Q&A with Stephen Gethins on the political confusion round Brexit

Written by Staff reporter on 19 October 2017 in Inside Politics

The North East Fife MP is the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesperson and has had a busy workload as Brexit progresses

Stephen Gethins - Parliament TV​

You have been campaigning on Brexit while both the main UK parties have been at civil war on the topic. Has it been frustrating?

It is difficult to stress just how much leaving the EU will impact on us all, such as our rights, the environment, economy and opportunities for young people. I feel particularly strongly about the last since I benefitted from our EU membership through Erasmus and freedom of movement and want young people to have the same opportunities as me. So yes, it is frustrating sometimes given the games that are going on in some parties. That said, there are people in all parties trying to grapple with this and work across party lines. 

Will Labour's shifting position on the single market provide an opportunity to inflict a defeat or two on the Conservative/DUP government?

The Westminster Parliament is now a parliament of minorities. That is something that we are used to in Holyrood and is commonplace in other European countries but more unusual at Westminster. I think we need to start thinking about how we can work across party lines to get the ‘least-worst’ outcome from Brexit and on other issues. The culture needs to change and it is quite striking if you compare voting patterns in Holyrood and Westminster.

How important has it been to have Carwyn Jones and the First Minister on the same page?

It is crucial. In spite of devolution being 20 years old now, the other parliaments and administrations in the UK are often overlooked at Westminster. Having that strong cross-party and cross-administration approach is so important. I know that isn’t always easy for Nicola or Carwyn Jones but it makes a big difference. It forces UK ministers to pay attention and show that this is about more than the goings-on in Whitehall.

Has the new political landscape with a lack of a Conservative majority made it easier or harder for individual MPs to pursue their own hot topics?

I think if you get a subject on which you can unite other MPs it can work. In the last Parliament, Eilidh Whitford managed to get the first-ever SNP legislation through the House when she brought in a private member’s bill to ensure the UK Government ratified the Istanbul Convention for the prevention and combatting of violence against women. Similarly, John Nicolson did some fantastic work with his Turing Bill. So, SNP MPs have already done some ground-breaking work. I am working with MPs from other parties on Europe issues to try and see if we can make some progress.

What does the SNP group need to do now to be heard? 

I think that we are now in a more advantageous position at Westminster given the numbers. So, we need to remain relevant and at the cutting edge of debate. That is off to a good start, although I suppose it helps when our group is united and coherent. That, compared to Tory chaos bordering on open civil war and the ever-present tensions in Labour, makes us the biggest united group of MPs at Westminster!

How has the feeling in the Commons changed since the election? 

Well, we are all there a whole lot later for votes. That apart, I think there is a feeling among some of us that this is an opportunity. In Holyrood and elsewhere in Europe, a parliament of minorities is better because it becomes impossible for the executive to ignore the legislature. Nevertheless, the adversarial culture is pretty deeply ingrained and so although there is a change, things move pretty slowly down there.

Have you made any new cross-party pals?

There are good people across the chamber and I don’t think people see enough of that. Caroline Lucas has been a great colleague at Westminster and I have benefitted from Ken Clarke’s experience on Europe. Locally, too, Willie Rennie and I have built up a good working relationship and quite often spend time together attending constituency events (as I do with Jenny Gilruth as well).

What’s the funniest or worst thing that’s happened on your commute between Scotland and London?

There are not a whole lot of laughs on the weekly London commute, I am afraid. The worst is when your flight is delayed on the way back when you just want to get home. Missing family bedtimes is the worst. If there are delays on the way down, it can mean a slightly tense journey and a dash to the chamber. Looking sweaty when delivering a speech is not always because of nerves – it can mean you only arrived a couple of minutes ago. 

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