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Scottish Liberal Democrats
Pàrtaidh Libearal Deamocratach na h-Alba (Scottish Gaelic)
Scots Leeberal Democrats (Scots)
LeaderAlex Cole-Hamilton
Deputy LeaderWendy Chamberlain
PresidentWillie Wilson
Founded8 March 1988; 36 years ago (1988-03-08)
Headquarters4 Clifton Terrace
EH12 5DR[1]
Youth wingScottish Young Liberals
Membership (December 2020)Decrease 4,185[2]
Political positionCentre to centre-left
National affiliationLiberal Democrats
European affiliationAlliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
International affiliationLiberal International
Colours  Yellow[9]
Slogan"Put Recovery First"
Scottish seats in the House of Commons
4 / 59
Scottish Parliament
4 / 129
Local government in Scotland
87 / 1,227
Website Edit this at Wikidata

The Scottish Liberal Democrats (Scottish Gaelic: Pàrtaidh Libearal Deamocratach na h-Alba, Scots: Scots Leeberal Democrats) is a liberal, federalist political party in Scotland, a part of the United Kingdom Liberal Democrats. The party currently holds 4 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament and 4 of the 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats is one of the three state parties[10] within the federal[11] Liberal Democrats, the others being the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the English Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats do not contest elections in Northern Ireland.


See also: Devolution in the United Kingdom and History of Scottish devolution

Formation and early years

The Scottish Liberal Democrat party was formed by the merger of the Scottish Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Scotland, as part of the merger of the Liberal Party and SDP on 3 March 1988.[12]

The party campaigned for the creation of a devolved Scottish Parliament as part of its wider policy of a federal United Kingdom. In the late 1980s and 1990s it and its representatives participated in the Scottish Constitutional Convention with Scottish Labour, the Scottish Greens, trades unions and churches. It also campaigned for a "Yes-Yes" vote in the 1997 devolution referendum.[13]

1999–2007: Coalition government with Labour

In the first elections to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the Scottish Lib Dems won 17 seats. Following this, it formed a coalition government with Scottish Labour in the Scottish Executive. The then party leader, Jim Wallace, became Deputy First Minister of Scotland and Minister for Justice. He also served as acting First Minister on three occasions, during the illness and then later, the death of the first First Minister Donald Dewar and the following resignation of his successor Henry McLeish. This partnership was renewed in 2003 and Wallace became Deputy First Minister and Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning. On 23 June 2005, Nicol Stephen MSP succeeded Wallace as party leader[14] and took over his positions in the Executive until the 2007 elections.

Prior to the partnership government being formed in 1999, the UK had only limited experience of coalition government. The Lib Dems' participation attracted criticism for involving compromises to its preferred policies, although several of its manifesto pledges were adopted as government policy or legislation. These included changes to the arrangements for student contributions to higher education costs (although whether that amounted to the claimed achievement of having abolished tuition fees was hotly contested), free personal care for the elderly and (during the second coalition government) changing the system of elections for Scottish local authorities to the single transferable vote, a long-standing Liberal Democrat policy.

2007–2011: Opposition

In the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, the party won one fewer seat than in the two previous Scottish elections: this was the first parliamentary election for 28 years in which the party's parliamentary strength in Scotland was reduced. This experience led to some criticism of the party's election strategy and its leader. Although it was arithmetically possible to form a majority coalition with the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Scottish Greens, the party refused to participate in coalition negotiations because of a disagreement over the SNP's policy of a referendum on Scottish independence, and sat as an opposition party in the Parliament.[15]

On 2 July 2008, Nicol Stephen resigned as party leader, citing the "stresses and strains" of the job.[16] Former deputy leader Michael Moore MP served as acting leader of the party until Tavish Scott MSP was elected party leader on 26 August 2008, winning 59% of the votes cast in a contest with parliamentary colleagues Ross Finnie and Mike Rumbles.[17]

2011–2021: Electoral decline

At the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, the party lost all its mainland constituencies, retaining only the two constituencies of Orkney and Shetland; it also secured three List MSPs. This was, at the time, by far the party's worst electoral performance since the re-establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999. The disastrous results were blamed on a backlash to the Lib Dems' coalition with the Conservative Party.[18] Scott resigned as party leader on 7 May,[19] and the resulting leadership election was won by Willie Rennie ten days later.[20]

At the 2014 European Parliament election, the party lost its only MEP, leaving it with no representation for the first time since 1994. The party lost 10 of its 11 MPs at the 2015 general election with only Alistair Carmichael narrowly retaining his seat, holding Orkney and Shetland with a 3.6% majority.[21]

At the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, the party again had five MSPs elected but was pushed into 5th place by the Scottish Greens. While it regained the two constituency seats of Edinburgh Western and North East Fife from the SNP, its vote share fell slightly overall.

At the 2017 general election, the party retained Orkney and Shetland with an increased majority, as well as regaining three seats lost to the SNP in 2015 – Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, East Dunbartonshire and Edinburgh West. The Scottish Liberal Democrats lost out on the North East Fife constituency to Stephen Gethins of the SNP by just two votes, making it the most marginal result in the UK at the general election that year.[22]

In the 2019 European Parliament election, they re-gained a Member of European Parliament, Sheila Ritchie, for the Scotland Region until the United Kingdom left the European Union in early 2020.

Two years later, at the 2019 general election, UK Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson lost East Dunbartonshire to Amy Callaghan of the SNP by 150 votes, and was forced to stand down as leader; but the Liberal Democrats successfully regained North East Fife and retained four seats in Scotland. The Scottish Lib Dems replaced Scottish Labour as the third-largest party in Scotland in terms of seats at the 2019 general election, in a historic landslide defeat for the party nationwide.[23][24]

At the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, only 4 MSPs were elected for the Lib Dems, holding onto their 4 constituency seats while losing their single regional seat in North East Scotland. The party's vote share also declined further, reaching a new low in both constituency and list vote share at a Scottish Parliamentary election, and 50 deposits were lost out of the 73 constituencies contested.[25] The resulted in the party dropping below the five-seat threshold to be recognised as a parliamentary party in the Scottish Parliament, and as a result losing certain parliamentary rights such as a guaranteed question at First Minister's Questions. Following the election, Rennie resigned as leader, and was replaced by Alex Cole-Hamilton in August 2021 after he stood to run unopposed.[26]


After winning 87 council seats in the 2022 Scottish local elections, an increase from 67 in 2017, party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton announced a target of 150 councillors by 2027.[27]



No. Image Name Term start Term end
Official portrait of Lord Bruce of Bennachie crop 2, 2019.jpg
Malcolm Bruce 3 March 1988 18 April 1992
Official portrait of Lord Wallace of Tankerness crop 2, 2019.jpg
Jim Wallace 18 April 1992 23 June 2005
Nicol Stephen.jpg
Nicol Stephen 23 June 2005 2 July 2008
Michael Moore, Secretary of State for Scotland.jpg
Michael Moore 2 July 2008 26 August 2008
Tavish Scott.jpg
Tavish Scott 26 August 2008 7 May 2011
Willie Rennie 2016.jpg
Willie Rennie 17 May 2011 20 July 2021
Official portrait of Mr Alistair Carmichael crop 2.jpg
Alistair Carmichael 20 July 2021 20 August 2021
Alex Cole-Hamilton 20 August 2021 Incumbent

Deputy Leaders

No. Image Name Term start Term end
Michael Moore, Secretary of State for Scotland.jpg
Michael Moore 2 November 2002 20 September 2010
Jo Swinson (cropped).jpg
Jo Swinson 20 September 2010 23 September 2012
Official portrait of Mr Alistair Carmichael crop 2.jpg
Alistair Carmichael 23 September 2012 3 December 2021
Official portrait of Wendy Chamberlain MP crop 2.jpg
Wendy Chamberlain 3 December 2021 Incumbent

Current party leadership, office bearers and committee members

Current party officials include:[28]


In keeping with its basis as a federation of organisations, the Scottish party also consists of a number of local parties (which mostly follow the boundaries of the Scottish Council Areas), which are each distinct accounting units under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Local parties are predominantly responsible for the party's political campaigning and for selecting candidates for parliamentary and local authority elections.

There are also eight regional parties (based on the boundaries of the eight Scottish Parliament electoral regions).


The party's headquarters are located in Edinburgh. The conference is the highest decision-making body of the party on both policy and strategic issues. The day-to-day organisation of the party is the responsibility of the party's Executive Committee, which is chaired by the Convener of the party and includes the Leader, the Deputy Leader and the President of the party, as well as the party Treasurer and the three Vice-Conveners. All party members vote every two years in internal elections to elect people to all the below positions, except Leader & Depute Leader.


Like the Federal party, the Scottish party holds two conferences per year; a Spring Conference, and an Autumn Conference.

Associated organisations

Associated organisations generally seek to influence the direction of the party on a specific issue or represent a section of the party membership. The party has five associated organisations:

Association of Scottish Liberal Democrat Councillors and Campaigners

The Association of Scottish Liberal Democrat Councillors (ASLDC)[30] is a network of Liberal Democrat councillors and local campaigners across Scotland which works to support and develop Liberal Democrat involvement in Scottish Local Government. Following the Local Council Election of May 2017, under the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, 67 Liberal Democrats were elected, a drop of 3 on Local Council Election of May 2012. A voluntary Executive Committee meets several times a year to run the organisation. ASLDC works alongside Liberal Democrats in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) where Peter Barrett is leader of the Lib Dem Group.

Policy platform

The Scottish Party decides its policy on state matters independently from the federal party. State matters include not only currently devolved issues but also those reserved matters which the party considers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, including broadcasting, energy, drugs and abortion.[31] The party also believes that the Scottish Parliament should exercise greater responsibility on fiscal matters. A party commission chaired by former Liberal Party leader and Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer Sir David Steel set out the party's proposals on the constitutional issue.[32]

According to its constitution, the party believes in a "fair, free and open society ... in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity". It has traditionally argued for both positive and negative liberties, tolerance of social diversity, decentralisation of political authority, including proportional representation for public elections, internationalism and greater involvement in the European Union. In the 2007 elections it campaigned for reforms to public services and local taxation, and for more powers for the Scottish Parliament within a federal Britain.

In December 2007, the party (along with Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives) supported the creation of a new Commission on Scottish Devolution, along similar lines to the earlier Scottish Constitutional Convention, to discuss further powers for the Scottish Parliament.

In 2012, the Scottish Liberal Democrats joined the Better Together campaign with other Unionist political parties to campaign for a No vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, with Craig Harrow, then convener of the party, joining the Board of Directors.

They campaigned to for the UK and Scotland to remain a member of the European Union via the Stronger In preceding the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum

In 2021, the Scottish Liberal Democrats negotiated a budget agreement with the SNP Scottish government, helping pass the Scottish budget with the condition of additional funding for community mental health services, schools and renewables retraining for people in the oil and gas sector in North East Scotland.[33]

In the Scottish Parliament election later that year, their manifesto pledges included training more mental health specialists, an NHS recovery plan after the COVID-19 pandemic, investing in low carbon heat networks, new national parks, a universal basic income, play-based education, opposing a second independence referendum and moving homes to zero-emission heating.[34]

Elected representatives

Scottish Parliament

See also: List of Liberal Democrat members of the Scottish Parliament and 6th Scottish Parliament

Member of the Scottish Parliament Constituency or Region First elected Spokespersons
Alex Cole-Hamilton Edinburgh Western 2016 Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and spokesperson for Health
Liam McArthur Orkney 2007 Justice and the Climate Emergency
Willie Rennie North East Fife 2011 Education, Economy and Communities
Beatrice Wishart Shetland 2019 Rural Affairs and Connectivity

House of Commons of the United Kingdom

Member of Parliament Constituency First elected Notes
Alistair Carmichael Orkney and Shetland 2001 UK Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Home Affairs, Justice and Northern Ireland.

Only Lib Dem MP returned in the 2015 general election in Scotland.

Wendy Chamberlain North East Fife 2019 Deputy Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and UK Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and Spokesperson for Work & Pensions.

Only gain made by the Liberal Democrats in Scotland at the 2019 general election. Was previously the most marginal seat in the entire United Kingdom in 2017.

Christine Jardine Edinburgh West 2017 UK Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Women & Equalities and Scotland.
Jamie Stone Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross 2017 UK Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Culture, Media & Sport.

Member of the Scottish Parliament for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross between 1999 and 2011.

Local Government

Scottish Liberal Democrats currently have 87 elected councillors across Scotland with representation in each of the following councils:

Electoral performance

Scottish Parliament

Election Leader Constituency Regional Total seats +/– Pos. Government
Votes % Seats Votes % Seats
1999 Jim Wallace 333,179 14.2
12 / 73
290,760 12.4
5 / 56
17 / 129
4th Lab–LD
2003 294,347 15.4
13 / 73
225,774 11.8
4 / 56
17 / 129
Steady Steady 4th Lab–LD
2007 Nicol Stephen 326,232 16.2
11 / 73
230,651 11.3
5 / 56
16 / 129
Decrease 1 Steady 4th Opposition
2011 Tavish Scott 157,714 7.9
2 / 73
104,472 5.2
3 / 56
5 / 129
Decrease 11 Steady 4th Opposition
2016 Willie Rennie 178,238 7.8
4 / 73
119,284 5.2
1 / 56
5 / 129
Steady Decrease 5th Opposition
2021 187,816 6.9
4 / 73
137,152 5.1
0 / 56
4 / 129
Decrease 1 Steady 5th Opposition

House of Commons

This chart shows the electoral results of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, from the first election the party contested in 1992. Total number of seats, number of votes and vote percentage, is for Scotland only. For results prior to 1992, see Scottish Liberal Party.

Election Leader Scotland +/– Position Government
Votes % Seats Scotland United Kingdom
1992 Malcolm Bruce 383,856 13.1
9 / 72
Steady Steady 3rd Steady 3rd Opposition
1997 Jim Wallace 365,362 13.0
10 / 72
Increase 1 Increase 2nd Steady 3rd Opposition
2001 380,034 16.3
10 / 72
Steady Steady 2nd Steady 3rd Opposition
2005 528,076 22.6
11 / 59
Increase 1 Steady 2nd Steady 3rd Opposition
2010 Tavish Scott 465,471 18.9
11 / 59
Steady Steady 2nd Steady 3rd Cons–LD
2015 Willie Rennie 219,675 7.5
1 / 59
Decrease 10 Decrease 4th Decrease 4th Opposition
2017 179,061 6.8
4 / 59
Increase 3 Steady 4th Steady 4th Opposition
2019 263,417 9.0
4 / 59
Steady Increase 3rd Steady 4th Opposition

Local elections

Election Leader 1st Pref Votes. % Councillors +/– Pos.
1992 Jim Wallace 140,697 9.5%
94 / 1,158
Increase 10 Steady 4th
1995 166,141 9.79%
60 / 1,155
Decrease 34 Steady 4th
1999 289,236 12.7%
156 / 1,222
Increase 35 Steady 4th
2003 272,057 14.5%
175 / 1,222
Increase 18 Increase 3rd
2007 Nicol Stephen 266,693 12.7%
166 / 1,222
Decrease 9 Steady 3rd
2012 Willie Rennie 103,087 6.62%
71 / 1,223
Decrease 95 Decrease 4th
2017 128,821 6.82%
67 / 1,227
Decrease 3 Steady 4th
2022 Alex Cole-Hamilton 159,815 8.6%
87 / 1,227
Increase 20 Steady 4th

European Parliament

Election Scotland +/–
Votes % Seats
1994 7.2
0 / 8
1999 96,971 9.8
1 / 8
2004 154,178 13.1
1 / 7
2009 127,038 11.5
1 / 6
2014 95,319 7.1
0 / 6
Decrease 1
2019 218,285 13.8
1 / 6
Increase 1


House of Lords

Peer Ennobled Notes
Patrick Boyle, 10th Earl of Glasgow 1984 (Hereditary) Current chief of Clan Boyle
Elizabeth Barker, Baroness Barker 1999
Malcolm Bruce, Baron Bruce of Bennachie 2015
Menzies Campbell, Baron Campbell of Pittenweem 2015
James Erskine, 14th Earl of Mar 2000 Retired from the Lords in 2017.
Archy Kirkwood, Baron Kirkwood of Kirkhope 2005 MP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire from 1983 to 2005
Jeremy Purvis, Baron Purvis of Tweed 2013 MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (2003 to 2011)
David Steel, Baron Steel of Aikwood 1997 Leader of the Liberal Party & Leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats (1976 to 1988)
Nicol Stephen, Baron Stephen 2011 Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats (2005 to 2008)
Alison Suttie, Baroness Suttie 2013 Deputy chief of staff to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (2010 to 2011)
John Sinclair, 3rd Viscount Thurso 2016 (Hereditary)
Iain Vallance, Baron Vallance of Tummel 2004
Jim Wallace, Baron Wallace of Tankerness 2007 Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats (1992 to 2005)

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ "Scottish Liberal Democrat HQ". Scottish Liberal Democrats. Archived from the original on 10 November 2019. Retrieved 10 November 2019.
  2. ^ "Scottish Liberal Democrats Annual Report and Financial Statements". Electoral Commission. Archived from the original on 20 December 2021. Retrieved 20 December 2021.
  3. ^ Eve Hepburn (2010). Using Europe: Territorial Party Strategies in a Multi-level System. Oxford University Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-7190-8138-5. Archived from the original on 13 June 2021. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
  4. ^ a b Nordsieck, Wolfram (2016). "Scotland/UK". Archived from the original on 23 October 2018. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  5. ^ Helma Gerritje Engelien de Vries (2007). Insiders and Outsiders: Global Social Movements, Party Politics, and Democracy in Europe and North America. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-549-45223-2. Archived from the original on 29 April 2016. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  6. ^ "F41: Towards a Federal UK (Emergency Motion)". 4 October 2013. Archived from the original on 28 July 2018. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  7. ^ "Scot Lib Dems launch Federalism drive". 6 March 2017. Archived from the original on 28 July 2018. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  8. ^ Foster, Greg (8 March 2016). "Where do the Scottish Lib Dems stand on independence?". Scottish Liberal Democrats. Archived from the original on 16 November 2016. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  9. ^ "Style guide". Liberal Democrats. 23 March 2017. Archived from the original on 7 February 2018. Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  10. ^ "The party is led by Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen MSP and is a state party within the Liberal Democrats",, accessed 23 September 2006 (Archived 2 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine)
  11. ^ "Party Structure" Archived 2 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine,
  12. ^ "Liberal Democrat History Group". Archived from the original on 29 August 2014. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  13. ^ Duclos, Nathalie (2006). "The 1997 devolution referendums in Scotland and Wales". Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique. French Journal of British Studies. XIV (1): 151–264. doi:10.4000/rfcb.1187. ISSN 0248-9015. Retrieved 11 October 2022.
  14. ^ Tempest, Matthew (23 June 2005). "Nicol Stephen to lead Scottish Lib Dems". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 October 2022.
  15. ^ Carrell, Severin (12 April 2007). "Lib Dem blow to SNP hopes of referendum on home rule". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 July 2022.
  16. ^ Curran, Joanne (3 July 2008). "Scottish Lib Dem leader Nicol Stephen steps down 'to be with family'". Daily Record. Retrieved 10 October 2022.
  17. ^ Barnett, Anthony (26 August 2008). "Scottish Lib Dems go for the continuity candidate". openDemocracy. Retrieved 6 July 2022.
  18. ^ Carrell, Severin (2 May 2011). "Scottish elections: Lib Dems face 'terrible backlash' as voters opt for SNP". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 July 2022.
  19. ^ Black, Andrew (7 May 2011). "Scots Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott quits post". BBC News. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  20. ^ Black, Andrew (17 May 2011). "Willie Rennie named new Scottish Lib Dem leader". BBC News. Retrieved 6 July 2022.
  21. ^ "Election results: Mapping Scotland's dramatic change". BBC News. 8 May 2015. Archived from the original on 20 May 2020. Retrieved 23 April 2022.
  22. ^ Withnall, Adam (9 June 2017). "Fife North East election result: SNP wins Scottish marginal seat by just two votes". The Independent. Archived from the original on 7 April 2022. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  23. ^ "Results of the 2019 General Election in Scotland". BBC News. Archived from the original on 1 January 2020. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  24. ^ "Scottish Lib Dem MPs meet after leader loses seat". BBC News. 14 December 2019. Archived from the original on 25 December 2019. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  25. ^ "Scottish election results 2021: The story so far". BBC News. 7 May 2021. Retrieved 6 July 2022.
  26. ^ "Alex Cole-Hamilton confirmed as new Lib Dem leader". BBC News. 20 August 2021 – via
  27. ^ "Lib Dems launch campaign to win 150 council seats in 2027". STV News. 29 October 2022. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
  28. ^ "The Liberal Democrat team in Scotland". Retrieved 9 April 2024.
  29. ^ "The Federal Board". Retrieved 9 April 2024.
  30. ^ "Scotland and ASLDC – Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors". 29 January 2013. Archived from the original on 8 January 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
  31. ^ "Scottish policy responsibilities include all devolved matters plus matters that we believe should be the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament." Archived 2 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine,
  32. ^ "Microsoft Word - Steel Commission Report March 2006 formatted.doc" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  33. ^ Brooks, Libby (9 March 2021). "Scottish budget: SNP agree deal with Greens and Lib Dems". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
  34. ^ "Scottish election 2021: Scottish Lib Dem manifesto at-a-glance". BBC News. 16 April 2021. Retrieved 14 March 2023.