THE LibDems have revealed their candidate for the most marginal Westminster seat in Scotland at a bizarre launch event – prioritising fighting the next General Election over indyref2.

Recently re-elected East Dunbartonshire councillor Susan Murray will contest the seat for the LibDems in the May 2024 poll against the SNP’s Amy Callaghan – which is almost two years away.

The National was the only news organisation to send a reporter to the press call, where Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton and candidate Murray posed with ice creams for photographs on a sunny day in Milngavie high street for The Herald. 

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Callaghan won over then UK LibDem leader Jo Swinson in 2019, who saw her 5339-vote majority become an SNP majority of 149.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was captured by television camera celebrating the result – which sparked the ire of Cole-Hamilton.

The Scottish LibDem leader is confident the key seat will change hands again but admitted there was significant “graft” ahead, telling The National the party “aren’t troubled” by the SNP setting out a timetable for indyref2, because he doesn’t believe it will happen.

But when probed on what the party would do if the referendum does go ahead and they hadn't prepared, Cole-Hamilton responded: “Who says we’re not?”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has taken a similar tack in recent weeks, arguing that the next election fought will be the general election and that his party will need to be in “perpetual campaign mode” if they want to oust the Tories in Westminster.

Former leader Swinson held East Dunbartonshire from 2005 until the SNP’s John Nicolson won it in 2015, with Swinson winning it back again in 2017’s snap election.

The National: Susan Murray, LibDem candidate for the next general election in East Dunbartonshire, with party leader Alex Cole-HamiltonSusan Murray, LibDem candidate for the next general election in East Dunbartonshire, with party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton

It comes as incumbent Callaghan has released an apology after she was featured in a leaked audio recording of a meeting between SNP MPs where she called on colleagues to rally round Patrick Grady after his suspension.

After May’s local elections, the LibDems were returned as the second largest party on East Dunbartonshire council, an SNP minority administration.

Murray, 65, who represents Kirkintilloch East and North and Twechar, said that the referendum didn’t come up very often during the local election campaign.

Asked why the party were revealing their first candidate for the general election almost two years out from the ballot box, when indyref2 is due to be held in October next year, Murray said: “We prioritise working together and at a time when you've got the cost of living crisis, you've got problems in the NHS, we've got waiting lists going through the roof.

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“We've got issues that were there before the pandemic that need to be dealt with even more now, and we just think it's not the time to take our focus off in recovery.”

Cole-Hamilton added: “This is the last thing that we should be focused on. So we're not troubled by the fact that the SNP have signalled a timetable, which is really for their base more than anything else.

“We're just gonna get on with the delivery of delivering for people on the ground and communities.”

Despite his insistence that the poll won’t go ahead, Cole-Hamilton did hint that the party were planning behind the scenes but remained tight-lipped. However, he did say that if the Scottish Government were given a Section 30 order then the LibDems would engage with the campaign.

The National: Amy Callaghan is the current SNP MP for East Dunbartonshire after winning the seat in 2019Amy Callaghan is the current SNP MP for East Dunbartonshire after winning the seat in 2019

He added: “But if it's some kind of weird opinion poll where people get mail out ballots I've got better things to do with my time in terms of helping my constituents.”

Councillor Murray added that working for the people of East Dunbartonshire is “absolutely preparing for an upcoming referendum because we've been listening to what people are saying to us and addressing the issues that are raised.”

The announcement comes at a tense moment for the SNP Westminster group after a leaked recording revealed Ian Blackford rallying support for Grady, who was suspended from the House of Commons for two days over making “unwanted sexual advances” to a teenage staffer in 2016.

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Callaghan became the first MP heard in the recording to release an apology taking “full responsibility” for her “poorly worded” statement during the meeting.

Cole-Hamilton said it was the right move from Callaghan, but said he believed Blackford had been “mortally wounded as a politician” and restated his call for the SNP Westminster leader to resign.

Former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson has since defended Blackford, while current MP Joanna Cherry, who was not at the meeting, spoke out.

The SNP have been contacted for comment.