Willie Rennie has said he is confident the Scottish Liberal Democrats can make gains at the Holyrood election to avoid “so much political energy being wasted” on an independence referendum.
The Scottish Lib Dem leader said depriving the SNP of a majority after Thursday’s vote should put an end to its “constitutional obsession” for at least five years so politicians can instead focus on recovery from the pandemic.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Rennie said he feared “so much political energy being wasted on constitutional arguments” in the next parliament and was appealing to past SNP and Tory voters to back his party on Thursday so MSPs could focus on the “enormous challenges” facing the country.
Rennie said: “I think most people would recognise – in the wake of a deadly pandemic where thousands of people have lost their lives and thousands more have lost their job – that maybe now is not the moment to pursue another referendum that inevitably, no matter what the best intentions are, is going to divide the country.
“We’ve got some of the biggest challenges that we’ve ever faced, we’ve never been through a pandemic like this before, we’ve never had this climate emergency before and we’ve never faced the challenges we’ve now got with education or mental health.”
He added: “It would just be so frustrating to go back to an old argument again, especially when the nationalists don’t have more answers than they had last time – it would just be depressing to do that over again.”
Ahead of this election, Rennie’s typically-quirky campaign events have included feeding penguins, karate lessons, helping rescued badgers and hedgehogs and driving a Lamborghini around a racetrack.
On the eve of polling day, he is also due to embark on a microlight flight from North Berwick.
He said these “colourful photo ops” are complementing the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ “really smart campaign strategy for our ground war” that he believes will see the party make gains on the five seats it won at the last election.
“Our slogan and our message for this campaign just fit the mood and fits me,” he told PA.
“It’s positive and it’s about appealing for people to reject the extremes and go for our more sensible – but still pretty radical – proposals to address people’s needs rather than constitutional obsessions, whether it’s with the Tories or with all the various factions within the nationalists.
“There’s been a lot of positive feedback, the SNP vote’s softer than I’ve seen it for many many years, and [Scottish Conservative leader] Douglas Ross is not Ruth Davidson, which makes quite a bit of a difference.
“So I think we are really pleased with how things are going.”