BARRING unforeseen circumstances, the Scottish LibDems will shortly elect Alex Cole-Hamilton as their new leader.

Cole-Hamilton is arguably only in the Holyrood Parliament because the Tories in his Edinburgh Western seat voted tactically, as did Labour voters in the constituency in 2016, all to keep out the SNP.

In strictly historical terms, the Scottish Liberal Democrats are the successors to the Liberal Party which dominated Scottish politics for much of the late 19th century and early 20th century. They once had truly great men in their ranks including two of the greatest Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, William Ewart Gladstone and Sir Winston Spencer Churchill. Two other Liberal MPs for Scottish seats, Herbert Henry Asquith and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, also made it to No 10, Asquith holding his East Fife seat for 30 years while Campbell-Bannerman remains the only PM born in Glasgow.

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If the highly Christian Gladstone is looking down from the Heaven he believed in, he will probably not understand how his – and it very much was his creation – Liberal Party is now so weak that it couldn’t even get enough seats at Holyrood to be recognised as a proper party and get guaranteed questions at First Minister’s Questions.


HUGE. From the time of the Reform Act of 1832, the Whigs at Westminster began to make progress and with some Conservatives joining them in a loose alliance with radical MPs they eventually formed the Liberal Party which is usually stated to have formally begun in 1859 with the formation of Lord Palmerston’s second government.

Gladstone became party leader and won a huge majority in the 1868 general election after a second Reform Act greatly increased the size of the electorate. The Liberals captured 61% of the vote and their success in Scotland from then on was overwhelming.

The National: Sir Tom Devine

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, Sir Tom Devine, says in his magisterial work The Scottish Nation, A Modern History: “The Liberals enjoyed unrivalled hegemony in Victorian Scotland...in the Burghs the Liberal sway went unchallenged.

“The general election after the second Reform Act of 1868 saw half the burgh members returned unopposed with contests between Liberals four times more common than between different parties.

“Conservatism remained more resilient in the counties but even here Liberalism often enjoyed spectacular and stunning success, such as in the general elections in 1868 and 1880.

“The devotion of the Scots to the great Liberal, William Gladstone, illustrated the dominant influence of his party. He became a cult figure.”

In all he would be PM four times, and Asquith and Campbell-Bannerman continued his legacy into the 20th century.


WITH the arrival on the scene of the Labour Party, many voters and supporters defected to the new more progressive party. Liberals still stood and won in the 1922 general election, but yet another faction fight saw National Liberals up against Liberals. One of the victims was Churchill, National Liberal MP for Dundee, a seat he had held since 1908 – he was beaten by Edwin Scrymgeour.

It was all downhill from then on. In 1946 the Scottish Liberal Party was formed but from 1951 to 1964 they had just one MP, the much loved Jo Grimond who led the UK party.

So from this brief history there can be only one conclusion – how are the mighty fallen.