What is your political ideology?
I’m a socialist. I believe in what we used to call the mixed economy. Private enterprise must operate within a public interest framework and be subject to democratic regulation to protect both workers and the environment. The public sector should take strategic ownership in key industrial sectors to ensure than necessary investment is not stymied by the need for short term return.
I believe that key community services including transport should be publicly owned and delivered and that in this way we can provide collectively what few of us can afford individually. I believe in universal services funded through fair taxation. I am a republican and argue for an elected head of state. And, I am committed to Scottish independence as a means of getting these social and economic reforms, achieving a more equal and democratic society at home, and allowing us to be a force for progressive change in these islands and in the world.
What are your keys policies and what will you seek to do with the depute leader post?
We do not make policy by electing a depute leader and, if elected, my role would be to uphold the decisions of our delegate conference. But my priority is to give this party an organisational upgrade.
The last few years have been ones of great change in Scottish politics – new ideas have emerged and old allegiances have died. The road to independence is now a cause of the left and the opposition to it is firmly rooted in the conservative unionist tradition.
Tens of thousands of people have joined the SNP in recent years to fight for progressive change. This is a different SNP from the one which existed a few short years ago. Our mass membership is our strength and whether they have been in for a few months or a lifetime I want to see many more people active in the party. That means changing how we do things – making our meetings better, communicating better. It also means building up a network of full-time organisers who can back up the efforts of volunteers at branch level. We also need to change how we make policy, involving many more members in local, regional and national forums.
How do you see the road map towards indyref2 panning out?
Scotland voted to stay in the EU and the SNP will fight for that to happen. The question here, by the way, is not whether the EU is a good or bad thing, but who should decide if Scotland remains a member. It’s possible that options might emerge which allow Scotland to retain a different relationship with the EU than the rest of Britain. If this happens, it will require not just constitutional theory but political will. It would almost certainly require a new Scotland Act and additional powers being transferred to the Scottish parliament.
But if all such options are rejected then we may well be left with only one: to become an independent European country ourselves. So, sometime next year we will know if we are going to have a second referendum much sooner than any of us might have imagined. Given that this is certainly an option we should now be preparing the ground. Getting ‘the band back together’, reaching out to ‘no’ voters, and making sure the engine works without putting the motor in gear.
What does the SNP need to do in order to deliver upon progressive and radical outcomes as the Scottish Government?
I believe that the manifesto on which the SNP government has just been elected is progressive and radical. But there are areas of unfinished business to which we will return. New powers on their way give us the opportunity to shape a new Scottish welfare system and a taxation system and we can ensure that the ambition of fairness and equality infuse the character of both. But without independence the Scottish government will always be constrained in what it can achieve and we must never give up arguing for the full powers of government to be at our disposal if we are to change the world in which we live.
How can you as an individual, with your particular qualities and talents, use these to take these matters forward?
I left the Labour Party – or more accurately it left me – in 2001. I joined the SNP after the referendum in 2014. In between, I built up my small business (The Stand comedy clubs) and served on the boards of Scottish Left Review and the Scottish Independence Convention. I have nearly four decades of experience in politics as an organiser and an elected representative. I’ve picked up a few skills along the way which put me in good shape to play a role in the leadership of my party. SNP members have an opportunity to expand rather than stretch our leadership and I can bring a fresh perspective to the team.
Tommy Sheppard is the SNP MP for Edinburgh East