News & Articles

Some published articles and blog posts from Tommy Sheppard MP

Subcategories from this category:

Media Articles, Radio, TV

Fracking ban makes me proud of SNP government

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I have never been prouder of our SNP Scottish Government than I was last Tuesday when the Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, made a statement to parliament on fracking. He was responding to a huge public consultation on the issue and he made it crystal clear that fracking would not be part of the energy mix in Scotland.

Not only was this the right decision but the manner in which the government arrived at its position was an exemplar in public policy making. Campaigners, including myself, have been trying to get a ban on fracking for years. But rather than rush into a decision the government has taken the best part of two years to research the evidence, and most importantly, ask the people what they wanted.

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Changing festival dates could be beneficial

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So our capital city is more than half way through hosting the world’s largest arts festival.  As ever amidst this explosion of artistic creativity there are a few controversies. Should workers in fringe venues be paid the living wage? Were the owners of St Andrew Square right to close it to the fringe and Jazz & Blues festivals? And the debate that intrigues me most: dates.

The Edinburgh festival that most people think of in August is in fact a bunch of separate festivals. The biggest by far is the Fringe. The biggest funded is the International Festival. Then there’s the Tattoo, the Book Festival and the Art Festival. The dates of all of these overlap considerably.

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It's Brexit Again

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OK, sorry about this, but it’s Brexit again this month. Don’t blame me – I voted remain.

Remember the Great Repeal Bill David Davis promised last year. Well, it’s arrived, Except it’s now called the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I’ve no idea why withdrawal is in brackets, maybe it’s not going to happen. It’s not that great either – just nineteen clauses, half of which are legalistic gobbledygook.

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Was this the emptiest Queen’s Speech ever?

Well, this is awkward. I had hoped to use my column this month to bring a digest of the Queen's Speech. This is where Her Majesty reads out the legislative programme of the government of the day. Only there isn't one. Well, there is, but it is so vacuous and devoid of content that there might as well not be.

It’s surely bordering on abuse of the elderly to oblige a 91 year old woman to read this rubbish out loud whilst wearing heavy robes in London's suffocating 34 degree heat.

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Reflections on the General Election

So here's an article I wrote for the Sunday Herald reflecting on the general election result. It seems to have caused some excitement. The newspaper rather mischievously suggested this was me breaking ranks and of course the right wing press have been calling this an SNP split. It isn't. There's nothing I say here regarding a second Indy referendum that is inconsistent with the party's approach over the last six months. As ever the debate gets clouded because people (often no friends of ours) comment on what I've said, selecting bits out of context and putting their own spin on it. Other people then start commenting on what these people have said about my article rather than what I have written myself. For instance, the right wing media are now reporting me as saying we should park Indyref. In fact I say "a second referendum remains an option" and "we should be working up the case for self-government with renewed vigour".I do suggest that the general election might mean we get a better deal for Scotland out of Brexit than seemed possible before. But that depends on whether the UK government is prepared to listen to the Scottish government and discuss the proposals the latter has put forward. If, and only if, they do that then there's a case for pausing the timetable on Indyref2 until we see what sort of changes Brexit means and whether we are going to be forced to lump it or listened to. And as I say here "If, however, Ms May maintains a blinkered and belligerent stance then the stand-off continues – only with the odds more in our favour than they were in March." The ball is very much in David Mundell and Theresa May's court. The opinions in this article are personal and are a contribution to a discussion that all of us in the SNP and the wider independence movement need to have over the coming weeks and months. And as with any good and thoughtful discussion I will probably refine and develop my thinking on this as we go along. THE ARTICLE: The SNP won the election in Scotland and were it not for the tsunami of 2015 pundits would be hailing an historic landmark victory. 35 out of 59 ain’t bad, especially on 37% of the vote. But this result is a distortion of the first past the post system. Turnout was down. A quarter of a million fewer people voted than in 2015. Yet we mislaid nearly half a million votes. A third. Our vote share fell by a quarter and we lost a third of our seats. More to the point, we won a swathe of others with wafer thin majorities and most of the seats we won should now be regarded as marginal. Two years ago we had more than 50% of the votes in 35 seats – today not one. These results are a wake-up call for the SNP. We need to understand why people who voted for us before decided not to this time. And we need to get them back. This requires a radical re-think and we do not have a lot of time to do it. Detailed research into who voted for whom will be needed before we can say for certain why things happened. But it seems clear that three main factors were in play: Brexit, Indyref and Corbyn. These inter-relate and some are more relevant in some parts of the country than others. The Tory obsession with Indyref2 paid off. Their main achievement was to galvanise the pro-union vote around them. In seats like mine there was a small but significant shift from Labour to Tory, mainly older labour voters for whom the union was more important than social or economic reform. They were also influenced by the media’s perception of Corbyn – and not in a good way. Some switched allegiance to the Tories – others were softened up to vote tactically. This process was undoubtedly helped by the call by the Scottish Labour leadership to vote for anyone but the SNP, implicitly telling Labour voters it was ok to lend their vote to the Tories. Many did exactly that in the likes of Ayr, Stirling and Aberdeen South. Had those Labour voters not heeded their leaders Theresa May would not have a majority even with the DUP. It was never part of Tory strategy to switch people from SNP to them; the main objective was to garner more of the anti-independence majority. That said, their campaign also had some effect on our own support by challenging the legitimacy of our claim for a second referendum. I doubt many voted Tory as a result, but a lot seem to have stayed at home. Either way our vote went down. So what do we do about Indyref? First off, we are right to say that if there is a dramatic change in circumstance people should have the right to re-visit the decision they made in 2014. And we do indeed have a mandate for that position from the 2016 Scottish general election. Brexit is most definitely a change in circumstance. It has two consequences. One, it changes the UK. Two, Scotland didn’t vote for it so it begs the question of whether we will be forced into something against our will. In an attempt to respect the Scottish people’s expressed opinion of 2014 and 2016 a Scottish government which believed in both independence and the EU proposed a compromise involving neither. Instead, it argued for differential post-Brexit arrangements for Scotland which would allow us to have a different relationship with other European nations whilst still part of the UK. The rejection by the British government of the Scottish government’s framework document meant we were right to insist upon another referendum at the end of the process. Our argument was that whatever came out of Brexit, the refusal to stay in the single market or consider differential arrangements for Scotland meant that the UK would have changed so much that people should get a choice again. It also meant a refusal to listen to the wishes of people in Scotland. However, the campaign by the Tories to characterise this as a refusal to accept the 2014 result worked and our attempts to explain the timetable for Indyref2 meant the whole debate became one of process rather than principle. We ended up arguing about the merits of a referendum rather than the merits of independence. It’s clear also that many of our own supporters didn’t get or didn’t buy the argument – mainly because Brexit hasn’t happened and no-one could say for sure how the UK had changed. The election result changes everything. Now the single market is back on the table, now we can argue for separate Scottish arrangements, now there is prospect of repatriation of powers from Brussels direct to Holyrood to a maximal rather than minimal extent. There is a point to fighting for all of this - and some of it we will win. This means that the outcome of Brexit may be a lot different than the one we were heading for in March. Amidst the current chaos in Westminster it seems certain that a hard Brexit is now off the table, and the possibility of bespoke solutions for nations and regions is growing. It follows, therefore, that it is now an option to wait until the Brexit negotiations conclude before forming a view on whether the extent of change justifies a second independence referendum as a result. This would mean that whilst a second referendum remains an option, the timetable gets parked. Whether we adopt that option in large part depends on what attitude the British government now takes. If there is a positive response from the Prime Minister to Nicola Surgeon’s request for an all-party, all nation approach to the Brexit negotiations then there seems merit in exhausting that process first. If, however, Ms May maintains a blinkered and belligerent stance then the stand-off continues – only with the odds more in our favour than they were in March. None of this means that independence is off the table – just that it becomes decoupled from Brexit. In the meantime we should be working up the case for self-government with renewed vigour and preparing a prospectus for an independence campaign that is not conditional on Brexit. Brexit itself is the second big factor. Some SNP supporters like Brexit – they voted for it. They believe that membership of the EU is incompatible with independence. They’re wrong, but that doesn’t mean the perception isn’t real. In some areas of the country where the Brexit vote was strongest this led to a straight switch from SNP to Tory in significant numbers. Elsewhere it is more likely that the antipathy of SNP supporters to the party’s pro-EU position simply meant they stayed at home. This would in part explain the big fall in overall turnout which occurred despite all the evidence pointing to a large increase in the youth vote. We need to do more to win back these voters, explaining that whist we seek membership of the EU for an independent Scotland it will be on our terms, and we want to negotiate a deal for Scotland that is better that the one we had in UK. We might even want to consider a further referendum on that at the end of the process – and an EFTA/EEA option as either a halfway house or interim step. But Brexit and Indyref2 are dwarfed by the main factor at play in this election: Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour manifesto. This is the main reason why we lost seats to Labour, and why we now have many SNP/Labour marginals. I really didn’t see this coming. Throughout the campaign there were people I canvassed who were previously identified as SNP who said they were attracted to what Corbyn was saying. But it was easy to dismiss by saying that he wouldn’t win and besides, we supported all the good ideas anyway. However, that argument was holed beneath the waterline when the polls narrowed in the final ten days and the media began to talk without the attendant ridicule of the possibility of Corbyn being PM. True much of the stuff in the Labour manifesto had already been implemented by the SNP Scottish government. True the SNP manifesto had a harder line of combatting austerity. True Scottish Labour didn’t like Corbyn anyway. None of that mattered. The psychology took over. Suddenly it seemed possible to turn the world upside down, give the establishment one in the eye. Suddenly there was an insurgency gaining momentum, fuelled by a highly effective social media campaign. Our voters like insurgency. They are intrinsically anti-establishment. They were seduced. They wanted to be part of it. I know a number of people who voted Yes in 2014, SNP in 2015 (and 2016) and who voted Labour last week. They haven’t necessarily changed their mind on independence, but they see no incompatibility between supporting a left party in UK elections and voting for independence in Scotland. Certainly in seats like mine what looked like a net swing from SNP to Tory was in fact a swing from Labour to Tory in the unionist right of centre which was masked by a bigger swing from SNP to Labour on the pro-Indy left of centre.This Corbyn surge happened in spite of the Scottish Labour leadership and has left them cold. Two great ironies present. Firstly the unintended consequence is that by voting Labour in Scotland people have sent to Westminster people who will be considerably less helpful to Corbyn than the SNP incumbents would have been. The thing is that will be difficult to expose because Labour lost and are not going to be in a position to deliver their manifesto. Besides, they are all Corbynites now, everyone loves success. Ask Peter Mandelson. The second irony is that with the leaching of unionist support to the Tories and the gaining of left wing pro-Indy voters the Labour support is now more pro- independence than ever. And this as the leadership couldn’t be more against. This disconnect will make it difficult for Scottish Labour to capitalise on the result organisationally. Irony number three is that although in Scotland the SNP was being attacked by Labour and Tories for being too radical, for pushing too hard, in reality we lost most votes from people who felt Corbyn was more radical than us.And yet we are the real insurgents, the real force for change. We need to reclaim that mantle and do it quickly. By allowing the argument to become about the performance of the Scottish government - whether or not we are doing the day job - we are in danger of being seen as the establishment. Of course competence is the bedrock on which we have to build aspiration. But day-jobs are boring; doing them is boring. They are not a thing to fire the imagination or stir the heart. The SNP needs a series of initiatives to give it back a radical cutting edge. We need to switch the debate from performance to policy. And we need to explain better what we are being prevented from doing. We rightly point out that we have achieved much in the Scottish government but it is vital that people know what we cannot do because of the constraints upon us. There will, of course, always be some people on the right of the political spectrum who support independence. But not many. A majority for independence can only be built by convincing people that it is a means to changing their world for the better, by aligning the cause of democratic constitutional change with the case for progressive social and economic reform. We were on that course but last Thursday is undoubtedly a setback. The social democratic majority in Scotland is now fractured and we need to put it back together. The ranks of the independence campaign swelled in recent years as masses of people, especially the young, saw it as a better route to social change than any UK option. Corbyn or no Corbyn that is still unquestionably true and that is the central argument we need to get back to.
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The UK Scots voted to stay part of doesn’t exist now

The UK Scots voted to stay part of doesn’t exist now

There have been some daft arguments put against allowing people in Scotland to have a choice about the future of their country.

You have no mandate Ruth Davidson tells Nicola Sturgeon. Really? Did the SNP not mention this in their manifesto for the Scottish Parliament election last year? Let’s check. Maybe it’s buried away somewhere. No wait. Page 24 has a whole section on a second referendum. It says: “We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum … if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”

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Business rates response was democracy in action

Sometimes, democracy works. It worked last month with proposed changes to business rates in Scotland. Independent assessors recalculated what each business would be charged. Since it had been seven years since the last review it was no surprise that some would see big changes.

Two thirds of local businesses saw no increase or a cut but some were facing dramatic eye-watering hikes in their rates. The hospitality trade – hotels, pubs and restaurants – seemed to be worst affected. Business owners contacted their local political leaders in anger and panic. They feared, rightly, that the scale of the increases could put them under.

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Westminster Hour

On Sunday 12th February Tommy appeared on Radio 4's Westminster Hour where called on the UK Government to just get on with guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens already living in UK.

If you missed it you can catch up here.

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Palestine Debate

Palestine Debate

This time next week I will be proposing a resolution in parliament on the situation in Palestine. It’ll make a change from wall to wall Trump and Brexit. The resolution has cross party support including a surprising number of Tories. It calls on the British Government to lead in getting new peace talks started and on the Israeli Government to stop building settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

But why? And why now?

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Tommy Sheppard: Brexit is here to stay as defining issue of today

Tommy Sheppard: Brexit is here to stay as defining issue of today

I did ten press-ups this morning. It’s a start. Like many others the first days of my fledgling new year are driven by diet and detox. After the season of Christmas party excess and forced bonhomie it’s time to reset the body. The road to hell and all that…

I write on bank holiday Tuesday. The last day before the start of a new political term; last day of distraction. Tomorrow I’ll need to fire through the gears and get up to speed for the political challenges of 2017.

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Any Questions

On Friday 2nd December, Tommy appeared on Any Questions:

Ritula Shah presents political debate and discussion from the Quarry Theatre at Bedford School with Labour MP Lisa Nandy, the SNP MP Tommy Sheppard, the Deputy Leader of UKIP and London assembly member Peter Whittle and the Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons Health Select Committee Sarah Wollaston MP. Questions included: The Richmond by-election - should parties on the left form a liberal alliance? Will UKIP win the working class vote from Labour, "Cake and Eat it" plan for brexit? How much would you pay annually for access to the EU single market? animal fat in the new £5 note, Should taxes rise to fund the NHS and social care? and schools places and immigration.

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Independence is still a simply capital prospect

Independence is still a simply capital prospect

Three and a half months on from Brexit and things are still as clear as mud. David Davies’ statement in the House of Commons this week told us literally nothing about how the Government intends to leave the EU. He talks of a Great Reform Bill, but seems to have no idea what should be in it.

Little wonder people are anxious. Many, from some unlikely quarters, are now asking if it might not be easier for Scotland just to become an independent country after all. Things are clearly going to change. The UK most Scots voted for in 2014 will not exist. The deal has changed. Perhaps the best way to give certainty to our businesses and citizens is to just go for it.

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SNP members must decide if they want to expand or stretch the leadership

SNP members must decide if they want to expand or stretch the leadership

We're nearly there.

The SNP Depute Leader contest is in its final phase. The last hustings debate is in Inverness tonight and most members have already voted. So this week, I want to reflect on what the job might mean.

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Developing a proper regional structure would make the SNP a more responsive, inclusive and accessible party

Developing a proper regional structure would make the SNP a more responsive, inclusive and accessible party

And so the election of a new depute leader of the SNP is underway. Indeed, if previous contests are anything to go by, most people may already have voted.

I’ve made organisational reform the key plank of my campaign. Central to this is developing a regional structure for the party, providing a bridge between the party leadership and branches on the ground.

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Four great candidates, one great big decision – and members must make it

Four great candidates, one great big decision – and members must make it

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the first independence referendum. Getting ready for the second one is providing the backdrop against which SNP members are selecting a new Depute Leader.

Ballot papers go out in four days’ time to more than 100,000 members eligible to vote in the contest. Campaigning by the four candidates began six weeks ago, and the contest has certainly been thorough.

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Time to stop and think about our city’s future

Time to stop and think about our city’s future

I’m privileged to be a Member of Parliament – when your passion is politics there really is no better job. I’m even more privileged to represent Edinburgh East: a constituency that takes in the magnificent natural beauty of Arthur’s Seat, our historic castle and a world heritage site. We are a European capital to be proud of. But there’s something we need to talk about when it comes to the heart of our unique city: the controversy that is planning. Our city is growing and nothing stays the same. Development is necessary in a vibrant and dynamic city like ours. But I fear that our planners are at risk of leaving our residents behind as they chart the future. And there will be a bitter harvest if that is the case. 

Read the full article in the Edinburgh Evening News.

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I believe the SNP organisation needs an upgrade... and I'm the candidate to do it

I believe the SNP organisation needs an upgrade... and I'm the candidate to do it

We're past the halfway mark in the SNP depute leadership contest. Ballot papers go out in just 10 days’ time. This has been, and will continue to be, a good natured campaign – able candidates offering different views of what the job entails, discussing things in a respectful and thoughtful way.

So far there have been 17 hustings up and down the country with many more still to come. A few members have come up to me after these events a little frustrated. They complain that the meetings are meant to help people make up their minds and yet after hearing our presentations they are less sure of how to vote than beforehand.

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SNP depute contest is decidedly dignified

SNP depute contest is decidedly dignified

We’re pretty much halfway now in the ten-week campaign to find a new depute leader of Scotland’s main political party. And in stark contrast to other parties, the SNP contest seems a positive and good-natured one.

Sadly, there are no women in contention, but members do have a choice of four able blokes – any of whom could make a decent fist of the job.

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Women need a better deal ... we can't ease off the gas in our fight for equality

Women need a better deal ... we can't ease off the gas in our fight for equality

The contest for depute leader of the SNP is at the half-way mark. And it’s been an exemplar in how a democratic organisation should conduct itself. Able, thoughtful candidates have treated each other with respect and engaged with hundreds of party activists at dozens of hustings throughout the country. There’s just one thing that could have been better – it’s a shame this has ended up as a blokefest

The absence of any female candidates is a great disappointment and the contest would have been a richer one had there been some. We ought to ask ourselves why this happened. And we ought to make sure that it doesn’t mean that the position of women in Scotland and in our party gets less attention. I’ve heard a number of people remark that whilst it a shame there’s not a woman standing it’s okay since the party already has a strong female leader, and indeed is one of very few governing parties with a gender-balanced cabinet.

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We join parties to change the world

We join parties to change the world

So, I think we can all agree, policy is quite important. We join political parties to change the world. And deciding how it should change can be the most exciting bit. Discussing, thinking, working out how to make things better with others who share the same objectives but may have a different way to get there.

The way we decide policy is crucial to the SNP’s cohesion and strength as a political party. The essence of a democratic process is that it offers a trade-off. In return for being able to argue and maybe win your point of view we each agree to abide by whatever position is eventually agreed by the whole group. People who support a minority position will get behind the majority because there’s been a fair debate on the options. This allows parties, and other organisations, to agree a common way forward and their supporters to rally behind it.

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