We need to improve political discourse, says Lib Dem leader on therapy

Alex Cole-Hamilton spoke of how his party has covered the cost of therapy as a result of abuse he has received.

The Scottish Lib Dem leader was speaking ahead of his speech to the party’s conference
The Scottish Lib Dem leader was speaking ahead of his speech to the party’s conference (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scotland’s political discourse must be improved to stop politicians facing abuse, the leader of the Scottish Lib Dems has said after revealing he has sought counselling.

Speaking ahead of his speech at his party’s conference in Hamilton on Sunday, Alex Cole-Hamilton told the Herald the Lib Dems had paid for him to undergo therapy for more than two years due to the scale of abuse.

The revelation comes as the Scottish Parliament released the findings of a pilot programme which showed 461 complaints made to police over abuse levelled at just 38 MSPs.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Show before his address to the conference, Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “I think we need to raise the standard of public debate.”

He added that he believed the time of constitutional wrangling in Scotland was “passing away” and the more political discourse is focused on “the day-to-day issues” then the more likely it would be to improve given it was “harder to take offence” to issues such as the health service or education.

“Over the last five to 10 years, the situation, the ecosystem in Scottish politics has deteriorated where abuse is very personal, sometimes it’s in the street.

He added that he was “very grateful” his party was willing to financially support his therapy, adding: “It was important for me, I think, to be open and honest about that.

“I’ve been receiving therapy for the last two-and-a-bit years because this is an intense job, under constant public scrutiny.”

The Scottish Lib Dem leader continued: “I’m a human being, I need somewhere to vent, to offload some of that.

“I’m very fortunate and I know that other people aren’t so fortunate, but I wanted to talk about it and say it’s all right to put your hand up and say ‘listen, I need some help here’.”

The sessions, he said, have “really helped adjust my approach to politics and help me realise what matters and to be more resilient than I have been”.

Former first minister Humza Yousaf has also spoken about how he sought therapy in 2016 when he was transport minister, something he said last year he planned to resume during his time in Bute House.