Lib Dems promise new housing for key workers

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have announced plans that would see housing reserved for key workers.

Speaking at his party’s Spring conference, party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said he would work with business and councillors to develop the new programme.

He promised “attractive, sustainable housing reserved for the key workers our communities need. “

The party has yet to define who is considered a ‘key worker’ in this policy but party insiders assume it will include NHS staff, carers and teachers.

The announcement comes a week after the Scottish government declared a housing emergency.

'National housing plan'

Mr Cole-Hamilton told the audience in Hamilton that £3.3 bn of reliable investment in housebuilding "has either been lost or put on hold" because of Scottish government decisions.

He said: "It’s one of the key reasons that affordable housebuilding has collapsed, dragging Scotland back to Thatcherite levels.

"Conference, this morning you called for a new national housing plan – one that will stand up to the housing emergency and make lives better.

"To get more houses built, give people a home to call their own and get the basics right.

"That starts with winning back the confidence of those people who were champing at the bit to build homes in Scotland.

"So today I am committing to working with business and our council group leaders to develop a new programme for key worker housing.

"Attractive sustainable housing, reserved for the key workers our communities need."

Change 'for the better'

Mr Cole-Hamilton called on his members to work hard in the months running up to the general election to make the party the third-largest at Westminster again.

He said it was "within our grasp to overtake the Scottish National Party".

Turning his attention to Holyrood, Mr Cole-Hamilton said John Swinney and the SNP have been in power for too long

"My message to John Swinney is this. I’m in politics to get things done. To change things for the better," he said.

"We will only meet you on the issues that matter to our communities and our values as liberals. There will be areas where we can find common ground and I hope we find it.

"Because, I love my country, and I want the very best for it. For me, sitting on the opposition benches doesn’t mean opposing for opposition’s sake.

"But my party will hold your government to account where it falls short. And in a Parliament of minorities, where every vote matters, we will never shy away from exercising our voices," he added.

NHS 'crisis'

Mr Cole-Hamilton described the NHS as being in "crisis", with people facing problems accessing GP services, dentistry and paediatric care.

"Be absolutely clear, none of this is the fault of our hardworking staff. They deserve better," he said.

"We need a government that won’t make empty promises but will get the basics right. Scottish Liberal Democrats will create world class mental health services by taxing the social media giants who cause so much of the problem.

"That’ll help get you faster access to your GP.

"We’ll make sure everyone can see an NHS dentist by overhauling the failed Recovery Plan and making it easier for qualified foreign dentists to practice here.

"We would scrap the ministerial takeover of social care and dedicate the billion pounds it would cost into making social care a profession of choice.

"And introduce a new higher minimum wage for all care workers across the UK, relieving pressure on our hospitals," he added.

'I'm a human being'

Speaking earlier on The Sunday Show, Mr Cole-Hamilton spoke of his personal mental health struggles.

He revealed that his party has been paying for him to have therapy for abuse that he has suffered online.

He said he was very grateful that his party had helped him “unpack the stresses and strains of this job” and said it was important that he is able to be open and honest about that.

“I’ve been receiving therapy for probably the last two and a bit years. Because this is an intense job under constant public scrutiny,” he said.

“And I think really over the last five to ten years the situation, the eco-system in Scottish politics has deteriorated, where abuse is very personal, sometimes it’s in the street.

“I’m a human being, so I need somewhere to vent, to off-load some of that.

“It’s really helped adjust my approach to politics and help me realise what matters and to be more resilient than I have been but I would encourage anyone who’s struggling to reach out and talk.”

Asked about what can be done to stop online abuse, he said politicians needed to raise the standard of public debate and concentrate more on every day policies.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats aren’t likely to be the source of any political earthquakes.

Their conference this weekend was small scale. I counted fewer than 100 in the room for Alex Cole Hamilton’s speech.

But what the Lib Dems lack in numbers they can make up for with enthusiasm.

In Scotland, at the general election, they’ll be throwing everything at a handful of seats where the SNP are their main rivals.

They could dent SNP dominance here and contribute to the UK Liberal Democrats reclaiming the title of Westminster’s third party.

Alex Cole-Hamilton made it clear he’s happy to work with John Swinney where interests align. The SNP’s a minority government, so needs opposition support.

But much of his criticism was reserved for the SNP. And - with that general election looming - that should come as no surprise.