May 25 2011 by Johnathon Menzies, Stirling Observer Wednesday
NEWLY-APPOINTED Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie admits work needs to be done to restore the faith of thousands of voters who turned their backs on his party at the ballot box.
Mr Rennie took over the stewardship of the party north of the border following the departure of previous figurehead Tavish Scott after a disastrous showing at the May 5 election.
The Scottish Lib Dems’ presence within Holyrood was reduced to just five MSPs, compared to 16 in the last parliament – with many of the disgruntled electorate citing close Westminster ties with the Conservatives as the reason for switching political allegiances.
Locally, candidates Graham Reed and Tim Brett finished a distant fourth in the Stirling and Clackmannanshire and Dunblane constituencies, polling 1296 and 1018 votes respectively.
But Mr Rennie, who was himself elected to represent the Mid Scotland and Fife region as a list MSP, said his party could call upon the benefit of experience as members attempt to rebuild its damaged reputation in Stirling.
And he told the Observer he felt the final standings were not an accurate reflection of his charges and their political abilities – particularly Graham Reed, a Stirling councillor.
Speaking following a branch meeting at the Raploch Community Campus last week, he said: “The last election was undoubtedly one of the worst we’ve had as a party, it was a difficult time for us all, but the team spirit locally was fantastic throughout and we can take positives from the campaign.
“The result was a hard one for Graham to have to take. He’s been a tremendous councillor for the Stirling area for many years and is always very frank, open and honest with his opinions.
“You could see from the level of popularity and the respect he was given when we were on the campaign trail that he works hard and has clearly helped a number of local residents with various problems they’ve faced.
“It’s clear that the election result was not a reflection of his ability as a councillor in the slightest. It’s difficult to have to watch someone as respected as Graham go through something like that. But he has so much energy and enthusiasm. I would say the same about Tim Brett.
“I will work tirelessly in my role as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats to ensure people like Graham Reed, and the rest of our candidates, are re-elected to their respective councils next year.”
He continued: “The Stirling area is a place where we’ve traditionally done well. We performed well in the 2005 General Election and managed to break onto the council here in 2007.
“With experienced people like Cllrs David Goss, Ian Brown and Graham Reed representing us locally on Stirling Council, I’m confident we will go on to achieve success in the future.
“The reputation of our party has been damaged, of that there is no doubt. But it’s up to myself and our other members to rebuild the trust that’s been lost and stand up to what could well become an SNP bulldozer in Holyrood.
“Local solutions are the key, not the one-size-fits-all approach you hear trotted out time and time again by so many other political parties – a long-term strategy based on traditional liberal values, which so many of us hold dear.
“I’d like to think that, in me, we’ve got a leader with fresh ideas who’s not going to let people like Alex Salmond have things all their own way.”
Cllr Reed thanked Mr Rennie for his endorsement and pledged to continue to campaign on the issues local people feel passionately about, adding: “I hope our new leader is given the space and time to develop his strategy for success.”
Cllr Ian Brown said he was “delighted” that Mr Rennie chose the Raploch Community Campus meeting as the venue for his first engagement as party leader.
He said: “It’s great that our councillors in Stirling and Clackmannanshire have an MSP who is dedicated to serving our local area.
“Willie campaigned vigorously on behalf of our candidates at the election and this effort translated into votes that have secured an excellent MSP for the area.
“Members were impressed by his openness and enthusiasm and, in true liberal fashion, were able to put forward their own views on the way forward.”