Battling Buddies

Written on 14 November 2014 in Inside Politics

The contest for deputy leader of the Scottish National Party between MSPs Angela Constance and Keith Brown and MP Stewart Hosie has been a friendly affair

What or who convinced you to run?

Stewart Hosie: My experience of the referendum campaign convinced me to run. To hopefully play a part in ensuring all of those who campaigned together for independence continue to campaign next year and beyond to further Scotland’s cause.
Angela Constance: I spent a week telling everyone who asked all the reasons why I couldn’t or shouldn’t run, I decided I could and would do it in the hope that women will look at me and say “if she can do it so can I.”  
Keith Brown: Many of my MSP and Ministerial colleagues asked me to run but I also had a chat with my children and with other friends in the party who are not in Parliament. It’s quite humbling to know that so many people who you respect believe that you’re capable and trust you to help run their party and when your teenage daughter tells you that you’ll “probably be ok” at it you start feeling that you might be able to do it - and it was all topped off when my mum said she’d vote for me, too.

What one word would you use to describe your leadership style?

SH: Confident.
AC: Aspirational
KB: Collegiate

What do you think the role of the deputy leader should be?

SH: To be supportive of the new leader, staff and colleagues at all levels of the SNP and also to be challenging to make sure we all perform to our best.
AC: To ensure the party remains focused on its ultimate objective of Independence, looking after the interests of members and working with the wider Yes movement.
KB: The relationship between leader and depute has to be a partnership and a joint ambition for improvement.  We’ve been spoiled for quite some time with the quality of leadership we’ve had with Alex and Nicola and with John Swinney; we have to move on now and build for the future based on the solid foundation those years have laid for us.  Nicola leads us into a new incarnation of the party; we’re heading into a future we’ve not yet built and we’re going to have to dream of that future, imagine it and work to build it.  That’s what the depute has got to do - make it happen, make the SNP the party embracing and creating Scotland’s future, making a better today so a better tomorrow is possible.  That’s the task and the role of the depute leader.

Do you think the deputy leader has to also be the Deputy First Minister?

SH: No and given the SNP is now the third largest party in the UK, it is right that the depute should be able to focus on that important job.
AC: No - they are two very distinct roles and there should be a clarity about the interests of the party as distinct from the interests of the Government.  Given that the party has more than trebled in size I believe there is a strong argument for depute leader to be focused on the Party.   I believe that our First Minister deserves a dedicated deputy in Government and our 85,000 members require a dedicated Depute leader to champion their interests.
KB: No. Decisions on Ministerial appointments are for the First Minister to make and she will have no obligation to make anyone DFM or, indeed, to have a Deputy First Minister at all. If Nicola asks any of us to serve in her Government we should fulfil any role she asks us to take on but none of us has a right to any particular position, role or special consideration. If we’re asked we serve and if we’re not asked we accept the decision.

How do you intend to keep your new members engaged and in check?

SH: I don’t want to keep anyone “in check”. I also don’t envisage any difficulty keeping people engaged.  Many of our new members came to the SNP from the activism of the Yes campaign, the SNP now needs to focus on the next challenge – the 2015 General Election – and harness the campaigning energy our new members bring.
AC: The immediate task is to ensure members old and new are inspired and are able to make a contribution.  People stay involved when they know their voice is heard and they can make a difference.  That’s why I have focused on equality of membership, embedding branches in communities but also the need to empower branches in bottom up policy development and decision making.  Our members need to be able to know that they have a vital role in articulating what needs fixed in our communities and making change happen - holding their parliamentarians’ feet to the fire if you like!
KB: We need our imagination to be bigger; in terms of membership to population ratio we’re the biggest party in the UK and we’re probably one of the biggest in Europe. All of those members – two per cent of the adult population and growing - should be engaged but should never be kept in check - they are the party, they’re not conscripts or recruits, they are all that the party is. We’ll have to create new structures and new methods of engagement - and perhaps send the leader on regular speaking tours - but those have to be decided by the members. I’ll put in my ideas, including the creation of regional policy forums and the refreshing of National Council but nobody rules the roost in this party, nobody owns it and so we have to go forward collectively.

In what way will the surge in new membership change the direction of the party?

SH: I don’t think it will change the direction of the SNP. Our new members have not joined the SNP to change it – they have joined to be part of it.
AC: All I know is that they have reinvigorated the party, have joined to continue the campaign for independence and will undoubtedly change the party.  The referendum has changed Scotland so it’s inevitable that Scotland’s national party will have to change.
KB: Scottish politics was changed utterly in September and the SNP was changed utterly in the weeks following the referendum. The members own the SNP so they decide what direction the party travels in. The energy, the imagination and the enthusiasm of the Yes campaign has been injected into the SNP and we should welcome that without trying to control it; it’s the fluidity of the new membership that is its greatest strength and what, therefore, offers the greatest potential advantage. I know politicians are supposed to be in favour of stability and certainty but life’s not like that and the greatest opportunities usually can’t be found in doing things the way they’ve always be done. Trust the members and the SNP will do fine.

What is your message to those still feeling disappointed after the No vote?

SH: Scottish Independence is not a lost cause – it is simply a cause yet un-won. The SNP will never give up the fight for independence and neither should you.
AC: Defeat can be a salutary learning experience - it’s what you do afterwards that is crucial.  Losing can be a crucial step in eventual victory.   I believe we are living in the early days of a better nation and that we are firmly in the process of becoming independent.
KB: So am I. I’m disappointed that we didn’t take the opportunity to reinvent our country and I’m disappointed that a majority of Scots didn’t feel that Yes was the right decision. We can’t rerun that referendum, though, and looking to the past doesn’t help us, we’re better looking to what’s to come and where our opportunities lie. When I get dispirited by the slow pace of our nation’s advance I sometimes remember that Keir Hardie’s manifesto in 1888 called for free education, free school meals and progressive taxation as well as home rule and think about how ironic it is that it took an SNP Government to deliver it almost a century and a quarter after the Scottish Labour Party first promised it. 

How did you feel on the 19th of September?

SH: Pretty miserable until I overheard a young woman say ‘this referendum has made us the thinking generation’. That’s important because never again will large numbers of Scots meekly accept decisions coming out of Westminster without challenge or real opposition.
AC: Apart from tiredness I had a feeling that this is just not over - and it’s not.  I feel like I’m in the middle of something rather than at the end.
KB: Well, I was doing media interviews until about 9.30 in the morning so by the time I was finishing doing that things were already moving on and I was thinking about what we have to do now. The days since then have shown that no-one can predict Scottish politics now. The referendum found the people taking control of politics and the aftermath has found a continuing and accelerating sense of the people’s ownership of Scotland’s politics. That’s a greater lift to any of our spirits than the down-draft of the result could be. Scotland’s moving, awake, thinking and changing; no-one owns our future but us.

What was your favourite memory of the referendum campaign?

SH: Queues of people outside the Dundee Yes Hub before six in the morning of the 18th September. People from all walks of life not just talking about independence but prepared to do all the real hard graft to help deliver it.
AC: My best memories are of the ever growing squad of inspiring Almond Valley Yessers; the camaraderie of morning leafleting sessions, the working mums coming off the nightshift to spend the day campaigning, the young Yessers who organised a  punk “Yestival” in the Tower Pub in Craigshill, the local rallies, public meetings and the car cavalcades.
KB: Just one memory? I’ve got loads of them; the pensioner who told me she was sorry but she voted No (it was the fact she was sorry that moved me); the young activists in their first campaign buzzing with the excitement; the hope, though, the sense of hope might be my favourite memory - it’s not a specific thing or time but the sense of it, the feeling we could be something better. That’s what I want us to carry forward; the hope. Let’s keep the hope.

Do you think you will ever see Scotland become an independent country?

SH: Yes, absolutely.
AC: Yes - I’ve made a vow to my son.
KB: Yes; it’s not inevitable and not automatic but it’s coming. It needs another referendum, it needs Scotland to say Yes, it needs the country to want it, but we know it’s coming; everyone who watches politics knows it’s coming.

Why did you join the SNP?

SH: For independence of course. But like many others the SNP’s long standing and determined opposition to nuclear power and nuclear weapons was incredibly important.
AC: It was the party of independence.  I had been politicised by mass unemployed in the 1980s and Thatcher - even then it was clear to me that Independence was the gateway to social justice in Scotland.
KB: When I left the Marines I went to university. I joined the SNP at Freshers’ Fayre because the crushing austerity and bitterness of the Thatcher years didn’t match with what I thought was right - it didn’t seem to be what Scotland thought and it certainly wasn’t what I thought. Kicking poor people isn’t government; government should be about making life better. I’m in the SNP because Scotland can be different, better, a nation that isn’t ashamed of how we treat people. Why would you not be a member?
KB: We haven’t yet come to terms with the increased membership - that’s a structural weakness that we need to address quickly.

What is your greatest hope for Scotland?

SH: That the Scottish people continue to assert themselves confidently and reject the narrow Labour politics of divide and rule.
AC: That we continue to be the most politically engaged and informed population anywhere in the world and that we build on the legacy of the referendum where people of all parties and none worked together in common cause.  The referendum really began to address the disconnect in politics that exists right across the UK  - the disconnect between people and politicians, the disconnect between political leaders and their party faithful, the disconnect that occurs when people are not listened to and they are given no opportunity to effect change in their lives and their communities.  
KB: That the people of Scotland ignore anything and anyone that tells them they’re something less than other people and start thinking they are the equal of everyone else.

And conversely, what is your greatest fear for Scotland?

SH: That we take our eye off the ball and allow a return to the narrow Labour politics of divide and rule.
AC: That we continue to tread water rather than reaching for the stars, returning to the inward looking world of traditional party politics and fail to address the growing inequality in this country.
KB: I don’t have one - Scotland will get by, we’ll find ways to get by, no matter what. We’ll struggle, we’ll have to work, and sometimes it will be a hard road but let’s build Scotland instead of tearing her down.

Outside of your own party, who do you most respect in politics?

SH: Diane Abbott, not least because she calls it as she sees it and was the first black woman elected the UK Parliament.
AC: Outside of the UK, I have enormous respect for Angela Merkel’s amazing political journey - it is incredible to think that she didn’t even have the opportunity to vote until she was in her thirties.
In the Scottish Parliament, I have huge respect for Malcolm Chisholm’s integrity. 
KB: Beauty contests in politics never settle arguments and always have ugly winnners. Let’s respect everyone who brings a thought or two to politics and let’s argue the toss over the issues - argument isn’t bad, it’s the way we find the answers. In spite of the obvious differences, though, I have respect for Tony Benn and his doggedness and for the way in which Donald Gorrie carried himself as a politician representing the people who elected him.

What is something that people wouldn’t necessarily know about you?

SH: The first band I ever saw live was Hawkwind at the Clerk Street Odeon in Edinburgh – They were also, sadly, the last band I saw live at the old London Astoria!
AC: When I was in my early 20s and had just graduated I wanted to become a minister of religion.
KB: That’s a secret...

Who would be at your fantasy dinner party and what would be on the menu

SH: This is the hardest question of all. R.B Cunningham-Graham for a life of extraordinary adventure; Andrew de Moray for the inside track on Wallace and Bruce; John Bonham because he was the finest drummer who ever lived; Jack Bruce, Jimi Hendrix and Bon Scott; unbelievable talent all sadly gone. As for the menu, I just hope none of them are vegetarian.
AC: Anyone who was prepared to cook and do the washing up!  Otherwise - Hugh Jackman has replaced Al Pacino in my affections these days, I’m a big fan of Vivienne Westwood because of her fashion and politics and someone who does a good line in course humour - like Frankie Boyle.
If it’s me that is left with the cooking it will be whatever I can rustle up with assistance of blender and bread maker - cocktails, soup, cocktails, bread, cocktails...
KB: I’d love to have dinner with Steve Earl, Emmy-Lou Harris, Iris Dement, John Stuart-Mill, and Vincent van Gogh. I think that would be an interesting evening of discussion about music, art and philosophy. I think I’d take them to the Alva Tandoori in my constituency which was voted the best Indian restaurant in the UK by Trip Advisor readers recently - it’s fantastic. 




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