A CANDIDATE to be the next leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has opened the door to a coalition with Labour in Holyrood.
Alex Cole-Hamilton suggested the two parties could form a “progressive alternative” to the SNP in the Scottish Parliament.
It came as he sought to “draw a line” under his party’s coalition with the Tories at Westminster in 2010.
Elsewhere, he insisted Nicola Sturgeon does not have a mandate for a second independence referendum.
Mr Cole-Hamilton, 44, launched his leadership bid at Edinburgh’s Boardwalk Beach Club cafe following Willie Rennie’s decision to step down after a decade in charge of the party.
He is expected to run unopposed.
The Edinburgh Western MSP said Scotland has moved backwards on mental health, child poverty, hospital waiting times and school attainment.
He said the country “has been gripped by a clash of nationalisms”, with the SNP on one side and “Boris Johnson’s Brexiteers” on the other.
He argued Scots are “desperate” for an alternative.
Asked why people have stopped voting for the LibDems, Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “It’s not rocket science – that’s in large part due to our role in the  coalition.
“I am very much the first of the post-coalition generation of politicians to come to prominence in the LibDems.
“If I become the leader, I’ll become the first leader in any part of the UK within my party to have had no involvement in the coalition.
“I wasn’t elected, I wasn’t in the room. Had I been in the room, of course I would have pushed back on certain things, of course I would have tried to block them.
“But at the end of the day we can draw a line under that now.”
Asked if his route to power was a coalition with Labour at the next election, he said: “It’s not rocket science to say that in a devolved administration with a proportional representation election system, that it is geared around coalitions, and I don’t fear that.
“I like working with people. I work right across the chamber to great effect, with the Conservatives, with Labour, with the SNP on an issue-by-issue basis.”
He added: “I will try to find consensus with those people who share my values on a broad range of things.
“And it’s inevitable that if we are to see a change in government from the SNP, who have stagnated for 14 years in power, then we need to seek out a progressive alternative.
“And that might be coalition with Labour, but I’m not saying that that’s a given.
“There is still a great distance between me and the Labour Party on many, many things.”
Mr Cole-Hamilton said he has a “great personal friendship” with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.
But he said Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross “has shown that he is part of the problem” in terms of “toxic British nationalism”.
He added: “I’m not sure there’s ever going to be common ground enough for that sort of formal coalition to ever happen [with the Tories].”
Labour and the LibDems formed a coalition in Holyrood between 1999 and 2007, but would currently fall far short of a majority.
Mr Cole-Hamilton dismissed the idea that the SNP has a mandate for a second referendum following the Holyrood election, in which the party won 64 out of 129 seats, while the LibDems secured just four.
He said: “For all the questions Scotland faces right now, the answer to none of them is another divisive independence referendum.
“Let’s remember also – Nicola Sturgeon talks about a mandate for a second independence referendum.
“That mandate is tainted, it’s no good. And I’ll tell you why.
“Two weeks out from the election, they could see the polls start to slump.
“We were picking it up on the doorsteps in my constituency and other constituencies around the country.
“People were telling you, ‘Look, I think I like independence, but just not now, not with everything going on.’
“And so suddenly the SNP pivoted, and if you remember there was that quite famous mail-shot that went out which had an empty lectern, an empty podium, with ‘Who do we trust to lead Scotland out of the pandemic?’
“So it suddenly became a ‘let’s not change horses’ election, rather than a ‘give us a mandate for another push to an independence referendum’.
“So I think any way you slice it, the SNP don’t have a mandate. They need to get on with the day job.”