THE DEPUTE LEADERSHIP OF THE SNP

I said when I was considering standing for the Depute Leadership of the SNP that I would take soundings from colleagues within the party and across the membership before making up my mind to have my name put forward. After listening very carefully to the response to my agenda I have decided that I do not believe that I have sufficient support within the party and I will not now be standing for the post of Depute Leader of the Scottish National Party. Making Scotland a better place to live and work and securing independence for my nation are the issues that determine my approach to politics and I will continue to offer everything I can to ensure that agenda is progressed.

My agenda was essentially based around five main items. First, to design a new independence offering that takes into account the political environment that Scotland now inhabits, and is sufficiently persuasive to convince our fellow Scots who have so far been unconvinced in the case for independence. Second, to try and find a way that unites Yes voters who voted either to remain or leave in the EU referendum. In that, I proposed a graduated approach for an independent Scotland to rejoin the EU with checks and breaks factored in and put under democratic control. Third, was to make a proper, honest assessment of why we lost 21 MPs last year and design a political response that takes stock of the new challenges we face. Fourth, to get the party organisationally equipped to face future contests as a mass membership party. Lastly I proposed that the party has to be pragmatic in its approach to the timing of a further independence referendum. I firmly believe that a referendum should take place at the optimum time for success taking into account external features such as the increasing concerns around Brexit, and to proceed only when we have sufficient evidence that it could be won.

There are certain issues I could have perhaps ducked or de-emphasised in order to better assist me in any Depute Leader contest, but anyone who knows me knows that this is not something I would be prepared to do. I will always speak out on what I believe is in the best interests of my country.

This contest offers a wide ranging debate within the party where all issues that motivate and inspire us should be discussed honestly in the best traditions of the comradeship we enjoy in the SNP. I hope that others may be able to take up this agenda and perhaps present it more convincingly than I could and I will be asking candidates who do come forward their views on these issues.

I look forward to this contest with real interest and wish all those who feel they have the abilities to lead, all the best.

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TIMING IS EVERYTHING

I know it’s a crudely constructed piece of history more designed for Hollywood than Holyrood but I love Braveheart. My favourite part is when the Scots are assembled at Stirling Bridge itching to get into battle and William ‘Mel’ Wallace instructs them to ‘hold…hold….hold…’ before unleashing the weaponry that would lead to victory. Our approach to a second referendum has to be a bit like that and we must be patient and like ‘Mel’ strike at the optimum time for success.

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There is only one consideration that concerns and interests me when it comes to the timing of another independence and that is – is now the right time, and if we hold it are we certain of victory? It would be unthinkable to lose another indyref and almost reckless to proceed without good evidence it could be won.

Three and a half years on from the last referendum support for independence remains defiantly at 45% for with 55% against. Some polls show a greater support for independence, some show it lower, but Inevitably the numbers coalesce around these now almost iconic figures. This is both reassuring and disappointing. Reassuring that the vote for independence remains pretty solid three years on but disappointing that even with the prospect of Brexit there is no evidence of a pick up of support. Intriguingly, support for a second independence referendum also consistently ranks lower than support for independence itself and we should try to understand what this tell us about optimal timing. We also have to acknowledge that we lost 21 MPs last year where opposition to an early referendum was ‘at least’ a feature.

How do we then get over the line and win? Well, I don’t believe that it is in simply offering the same perspective that lost us the last referendum. We need a new independence offering that reflects the Scotland we now live in and takes into account the new political environment that we inhabit. Most importantly it needs to be sufficiently persuasive to win over that section of our population that have hitherto been unconvinced.

There are those who suggest that there would be a pick up of support by simply calling a further referendum pointing to the experience of the last referendum when Yes was behind only to make up much of the ground in the campaign. I’m afraid that this is not a view I necessarily share. Scottish independence is now one of the most discussed issues in our nation. Before the last referendum independence was pretty much an abstract idea that most people hadn’t properly considered, now, most of our fellow Scots have pretty strong views on the subject. Offering the same prospectus, with the same arguments, is likely to produce the same result.

Then there is Brexit. Scotland didn’t vote for this disaster but it is coming our way and is a potential game changer in the prospects for independence. As Brexit hits incomes and living standards I have no doubt that the Scottish people will start to look with renewed interest at those constitutional lifeboats strapped aboard the doomed HMS Brexit UK. As Brexit hits we will want to get off this doomed liner and sail for the shores of sanity as quickly as possible. But people don’t feel that yet and Brexit is still something that is to be fully experienced. Even when we leave next March there is likely to be a transition period delaying the full impact of Brexit trauma.

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Then there is the question of the mandate. In this Parliament we do have a mandate to hold another referendum and if we begin to see evidence that the time is right it should be deployed . But we only ‘should’ hold a referendum when we are certain of winning and not hold one just because we ‘can’. If the optimum conditions are assessed to be found on the other side of a Scottish election then we should properly prepare and ensure that a mandate is once again forcefully renewed, undisputed and incontrovertible. I actually believe that it would be impossible to win a referendum if we can’t secure a mandate to hold one.

Then there are events. It is not beyond possibility that the UK Brexit project will totally implode in chaos and the ‘optimum’ time comes into play sooner rather than later. We should obviously grab that opportunity and quickly put in place a referendum. But with this scenario we’re literally talking about months and is therefore something we can not properly plan for and would be largely out of our control.

Scotland will secure its independence and we are so tantalisingly close, but we have work to do in convincing our fellow Scots who voted No last time to join us as well as uniting all Scots from both sides of the EU referendum. Setting a roadmap and plan is essential in getting us there as is striking at the optimum time for success.

LET’s SPEND BILLIONS OF POUNDS REDECORATING A PARLIAMENTARIAN’s PALACE

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    • Of all the things this House can do to endear itself to our constituents, spending billions of pounds on renovating our place of work is not one of them. In these days of austerity and tightening of belts, and with the impending economic disaster of Brexit coming our way, I would bet this would be near the bottom or at the very bottom of the public’s concerns. The sums involved are simply eye-watering—£3.6 billion rising to £5.7 billion, and that is before all the unforeseen difficulties and the additions that hon. Members will certainly want to factor in. So it is no surprise whatsoever that people are making an estimation that this could come in at a cool £10 billion to £12 billion.

      As with so many things that fundamentally impact on my constituents, I thought I would ask a few of them what they thought about these proposals. It was no surprise that they were not seen all that favourably. Mrs McLeod from Pitlochry just said curtly:

      “You must be joking”

      Mr Morrison from Errol said:

      “In these days of food banks and austerity I am sickened that they are even thinking about this”.

      Mr Mac Donald from Kinloch Rannoch just casually inquired:

      “why are you even still in that place, it’s time to come home to your own Parliament here”,

      a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly concur.

    • I will make a bit of progress and give way in a moment.

      Surprisingly, no one in my less-than-scientific survey of a few people in Perth and North Perthshire thought there were any admirable qualities in spending billions on a parliamentarian’s palace. I am pretty certain that, even if I went looking for anyone who thought there were, I would not find any in my constituency.

      Let me compare and contrast what is happening in this Chamber with what has just been happening in the Scottish Parliament, where we are setting out our budgets. We are allocating billions of pounds to socially useful programmes that will enable our citizenry. What are we doing here? We are talking about spending billions of pounds on a royal palace to accommodate Members of Parliament. Nothing could distinguish better the priorities of these two Parliaments.

      I do, however, accept that we have an issue. [Hon. Members: “ Oh really!”] Yes. Because of the decades of prevarication and indecision, this building is practically falling down. The failure of successive Government to face up to their responsibility in looking after this place means we now have a building that could, as people have said, face a catastrophic failure at any time.

      The mechanical and electrical engineering systems are already well past their use-by date and the risk of that catastrophic failure rises exponentially every five years. Some of the high-voltage cables in the building are decaying, and fire is an ever-present risk, only compounded by just how easily any fire would spread. Most worryingly, as we have heard from the Deputy Leader of the House and the Leader of the House, there is a substantial amount of asbestos in the building. Mice and other vermin are a common feature, and I have heard that some staff even have names for the mice that they frequently acquaint with on a daily basis. It is not a robin we need in this House, but a flipping big eagle to pick up some of the huge mice that kick about this place.

      The Palace of Westminster is simply falling down.

      The most important aspect that we have to consider is our responsibility for the staff who work in this place. This is a workplace for thousands of people, and we are putting them at significant risk by staying here.

    • I sympathise with some of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but it is simply untrue to say that this building is falling down. It is not. There is work that needs to be done, not least to protect staff and give them a proper place to work in, and to provide decent disabled access, but if we simply let motion 1 or motion 2 go through, we will be committing more money than if we vote for the amendment in the name of the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. That is what I fear.

    • I have an elegant solution to the difficulties and travails of this House, which is to consider making this beautiful building a tourist attraction for people from all around the world. There are immense development opportunities in this UNESCO world heritage building. Let us design and create a Parliament for the 21st century—one that will be useful for 21st-century parliamentarians—rather than try to shoehorn all this activity into a mock-gothic Victorian tourist attraction. That is what the hon. Gentleman should support this evening, not billions of pounds being spent on some parliamentarians’ palace.

    • Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

    • No, I want to make some progress.

      We have a duty of care to the staff and for their wellbeing and safety. It is therefore disappointing that the motion seeks, once again, to kick any future works into touch and to delay the decision. The simple fact is that the decision should have been made a decade ago, not kicked into touch for another Parliament to deal with. The whole story of resolving our difficulties in this House is littered with prevarication and indecision. We will not support any measure that leaves our staff here for a minute longer than is absolutely necessary. We are not prepared to have them continue to be put at risk.

      It will not come as any surprise to you, Mr Speaker, or any other Member to hear that I, as a Scottish National party Member, do not share the dewy-eyed affection and nostalgia that some Conservative Members feel towards the Palace. I love this building—it is fantastic. It is one of the truly iconic buildings in the world, and it is a real pleasure and privilege to see this place as I walk into it, but I have to concede that I could probably discharge my responsibilities as a Member of Parliament from somewhere else. I think I would just about manage. On the distant date when all these works may be completed, I and my Scottish colleagues will be well gone from this place. We will be sitting in our own independent Parliament in Scotland, considering the issues that all normal states have to deal with. Probably, when all this is concluded, the first colony on Mars will be thinking about independence.

      When I look at this building, its stunning architecture and the condition it is in, I see it as a sad metaphor for Brexitised Britain: dilapidated, falling to bits around our ears, generally unloved and in need of a lot of attention and support. Does not that just sum up where this nation is?

    • Is it not the case that it would take a crowbar and a pint of Irn Bru to wrestle my honourable cousin from Scotland from this place—that he actually loves it here? [Laughter.]

    • The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) may be seeking to recover his composure—I certainly did not exhort him to resume his seat. We want him on his feet so that we can hear him continue.

    • I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. I will enjoy a refreshing cup of Irn Bru with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) any time, but on his substantive point, I assure him that I cannot wait to get away from this place and for my nation to take control of all its own affairs.

    • Is it true that there are only 22 voters in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency who separate him from fulfilling his wish?

    • Yet again, there is a cunning plan in place, because a precedent has been set. If I, for whatever reason that I cannot foresee, was less than successful in the next election, defeated Members for Perth and North Perthshire are simply given a peerage in the House of Lords.

      We have proposed a sensible approach to the current issues facing this House. There is nothing wrong with considering a new-build Parliament off site. It is deeply disappointing and depressing that when that was sensibly presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) to the Joint Committee, it was rejected out of hand and did not even get the time of day as a proposal. Is that not absolutely shocking? It was a failure of true diligence of this House to consider all available options—just rejected immediately. It would have been a solution. Just imagine developers lining up to get a share of this place, a UNESCO site; just imagine what they could do. We are trying to shoehorn a Parliament into this mock Gothic building. We need a 21st century Parliament designed with all the features that we require as 21st century parliamentarians to do our job, and that cannot be achieved on this site without decades of work and billions and billions of pounds.

      That brings me to amendment (b) to motion 2. This is really, really important. For goodness’ sake let us at least end the useless tradition that actively eats into our productivity as Members of Parliament and restore electronic voting in whatever approach we pursue. [Interruption.] Another proposal that has gone down particularly well with my Conservative friends! We waste days of parliamentary time just stuck in the packed voting Lobby, waiting to make that simple binary choice of yes or no.

    • I am conscious that I am probably one of the few Members who have taken part in the debate so far who was actually only elected in 2017, but one thing that struck me when I got here was going to the education centre and the bemused look on the children’s faces when I explained to them that to vote in this place, I have to walk through doors, yet in the education centre, the kids get to vote by electronic keypads.

    • As my hon. Friend will remember, only two weeks ago, we wasted up to two hours on voting in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. We could have been debating, legislating or taking up issues on behalf of our constituents. WebRoots Democracy came up with a report today that said that one month—one month—was lost on voting in the Parliament between 2010 and 2015, at the cost of £3.5 million in Members’ time. This nonsense has to end.

    • On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is presupposing that a month was lost in voting in the House of Commons. Do you have any information as to how much of that month was taken up by voting on SNP amendments?

    • That is not a matter on which I have taxed my mind, and I do not think that I am required to do so, but I have known the right hon. Gentleman since we first jousted together in 1983 at a half-yearly Federation of Conservative Students conference, and I knew his puckish grin then and I know it now. He has made his own point in his own way and we will leave it there.

    • It is a puckish grin with which I am also familiar. All I want to do is assist hon. Members in this House: help us in our campaign to reclaim our time so that we can properly spend the time debating and looking after our constituents—[Interruption.] Yes, take back control, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) says.

  • On that very issue, how can I resist the hon. Gentleman?

  • I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He says that time in the Division Lobby is wasted. On the Conservative Benches, we find it quite useful talking to our friends and colleagues. Is that not true in the SNP?

  • I do not know how much of a blessing it is to Front Benchers when hon. Members get backstage and buttonhole them. And this is what we get—the shrieks of, “Oh, we need to meet up with our ministerial colleagues in the Lobby.” But that prerogative is exclusively the right of Conservative Members. I do not detect many Government Ministers, as we spend most of our time voting with Labour, and I am pretty damned certain that no Labour Members have encountered a Government Minister in their Lobby over the course of these years. The Conservative Members may have that right, but it is a right that is not open to the rest of us.

    I will help Conservatives Members with this one: we could have electronic voting that we would have to do in the vicinity of the Chamber. We would all have to come here and we would get some sort of device, because the technological solution would be to press a button that is handed out to us. We would all be here, so if hon. Members wanted to speak to Ministers or talk to the Leader of the House about a particular issue, they could just go up to them and say, “Hello, Leader of the House. Can I have a word with you please?” None of that would be stopped.

  • Will the hon. Gentleman just clarify that he is saying that we should have individual desks?

  • A number of solutions have been designed in Parliaments around the world. In some Parliaments, that solution may include desks. What I am suggesting is a technological solution, whereby we would come to the Chamber and press a button to vote. We could vote on anybody’s proposal and time would not be wasted.

  • I have served in the Scottish Parliament, which uses electronic voting. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an issue—I saw this a number of times—with SNP MSPs who incorrectly press the wrong button?

  • Let me use the hon. Gentleman as an example. Sometimes he is not even there to vote on these issues because he is away refereeing football games, earning thousands of pounds, so it is really good to see him in his place today, prepared to vote.

  • According to the Public Whip website, in the last full five-year Parliament, the hon. Gentleman voted in only 49.9% of votes. Does he want an electronic system so that he can boost his own record without doing any real work?

  • I do not know quite what the hon. Gentleman misses when it comes to these sorts of issues. I vote for issues that are reserved here in this Parliament and this House. Conservative Members are trying to stop me from voting, through English votes for English laws, so we are in a situation where these particular difficulties exist in the House.

JUNE 8TH/9TH 2017

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As my son Brodie hands me the last soggy knock up list from Bute Drive in North Muirton we knew we had made an extraordinary effort. We had completed two sweeps across the city and everybody we now knocked up had been out to vote.

It was 8.45pm and we were soaked to the skin all over again. A horn peeps and through the gloom I see John Swinney pulling in to finish the last of his list. Further round the corner I see a team down from Dunkeld. Three teams out in one little corner of Perth demonstrated our commitment to get out the vote.

It had been a miserable day. It started raining in Perth at about 10.30am and it rained all day until about 9 o clock in the evening. It had in fact been a miserable 7 weeks and from the minute the election had been called I knew that I was up against it with daily predictions from the press and Conservatives that I was going to lose my seat. Knowing we were in the fight of our lives the local party responded magnificently and there was more canvassing in Perth and North Perthshire than any other constituency in Scotland. We took the threat to holding the seat extremely seriously and organised a campaign barely seen since we first won over 20 years ago. We had just lost control of the council on a massive swing to the Tories and if the swing against John Swinney in last years Scottish elections is repeated my majority has gone. To win we would have to do things differently, call in help and use my incumbency for every vote it was worth.

In the morning I cast my vote around 9am and turnout had been brisk in Craigie Church. P&NP always has a high turnout and today a high turnout would be more important than ever. We calculated that I would need a minimum of 42% of the vote to win calculating the Tories would come in over 40% and the others fighting it out for the remaining 15%. In 2015 I had secured 50% of the vote and a nine and a half thousand majority. There was absolutely no chance that a victory on that scale would be repeated today. Today, I would settle for any sort of victory.

Almost cursing the rain I head to the office for the start of a day of doing nothing other than knocking people up and getting them out. The first thing I notice was just how busy the office is. The local party had responded to the call that the knock up was going to be extremely important and it was organised on an almost military scale. Colleagues were coming in from Dundee and elsewhere and the persistent rain was almost forgotten. In the last week of the campaign I had spent nearly all of my time going from door to door talking to people we had identified as moving away from us trying to persuade them to stick with us one more time. Today it was all about the areas where our vote was traditionally strong and just getting them out.

It has been a tough, miserable campaign fought under the most unfavourable of conditions. If you could pick a date for an election that had found us at our most vulnerable, today would just about be that day.

The Conservative campaign was exclusively about opposing a second independence referendum and it had chimed with the weariness that was abound following two big constitutional choices. Meanwhile our campaign had barely got off the ground and we had failed to shift the campaign on to Westminster issues. Where the rest of the UK was moving away from the Tories because of the shambles of their manifesto and the chaotic way Theresa May was leading the campaign, the election in Scotland (when not about a second referendum) was about the performance of a Scottish Government, unprepared and entering mid term territory.

I call it a day at about 9.30pm and head home in plenty of time for the exit poll due at 10pm. I actually feel quite positive and know that we have fought an incredible campaign and if the national swing against the SNP can be restricted to 8%, I can do it.

The 10pm news begins and I just could not believe what I was hearing.

The SNP was to lose 22 seats, worse than anything predicted and almost certainly meaning that I was out. I was fourth in line to go on a uniform swing to the Tories and there just did not seem any way that I could survive with the size of the Tory wave predicted to engulf us. I even start to pen my concession speech and inevitably start to watch the election coverage. In the studio Perthshire list Tory MSPs Murdo Fraser and Liz Smith are talking about ‘hearing good things from Perth’ and it was a ‘99% certainty’ that the seat would be taken by the Tories.

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Having lost 6 Perthshire constituency contests in a row I secretly prayed that Murdo Fraser would be selected for the Tories for this election but was disappointed when they instead selected the cerebral, if slightly odd, Perthshire born MEP, Ian Duncan. The Tories crafted this strange working class man of the people persona around Ian which jarred entirely with how he came across on the doorstep. We duly ignored him denying him any publicity from us. In the end, regardless of the best efforts of the Scottish press to big him up, very few people in P&NP knew who he was. Ian was smart enough to keep Murdo Fraser at a distance presumably observing just how toxic he was to his cause. Throughout the night Murdo is true to form with a series of crass and antagonistic social media contributions.

I was now as ready as I could be to face what seemed like certain defeat. In fact I had always prepared myself for defeat knowing the scale of the task in front of me. With the exit poll I almost feel relief that I will no longer have to constantly work out election scenarios in my head. I decide that I wouldn’t go down to the count until the last possible minute as I couldn’t bear facing joyful Tories enjoying the prospect of winning the seat I had represented for 16 years.

Then…..

Then I get a phone call from John Swinney who is down at the count. He asks me how I usually do at the Gospel Hall in Letham? I say we usually win there with about 60% of the vote. John says he is seeing ballot box samples which suggests I’ve got that. He then asks how I usually do at Tulloch and again John tells me that I’m roughly in the same terrain as previous elections. John says he is seeing ballot box samples and I am ahead in most of them. Even in the rural areas I’m slightly ahead or just slightly behind.

Could I dare believe? It was like being shredded all over again and I didn’t know if I could go through the torment of thinking I could now win only to be disappointed once more.

Sara, Brodie and I decide it’s a good idea just to get out the house and we drive around Perth before deciding we were hungry stopping off at Tesco for pizzas which we brought back, heated up, but barely touched. John was constantly on the phone with updates and it seemed it was turning away again as ballot boxes form smaller rural communities started to add up. John was actually starting to apologise for getting my hopes up, as if he ever needed to. John Swinney is an electoral force of nature, with incredible instincts, whose advice and friendship helped me endure the last 7 weeks of misery. He was always there for me with advice and encouragement and the way he threw himself into the campaign encouraged everybody else.

At about 1am I get the call that the verification is done and the result wouldn’t be far away. I prepare myself and grab all the things that I thought had been lucky totems. Sara, Brodie and I conclude that it isn’t going to happen but we should be proud that we had run them damn close. I get down to the count and the demeanour of the Tories is something else and gives me some encouragement again. I think it just suddenly dawned on them that they might not actually win this after all. Where we are experts in ballot box sampling the Perthshire Tories are singularly useless and so often never have a clue what’s going on until the votes are stacked up.

Looking at the votes sitting in these perspex boxes you just couldn’t tell who was in the lead. We had decided that if we were beat by anything below 200 votes we would call for a recount.

Then it was time. The returning officer calls candidates and agents down. Sara gives me a big hug and I head down to what now looks like a very imposing table. In a daze, incredibly big numbers are read out, which to me seem to be exactly the same. In my confusion I thought I had lost and started to walk away and it took my election agent, Andrew Parrott, to convince me I had in fact won. 36 votes was what was between us and the Tories and they call for a recount which we couldn’t possibly resist.

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I was utterly and totally elated barely able to comprehend that after all I had been through I had won. In the periphery of the evening I was of course aware of results elsewhere and that colleagues and friends such as Angus, Alex and Mike were in trouble. If we had managed to win here it would have been truly extraordinary.

But there was still the matter of the recount. We tried to convince ourselves that recounts very rarely reverse the original result and it should be alright. Then the recount is in and we’re down to 21 votes. 15 votes had been lost and I almost feel sick as the Tories call for another recount. Will this ever end?

The wait for the second recount is therefore a lot more of a tense affair than the first one. After what felt like an eternity the second recount was concluded and it was 21 votes again. It was all over and the Tories conceded. By this point I was something approaching a barely twitching wreck.

I hadn’t prepared any victory speech but I went to the rostrum and just thanked everybody promising to track down the 21 souls that had made the difference. Over the next few days I learned of some extraordinary efforts of people who had voted for me claiming that it was they who had got me over the line. I was happy to accept all such representations.

I had got 42.3% of the vote and secured 21,804 votes making it the biggest SNP vote in any constituency in Scotland. It was also the second biggest vote in numbers and percentage share that I had secured in the 5 elections I had contested. There had been a swing against us but we had restricted it to just over 8%. It was simply an amazing result given what had happened elsewhere.

We eventually get home exhausted but exhilarated still wondering how on earth we had done it. This was my fifth victory and even if it was the narrowest, it was the sweetest. At home we observe the full scale of our losses and were amazed at how accurate the exit poll was. We were the seat that deprived them of their prediction being spot on. We had lost some very talented people and the scale of the Tory swing had even extended to places like Ayr and Stirling. Our failure to get our vote out elsewhere had also meant that Labour had taken 6 seats from us, surprising them as much as us.

Theresa May had been deprived of her majority and her bad judgement of calling this election would now be her total and exclusive responsibility. It had been seven weeks of electoral hell and no-one had won this election. Heading for bed the only thing I was thinking was, thank god, hoping we never have to go through a contest like this, ever again.

 

 

 

SCOTTISH TORY MPs ARE NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS…

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It’s now over six months since we’ve had Scottish Conservative MPs as a feature of the House of Commons. You’ll remember how they were going to be a distinctive voice for Scotland always putting the Scottish interest first. They were ‘Ruth’s’ Tories prepared to bravely defy their Westminster whips if it was in Scotland’s interest. Maybe it would then be an opportunity to check in and ask how these most curious and enigmatic of Scottish political creatures have got on with this selfless political task?

Well, the truth is they have been nothing other than Scottish lobby fodder for Theresa May and are amongst the most enthusiastic cheer leaders of this chaotic and haphazard Government.

They have trooped through the lobbies supporting a series of measures imposing the hardest of Brexits on Scotland threatening our devolution settlement. They have been enthusiastic backers of the £1.5 billion DUP bung. On Scotland’s behalf they have ensured that Universal Credit and WASPI are administered in their cruelest and most vindictive of forms. If these are Scottish Tories looking after the Scottish interest god help us if we ever secured ones that wanted to see Scotland given a further kick-in by the UK Tories…

They seem to spend all their time bravely holding the UK Government to account on behalf of their constituents by, ehm, asking questions about a Scottish Government 500 miles away! Some of their number, so desperate to desert the Scottish Parliament, have even travelled all the way to London to ask questions of Nicola Sturgeon. Being pulled up by a succession of Deputy Speakers, the Scottish Tories are observed with a ‘what on earth are they on about’ bewilderment from everyone across the chamber from them? Meanwhile turning up for important debates on issues in which they have responsibility such as seasonal workers on our farms ranks a poor second in scoring debating points about the ‘essenpee’ in Edinburgh.

Noticing how embarrassing they have become the Government have had to take ingenious steps to give them some sort of purpose and ‘credibilty’. Laughingly, it is their ‘representations’ that have saved the oil and gas industry, frozen duty on Scotch whisky and eradicated VAT on police and fire services. Next week it will be the Scottish Tories who will have been responsible for securing world peace, inventing leprechauns and winning the Battle of Bannockburn! They almost seem to delusionaly believe the nonsense that it is they who are singularly responsible for these ‘achievements’ repeatedly tweeting photos of themselves sitting with some distracted and bored UK Minister, or other.

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The problem for the Scottish Conservatives is that they were elected as the ‘Ruth Davidson says no to a second referendum party’ and had no real idea what they were going to do when they got to Westminster. The whips were never going to let them operate as a distinctive group particularly when the Conservatives are a minority Government. Watching the former Tory Chief Whip apply the thumb screws to one of their number who dared to think for himself on Brexit was beyond embarrassing and cringeworthy. They are simply Theresa’s Scottish Tories expected to ask ‘how high’ when asked to jump on her behalf.

The Scottish Conservatives are now dropping like a stone in Scottish Westminster opinion polls and are now back firmly in third place. I reckon that a lot of this decline is down to their constituents observing the performance of their MPs in Parliament and deciding what a dreadful mistake they’ve made. Scotland needs champions who will take on this government and defend their communities. Instead in large swathes of Scotland they have got nothing other than the most obedient and supine of lobby fodder for one of the most disastrous Governments in recent political history.

This is Pete Wishart’s article for next edition of the Scot’s Independent. Available monthly.

 

TOWARDS AN INDEPENDENCE 2.0

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WITH all the many things said about the anniversary of the referendum it’s hard to believe that the case for independence was crafted some five years ago. Scotland’s Future, or just simply the white paper, now seems to belong to an altogether different political era. Since the white paper there have been two General Elections and a UK vote to leave the European Union. What we now need is a new programme for independence, an independence 2.0, a new blueprint for an independent Scotland.

Scotland in 2017 is an altogether different country from the time of the white paper. This year’s General Election found Scotland apparently weary of constitutional change but at the same time restless for solutions. We saw the Tories’ Unionist campaign opposing a second independence referendum resonate with many of our fellow Scots. We also saw the SNP lose almost half a million votes as our vote came under assault on a number of fronts as Scotland’s political mood became almost impossible to predict

Yet support for independence remains at around 45 per cent, defiantly the same as the 2014 referendum. There are still almost half of our fellow Scots who believe independence is the ultimate destination for our nation and there is no sense that desire for self-government is diminishing.

This is a constituency that urgently requires reassurance and who we need to address and refresh. We need to offer a new prospectus that will re-motivate and inspire. These are people looking for a new way forward for their constitutional ambitions and who are looking to the Scottish National Party to signpost the way to that destination.

We also now know that this is a fragile constituency that can not be taken for granted. We lost a third of our Westminster MPs just as much because independence supporters decided to stay at home, uninspired by what they saw as an agenda that did not meet their constitutional ambitions.

Where we must start is with the realities of Brexit. Brexit will be an absolute disaster for Scotland, cutting average pay by £2000 and resulting in the loss of 80 000 jobs. When the reality of this folly finally becomes apparent, the Scottish people will almost certainly want to fully review and consider all their available constitutional options. The Tories are doing everything possible to uncouple Brexit from a further referendum on independence and that is why we in turn must do everything possible to ensure that connection is seen and felt. As the good ship UK fully collides with that Brexit iceberg, we must make that lifeboat available for Scotland and have it fully equipped and seaworthy.

The first thing we therefore need for Independence 2.0 is a credible post-Brexit vision for an independent Scotland. We will always be a European-inclined nation and the desire to be a full member of the EU must always be our ambition. But we have to carefully craft a road map to match that ambition which realistically reflects the position we will find ourselves in. We also need to be sensitive to the many people in Scotland (including the many SNP supporters) who remain suspicious of the whole EU project.

We need a graduated approach, starting with institutions we can apply to join on day one of our independence. We should say that we would seek immediate entry to the EEA and EFTA while starting discussions about a return to the European Union. We should also say that our membership of any European multi-lateral institution will be kept under review in any ascent up that stairway to full European Union membership.

There are other things we must address as urgent major chapters in Independence 2.0. The fiscal commission is due to report soon and that will hopefully address some of the issues concerning our onshore economy and the still potent issue of the currency in an independent Scotland. So much time and energy was spent addressing currency in the last referendum that we must never again allow the Unionists to hold the whip hand on what we may or may not be “allowed” as an independent nation.

In a post-Brexit UK our land border is likely to replace currency as the top of the ‘we’re not going to let you do that’ list. A Brexitised UK will have the full ability to determine any future border relationship, and is likely to be as unhelpful as possible in how it engages in these conversations. We have to prepare ourselves with solutions for when the UK assumes its isolation and uses borders as political muscle to oppose our independence.

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Then there is how we get there, and I notice the impatience of some to have this tested as quickly as possible. Timing is everything and we must seek the optimal time for success, carefully assessing opportunity against risk.

We must also have an unquestionable mandate. This time round the Tory Government is less likely to be so accommodating in granting the same democratic arrangements we secured last time.

This means contesting the next Scottish election with a clear commitment to revisit our constitutional future with a reference to allow Scotland to consider its position when Brexit finally concludes. With transitional arrangements in place, it is likely that the full impact of Brexit will start to become apparent just as we start to contest the 2021 election. We therefore have to seek a renewed mandate in 2021 and have the courage of our convictions to fight the next Scottish election on securing a renewed referendum mandate.

More than anything we need a new case. An Independence 2.0. A properly thought out, considered programme for independence in the 2020s. Independence 2.0 must be positive and realistic, with a strong powerful vision of what we want to contribute internationally predicated on the best inclusive, social democratic traditions of our nation.

We need to demonstrate what we can achieve with the full powers of self Government.

Let’s put the case together and then go out and claim the main prize, a nation of our own.

ME AND JEREMY CORBYN

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I remember the good old days when a small group of MPs were the front line in Parliamentary opposition to Blairite Labour. There were the 6 SNP MPs, 3 Plaid, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, latterly Caroline Lucas and the rest of the small band of Labour Campaign Group MPs. Where we never operated as a group we were a sort of a nascent, embryonic ‘progressive alliance’ that conjured up the possibilities of securing a progressive agenda across the UK

Together as comrades we opposed Trident, ID cards, 90 days detention and the rest of the horrors of Blair’s anti-civil libertarian state. We railed against Labour’s foundation hospitals, tuition fees and that totem of high Blairism – the Iraq war. I have probably voted more with Jeremy and John over the years than Jeremy’s current deputy leader and the vast majority of former Scottish MPs. The SNP’s constitutional agenda was never a feature in how we operated. Our Labour comrades knew next to nothing about it and cared even less. I sometimes wonder whatever happened to all those involved in our little group and how they’ve fared since…?

I was our Chief Whip during this period and I regularly observed the Labour whips not even bothering to try and persuade Jeremy and John to support them. They were beyond their control and were dismissed with a ‘well, that’s just them’ shrug of the shoulders. Now Jeremy and John run the Labour Party and people chant Jeremy’s name before he gets up to speak. Knowing my old comrade I sense his discomfort at all the adulation and his embarrassment at all the attention.

The Corbyn surge has been a true political phenomenon that nobody predicted and no-one as yet fully understands. Jeremy is an unlikely working class hero and his shambling, self conscious geography teacher persona is probably a main feature of his appeal. He is the antithesis of the stereotypical traditional hard left leader. He and, say for instance, Tommy Sheridan, couldn’t be further apart. Jeremy speaks to you politely, almost apologetically, rather than trying to carry you away in a verbal sea of rhetoric. It’s hard not to like Jeremy and I’m almost disappointed that our old band has disbanded and has gone its own ways.

When Jeremy assumed the Labour leadership I suppose, like most, I presumed it would be short lived and the Labour establishment would soon be back. But instead Jeremy has become the Labour establishment and his victory over the old Blairites is almost totally complete. Only in Parliament is there an opposition to his leadership and that is pretty much reduced to the condition that Jeremy used to find himself in those far off days.

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Was there ever any chance of our old band’s vision of some sort of ‘progressive alliance’ surviving Jeremy’s elevation? Well, that probably went the day the briefing from Scottish Labour arrived on the new leader’s desk. Tribal, and overwhelmingly hostile to anything to do with the SNP that briefing first inclusion would have probably been something along the lines of ‘under no circumstances ever work with the SNP’. The rest would have detailed all our plans to ‘break up Britain’ and their favourite ‘they are not a left wing party’. I could imagine Jeremy’s confusion trying to square all of this with his own experience of working with the SNP, noting that it was in fact Scottish Labour MPs who were in the opposite voting lobbies. Leaving Scotland in the hands of a chaotic Scottish Labour Party signalled that nothing would change in Labour/SNP relations.

Now Labour are predicting a comeback in Scotland having won 6 seats back from the 40 lost. Observing their current leadership contest this looks like so much wishful thinking. Scottish Labour remain on the wrong side of Scotland’s constitutional divide and their enthusiasm for Corbynism is at best embarrassingly skin deep having set itself so defiantly against it over the past few years.

Having become the establishment Jeremy is also curiously starting to behave like a fully paid up member of it. High Corbynism has probably passed already as the tensions over Brexit and worries such as ‘runs on the pound’ become the realities and the difficult compromises creep in. Jeremy was always going to be a better oppositionalist than establishment figure but it is quite amazing watching this new empire rise and fall.