The upcoming Holyrood elections will be a “battle for the soul of the country”, a leading Liberal Democrat said, as he hit out at Nicola Sturgeon’s “entitled” SNP.
Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton insisted there was a “rot that now seeps through every extremity of the party of government”.
The MSP is one of those on the committee investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment allegations made against former first minister Alex Salmond – which saw the ex-SNP leader win more than £500,000 after taking his case to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
With Mr Salmond and his predecessor Ms Sturgeon having given evidence to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, Mr Cole-Hamilton used his speech to the Liberal Democrat spring conference to speak about the “civil war” within Scotland’s governing party.
He claimed: “The titanic struggle between the seismic forces of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon is beginning to tear at the stitching, the very fabric of Scottish democracy.
“That should worry us all. The conflict in the SNP has unfairly undermined confidence in our public institutions, it has revealed a power imbalance between the legislature and the executive, evidence in the arrogance of ministers that would defy our nation’s Parliament not once, but on two occasions, to prevent access to the legal advice that they ignored in the failed judicial review.”
Legal advice was only made public after opposition MSPs threatened to hold a vote of no confidence in the Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who has been dealing with the committee’s requests for information.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “My five years in Parliament have opened my eyes to just how fat and entitled the SNP have become in 14 years of government.
“There is a fire in the mountain of Scottish Politics right now, once great institutions have been tainted by the rot that now seeps through every extremity of the party of government.”
He insisted that the SNP administration at Holyrood had been “failing and in decline long before Covid-19 arrived on our shore” – saying there had been problems in issues such as waits for mental health treatment for children and young people and hospital waiting times.
“There have been warning lights flashing right across the dashboard of Scottish public policy for years,” the Lib Dem said.
The rising number of drugs deaths and issues with the “state of our police force” were also areas Mr Cole-Hamilton said had been “crying out for attention” before coronavirus struck.
But he accused the SNP of having used the health emergency to defer action.
He went on to hit out at SNP plans for a second Scottish independence referendum – an issue which will be central in the run up to May’s planned Holyrood vote.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said that “this coming election is a battle for the soul of our country”.
But he insisted: “Our nation is exhausted, we need a period of calm and stability, we need a government that will put the recovery first, not plunge us into the further division and uncertainty a referendum would surely bring.”