Tommy Sheppard: interview with the MP for Edinburgh East

The Student interviewed Tommy Sheppard, the SNP MP for Edinburgh East, who has been voted for the third time in Parliament with the biggest majority he’s ever had.

Tommy spoke to us regarding the SNP winning a majority of seats in Scotland, he said: “It’s bittersweet because I’m equally disappointed at the results in England and the fact that the Tories did so well, which means that now they have a big enough majority to think they can do what they want… they’ll crash on with Brexit, no matter what people in [Scotland] think.

“We now have a new situation where, for the first time, with regards to the Union Parliament Agreement in the UK, we have political mandates from the two principal candidates [England and Scotland] which are completely different… It’ll be interesting to see how that pans out.

“Despite the fact that the UK government got 43% of the vote and 63% of seats, they claim they have a mandate, but that the SNP, which got 45% of the vote and 80% of the seats do not.

“We have told them they do not have a mandate in Scotland. The ball’s currently in their court to how they’re going to respond to that. If they’re just going to ignore it, they’re just going to widen the gulf between public opinion and political aspirations in Scotland and England… and break up the union.”

In regards to Scottish Independence, he said: “It’s closer than ever… the case for the union between Scotland and England is weaker than it has ever been, particularly now that England isn’t going to work with the European mainland, when most people in Scotland are more relaxed about the concept of being European in a way many people in Britain aren’t, and historically Scotland’s had a closer relationship with mainland Europe than England has.”

However, he believes that there are signs confirming his previous concerns about withdrawing existing authorities of the Scottish Parliament.

The European Withdrawal Bill wording creates the power for UK ministers to make decisions on policy matters regarding the Scottish Parliament.

Therefore, he suspects that with time and with Brexit, they will be “able to intervene in areas where they were legally not able to before.”

Questioned about SNP’s transphobia, he answered: “As with other parties, there’s a big debate of trans rights within the party… I support reform of the GRA to make it easier to transition and change your gender.

“I’m [also] very much in favour of safe spaces for women. You need to look at the definition of the 2010 Equality Act, where trans women do not have the same status as women. Scottish Parliament wouldn’t be able to change that even if they wanted to, and there are no proposals to advocate for changing that.

“When it comes to things like women refugees, where the 2010 act makes an exception for the ability to create a safe space and exclude ‘men’, there’s no mandatory exclusion of trans women and I think that should remain. When people say trans women should automatically be excluded from refugees because they were ‘once men’, that can’t be right for me.

“I’m mindful of all those who suffer prejudice and abuse and there’s this idea that trans women… suffer far more than many women and most men. Not to create a hierarchy, but if we’re motivated by empathy and compassion, we should recognise that it’s difficult for trans women to go through what they do, so I hope that society would do better than to caricature and denigrate them as ‘men dressed up as women.’ ”

As for including people of colour in discussions of Scottish Independence, he said: “there are different forms of nationalism.

“One end is negative and exclusionary, and at the other end is an inclusive civil democratic movement which is about empowering people irrespective of divisions, but simply on the common bases that they live in a particular part of the world.

“To people who say they’re anti-nationalist, do they mean they are against Palestinian nationalism, against the national congress in South Africa or Irish nationalism?

“As for people of colour, I’m very pleased that a lot of them identify as Scottish-Asians or Scottish-Africans. That’s a very good way of saying we’ve got something in common while having important differences that we can respect and which will strengthen each other than divide us.

“As for the borders and division argument – unless you think the entire world should be one single state or territory, then it’s okay for land to be divided into territories called nations, where people have control of what happens there.

“In my view, I want all those nations to cooperate and be interdependent. People have to be in control of their own lives, particularly the terms on which they engage with other people in other countries. I want to be part of the European Union and to work together with people across Britain, but I want people in Scotland to be able to determine that engagement for themselves.

“Scotland does need to acknowledge its role in the Slave Trade. But it’s important that understanding this history doesn’t debilitate us, but helps us make sure the future is different.”

Regarding immigration, he said the “political consensus in Scotland is pro-immigration… One of the compelling arguments for strengthening the authority of the Scottish Parliament is that by giving Scottish people some control, not regarding citizenship, but on determining work visas, we could use this power to increase the number of people coming here, and extend post-study work visas.”

Acknowledging there were some racist opinions in Scotland, he clarified: “It’s never been allowed to gain political traction in Scotland, and we need to constantly fight against it.

“Our prospectus and foundations for a new country has to absolutely be about equality and recognising that where you come from doesn’t matter, but what we’re doing together.”

As for drug policies, Tommy is currently urging Conservative ministers to make progress on reforming drug legislation.

He says “legalisation on cannabis is inevitable” and that drug users should be allowed to consume prohibited substances in a safe environment with medical supervision.

Tommy also wants to improve the ability to help people with addiction, and people’s frameworks to do this. He thinks that this will be achieved by “cross-party work with other politicians.”

Those wishing to follow Tommy’s work can do so on numerous media platforms following his election win.

Image Credit: Chris McAndrew via Wikipedia

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