AND so, the hurly burly’s done, the EU election is lost, and in the SNP’s case, won, and emphatically at that. I have been behind in writing this column but I hope I have a good excuse! I would like to thank everyone, from the SNP and the Yes movement, The National itself and folks of all politics and those who contributed to the SNP’s best European election result ever.
First published in The National, 1 June 2019
It has always been a frustration that I have largely kept to myself, that the European elections have never been anyone’s main event. Independence in Europe is crucial to the SNP’s proposition and should have always be our turf, our election, but it would be difficult to say it was top of the agenda before. Well this one was. Despite, perhaps because of, the strange situation of the campaign the party rose to the occasion and I was blown away by the commitment and enthusiasm nationwide.
Not only that, our opponents melted away, we were the only ones on the street. The candidates were fantastic, I’ll walk on coals for each and every one. Margaret Ferrier, Heather Anderson and Alex Kerr all emerge from this campaign with massively enhanced reputations and a proven commitment to the cause.
My new colleagues Christian Allard and Aileen McLeod have already hit the ground running in Brussels and I am sure are going to be stellar. Aileen of course worked with me from 2004 to 2009 so already knows her way around the building and has a clear plan of what she wants to achieve, French national Christian has already been dubbed “M’sieur Ecosse” and I could see it sticking!
That Scotland and the SNP care so much about being a welcoming and inclusive place for New Scots that we sent one to represent us in Brussels warms my heart and I’m not the only one. Just by being who we are, we’re making waves in Brussels.
The SNP headquarters team were to a man and woman fantastic. Sue Ruddick, Jennie Gollan, Lorraine Reid, Erik Geddes, and our unflappable first class chief executive Peter Murrell and campaign director and depute leader Keith Brown were all, along with many others, a constant support.
We had all the resources we could have asked for and we gave the party the campaign I have always wanted to give.
My own team, Clyn Gallagher, Laura Rayner, Dr Adam Marks, Ciaràn Carey and Patrick Robertshaw all swung in, in their own time. Not everyone reads manifestos but ours was (I’m biased I know but still) the best of any party in these islands.
We had in Nicola Sturgeon the best leader we could have hoped for. She was and remains pitch perfect. She believes in independence in Europe and it shows.
And the people of Scotland came to us in droves. Of course, I’m conscious turnout was not what it could have been. There is a scunner factor with politics and politicians generally but by and large I did not find this attaching to us, quite the reverse. I had messages of support from Tories, Labour folks and others genuinely enthusiastic to say they were voting SNP for the first time.
By sticking to our principles and being true to our values we won people round. Every council area except Orkney and Shetland, was won by the SNP.
Every SNP branch on the mainland and Western Isles (and Orkney and Shetland too come to that) now has a “the result here last time” map and bar chart that we can build upon. Every council in Scotland was won by a clearly Remain Party. Scotland voted Remain, again.
And for those anti-EU folks who could not bring themselves to vote for us, fair enough, I get it. I absolutely acknowledge that there are people in the independence movement who do not want to be in the EU, and I respect that. In my experience on the doorstep up and down the country, most of these folks are still with us on independence, and still support the party in other elections. I won’t take it personally.
But, perhaps Jim Sillars and Gerry Fisher who felt the need to tell the world they weren’t voting SNP may at some point explain how a Tory-run Brexit disaster inflicted on us from Westminster is in any sense a better future for the people we serve or indeed a better backdrop for an independence campaign.
We won people over by being clearly pro-EU, and we’ll win even more by sticking to that course given Scotland’s clearly pro-EU sentiment. If you fancy lining up with the Brexit Party and the Tories – you’re on your own gents.
And to our opponents, indeed in some cases colleagues. I’ve made no secret that I’m sad to see David Martin leave the European Parliament in these circumstances, I would trade him for a thousand Brexit Party candidates any day of the week. He had planned to retire so the fact he stood at all to play for the jersey is a credit to him and he deserved better from his party.
He joined with me and others as a fully paid up member of the Scottish Six Article 50 court case against the UK Government. He enthusiastically joined the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe and worked hand in glove with the SNP government to defend Scotland’s, and the UK’s, place in Europe.
He didn’t need to do any of that and deserves much credit for doing so. I hope he is not lost to Scottish politics. Catherine Stihler likewise put in a real shift for Scotland and I wish them both well in whatever comes next.
So a great few weeks. People are asking what comes next on Brexit and I’ll confess I don’t know, and have given up the predictions business. But we do know Scotland voted for Europe, we do know the Westminster parties are in open shambolic disarray, and we do know Scotland deserves better.