Scottish council elections 2022: Lib Dems open to Labour coalition as party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton aims for power in 2026

The next Scottish Government is likely to include the Scottish Liberal Democrats in a position of power, the leader of the party has said.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, speaking to Scotland on Sunday in advance of the council elections on Thursday, said he expects the next Holyrood poll in 2026 to be a “change election”.

He said this would likely numerically necessitate the involvement of the Liberal Democrats and indicated the most likely coalition partners would be Scottish Labour under Anas Sarwar.

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The Edinburgh Western MSP predicted the revival of his party would take place at the local elections.

The party faced its worst Scottish Parliamentary election result in the history of devolution in May last year, finishing with just four MSPs, down one from 2017 and well below the record high for the party of 17 in both 1999 and 2003.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said 2026 could see the return of the Liberal Democrats to power through a coalition in a potential repeat of the agreements with Labour in the early parts of devolution.

However, the leader poured cold water on the suggestion there would be an electoral alliance or pact between the Liberal Democrats or Labour at the next general election to ensure the defeat of Boris Johnson.

Alex Cole-Hamilton has said a Liberal Democrat resurgence could begin at local level.Alex Cole-Hamilton has said a Liberal Democrat resurgence could begin at local level.
Alex Cole-Hamilton has said a Liberal Democrat resurgence could begin at local level.

He said: “I believe in grown-up politics. I believe that we work better and the public would appreciate it when politicians can put aside their differences and find common ground on which to work.

"I think that when we get to the next Scottish Parliamentary elections, it will be a change election, people will be looking for an alternative.

"I am increasingly of the view that Douglas Ross and the Conservatives are not part of that equation, they are already in decline.

"Numerically you’ve got to assume that a change government would most likely involve the Liberal Democrats and I don’t fear that.”

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Mr Cole-Hamilton said while he would not comment on the eventual make-up of government, he recognised areas of similarity between him and Mr Sarwar.

The MSP said: “I don’t leap out of bed every morning saying ‘how do I get to Bute House’, but I don’t fear power because it’s harder to change people’s lives from the back of the pack, you need to seek out the levers of power and government.

"It’s a matter of public record that I am a personal friend of Anas Sarwar. We speak the same language on a range of issues, but there are a range of issues where we diverge.

"My focus is to take the message of new hope to communities, to reinvigorate the Liberal Democrat offer before we can even earn the right to be considered as potential partners in a coalition government.”

He also claimed the revival of the party would start at the local elections on Thursday.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “[I’m] making quite a bold projection here, but I think growth of any kind in the local government elections will be the start of something big and it will be the start of something sustained.

“If the revival comes, it will start in local government and I fully predict that revival will begin on Thursday.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said he would not rule out any form of coalitions after the election results, but that he had “anxieties” around working with the SNP or the Conservatives.

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He said: “If it was in the best interests of the communities and they could make a case to me and their local communities and local parties, I am not going to prohibit that.”

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