Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton: 'I didn't get into politics to bleat from the sidelines'

In an interview with The Scotsman, the Lib Dem leader did not rule out a future coalition with Labour at Holyrood

The leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has suggested his party will soon be in a position to “wield power” as he predicted significant gains at Westminster and Holyrood.

Alex Cole-Hamilton did not rule out entering into a formal coalition with Labour after the next Scottish Parliament election in 2026, saying he believes in “grown up politics” and laying differences aside.

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However, he said the Lib Dems would not “blindly” sign up to any deal.

Alex Cole-HamiltonAlex Cole-Hamilton
Alex Cole-Hamilton

Mr Cole-Hamilton said the same will be true in Westminster if Labour fails to win an outright majority at the next general election.

Speaking ahead of his party’s spring conference in Hamilton this weekend, he said the Lib Dems are on course to "overhaul" the SNP as the third party in UK politics, while “at least” tripling their tally of four MSPs in Holyrood.

"We are firmly set to treble, if not more, our number of seats [in the Scottish Parliament],” he told The Scotsman. “And that, I think, puts us in a great position to be part of the change that's coming for Scotland, and I'm really excited about that."

Asked if he thinks the Lib Dems will be part of the next Scottish Government, Mr Cole-Hamilton said his party will be “part of what comes next”.

He added: “And yes, with an increase in our share of the seats in parliament, I don't think the arithmetic would work in any other way. But that doesn't mean we're going to go rushing into a formal coalition.

“We've shown, particularly in the city of Edinburgh where we're one of the largest opposition groups but not in power – Labour still have to run everything by our group before they try for any vote to take place on the floor of the City Chambers.

"It shows that you don't need to be in power to wield power. But by the same token, I don't fear it either. I didn't get into politics just to carp from opposition, to bleat from the sidelines. I want to be able to exact real, liberal changes for the people who matter – that's the people who sent us here."

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Mr Cole-Hamilton has previously spoken of his friendship with Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader. Asked about any deal between the two parties after the next Holyrood election, he said: "First and foremost, it's important to say there's no pact or alliances, no shadowy deals between me and Anas.

"We're going to fight each seat against each other, of course, right across the board and let the voters decide. And we'll be advancing a very clear, liberal agenda.

"But listen, I believe in grown up politics, about laying differences aside. I think it helps that we start from the basis that Anas is a friend of mine.

"But that said, I revert to my earlier answer to say we're not just going to sign up blindly to a full coalition. We don't need to do that. We can do things from opposition, and perhaps even leverage more power, more liberal change from that position of opposition.

"So I make no prediction about what's going to happen after the election, but Lib Dems are happy to be part of what comes next."

Mr Cole-Hamilton said the Tories are "part of the problem” and should not play a formal role in any “change agenda”.

He said his party will “surprise people” at the upcoming general election. "Across the country, we're going to make a big leap forward,” he said. “Of course, I'm not going to put a prediction on it, but I think we'll surprise some people on election night."

He added: "I think we're going to make a big leap forward at Westminster – that's going to give us some momentum. I'll give you another prediction – we're going to overhaul the SNP as the third party in UK politics at this election. The SNP know it; we know it.

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"Right across the blue wall, we've shown in those historic, stonking by-election victories, we have the beating of the Tories. But we also have our grappling hooks in the acid yellow wall of the SNP as well. And that is a momentum driver.

"Once we get to that space of being the third party, people see us a lot more. They remember why they like us. They remember the good public service you get – only get – from Lib Dems who will come and see you door by door, street by street, all year round, not just at elections, because we are first and foremost public servants."

Asked about a potential coalition deal with Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party in Westminster, Mr Cole-Hamilton said: "I think the same is true at Westminster as it is for Scotland, and that is that Lib Dems didn't just get into politics to complain. We got into politics to get stuff done.

“So if the arithmetic is such that the Labour Party don't have an outright majority, of course we'll talk to them. We don't crave power, but we don't fear it. Whatever arrangement works best for the people who sent us to parliament and for our liberal values, we will entertain that.”

Away from elections, Mr Cole-Hamilton said the assisted dying legislation being taken forward in Holyrood by his party colleague Liam McArthur is an example of “grown up” debate.

"I think that represents the next big liberal reform, in the footsteps of people like Lynne Featherstone in Westminster bringing forward equal marriage, or David Steel bringing forward access to safe abortion services,” he said.

"Liberals are never frightened of dealing with the tough issues that matter to people. That's an example of liberal politics, but it's also, I think, an example of grown up debate in a parliament that's come of age."



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