Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton opens up about receiving therapy to cope with strain of job

He said the political climate in Scotland had ‘deteriorated’.

The leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has opened up about receiving therapy to cope with the stresses and strains of the job.

Alex Cole-Hamilton said the political climate in Scotland had “deteriorated” in recent years and abuse is now “very personal”.

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He said he was “very grateful “ that his party pays for him to see a counsellor.

Alex Cole-HamiltonAlex Cole-Hamilton
Alex Cole-Hamilton

His comments came as the Scottish Parliament released the findings of a pilot programme which showed 461 complaints were made to the police over abuse levelled at just 38 MSPs.

Mr Cole-Hamilton, who was speaking as the Lib Dems gathered in Hamilton for their spring conference, told BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show: “I’m very grateful that my party has the means and the inclination to give me that opportunity to unpack the stresses and strains of this job – not everybody is so lucky.

"It was important for me to be open and honest about that. I’ve been receiving therapy for probably the last two and a bit years, because this is an intense job, constant public scrutiny.

"And I think, really, over the last five to ten years, the situation, the ecosystem in Scottish politics has deteriorated where abuse is very personal, sometimes it’s in the street. I’m a human being, so I need somewhere to vent, to offload some of that.

"I’m very fortunate, and I know that other people aren’t so fortunate. But I wanted to talk about it, to say it’s alright to put your hand up to say, ‘Listen, I need some help here.’

"It’s really helped adjust my approach to politics and helped me realise what matters and to be more resilient than I have been. I would encourage anyone who’s struggling to reach out and talk.”

He said the standard of public debate needed to be better, adding: “There are kids voting in the next election who have only known the constitutional debate, whether there were Yessers or No-ers, supported the union or not.

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"I think that time is passing away, and I think the more we focus on the day-to-day issues, which are the meat and drink of politics, why I’m in politics – about sorting local access to healthcare, about improving Scottish education, about giving power back to communities away from parliament – it’s hard to actually take offence when you are on either side of those particular issues.

“It’s less about identity, it’s more about just honest to goodness pavement politics, which is what the Lib Dems are all about.”

In an interview with the Herald on Sunday, Mr Cole-Hamilton said he had had “physical symptoms that I've had to get checked out because of the strain of this job”.

Former first minister Humza Yousaf has also spoken about how he sought therapy in 2016 when he was transport minister, something he said last year he planned to resume during his time in Bute House.

The Scottish Parliament previously initiated a review of security provision following the death of Sir David Amess, the Conservative MP, who was stabbed 21 times by a terrorist at a constituency surgery in 2021.

This led to a trial programme monitoring online threats, which was set up last year and involved 38 MSPs. It identified 7,661 abusive comments, of which 461 were deemed potentially criminal and referred to Police Scotland.

Elsewhere, Mr Cole-Hamilton told his party’s conference that the Lib Dems are to develop a new programme to create “attractive, sustainable housing” for key workers. He vowed to work with businesses and council group leaders in a bid to develop the initiative.

Mr Cole-Hamilton stressed the importance of housing for key workers such as NHS staff, saying that health boards and care homes “can’t get the staff they need if there are no homes for them”.

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He criticised the Scottish Government for cutting the funding available for affordable housing in Holyrood’s budget. He said this had come “at a time when homelessness is at a record high, there are 10,000 children living in temporary accommodation, and hundreds of thousands of people on housing waiting lists”.

Meanwhile, he claimed Scottish Government policies were “scaring off the investment Scotland needs” in housing.

He said: “Industry experts tell me that £3.3 billion of reliable investment in housebuilding has either been lost or put on hold, some of it shovel-ready, because of the decisions of the SNP/Green Government. It’s one of the key reasons that affordable housebuilding has collapsed, dragging Scotland back to levels not seen since Margaret Thatcher.”

While he insisted the SNP “have been in power too long” – after first taking charge at Holyrood in 2007 – Mr Cole-Hamilton said he would work with the First Minister on areas where there is “common ground”.

He said: “My message to John Swinney is this. I’m in politics to get things done. To change things for the better.”

He said the Lib Dems would only have talks with the SNP “on the issues that matter to our communities” and which are in line with the party’s “values as liberals”.

Meanwhile, Mr Cole-Hamilton also warned the new First Minister he could face a “day of reckoning” over deleted messages during the Covid-19 pandemic, when Mr Swinney, as the then deputy first minister, was at the heart of Scottish Government decisions.

Complaining that “ministers never take responsibility for their actions any more”, Mr Cole-Hamilton said his party would campaign for a new Accountability Act.

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He said such legislation would “break open the scandal of government by WhatsApp, expand freedom of information and create the right for people to recall their MSPs”. He said this would “put power back in the hands of the voters, end the culture of secrecy and spin, and fix our broken politics”.



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