Q&A with SNP depute leadership candidate Chris McEleny
The SNP will announce its new depute leader at its spring conference later this week
Chris McEleny - Image credit: Inverclyde Council
How do you see the role of depute leader, given you also have a deputy first minister and a party convener?
It is what it says it is on the tin – deputise for the leader. However, when you are the party of government the role takes on new meaning. Nicola [Sturgeon] isn’t just our party leader but also the First Minister of Scotland. There’s an opportunity to have a new depute that speaks from communities and makes sure the views of all our members are heard. If there are issues the membership want the depute to take forward, it would be really difficult to do so if you’re a member of the cabinet. A key role is helping the membership form, debate and create new policy. I think this would be difficult if you have a position that means you can’t have an opinion on something that’s under consideration from the Scottish Government. Fracking would be a key example.
Why should someone vote for you rather than the other candidates?
This vote isn’t just about what job you want done. We are at a time in the history of our party that the message that the result of this election sends out is equally important. No ifs, no coulds, no maybes, there will be a referendum on Scottish independence. I believe that it should be held within the next 18 months to protect the freedoms we get from the EU and the status of 200,000 EU nationals that have come to live and work here. If SNP members elect me as their new depute leader, I think it’s clear that this is also their view and it’s a view that should be at the heart of the decision made by Nicola [Sturgeon] and the Scottish Government regarding a new referendum.
There has been a lot of discussion about members not feeling involved in the party decision making. How would you approach that?
It’s true that an overwhelming majority of our members joined after the referendum to stand up for Scotland and to show their support for the party of independence. Our members are our greatest asset and it’s our activists that lay the foundations that our success is built upon. I wish to be a depute that puts the focus onto what really matters to Scotland – our communities. All politics is local and our members live in communities across the country. As depute leader I’ll continue to visit communities across the Scotland to make sure that decisions we make as a party are formed from the opinions of people in the communities we serve.
What policy does the SNP not currently have that you would like to introduce?
Other than recognising Greenock as the capital of Scotland? Lots of the policies I want to see introduced need more power to the Scottish Parliament, whereas we are currently facing up to a UK Government power grab. I’m a trade unionist. I’d like to see an independent Scotland introduce progressive workers’ rights such as restore the right to solidarity action and a mandatory career average pension so that workers can retire much sooner than the UK Government’s despicable state retirement age of 67. The key principle is that decisions about Scotland, whether that’s on pensions, the economy or Trident, should be made by the people that live in Scotland. Once we get to that point we will be able to debate the benefits of a whole range of social gains that are designed with improving the lives of the nation at heart.
The FM appears to have fired a starting gun on the independence debate. How do you win over those that didn’t support you last time?
Pensions, currency, the economy (stupid) and the ‘what we have now and how will we know we will still have that’ are the issues that over the past few years people have raised with me. There’s a large amount of people that in 2014 said “Yeah, I’d like Scotland to be independent, I like the idea of it, it sounds normal, but I’m not sure it’s right for me just now.” Many of those people may think differently as they see Scotland dragged out the EU, but not out the EU on terms that people in Scotland have had a say in, but terms that appease Theresa May’s group of hard Brexiteers. Key ‘Better Together’ arguments have collapsed. We are leaving the EU. The pound has plummeted. WASPI women have been robbed of their pensions. The arguments to remain part of the UK are at their weakest in my lifetime and the case for Scotland being independent has never been stronger.
When would hold the next independence referendum and why?
It has to be within the next 18 months. In March 2019 the UK will leave the EU. The 'transition' deal ends Dec 2020. The 18 month timetable gives us the chance to do something to protect our rights and trading partnerships. It gives us the chance to say to the 200,000 EU nationals that call Scotland home that this is their home, we want you to stay and we will never let a UK Government home office treat you like it has the Windrush generation.
We have a mandate. It’s undeniable. In a democracy you enact your mandate. If we wait until after 18 months, we won’t be able to protect the above and furthermore we won’t be able to vote for independence and deliver it in the term of the current pro-independence parliament. We are ready to go now.
Who is your political hero?
This is a tough one. Someone told me you are a mix of the five people you spend the most time with. In that spirit I suppose I’ve been influenced by five people throughout my political life. Firstly, my dad. Growing up I was in awe of his trade unionism and how he seemed to spend all his time standing up for workers and always staying true to his principals. I ended up following him into the same workplace 30 years apart to the very day and also become a shop steward there. We are both now councillors, only he followed me into that. Naturally then Jimmy Reid was a hero of mine, and Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and Angus Robertson have been the people I’ve looked to in order to learn about what the role of leadership means.
What kind of leader will you be?
I view myself as an ordinary member of the SNP like everyone else. I’d like to be a leader that people can count on to ensure their views are always considered.
What’s your top campaigning tip?
Always be positive, always remember that it might be sunny at one side of the street and rainy at the other, and always remember the reasons that you are campaigning, especially long after the campaign is over.
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