The National:

IN September 1981, party leader David Steel addressed what was then known as the Liberal Assembly, urging delegates to "go back to your constituencies and prepare for government".

In hindsight, it didn't quite turn out like that.

Yesterday's big upset in North Shropshire - a seat the Tories had held for almost 200 years - had Alex Cole-Hamilton getting quite over-excited in statements reminiscent of Steel's famous over-reach.

Helen Morgan’s win for the LibDems counts as one of the biggest by-election shocks ever, turning a near-23,000 Tory majority in the 2019 election to a LibDem victory margin of just under 6000.

READ MORE: 'One more strike and he’s out': Tory anger at Boris Johnson after by-election defeat

I must admit, I'd kind of forgotten that the LibDems existed at all, so insignificant do they seem and so rapid has been their downfall into oblivion. But here they are again with one of their sporadic by-election shocks.

Cole-Hamilton said the LibDems' stunning victory was part of a "wave of new hope" that could roll on into next year's local elections.

He claimed: "Victories like this stand us in great stead for next year's council elections, where LibDem campaigners across Scotland will offer new hope to those who feel abandoned by Boris Johnson's Conservative party and Nicola Sturgeon's nationalists."

The National: Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon

Clearly relishing his "new hope" message, Cole-Hamilton continued: “The British public is tired of being taken for granted by a careless Tory government.

“This astonishing result will have Conservatives up and down the country quaking in their boots. It is a great victory for my party in a constituency the Conservatives have held since 1832 and in which the Labour party fought hard but were relegated to a distant third.

“The community in North Shropshire felt ignored and taken for granted, and we listened. We offered a fresh alternative. We offered new hope."

It's certainly true that the Shropshire result is an epic slap in the face for Boris Johnson's regime. The problem with Cole-Hamilton's over-enthusiasm is his analysis doesn't hold up or translate north of the Border.


Four reasons.

First, the Shropshire election came with a number of significant factors at play: it was disgraced Owen Paterson's seat; the constituency had seen all four of its ambulance services closed in October; and the vote came at the end of a month of close media attention and a torrent of Tory sleaze.

Second, if voters in Scotland want to give Boris Johson "a bloody nose" they usually do this by voting SNP.

READ MORE: 'You're clowns': Audience laugh at Tory minister over Covid messaging claim

Third, the LibDems under Cole-Hamilton, and previously under Willie Rennie, have become a non-entity. They stand for nothing other than opposing the SNP and independence. They have become the epitome of bland centrism with few if any defining features, and seen their MSPs vastly reduced as a consequence.

Fourth, Alex Cole-Hamilton. The LibDems leader comes across as a Conservative with anger management issues.

The LibDems in England have the advantage of being able to gain votes from all sides: disgruntled Tories, Greens, and Labour supporters all might lend their vote to a candidate in special circumstances. This convergence doesn't exist in Scotland, so all Cole-Hamilton's talk of "new hope" feels more like delusion than optimism.