News & Articles

Some published articles and blog posts from Tommy Sheppard MP

Tommy thoughts and political views.

Thomas Muir Lecture - Thursday 24th August

obelisk-yellow

The obelisk on Calton Hill forms a familiar part of our iconic Edinburgh skyline. Many residents will pass it daily. But I would reckon only a very few will be aware of what it commemorates. Erected in 1844 the monument is to five men whose actions back in the late 18th century radically changed the political landscape in our country and across the UK. They sowed the seeds which eventually brought the democracy we take for granted today. One of these men is Thomas Muir.

This year, I am delighted to say I have had the enormous honour of being asked to give the Thomas Muir lecture.

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It's Brexit Again

Stronger-for-Scotland

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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The Corridors of Impotence

Yesterday I tweeted that I was heading back for the last week of term in the corridors of impotence. Little did I know when I said that how clear a demonstration we would have of that impotence last night.

So I spent my time on the train preparing to speak in a debate on the abuse MPs and candidates received, particularly online, during the General Election campaign. Yet I arrive in London to hear we might not get to the debate.

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Back to Work

Election-Night-2017

I am delighted to have been returned to Westminster as MP for Edinburgh East following the snap election on 8th June. Thanks to all those who supported me and came out to cast their vote on what has to have been one of the wettest days of the summer so far! I pledge to help everyone, no matter who they voted for or what their political persuasion - it’s what I’ve been doing for the past two years and I don’t plan to change that now. I’m here to speak up for the people in Edinburgh East and to have the voice of our communities heard in Westminster. 

My offices have re-opened and the surgeries are up and running in the usual pattern - you can find more information here. Please do get in touch if there is anything I can help you with. 

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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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Religion and Education

I’ve been denounced – again!

This time I appear to have incurred the wrath of the Catholic Church in Scotland’s hierarchy. A front page report in yesterday’s Scottish Catholic Observer claims I have a “plan” to outlaw Catholic schools and that my views are “chillingly intolerant”. Sadly due to the deterioration of Scottish journalism once great newspapers like The Scotsman have simply rehashed the story without even the pretence of checking fact or context.

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The Facts on the Ground

The Facts on the Ground

The hills around Jerusalem were drenched in sun the last time I was here. It brought out their significance and history. This week, though, the Holy Land has been visited by a Scottish winter. As I peer through the steamed up windows of our VW Transporter, it’s decidedly dreich out there.

I’m here on a parliamentary delegation to see if the political mood matches the weather. The trip is organised by the Council for Arab-British Understanding (www.caabu.org) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (www.map.org.uk). Over four days we have a packed schedule of meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, human rights groups and the UK Foreign Office. We also get the chance to see first-hand what it’s like to live under a military occupation.

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Trump

I write from the train, speeding towards London to begin another week traipsing the corridors of impotence. This week, as many, will be wall to wall Brexit as we debate the terms on which we should be leaving the EU, and try to protect Scotland’s position amid the chaos.

But something else is dominating the international agenda and consumes the imagination of every person who dares hope for a better world. Trump. What on earth has happened to America?

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The Supreme Court and Article 50

The Supreme Court and Article 50

You’ll not be surprised to hear that ever since the UK voted to leave the European Union, I have been receiving lots of letters and emails from constituents raising their concerns. While there have been a couple of requests asking me to respect the UK wide result and vote to trigger article 50, the vast majority have asked me to do all I can to protect Scotland’s place in Europe.

That’s not a surprise. In Edinburgh 74.4% of people voted to remain in the EU. For all its flaws, people across our city recognised the overwhelming benefits of EU – be they economic, cultural, environmental and civil.

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Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day

This week I signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment, in doing so pledging my commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who were murdered during the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people.

Friday 27th January will mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.

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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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Depute Leader Campaign Expenses

Earlier this year I stood for Depute Leader of the SNP.  At the time I made a promise that I would be transparent about the financial side of my campaign.  Any such campaign involves expenses and fundraising and I have set out a summary of these below. I am really grateful to everyone who supported my campaign either by donating directly or coming to one of the fundraising events.

In the end we raised more than we needed. I promised at the time that anything left over would be donated to the local campaign to support refugees. I’m delighted tell you that I have donated the surplus of £565.07 to Re-Act (Refugee Action Scotland) - a not for-profit international humanitarian aid project working to help bring vital supplies and support to the displaced refugees across Europe.

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The Balfour Declaration

Next year is the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. If you’ve not heard of it, you will do. This 67 word statement by Sir Arthur Balfour, then British Foreign Secretary, is claimed by many to be the first public iteration of the British government’s support for a Jewish state in the Middle East. Despite its brevity it also declared support for existing Arab people in the region. Some, especially those who feel affinity with the State of Israel, see the centenary as a cause for celebration, and have begun the process.

I cannot agree. I find little to celebrate in that part of the Middle East today. Israel, which has become one of the most heavily militarised countries in the world, continues its illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its blockade of Gaza, territory designated by the international community to become the fledgling State of Palestine. The resentment fuelled by the daily oppression of the occupation feeds a seething resentment of Israel, creating permanent tension and insecurity. Rather than seek a solution the right wing government of Israel is step by step annexing land by building illegal settlements across the occupied territories. This whole area is a powder keg that could blow at any time. Reasons to be cheerful? I think not.

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The week ahead

The week ahead

It’s just before 10am on Monday morning and according to the Virgin Trains website I’m hurtling towards London at 103mph. At this rate we might even be on time. It's been a while since I wrote a blog so thought I'd give you an insight into my week ahead. 

It’s looking like a busy week in the political equivalent of Hogwarts. As soon as I get in I’ve got a meeting with the Parliamentary Commissioner of Standards to discuss her review of the Code of Conduct which MPs need to adhere to. I’m my party’s representative on the Standards Committee which is overseeing the review and I’m keen to press her to tighten up in a number of areas.

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The UK voted for Brexit - so where do we go from here?

The UK voted for Brexit - so where do we go from here?

I write this barely 60 hours after finding out that the people of the UK had voted to leave the European Union – and in truth I’m still trying to get my head around it.

Shock was the first feeling. Sure, I knew that a leave vote was always on the cards, but somehow I never really believed it could happen. I thought in the final stages that enough had been done to save the day; that people would reject the narrow minded intolerance on which this most reactionary of campaigns was based. But it turned out that I was living in a Caledonian bubble and that England, outside of its metropolis, is indeed another country.

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Let's change the terrain and target open minds

Let's change the terrain and target open minds

Four elections and a referendum: It’s been a helluva five years. With the new SNP Government now sworn in the party can at last move off a permanent war footing. It’s time to take stock, re-group and plan.

And what a change in the political terrain has taken place. The Labour heartlands are no more. Once the party of the working class, Labour is now only capable of clinging on to constituencies that contain a substantial liberal middle class committed to voting tactically to keep the SNP out. And the SNP, although still able to straddle the class divide in its appeal, is now without doubt the political representative of central Scotland’s working class communities.

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SNP win Scottish Election with Highest Ever Vote in Edinburgh

SNP win Scottish Election with Highest Ever Vote in Edinburgh

No matter how you look at it, the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election was a convincing win for the SNP. The party was seeking an historic third term after nine years in charge at Holyrood. It got it. With knobs on. More votes than ever before in a Scottish parliamentary election and a bigger share of the vote too.

What’s not to like? Well, I guess the fact that even though it was its best ever performance the party still lost a few seats and narrowly missed out on an overall majority. That, though, is how the system is designed. It is almost impossible to get more than 50% of the seats unless you get more than 50% of the votes. Almost, but not quite.  Last time round in 2011 the SNP did just that, but in retrospect it’s pretty obvious that was something of a fluke, involving winning some unlikely seats by a whisker in three or four way marginal contests. Nowhere illustrates this better than what happened in Edinburgh.

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The Positive Case for Europe

The Positive Case for Europe

I will be voting to stay in the European Union in June. This is not in the belief that everything is in perfect working order, but in the hope that we can work with neighbouring countries to turn it into a much better institution than it is now.

I hope that Scotland will soon be an independent country but to get things done, whether at home or abroad, we will have to work together with other countries. An independent Scotland will have to work with the rest of Britain on a great number of things. And we’ll certainly need to work together across Europe. This means choosing to share or pool sovereignty and there’s nothing wrong with that - providing that choice is freely made and people have the right to change their mind.

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