Lib Dems: Holyrood must focus on ‘enormous challenges’ of recovery, not indyref2

Willie Rennie
Willie Rennie (PA Wire)
2:45am, Tue 04 May 2021
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The Scottish Liberal Democrats’ campaign has been focused on depriving the SNP of a majority so Holyrood can focus on a Covid recovery rather than independence.

Party leader Willie Rennie has said he believes that an SNP failure to deliver a parliamentary majority at the election should mean the party “puts aside” its plans for another referendum for at least five years to instead focus on recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The message is very similar to that of Scottish Labour, which is also calling for a focus on recovery rather than a return to “divisions” over the constitution.

But Mr Rennie has argued that “Liberal Democrat seats are the ones that will make the difference” to depriving the nationalists of a majority and suggested that his party is on course to add to the five MSPs elected in 2016.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: “The key issue is that we have a choice of what kind of parliament we want for the next five years.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie handles a six-week-old badger during a visit to the SSPCA National Wildlife Rescue Centre at Fishcross during campaigning for the Scottish Parliamentary electio (PA Wire)

“We can have one that is blocked by arguments between different factions of the SNP just drowning out everything else.

“Or we could have a parliament that works in partnership like we did during the pandemic which tries to cut mental health waits and gets faster treatment in the NHS and making sure we create jobs and tackle the climate emergency.”

Mr Rennie said the parliament should focus on the “enormous challenges” of returning the health service and education system to pre-pandemic standards, with training and recruitment of staff, and tackling the climate emergency.

The party has also highlighted mental health as a crucial issue for the election, with calls for improvements to services and reduced waiting times as well as “more preventative work” throughout society.

The Lib Dems manifesto sets out an ambition for “mental health first aiders” in every workplace to provide support, increased mental health professionals at GP surgeries and grants for trainee psychiatrists.

Speaking to PA, Mr Rennie said: “The final bit is we need to tackle these massive waits for specialist treatment – they’re over a year for 5,000 adults and 1,500 young people, it’s far too long.

“We need to be training and recruiting more to deal with that backlog so people don’t have to wait an age to get treated, but I want to cut down the demand for those services by dealing with prevention – that’s what I want to see changed.”

Willie Rennie (right) takes part in a karate lesson with Robert Steggles at The Meadows, Edinburgh, during campaigning (PA Wire)

The Scottish Liberal Democrats passed a motion earlier this year with the backing of the Tories, Labour and Greens demanding that schools watchdog Education Scotland should be broken up and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) be overhauled.

Accusing the exam board of misleading young people about what is required as evidence for grades after the exams were cancelled this year, Mr Rennie said: “The reports I hear, including from my own son who is going through his Highers just now, is that these are exams by any other name.

“I think that pupils feel cheated and misled.

“They were told it would be based on teacher judgment and that the exams were cancelled. They’re not cancelled, they’re just called something else.

“And therefore I think Education Scotland and the SQA have misled pupils again.”

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