Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton declared it is “absolutely game on” for the next general election – as he said his party was seeking to unseat SNP MPs as well as oust Tories south of the border.
The Westminster election, likely to be held next year, will be a “change election”, Mr Cole-Hamilton said, adding it brought a “real opportunity for our party”.
With his party nationally buoyed by dramatic by-election victories, which have seen them defeat the Tories in seats such as Somerton and Frome, the Scottish party leader set out his ambition to win seats north of the border as well.
Speaking about the election, the Scottish Lib Dem leader said: “There is a jar of tamarind extract in my fringe that actually goes off after the last possible date for the general election. It really is that close.”
He told supporters: “It’s absolutely game time. So we need all of you firing on all cylinders.”
Mr Cole-Hamilton, whose party currently has four Scottish MPs at Westminster, declared: “It’s not just the blue wall of the Conservatives in the south we will be taking down, we have our grappling hooks in the acid yellow wall of the SNP.
“Only the Liberal Democrats can beat the nationalists in huge swathes of Scotland. From Milngavie to Mallaig. Cupar to Cape Wrath.”
He made the claim as he addressed the Scottish Liberal Democrats autumn conference in Edinburgh, using his speech there to attack both the Tories and the SNP.
He blamed the Conservatives for “Brexit, Liz Truss, skyrocketing mortgages”, telling party supporters it was “hard to overstate the damage that the Conservative government has done to our politics, our institutions and our way of life”.
But he also hit out at the SNP, who he said had “failed Scotland for 16 years”.
With reports recently suggesting former first minister Nicola Sturgeon and others in the Scottish Government may have deleted WhatsApp messages during Covid, and as a result can not hand these over to public inquiries into the pandemic, Mr Cole-Hamilton insisted that the SNP has “no part to play in what Britain needs to become”.
He used his speech to hit out at “ministers who conspired to erase pandemic WhatsApps, which they knew an inquiry and grieving families would want to see”.
He insisted: “It’s time we were rid of them.”
The Liberal Democrat attacked the SNP’s record on health, saying the NHS in Scotland had been “cut off at the knees by 16 years of nationalist disinterest”.
He went on to tell the conference: “There is a cigarette-style warning that deserves to be affixed to every nationalist leaflet in Scotland – Voting SNP is bad for your health.”
He said the Liberal Democrats would seek the scrap Scottish Government plans to create a national care service, branding this a “billion-pound takeover of social care”.
And to improve the NHS, he said Lib Dems would establish specialist clinics for long Covid sufferers, “save” NHS dentistry and work to bring down waiting times and retain staff.
Mr Cole-Hamilton also vowed his party would act to tackle pollution in Scotland’s seas and rivers, as he accused the government of “dumping sewerage” in the waterways “for years”.
He told the conference: “More than half of Scotland’s bathing waters breached safety limits for faecal matter this summer.
“In Lower Largo, just across the Forth Estuary, bacteria was found to be 50 times the legal limit.”
With the utility company Scottish Water publicly owned, he insisted that “SNP ministers have become little more than spin doctors for the failing, government-owned water company and its outdated standards”.
To tackle this, he pledged the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the next Holyrood elections in 2026 would set out plans for a Clean Water Act, which would ensure that Scotland’s Victorian sewage network is updated and would also ensure that sewage dumps are monitored, with “binding targets” to reduce these.
Mr Cole-Hamilton also vowed there would be a “complete ban on the release of sewage in protected areas such as bathing waters”.
He added: “Our rivers and estuaries are the lifeblood of our country. It’s time we gave them the protection they deserve.”
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