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by Louise Wilson
28 July 2021
Sketch: Alex Cole-Hamilton is thundering to victory

PA Media

Sketch: Alex Cole-Hamilton is thundering to victory

After days of hot and humid weather in Edinburgh, the clouds finally broke. With a flash of yellow, a figure starts thundering down to the press pack waiting at Silverknowes beach. It is Alex Cole-Hamilton, the self-proclaimed “new hope” of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

But he was too eager. Waved too soon. Had to move closer, wave again so the photographers could actually get him in the shot. A few reporters were disappointed he’d just driven to the beach. Willie Rennie would have surfed there. Cole-Hamilton was also clutching a disappointingly normal-sized umbrella – which when opened, turned out was broken. Photographers asked him to jump and click his heels. He declined to do so.

The dreich weather, the understated entrance, the broken umbrella – it was all a bit underwhelming for a Lib Dem photocall. Where were the amorous pigs? The giant deck chairs? The baby badgers? Perhaps all the budget had been spent.

No matter. Cole-Hamilton had something important to say. “People are desperate in Scotland for an alternative, and after everything we’ve been through, we just need new hope right now. That’s why I’ve put my name forward as a candidate for the leadership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.”

It was the least shocking announcement ever, not least because he’d already announced it on Twitter ten hours earlier. Still, there was not much else going on so members of the press turned up anyway.

“So many Scots stand where the Liberal Democrats stand,” Cole-Hamilton continued, which is why the party won a massive FOUR seats in May, of course.

“The whole story in Scottish politics has been Nicola v Boris for the last two or three years,” he added. “That turns so many people off, partly because they’re two extremes, two extremes of nationalism, and actually most people don’t really land there, in that mix. They want an alternative.” It seems a strange argument to make when less than a third of voters backed an alternative just 12 weeks ago, and even fewer backed his alternative.

He went on: “I think there is a gold-plated opportunity with the Lib Dems to break through – and we do surprise everyone. Look at Chesham and Amersham byelection. Out of nowhere, we took one of the safest Tory seats in the country to show that if you want a Lib Dem parliamentarian, you can have one.” The problem is, not many people seem to want a Lib Dem parliamentarian.

So, how will he convince people otherwise? “Because I’m a new face. Because I’ve not had the mic before. I’ve not been in the spotlight in this way before.” The only reason you might not have voted Lib Dem before is because you’ve not seen enough of Alex Cole-Hamilton, apparently.

But he’s no fool. He knows the chance of the Lib Dems suddenly going from the smallest to the biggest party in Scotland under his reign is unlikely. He’s keen to emphasise that he is “mates” with Anas Sarwar. “I have a great personal friendship with Anas Sarwar,” he says. “Anas and I go for a coffee quite regularly.”

Willie Rennie, who at the start of this press conference was Cole-Hamilton’s “best friend”, might want to watch out. The leadership hopeful is on the hunt for a new bestie in Sarwar, it seems. Whether the feeling is mutual is unclear.

Importantly, Cole-Hamilton doesn’t “fear power”. “In fact, I want Liberals to be in power.” A good stance for a leadership wannabe to take, in my opinion. That is why he’d be open to a Lab-Lib coalition, he says.

Speaking of coalitions… “I wasn’t elected, I wasn’t in the room. Had I been in the room, of course I would have pushed back on certain things. Of course I would have tried to block them. But at the end of the day, we can draw a line under that now,” Cole-Hamilton insists. Remember to pass that message on to people paying the Bedroom Tax and children living in poverty because of welfare reforms.

“I don’t have to answer for what happened in the coalition as I wasn’t involved in it.” Well, ok then. Moving on…

What does he make of the formal talks taking place between the SNP and the Greens? Does this effectively mean the Lib Dems will be unable to push through any change?

“We can see an SNP government that is at sea," observes Cole-Hamilton with his back to the Forth. Presumably that is why he’s launching his leadership bid on a beach, waiting to pick over the shipwreck that will wash to shore.

He continued: “The Greens, I’m sure, will provide a very convenient fig leaf from the very difficult issues the SNP has been dodging for a long time… After a while, that is going to come unstuck.” Gross. I’m not sure talking about what lurks behind fig leaves is really the image you’d want associated with a leadership campaign.

Still, it looks unlikely that Cole-Hamilton will have to campaign very much or very hard. The leader of the party must be an MSP, so competition isn’t stiff. I look forward to the coronation event on 20 August. We can only hope it involves an oversized crown.

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