I’m the best candidate to win Stirling from the Tories

SO the news is out, I am indeed seeking the nomination for Stirling constituency for the Westminster election if the local SNP members will have me. There has been lot of uncertainty in my life but I’ve reached the view over the last few years that the big argument on Scotland in Europe that we need to win is not in fact in Brussels, nor Scotland, but the place where the problem is – Westminster.

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First published in The National, 11 September 2019

I’ve had the immense privilege of representing Scotland in Europe for 15 years, since 2004, and in the recent European election led our candidates to our best ever result in a European election, winning three out of six seats. I’ve built up a network of friends and allies brimming with goodwill for Scotland, ready for when the time comes. My commitment to independence in Europe is absolute, so why try for Westminster? Because that’s where the fight is and we’ll win that fight by having fewer Tories. I’m heartily sick of watching from a distance as they decide my and all of our fate. I want to get in about them.

If, as we hope, Brexit is extended beyond October 31, then MEPs continue, and I’m on a list so our next-placed candidate, the redoubtable Margaret Ferrier, replaces me if I’m elected in Stirling and the SNP’s representation in Brussels remains the same.

I think I’m the best candidate to win Stirling. I’ve passed my vetting, so have been approved by the party as a candidate and am ready to go. We should also not kid ourselves – it will be a tough one. We need to make sure we have candidates in place with a track record of winning.

The hard fact of the matter is, in Stirling constituency between 2015 and 2017 we lost 5640 votes. I’ve a plan to reverse that loss and win them back. Forgive me if I don’t share it with the opposition here, but I’m putting the local campaign teams together now and we’re focused on winning and winning well. If you’re an SNP member in Stirling, come along and get involved. There’s plenty work to do.

Stirling is a jewel-in-the-crown constituency. It’s not Central Belt nor North or South, nor East nor West. Scotland’s ancient capital has a huge rural hinterland, a world-class university and a better castle than Edinburgh. It is the heart of Scotland and I want to put it on the map at Westminster in a way it has not been to date.

I’ve represented it (along with the rest of Scotland) since 2004, know it well and have a great relationship with Bruce Crawford MSP and the local organisation. I’ve been on the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee since 2007 and won the Scottish Farmer Outstanding Contribution to Agriculture Award – I was on the front page of the Scottish Farmer last week.

How we treat our land, feed our animals and ourselves is fundamental to how Scotland looks and how we feel about ourselves. I can talk farming, and the Tories are telling Scotland’s farmers stories. Even last week they disgracefully tried to claim credit for a reversal of their own policy to grab £180 million of EU cash they themselves withheld, like a bully expecting applause for relenting. Scots farmers are wise to the Tories’ cynical games and I can hold them to account.

Previously, I was on the Industry, Research and Energy Committee, designing the EU funding frameworks that have been so crucial for Scotland’s universities, and the Erasmus programme so vital in bringing EU students and academics here and opening opportunities for our students across an entire continent. I can talk to academics. I’ll be at the Stirling University freshers’ fair today with our Stirling University Student Nationalists (SUSNA) recruiting the next generation. SUSNA is going great under their president Lloyd Melville and put in a great shift in the Shetland by-election.

Stirling has become a hotbed of Brexit resistance, with Stirling For Europe out and about most weeks working with all parties and none. There was a massive vote to remain – 67.7% – and I can speak to that audience. Equally, we should be mindful of the independence vote in 2014, where Stirling voted 59.8% No. There’s a respectful dialogue to be had there to reassure and win people over, to make sure that they see independence not as a threat but as an opportunity to build the sort of city, region and nation we want to be. I’m good at that.

And if I am selected and if I do win, the coming arguments at Westminster are going to be crucial for independence.

I take 15 years’ experience at the heart of Europe’s democracy with me, at a time when Westminster will be dominated by the European question, whatever happens.

The arguments over the right to hold an independence referendum; the economic and societal turmoil if Brexit happens, and the line-by-line negotiations as the Tories struggle to work out the future relationship with the EU are all of huge importance to Scotland.

I’ll go through them like a dose of salts. I can pin the Tories down on just how they are limiting the life chances of every Scot, and why independence in Europe will be more clearly than ever the way out.

I can bring a lot to those discussions, and I’ve been heartened by the warm response to my candidacy from our MP team.

These are exciting times, uncertain times, and I’m proud to be part of an SNP team that has proven itself to be serious, considered, grown up and responsible. People who were previously unconvinced by us are liking what we’re doing. We’re winning the arguments at a time when Westminster is collapsing into not just chaos but potentially autocracy as well.

There’s a lot to fight and a lot to win. My commitment to independence in Europe is absolute, but I think I can do more for the cause as the next MP for Stirling.

I hope the local party will back me.