Jim Wallace MSP to step down as Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

The following statement has been issued by Rt. Hon. Jim Wallace QC MSP, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Deputy First Minister of Scotland.

“This morning, I wrote to the President and Convener of the Scottish Liberal Democrats to advise them that it is my intention to stand down as Leader of the Party as soon as the party is able to elect a successor. I hope that the Party’s Executive will set a timetable to allow my successor to be elected by the summer recess.

“The Partnership Agreement which I signed, together with the First Minister, Jack McConnell, in May 2003, states that the Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats will be appointed as Deputy First Minister in the Partnership Executive. Accordingly, I shall relinquish office as

Deputy First Minister, and indeed as a Minister, when I step down as Party Leader.

“I shall remain in the Scottish Parliament, but will not contest the 2007 election.

“It has been a tremendous privilege to serve the Scottish Liberal Democrats as Leader, and to have been Deputy First Minister in Scotland’s first government in almost 300 years.

“I commenced my leadership when I was in my thirties, and I am now in my fifties. Thirteen years as Leader is a long time, and in that time, we have achieved more than I ever could have hoped for in 1992. It makes sense, with two years to go to the next Scottish election, to make way for a successor.

“I have had the satisfaction of seeing the party grow and consolidate its position at every level over these last thirteen years, culminating in our historic result last Thursday. This achievement is a tribute to the commitment and sheer hard work of party members the length and breadth of Scotland – members whom I have been honoured to lead, and who have given

me such encouragement, during some challenging times. To them all I want to express my warmest appreciation and thanks.

“My ambition for the party has been to see it become a credible party of government. As Jo Grimond’s successor in Orkney & Shetland, I have always been conscious of what Scotland and Britain lost, because he never had the opportunity to hold high Ministerial office. In the House of Commons, I witnessed Ministers at the Despatch Box who could not match what I knew colleagues like Russell Johnston and David Steel were capable of.

“It is in government that you can do most to improve people’s lives. It is in government that you can do most to advance Liberal Democracy. It is also the case that government brings with it much greater responsibility and much greater accountability. It means making tough choices that will prove unpopular to some. There are times when being a government minister

is a fairly exposed position where critics are not hard to come by. But let me tell you, as someone who spent my first sixteen years as a Member of Parliament on the opposition benches, not for one moment would I swap the responsibility, the difficult decisions and the ability to make a difference for the days when those difficult decisions were for people in

other parties; the days when Liberal Democrats were confined to scrutinising and criticising those with the ability to improve the lives of others.

“Six years ago, Scottish Liberal Democrats had the opportunity to take on the responsibilities of national government, and I am proud that my party responded to that challenge. We have shown over these last six years that we are a credible party of government – prepared to take the difficult decisions which go with the territory, but above all keen to take the opportunity to translate our policies and principles into action.

“Much has been said about principles. A belief in the basic worth, merit and integrity of every individual is what drives me as a liberal and as a Liberal Democrat.

“I believe in freedom from ignorance. In government we have invested record sums in education from pre-school through to universities and colleges. And through our abolition of tuition fees and restoration of grants, we have improved access to higher and further education for students from all backgrounds.

“I believe in freedom from disease. In government, we have brought about a sea-change to health policy by recognising the importance of promoting good health as well as tackling bad health in a more patient-centred health service. Healthier lifestyles, better diet and nutrition were all on the fringes of the political agenda in 1999. Today health promotion, including a ban on smoking in public places and the restoration of free eye and dental checks are centre stage.

“I believe in freedom for each individual to fulfil his or her potential. In government we have sought to encourage enterprise and to tackle the vicious circle of deprivation and underachievement. Themes which I pursued as an opposition party leader are being delivered in government. Enterprise in education is now rolled out to every school in Scotland, whilst there is now a well resourced pipeline of support to help ideas move from the research lab. to the market place. Meanwhile our elderly citizens have access to free personal care, and from next year will benefit from a free national concessionary bus scheme. As a Liberal Democrat, I believe in a more open, democratic and environmentally responsible society. In government, we have delivered a robust freedom of information regime; we have defended individual

liberties; we have legislated for our councils to be elected by a fair and representative voting system, and have ensured that a green thread is woven through government policy.

“Those are fundamental principles and policies to me and to my party. So important that I did not want just to talk about them; I wanted to do something about them. And I believe that over the last six years, we have made a difference and helped to make Scotland a more liberal and

democratic nation.

“On becoming Deputy First Minister, I was reminded that I was the first Liberal in over half a century to hold Ministerial office. And on the occasions when I took over the reins as Acting First Minister, I was the first Liberal to lead an administration in Britain since Lloyd George. I

found these interesting footnotes, but they didn’t help clear the in-tray. However, my sense of history is such that I recognise I have been the successor to many who fought for a Scottish Parliament, and campaigned for Liberal values and policies during some very dark days.

“It has been my good fortune to lead our party in Scotland to a restored Scottish Parliament and to lead our party back into government. I have been motivated and have been conscious of just how much this generation of Liberal Democrats owes to those who kept the flame of Liberalism alive in Scotland. I would like to think that during my stewardship, that flame of

Liberal Democracy has been well kindled and burnished. As I pass it on, I know it can burn brighter still.

“I have two further groups of people I should like to thank.

“Firstly, I owe so much to my supporters and constituents in the Northern Isles, who have supported and encouraged me during my eighteen years as MP for Orkney & Shetland, and latterly as MSP for Orkney.

“I have always thought of Orkney and Shetland as the epitome of liberal communities. Individualism and the dignity of each individual are cherished, irrespective of background. But there is also a strong sense of community and responsibility towards each other, especially vulnerable members of the community. It has been a tremendous privilege to represent those communities for the last 22 years; to advocate their causes; and to have been able to bring the concerns and challenges of our islands communities to the heart of government.

“By the time of the 2007 election, I will have represented the Isles for almost quarter of a century. After much thought, I have intimated to my local party that I will not contest the next election, but look forward to giving my full support to the new Liberal Democrat candidate.

“Finally, I wish to thank friends and family who have been so supportive over these last thirteen years and more. I have been very fortunate in having good friends in and out of politics who have offered candid advice; have helped me to keep my feet on the ground, and have been willing to put up with me when I needed to get things off my chest.

“Above all, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Rosie, Helen and Clare. Unless you’ve been there yourself, few can know how difficult it is to be the spouse or child of a prominent politician. In spite of all the trials and strains, they are sustained by a proper sense of perspective and

reservoirs of good humour. In turn, they have sustained me with their love, loyalty and encouragement. No words will ever be able to express my thanks for that.

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