The European Question is going to be the defining attribute of politics in the coming years, and I believe it could unlock our independence.
First published in The National, 13 September 2016
Now is not the time for Buggin’s turn politics as usual. At home, everyone will be talking Brexit. Remain or Leave, Yes or No, it is going to affect us all.
It is going to throw into sharp relief what Better Together actually means: Being part of a Bargain Basement Brexit Britain, a backward looking little place run by Tories we didn’t vote for trying to turn it into a place with the tax status and public services of Delaware and the labour laws of Bangladesh. Note the use of the future tense there.
I am astounded at the commentary and attitudes in some quarters that Brexit is somehow all proceeding well and nothing has really changed.
Of course this is far from the case; nothing has happened yet.
I did a charity skydive earlier in the year. In the moments after exiting the plane indeed not much happens.
It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the landing. Scotland is working hard on a parachute.
A number of people in Scotland did vote to Leave, on the basis of specific promises. They are going to be cruelly disappointed. As Scotland’s fishermen are betrayed by Westminster; as Scotland’s farmers are hung out to dry; as the much vaunted promise of £350million to the NHS is ditched; as a proper picture of what Brexit actually means emerges from the fog ... just watch the people of Scotland come round to the SNP and independence.
I want to get the best deal we can, and I will be out there fighting, but the UK is going to have to make concessions to 27 other states.
For the first time the UK will, publicly, prove to us that UK interests are different to the interests of the people of Scotland.
One of the keys to unlocking independence we did not have in 2014 was public support from other EU states.
We did not have that because we did not prepare the ground across the European capitals.
We tried, in parts. I well remember the banter at how I was the minister for "No-Votes TV", with overseas media not worth doing to get votes, and all that mattered was domestic affairs.
We did not do enough. We spoke to the world from London via the London media and London Embassies. They looked at us with London’s eyes.
We have the party’s A Team focused on the EU right now. But if a Forth Bridge breaks or a C. diff outbreak occurs, that focus will move on. That’s how government work; events dear boy, events.
We need someone who can keep up that focus, that heavy lifting.
I’ve shown you what I can deliver in Brussels. I can be an ambassador for our leader and our party across the EU, and continue the discussion domestically as well up and down the country.
My job is Scotland in Europe, and my constituency duties are speaking about Europe in Scotland. I’m not tied to any constituency or ward. I can, as I always have, travel the country to work with and for the grassroots.
And then there are the domestic aspects of being the Party’s Depute. Whatever the leader and the cause need. We need to maintain focus on the European Question, but we also do need to change how we work as a party.
The EU referendum campaign and recent council by elections prove we can do better. There is a growing feeling within the party that “steady as she goes” is not going to cut it. I’ve been a member of the NEC for 12 years but I’m assuredly not party establishment, and I do think change is needed.
We can fix it, we have the best practice, the people and the enthusiasm in spades, for now. I have put forward proportionate, workable, necessary changes which will go a long way to help. More staff at HQ, we have a great team and we need more. We need to reinvigorate the National Assembly to discuss (not decide) new policy ideas and reach out to the expertise within the party. Recreate paid organisers, starting in Glasgow where a plan and a clear need exist, rolling out a network as regions identify a need and make a financial case. Establish a Yes hotline at HQ to support the wider Yes movement. We’re on the same side and the SNP will lead whatever is in Scotland’s future. Current office bearers are there to make the system work, I can be a Depute who can let the government get on with governing, and do the heavy lifting for the party at home, and for Scotland in the world.
And the optics work. By ranking me first, we send an important message at an important time. We can prove we choose Europe as our future, and Westminster is our past.