Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie is “very optimistic” his party can make gains at next year’s Holyrood election by offering Scots an alternative to the “chaos” offered by Boris Johnson and independence.
Rennie insisted the Lib Dems were an alternative both to the Conservatives and the SNP – as he claimed Scots were “exhausted” by arguments about the constitution.
Instead, he promised voters more partnership working to help rebuild the country after the coronavirus pandemic, saying this would be focused on key issues such as improving education and mental health care, and creating more green jobs.
He said there was “no doubt Boris Johnson is a disaster”, branding the Prime Minister’s handling of the pandemic as “chaotic” and “turbulent”.
Speaking during his party’s virtual autumn conference, he insisted: “People have got an alternative, they don’t have to choose independence. I would argue that is equally chaotic and would plunge the country into more division.
“There is another way of doing it. You can be an opponent of Boris Johnson without having to vote for the SNP, that is where we present an alternative.”
He continued: “People don’t have to choose between the chaos of Boris Johnson and the chaos of independence.
“If you don’t favour independence you don’t have to back Boris Johnson. We are the third way, the opportunity for the country to chart a new path, building on the partnerships we have built over the last few months to build a better Scotland.”
The Lib Dems are hoping to use Holyrood’s regional list vote to increase their representation in the Scottish Parliament.
In 2016 the party returned five MSPs to Holyrood, all of whom were white men, though one of those MSPs has since been replaced by a woman, with Beatrice Wishart winning the Shetland constituency after Tavish Scott stood down.
Speaking about the election, Rennie said: “I think we can make gains.
“We have got some cracking candidates for the regional list, and that is where most of the gains will come from.
“I think we can lift the national vote, rather than individual constituencies, we can lift the national vote and gain more seats.
“I am very optimistic that that is going to happen, we’ve got a well-funded campaign ready to launch.”
He stressed the party now had a “gender-balanced list”, with more female candidates than five years ago.
Women top the lists in four of the eight regions, with Rennie adding this includes some of the “most winnable regions” for his party.
He told how he was “desperate” to get back to campaigning on doorstep across Scotland but said coronavirus levels would determine if this could happen or not.
Rennie said: “It depends on the state of the virus, if we do get into a position where we can knock on doors we will do it, and do it safely.”
He complained that campaigning online and via social media “doesn’t really connect in the same way”, saying that “you don’t get the proper exchange”.
Rennie said: “Nothing beats just getting out, so I will be desperate to get that back if we can.
“We are hoping we get out, because it is important people get the opportunity to share their views with us, but we just have to see how it goes. We will do what is safe.”