Scottish Lib Dems call for inquiry into ambulance crisis deaths

Alex Cole-Hamilton will today call for an independent inquiry into all unnecessary deaths connected to Scotland’s ambulance waiting times crisis, warning that the health service has been “ignored” by the Scottish Government.

In his first speech as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Mr Cole-Hamilton will accuse health secretary Humza Yousaf of “dancing around scrutiny,” and urge the government to commit to issuing weekly reports of ambulance waiting times.

He is expected to tell his party’s conference that the crisis which has engulfed the Scottish Ambulance Service is a “symptom of an overrun and understaffed healthcare service,” with ministers “palming off” the warnings of shortages from paramedics, technicians, and call handlers.

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The 44-year-old will cite the suffering of one of his constituents, Catherine Whyte, a retired nurse who was forced to wait 15 hours for an ambulance after suffering a fall in August. The next month, she fell again, suffering a fractured pelvis, but was forced to endure a further eight hour wait.

Ahead of the conference, Mr Cole-Hamilton said his party had reasons to be optimistic, and said he believed voters were increasingly disenchanted with the constitutional battles that have come to define Scottish politics.

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Speaking with reporters, he said it is “hard to see” how First Minister Nicola Sturgeon can lead her “viper’s nest” of a party into the next Holyrood elections, suggesting that she would rather have a “nice academic job” in the US.

The Edinburgh Western MSP said Scotland had been “held back by a clash of nationalisms” for the better part of a decade, and that the public was “hungry for something different.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton has called for an inquiry over deaths resulting from Scotland's ambulance crisis. Picture: Tom Eden/PA WireAlex Cole-Hamilton has called for an inquiry over deaths resulting from Scotland's ambulance crisis. Picture: Tom Eden/PA Wire
Alex Cole-Hamilton has called for an inquiry over deaths resulting from Scotland's ambulance crisis. Picture: Tom Eden/PA Wire

He said: “I hope that we can just move on from the constitutional washing machine that we’re in and focus on the delivery of government.

“I think that we have been locked in a slightly artificial political conundrum. This binary choice between the SNP and the Conservatives - I don’t think the majority of the Scottish people, genuinely in their heart of hearts, want either of them.

“There will come a time, very soon I hope, where people see they don’t need to make that choice, they can vote for something different.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton, who succeeded Willie Rennie as his party’s leader in August, accused the Scottish Greens of “dispensing with the traditions established by Robin Harper” and swapping “environmentalism for nationalism.”

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“If the Greens won’t be the thorn in the side of the government on the environment, then the Lib Dems will,” he insisted. “Already we’re seeing that they’re caving on their principles.”

He added: “We know the majority of Green supporters do not support independence, so I think this will be a bit of a wake up call for people who have been lending their support to them all this time. If they want environmentalism without the baggage of nationalism, they’ve got to come with the Lib Dems.”

Ms Sturgeon has been First Minister since 2014, and if she is still in charge of the country by the next election she will have had a longer term in office than Margaret Thatcher.

Asked about her long-term political future, Mr Cole-Hamilton said he would not be “placing any bets” - a reference to the wager between Ms Sturgeon and Douglas Ross over whether she will quit before the next election - but said it was “hard to see how” she could lead the SNP into 2026 and beyond.

“She has an internecine civil war within her own party which might be dormant just now, but I think is about to flare up again on a range of issues,” the 44-year-old said. “She has a fundamentalist and a gradualist wing of her party that will come to blows when they realise there isn’t going to be an independence referendum in 2023.

“She’s looked exhausted for a long time, and I can understand that - she’s put in a lot of hours’ work in terms of the pandemic, and I wouldn’t take that away from her. You’ve got to think that part of her would much rather have a nice academic job in America or something, rather than have to lead a viper’s nest of a party.”

He added: "I think there are many staging posts on the road where things can change here, and I think my party needs to be ready for success.

"We're finding on the doorstep a warmth and a readiness to believe in us again, to look to us again, and I am ready to capitalise on that."

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Earlier, Mr Cole-Hamilton accused Ms Sturgeon of having "sacrificed the rights of children in Scotland" as part of a campaign of grievance politics in Westminster.

He said he was "outraged" that the Scottish Government had been advised legislation to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law was within Holyrood's remit.

The UK Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that the Bill "breaches the limitations imposed on the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament by the Scotland Act.”

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill had been passed unanimously by MSPs at Holyrood earlier this year, but was later referred by the UK Government to the country's highest court.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said the Scottish Government had been "advised it was passing bad legislation" but had decided to press ahead with it "just for grievance with Westminster.”

He added: “I am outraged at the Scottish Government that it was advised it was passing bad legislation, didn't tell the opposition. It knew it was going to end up in court and decided to pull the trigger on that just for grievance with Westminster.

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