Lib Dem leader denies pro-independence supermajority would be mandate for indyref2

Credit: PA

If political success was based on photo-opportunities, Willie Rennie would probably be First Minister by now.

As he campaigns for votes, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats is never scared of striking an unusual pose for the cameras.

Already in this election we have seen Mr Rennie sitting by the seashore on a giant deckchair, playing with oversized chess pieces, and feeding farm animals.

In the past it's been zip wires, climbing walls and then there were the famous (or infamous) 'amorous' pigs in the background of a 2016 interview.

But politics is more than photo-calls. It's about substance as well as soundbites. Above all, it's about proving to voters your party has relevance.

And that is the challenge for the Lib Dems. At the last election in 2016 they returned five MSPs out of the total of 129, the same as the previous election.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie plays chess with regional list candidate Aude Boubaker-Calder (right) at Dunfermline Abbey. Credit: PA

In the first two parliaments the Lib Dems held 17 seats and formed a coalition Scottish government with Labour. In office and in power. Relevant.

Now they are long out of office, out of power and - their opponents claim - irrelevant, with fewer seats than the Scottish Greens had after 2016 (six), and polls suggesting that is unlikely to change.Not surprisingly Mr Rennie disputes that interpretation. He is the eternal warrior against what he sees as pundits polling-based pessimism.

In his interview with me for Representing Border, Mr Rennie presented himself as the bright-eyed eternal optimist, leading a party with a unique pitch to voters.

The Lib Dems say they are different from all the others. A few examples. They are, well, liberal with a small 'l' - they oppose vaccine 'passports' for example. 

They have long championed greater provision for mental health within the NHS.

They want to raise the age pupils start formal schooling to seven. They back decentralising power from Edinburgh.

But they, and all the other parties, can't escape the constitutional question. The Lib Dems oppose a second independence referendum. 

As with Labour and the Tories, they say the next Scottish parliament should concentrate solely on recovering from the devastating effect of the COVID pandemic.

A crucial question is what happens if there is a majority for a party or parties which support a second referendum, what you might call a 'supermajority'.

I put it to Mr Rennie that will give those parties a cast iron mandate to hold another vote on whether Scotland leaves the United Kingdom.

His reply: "They will claim they have a mandate. I would argue that they don't have a mandate because they should put recovery first, that we shouldn't put independence first."

It's an argument we will hear from now until polling day and one which the Lib Dems hope has enough resonance to make them relevant again at Holyrood.

That's a big test for the party and a big test for Mr Rennie. Bigger even than that photo-opportunity giant yellow deckchair.

  • You can see my interview with Will Rennie in full here.