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New hype: Alex Cole-Hamilton on clothes, coalitions and campaigning to lift his party from the doldrums

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton

The recently-elected leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats is billing himself as the ‘New Hope’ to turn around a party on a 10-year slump, and build appeal for voters.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is on the lookout.

His children have developed a habit of waiting until he’s just about to do a media interview before asking for sweets, knowing he’ll almost certainly agree.

It’s a clever strategy, and the Lib Dems could certainly do with a few clever strategies these days after slipping so far down the Holyrood pecking order they find themselves with just four MSPs after May’s election.

Cole-Hamilton, known in some circles as the the best-dressed man in Holyrood – “I like nice clothes, is that a crime?” – says the only way now is up.

“I want to inject some new hope not just into my party but into the country as well, because after everything we’ve been through, Scotland needs new hope right now.”

Speaking on this week’s episode of The Stooshie podcast, Madras College and Aberdeen University-educated Cole-Hamilton, 44, says there’s still a lot a party like his can offer to Scottish voters.

“I think we’ve been held back in recent times by the clash of nationalism that we see, which is the binary, Hobson’s choice between the Scottish nationalism in the SNP but also the Brexit nationalism of the Tory party”

“I can’t believe that’s all there is.”

MSP for Edinburgh West, Alex Cole-Hamilton

Uncontested victory

The ebullient Mr Cole-Hamilton was declared the leader of his party in Scotland earlier in August, after a job contest in which he was the only applicant.

He succeeds Fife MSP Willie Rennie who stepped down after a decade in charge.

“Willie is one of my best friends, I’ve learned a lot from him and I will continue to learn a lot from him.”

“He is credited, and rightly so, with not just the survival of the Liberal Democrats, but the consolidation of our support to the point where people will never again talk about our extinction.”

The extinction that Cole-Hamilton mentions came in the wake of the 2010 coalition UK Government deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats which saw the parties sharing power for five years.

It lead to a sharp fall in support for the Liberal Democrats across the UK at the 2015 general election where they suffered the loss of 49 seats.

At the same election Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP picked up 50 seats.

But those days in the doldrums are behind the party, Mr Cole-Hamilton hopes, with a slate of new policies focusing on mental health and tackling the climate crisis which he wants to showcase to potential voters.

“I think we will be pushing on an open door. Because after after effectively a decade of this constitutional washing machine, people are just crying out for something different, and a bit more hope.”

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton with his predecessor Willie Rennie (right)

SNP-Green partnership deal

In a stroke of unfortunate political timing, Alex Cole-Hamilton was anointed as Scottish Lib Dem leader on the same day as news of the SNP-Green power-sharing deal grabbed all the headlines.

So does he have any advice for a smaller party like the Greens, getting into bed with a much bigger, more popular party like the SNP – especially given the parallels with the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition of 2010?

“I wasn’t in politics at the time, I’m the first post-coalition generation Liberal Democrat to reach the leadership of the Scottish party” he’s quick to point out.

“But I’ve looked at the agreement, it looks like pretty thin gruel for the Greens.”

“The Greens will soon realise they will need to carry the can and some of the hospital passes for the SNP.”

You can hear the full interview with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton on this week’s episode of The Stooshie podcast. 

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