The new leader of the Liberal Democrats has insisted his party is “very positive” about the Scottish elections in May, despite poor recent results.
In his first official visit to Scotland, Sir Ed Davey admitted the party had “lost its way” but said it could regain the trust of voters.
Sir Ed became the party’s third leader in 14 months when he succeeded Jo Swinson in August.
He is currently on a “listening tour” of the UK.
Speaking on a visit to Fife Zoo, Sir Ed said his party could succeed by focusing on people’s concerns about the economic and health impact of the pandemic rather than “distractions” such as independence and Brexit.
Sir Ed said: “The listening tour, which I’ll be doing for months and months, is to engage with people, find out what’s on their minds, what are their fears and problems at the moment? What are their hopes and dreams?”
He added: “At our best, we have been on people’s side, people have looked up to us and respected us. But they clearly don’t at the moment.
“It’s my job to turn that around and I’m realistic enough to know that’s a tough task but I’m up for it.”
The MP for Kingston and Surbiton repeated the party’s long-standing opposition to Scottish independence but rejected the suggestion that the Liberal Democrats could split the unionist vote in May.
He said his party was “probably the only party who can make significant gains against the SNP in Holyrood” and would campaign on the basis of jobs, health and the economy.
He said the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, had not dealt in “partisan, Punch and Judy-politics” and suggested the coronavirus pandemic had changed politics in the UK.
Sir Ed also said Liberal Democrat MSPs would not vote in favour of a second Scottish independence referendum if the SNP get a majority in next year’s election.
He criticised the coronavirus testing system in Scotland and England, saying it has been “an absolute disaster.”
He added: “The testing system is being poorly run, it’s been poorly designed.
“We’re never going to get out economy and our society back on track unless this government, all governments, get a grip on testing.”
In particular, he criticised all governments in the UK for ignoring care homes, saying his party would campaign for support for the sector.
‘No good time to break the law’
The Liberal Democrat leader said the UK government’s Internal Market Bill, which passed its first hurdle in the Commons earlier in the week, “breaks international law.”
He added: “There is no good time to break the law. This is the worst possible time.”
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The Bill has been criticised for creating the possibility that UK minsters could change the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
The Scottish government has also warned it could be used to take powers away from Holyrood.
Sir Ed said: “That undermines the negotiation position, in my opinion. But it also undermines our reputation across the world.”
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