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Sketch: There's a new Scottish Lib Dem deputy in town - but no one seems to care

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: There's a new Scottish Lib Dem deputy in town - but no one seems to care

Early December, Edinburgh. The markets are overflowing, excited children are chattering, and the Big Wheel is sparkling. The city is buzzing with anticipation ahead of the big day.

No, not Christmas. The day the new deputy leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats is announced, of course.

‘Twas the night before Libmas and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Yellow banners were hung in the front room with care,
In the hopes that the press pack soon would be there.

Sadly, those hopes would be shattered. Just 10 people are in the room, eight of whom lacked imagination for better things to do with their Friday afternoon. There’s one photographer. I’m the only journalist – not even the PA has bothered to turn up. Staffers seem relieved when I arrive, grateful that someone thought the announcement worth attending. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I was only there to poke fun.

Not to be put off, Alex Cole-Hamilton – channeling the enthusiasm of Willie Rennie – bounds to the front. “Hello friends,” he says (because he must know everyone in the room intimately), “it’s great to see you in 3D.” As if anything in ACH’s life is ever flat.

He pays tribute to the former deputy leader Alistair Carmichael, who has also not bothered to turn up, before handing the floor to outgoing convener Sheila Ritchie.

She begins: “The last four years have been, for me, a mixture of wonderful, sad, uplifting, stressful, inspiring, disappointing, and Liberal.” Probably not the best slogan for the party – it might go some way to explaining why it’s gone from government to fifth place in the parliament in the last 20 years. Not exactly Get Brexit Done or For The Many, is it? Though it is marginally better than Lib Dem Fight Back, more honest.

“I have been lifted out of my seat by the vision and oratory of our leaders,” Ritchie continues, providing a rare insight into the witchcraft of the Lib Dems, levitation spells and all.

“Amongst many others, Alistair [Carmichael] makes us laugh but carries serious messages.” Like the side-splitting time he leaked an inaccurate memo of a meeting between Nicola Sturgeon and the French ambassador.

“Willie [Rennie] has reached to the guts of us.” Gross.

“Alex [Cole-Hamilton] brings hope and Wendy [Chamberlain] delivers calm, clear reflection.” Hoping the electorate will forget about the whole coalition-with-the-Conservatives thing while ACH stares at his reflection, lovingly.

Cole-Hamilton returns to the stage to introduce us to the new convener, “one of my best friends,” Jenni Lang. Watch out Anas Sarwar, sounds like you might be getting demoted from the best bud position. “I was best man at her wedding,” the Scottish Lib Dem leader boasts.

Lang, taking to the stage next, responds: “I have to say, it is a little bit like being at a wedding where you look out to the room and see all these friends and faces and family, and feel slightly overwhelmed at what’s about to happen to your life.”

Recalling when she first met Cole-Hamilton, she wistfully adds: “We were the future once.”

Now onto the big event, the reason all 10 of us were there. ACH says: “People regard me as something of a weathervane for trouble and controversy.” If you look closely, ACH is often perched on the roof of Lib Dem HQ, arms flailing wildly. Police Scotland could make good use of him. He continues: “I am tremendously proud to have my good close friend, Wendy Chamberlain, serving alongside me as deputy leader.” Ooft, only a good close friend, not a bestie? Chamberlain has got some buttering up to do.

Stepping to the mic, Chamberlain first addresses some rumours. Like Carmichael before her, she becomes deputy leader after first serving as chief whip. “I promise all of you that it has not been a fix,” she insists. If you have to say it…

But perhaps… Chamberlain only joined the party six years ago and already she’s deputy leader? Some people might suggest she is the reason Jo Swinson lost her seat in 2019, since all the party’s focus went on overturning the SNP’s two-vote majority in North East Fife rather than holding onto East Dunbartonshire. ACH better watch out. She’s ruthless.

Still, she might be good for the Lib Dems. “There might be some people who don’t properly understand what we mean by a federal party,” she begins, going on to explain: “I can assure those present today that despite claims to the contrary, the Scottish Liberal Democrats are not a branch office… we make up a third of the parliamentary party!” Hmm.

If nothing else, you can’t say the Scottish Lib Dems aren’t committed to equal opportunities. Half of them have now been in leadership positions. Everyone can be a winner here. Even as the party continues its decline.

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