson. Mere minutes after it was launched, their manifesto was revealed to contain tax cuts that would save Tory MSPs £1,321, while support for some of Scotland’s poorest families was punted into the end of the Parliament. If there’s a parade, these new Scottish Tories will rain on it.

If you’re one of the many Scots won over by Ruth Davidson’s sunny disposition and centrist agenda, this might not look like such an appealing prospect any more.

Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond want to spend the next five years arguing over independence. Douglas Ross will be only too happy to join them. I don’t think that’s good enough.

My Liberal Democrats are looking forward and focused on the future. We don’t want the next parliament to be stuck in the past. We are like our manifesto day: clear, full of light and hope.

Willie Rennie is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and their Scottish Parliament election candidate in North-East Fife

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