Willie Rennie: the Lib Dems have put forward a vision of a Scotland at the heart of both unions
The Lib Dems are the only party for the many who voted to remain in the UK and in the EU, says Willie Rennie
Willie Rennie - Image credit: Holyrood
If this year has taught us anything, it is that politics is both unpredictable and fast moving.
The vote to leave the European Union last June, the SNP’s fresh drive for independence and Theresa May’s catastrophic general election have left people up and down the United Kingdom feeling disheartened at the direction of the country.
While the SNP put independence at the heart of its campaign, the Liberal Democrats put forward a bold vision of a Scotland at the heart of both the UK and the EU and it resulted in significant gains.
Our membership is at an all-time high, we made significant gains from Caithness to Edinburgh and our MSPs in Holyrood continue to put forward a bold and liberal vision of Scotland.
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A strong education system is the key to a strong economy in the long term. It is critical that we educate future generations so that they have all the skills they need to succeed.
Failing at education is failing on the future of Scotland. The SNP have let Scotland’s world-leading education system fall from the best in the world to just average.
Eighty-six per cent of teachers say their workload has risen in the last year, yet John Swinney has his head in the sand and refuses to take action to relieve the pressure our teachers face.
We have had a year of assurances from the Scottish Government that they are tackling this major problem, but teachers say the problem is getting worse rather than better.
Instead of nationalist spin, teachers, parents and pupils want concrete action.
That’s why my party used budget negotiations to press the SNP over its dramatic cuts to college budgets, which have led to 150,000 fewer college places today compared to when the SNP came to power, as well as for transformative investment in Scottish education.
The health service in Scotland is under immense pressure. GP surgeries are closing their lists to new patients and others are contemplating closure because they can’t find the staff they so desperately need.
Meanwhile, children are waiting years to receive mental health treatment while the country barrels towards a staffing crisis that risks bringing the service to its knees.
This year my party have pressed the SNP to deliver the required funding and provide a new mental health practitioner in every surgery, relieving the pressure on other parts of the service. This is how we build a healthier Scotland.
Police and Fire Service
Only the Liberal Democrats consistently opposed SNP centralisation of the police force and once again, this year we have been central to scrutinising the actions of the single force.
We told the SNP that their politically motivated centralisation of the police would damage those services, but they did not listen.
Instead, the closure of police control rooms in Aberdeen and Inverness has caused havoc to the services in the North and North East, leading to a series of serious and potentially life-threatening blunders, like sending police to Glasgow instead of Aberdeen.
Every time the SNP attempts another power grab, mistakes are made and our communities suffer.
The Scottish Government must call an end to the one-size-fits-all agenda and find a way to give powers back to our communities.
We are now the only party for the majority of people in Scotland who voted for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom and the majority of people in Scotland who voted for the UK to remain in the European Union.
And as the public mood turns against Brexit, we will lead the way in calling for the British public to be given the chance to decide whether we follow through on a damaging extreme Brexit that will harm our economy, security and environment.
Rather than weaponising the European issue to push for another unwanted independence referendum, the SNP government should recognise the defeat it suffered at the recent general election and abandon its plans for independence.
Instead, it should focus on working with others to oppose a damaging hard Brexit and invest in education and mental health through a modest increase in taxation.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats have continued to punch well above our weight and effectively hold this SNP government to account.
In contrast, this SNP government has been acting as if it is on borrowed time.
When it takes the Scottish Government 44 days to publish a draft bill on another independence referendum, but over 18 months to publish the new mental health strategy, you realise that this is a government running on empty.
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