It was 10 days ago in the aftermath of the election results in Scotland and the resignation of Tavish Scott as leader that I wrote here asking “What next for the Scottish Liberal Democrats?“.
Well the first part of the question has been answered, on Tuesday of this week the party elected unopposed a new leader in the Mid Scotland and Fife list MSP Willie Rennie. Normally us Lib Dems would not have liked a coronation as leader, but the field of options was limited, it had to be one of the 5 MSPs* and one of them had just resigned, they also had to be nominated by another MSP.
Therefore who is that man that we have got?
Willie Rennie is a multifaceted political animal. He was the mastermind behind a 35% swing in the Christchurch by-election of 1993 where he acted as agent. He has served as the Chief executive of the Scottish Party, during which time he helped negotiate the first Programme of Government in 1999. He won his own by-election in Dunfermline and West Fife with a 16% swing at a time that the party was leaderless nationally and going through turmoil. He’s served as Shadow Minister of Defence on the Lib Dem team in the last parliament. He was chair of the campaigns and communication team for the Lib Dems up to the last election.
There is a wealth of experience there, but one added thing that I have learnt from first hand experience campaigning with Willie is that he never gives up. He’ll be out there in fine weather and rain canvassing , delivering talking to voters to get the job done. In the Dunfermline by-election with me as one of the last to leave almost every night he was there too encouraging, inspiring and motivating the volunteers unto more the next day or whenever they were due back. It’s why I was still going strong at 21:55 that evening getting the last votes out as I knew the momentum and personal persuasion of Willie had rung home. He may have lost his Westminster seat last year, but his own vote was up on anything the Lib Dems had ever achieved in that area; more than double the 2005 General Election result and almost 50% up on the by-election.
I’ve known some awful wet days on Scottish by-election trails where I’ve been returning to headquarters drenched only to see Willie heading out again, already wet through from a previous trip. With that sort of example you don’t feel able to sit too long in the warmth of a comfy office when there is a message to get out and people to persuade of Lib Dem values.
For that reason I know that Scotland cannot and should not write off the Lib Dems in Scotland, just as people tried to in 1989 when the Greens were ahead of the party nationally in the European elections. I’m sure just like the boys in The Dead Poets’ Society Scottish Lib Dems will be getting up on their desks to say “Oh Captain, My Captain” and getting prepared to rescale Russell Johnson’s mountain behind a leader who inspires and demands respect.
* As per the Section F Paragraph 2 Constitution of the Scottish Liberal Democrats