Willie grew up in Strathmiglo, Fife and from an early age he learned the importance of public service. He lived above the shop at the centre of a vibrant village in Fife and enjoyed the best of village life, the harvest thanksgiving, flower show, highland games, Sunday school and a lot more - and it was there that his strong liberal values were formed.
After graduating, he moved to Cornwall to work for the Liberal Democrats and honed the campaigning skills that would serve him well later in life. He returned to Scotland in 1999 and worked for a small communications firm for five years before winning the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election in 2006 in a stunning upset on a 16% swing from the Labour party in what media reports described as a “bombshell result”.
He represented Dunfermline until the 2010 general election, championing improvements to cancer services at local hospitals and changing the law to protect female learner drivers from sex offenders. He was widely recognised as a hard-working MP, he stood up for local workers and helped protect jobs at Longannet power station and Rosyth shipyard.
In 2011, he was selected by party members to top the Regional List for Mid-Scotland and Fife at the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections. After his election to the Scottish Parliament in 2011, hebecame leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
Under his leadership, the Scottish Liberal Democrat team at Holyrood delivered new funding for colleges, extra help for families with the cost of childcare and held the SNP Government's feet to the fire over local court closures, police centralisation and the state of the Scottish NHS.
In 2021 he stepped down as leader and became the party's spokesperson for Education, the Economy & Communities