WILLIE Rennie has announced he is stepping down as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats after a decade in charge.
The North East Fife MSP said it was time for a “fresh face to lead our party forward”.
Mr Rennie, 53, posted a video on Twitter on Monday evening confirming his departure “after 11 elections and referendums over 10 years and a global pandemic”.
He took over as leader in 2011 and his time in the top job has coincided with three UK general elections, two Holyrood elections, the 2014 independence referendum and the 2016 EU referendum.
However, it also coincided with the decline of the LibDems following the UK party’s decision to enter a coalition with the Tories in 2010.
At the recent Holyrood election, the LibDems secured just four seats, down one from 2016.
Following Mr Rennie’s resignation, the party’s executive will reportedly meet on Monday night to discuss a timetable for the new leader being appointed, with one of the three remaining MSPs likely to replace him.
Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, who was elected in 2016 and is the party’s spokesman for health and sport. He is widely seen as the favourite to take over the party.
In a statement on Twitter, he said he was “profoundly glad” Mr Rennie is staying on as an MSP “as I still have much to learn from him”.
He added: “There are few people in my life who have had as much influence over it as he has, and he is one of my best friends.
“When people think about Willie, more often than not they think of the most recognisable smile in Scottish politics. They are right to do so; his positivity is irrepressible.
“It has carried both me and the Liberal Democrats through some of our darkest moments and it is not overstating things to say that he has saved our party from oblivion and obscurity on more than one occasion.
“Scotland needs politicians of profound substance and integrity. Willie has both of those things and some to spare.
“Were it not for him, mental health and early years education would not enjoy the prominence they do in the corridors of Parliament and of Government today.
“His legacy as leader will be vast and long-lasting, principally focused on those at the margins of society while ensuring that Scotland has had, and will continue to have, strong liberal voices at every level of public life in our country.”
Another MSP in the Lib Dem seats at Holyrood is Beatrice Wishart, having previously been a councillor for Shetland before representing the constituency at the Scottish Parliament.
Former party leader Tavish Scott stood down in 2019, triggering a by-election in the area, which was won by Ms Wishart, who is the party’s spokeswoman for education and skills.
She tweeted: “Willie Rennie’s energy and service to the party as leader shone through when he helped me during the Shetland by-election win in 2019.
“His perseverance at Parliament propelled the issues of mental health and education up the agenda.
“Willie Rennie works hard for his constituents and it’s obvious how much they value the tremendous effort he puts in for them.
“Willie is a valued friend and colleague and I look forward to us continuing to work together in the future.”
Liam McArthur has been the Lib Dem MSP for the Orkney constituency since 2007 when he replaced another former party leader in the retiring Jim Wallace.
While he has been in the party longer than his counterparts, after May’s election he was appointed as a deputy presiding officer as well as being the party’s energy and justice spokesman.
The presiding officer (Green MSP Alison Johnstone) has to remain impartial, however her deputies can continue to support their party and take part in business such as debates and voting unless chairing proceedings in the Chamber.
Following Mr Rennie’s announcement, he said: “Willie Rennie has been my friend for over 30 years & I’m very sorry to see him step down as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
“For the past 10 years, he has led our party with energy, enthusiasm & skill, as well as his trademark good humour.
“He is a natural and tireless campaigner whose personal warmth allows him to engage with people from all walks of life.
“This has helped push these issues up the political agenda & demonstrated the value of strong liberal voices in our politics.
“Willie has a great deal still to contribute to our party, parliament & politics. Meantime, I thank him for his leadership & friendship.”