Q&A with SNP depute leader candidate Councillor Chris McEleny
Holyrood asked the four candidates for depute leader of the SNP for their views on some key issues for the party
What sets you apart from the other candidates for depute leader?
Chris McEleny: I want to transform the way people are involved in Scotland by putting emphasis on local communities across the country. All of the other candidates are parliamentarians, which I think gives me a unique position as a local councillor, as I'm on the ground every single day and don't need to travel to a London parliament or to Europe.
I think that a new focus on the role local government has to play in improving people's lives will be essential to empowering local communities to take more control of the decisions that impact upon them.
How do you keep all those members engaged and active?
CM: The first key point is that not every member will be active. Many are happy to support the cause and we should always value to opportunity that gives us to campaign better.
However, with mass membership must come mass participation. Party members need to feel confident that their voices are heard. Therefore, we need to do more at raising awareness of the structures within the party so that people have the confidence to use them to shape the party. The independence movement should set our political direction not follow it.
How do you strike the right balance between having policy debate within the party, but not having splits and division?
CM: We are a democratic party. I have the confidence that we are capable of debating any issue, putting forward our points, then agreeing on a decision and supporting it as party policy. Over the coming months and years we will debate issues such as currency, pensions, workers legislation and form a policy that we believe will be in the best interest of the people of Scotland.
However, due to our vast growth we need to ensure that everyone that wants a say in shaping policy has one. The current structure needs looked at so that people across Scotland have the opportunity to debate policy. For this reason I believe we need to hold events on policy matters across the country so that new ideas can be pulled together and reach the agenda of our annual policy conference to be put into practice.
Has the party shifted to the left since the indyref?
CM: No. I believe the vast majority of people in Scotland share the vision of living in a socially just and more progressive Scotland. I believe during the independence debate we won this argument and that's the reason many Labour voters voted yes and then subsequently voted SNP.
I believe independence is now very much a tale of two countries, and the question is which country do you want to live in: Do you want to live in a progressive, modern country that welcomes people to it, a country that wants to do things a fairer way, or do you want to live in a country governed by the most right wing government in a generation, a country being dragged out Europe against our will, a country that taxes bedrooms over boardrooms, a country that wants to spend £200bn renewing Trident whilst children rely on foodbanks?
I think when people start to ask themselves that question, we will start to see many other people realise that independence is the best way to create the fairer, just Scotland we want.
The SNP is often accused of focusing on independence at the expense of using the powers it already has in government. How would you answer that?
CM: Well, I think the first observation I would make is that the only people that seem to talk about independence at every opportunity are parties that aren't the SNP. The SNP won a historic third term in office in this year’s election. We won on a manifesto that wasn't about independence.
We won on a manifesto that was about delivering for Scotland and that's exactly what we have been doing since 2007: crime at a record low; school leavers being able to attend university for free; ensuring ill health isn't taxed by protecting free prescriptions; ensuring pensioners across the country who helped build the country can stay integrated in it by protecting their bus passes; tackling the educational attainment gap to ensure every child in Scotland has the best opportunity in life; rolling out free childcare across the country, a policy that many young mums are benefitting from by allowing them to return to work or education; building a record amount of social housing over the past decade; ensuring people are paid the living wage when we have the power to do so, and so much more.
The reason other parties are obsessed with independence is that opposition to it is all they have to offer. Whereas we have managed to deliver all of the above with a budget we have no control over. Just imagine the type of country we could live in if we could have control of all our affairs like normal independent countries across the world have.
What policy does the SNP not currently have that you would like to add?
CM: We don't have many policies on workers’ legislation and employment rights for the reason that the Tory government holds the power over these policies that are vital to working people across Scotland. I would like to see these come to Scotland, and at some point in the near future debate what they would look like. Under Thatcher's government we became the most anti-worker country in Europe and 13 years of New Labour didn't repeal a single piece of anti-worker legislation.
The SNP is seen as quite centralising in government. How would you ensure power is devolved down to a local level?
CM: The SNP is the party of localism. I've written quite a lot recently about local communities having more control devolved to them from local councils. The Community Empowerment Act can transform Scotland by giving people a greater control of resources and decisions that impact the most on their local area.
That's one of the main reasons I stood in this election, so that I could bring my ideas about the future of local democracy to packed halls across the country. The chances are I won't win the contest, but I think we have won the argument for greater local autonomy and more community empowerment. This is something I would like to work on with the new depute leader, our leader, Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Government and councils across Scotland, so that together we can drive it forward.
Would you support calling another independence referendum within the next two years?
CM: If the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland want one and are ready to become an independent country, yes, I would.
What do you see as the most likely outcome of the Brexit negotiations?
CM: Theresa May says Brexit means Brexit, but unfortunately nobody knows what Brexit means. The people of Scotland voted to remain, which further highlighted the democratic deficit in Scotland, as ultimately our votes didn't matter as the will of the rest of the UK will drag us out against our will. This of course adds to the true democratic deficit in Scotland as we face a generation of Tory Government we don't vote for imposed on us against our will.
I think that as Brexit becomes apparent, that all the things the EU previously protected, such as equal pay in the workplace, protection for pregnant mothers, right to paid holidays, right to not being forced to work too many hours and so on, are now in the hands of the most right wing government in a generation people will ask themselves: Who do I trust more with all the things Europe once protected, Theresa May's right wing Tory government or Nicola Sturgeon's Scottish government?
Does Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the world need to change?
CM: Yes. I want Scotland to be a force for good in the world. I believe independence gives us the opportunity to help promote peace and a fairer world like neighbouring countries of a similar size have done.
Who is your inspiration as a leader?
CM: In life my father, in politics Alex Salmond, in sport Jock Stein and as a trade unionist Jimmy Reid, who if you look at some of the great speeches he made over 40 years ago they would be as relevant again today.
What is your top leadership tip?
CM: Well, I think Lennon and McCartney have wiser words than I could ever have:
There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn
How to play the game
Nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn.
There's nothing you can know that isn't known.
Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where
You're meant to be.
So for me no leader will ever be better than the sum of all the parts they lead. What's important is having the wisdom to know who's best at what and supporting them to bring their talents to the team.
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