Today’s Sunday Herald (paywall) reported SNP MP Tommy Sheppard calling for two things. First, a delay in an independence referendum until we know the terms of Brexit. This was already widely believed to the Scottish government policy in any case. Yet Sheppard’s call seemed to pressage a debate not simply about when a referendum should happen but whether it should happen at all. What, after all, will be the SNP’s policy on a referendum be if Brexit now delivers all of the Scottish government’s demands?

Second, Sheppard urged the SNP to move left. His argument that this should happen because the losses sustained by the SNP at the General Election came due to the move of young Yes voters to Labour needs one qualifier. Notably, Labour’s vote increased by only 2% and the greatest damage done to the SNP was by large numbers of their voters in moving directly across to the Tories (the Tories gained over 13% and the SNP lost over 13%, much of that vote going directly across). In addition, Liberal Democrats switched to Tory and there was some tactical voting by Labour voters in Edinburgh South and Ochil.

However, as this blog has pointed out, even with the return of the Tories in numbers, in most of the seats it gained Labour would not have quite beaten the SNP without those additional Yes voters Sheppard correctly identifies. Mr Sheppard’s case for an SNP move left, having lost former Tories who used the SNP as a bulwark against Labour and have now gone back to the Tories, seems sound.

How far and fast left the SNP should go, though, is a matter for the SNP as a whole, and of course for its leaders. The appointment of a businessmen with an East Coast constituency as Mr Sheppard’s boss at Westminster suggests that the SNP is not yet in any mood to tackle its ambiguity about where it lies on the political spectrum. And for now, this caution seems understandable. The SNP occupies the centre-ground of Scottish politics and will not want to concede that by moving too far too quickly.

Meanwhile, although it seems clear that Mr Shepherd is correct about young Yes folk motivated by Jeremy Corbyn, it is equally clear that the Scottish Labour leadership despises Corbyn and his politics. The Scottish Labour Party put all its resources into one right of centre seat, which some believe it held by encouraging Labour/Tory tactical voting. Many Corbynites believe that this strategy helped the Tories return to government (for now…). Meanwhile, the seats the Labour Party won, often with little or no increase in its actual vote, came in spite of and not because of its leadership’s plan.

The question for some long-standing SNP supporters will be whether Mr Sheppard has reverted to Labour Party type. After all, he seems to be questioning the need for a referendum and arguing for the SNP to be more Corbynite. In addition, he’s very much a Tommy come lately having been a member of the SNP for just 3 years and an MP for just two.

That’s a matter for SNP members, of course. It’s understandable that those who have been in for the long haul will find it emotionally difficult to adapt to the new reality that independence is possible now, but not with SNP votes alone.

It does seem that Sheppard believes that the SNP will sink if it cannot produce policies and energy which rival Jeremy Corbyn’s and make those young Yes voters one-off Labour voters.

But other, and for me far more significant, point is that Sheppard understands the difference between supporting independence and supporting the SNP. It is certain that Corbynites within Scottish Labour understand this too. For now, the Scottish Labour leadership talk of nothing but the union and the SNP (look at their Twitter streams, which rarely indicate that the Tories are in office, if not quite in power again yet). For them, a Tory UK government is a fair price to pay for hurting the SNP.

But experienced Corbynites in Scottish Labour, who know Mr Sheppard well, see things differently and are working their way to the same conclusions as Sheppard. They see the significance of those Yes voters who voted Labour, and they want to keep them. They will understand that the best way to lose them will be to carry on doing what their leadership is doing and demonising Yes voters. What they desperately need is a change of leadership, but that looks long way off at the moment.

In the end, and likely for the period up until the Scottish parliamentary election in 2021, whether or not there is another UK election Mr Sheppard will divide opinion within the SNP yet may become the most pivotal player or all for Yes voters as a whole. If Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister, as he may well, Sheppard’s job may be made harder, but he will still be in the right place to give independence its best chance. Independence supporters of all parties will be listening very carefully indeed to Mr Sheppard from now on. Woe betide  any senior politician who fails to understand his significance.


NB: I describe Ian Blackford as an ‘East Coast’ MP above. His constituency, of course, goes coast to coast. Thanks to Maria. 


16 Responses to Scottish independence: Tommy Sheppard MP is now perhaps the most pivotal player of all
  1. I thought that the SNP were busy putting together a new ‘white book’ ready for the next indy campaign. Tommy knows this so why is he saying this? The indy campaign is all that is important. Westminster only matters as a negative side to this campaign.

    Corbyn did OK without his parties MP’s support. He is a WM stooge like many others.

    Yes the SNP for Scotland needs to be more forceful on TV and in the media in general and have clear policies. The SNP manifesto’s had these but they were just not pushed properly.

    • I imagine Tommy S is being encouraged by the leadership to fly the kite of a delayed referendum. It’ll make SNP stalwarts uncomfortable, of course. Essentially, the SNP leadership is very aware of how much it relies upon a number of MPs who are not only relative novices at politics, but also very new converts to the SNP. Tricky stuff.

      Independence can’t be won by dissing Corbyn, though.

  2. I would NEVER vote Labour. I would NEVER vote TORY. I would NEVER vote Libdem.

    I am from the North East and the idea that I am a nascent Tory using the SNP as a bulwark against Labour is frankly ludicrous. In fact the entire concept of the SNP as being some chameleon with no real core belief is nonsense. The SNP is a left leaning centralist Social Democratic Party. Always has been.

    • Thanks for this. I don’t doubt that you’re a strong SNP supporter. But it’s pretty clear that Labour’s vote stood still up your way while there was a decisive movement from the SNP to the Tories. I don’t suggest that you can’t win those seats back, but it will be very hard. I think a lot of the shire Tories who simply couldn’t bear seeing Labour in power used the SNP as their bulwark locally. Now that the Tories are back in business, they’ve come b back out of the woodwork. It’s like an elastic band springing back, really. Clearly, there’s a reason the SNP vote was much higher than independence support. In fact, if you look at the figures for independence support – which haven’t changed while the SNP vote went down 13% and the Tory vote went up 13%, there’s really no other explanation. Which constituency are you in?

  3. Another good read Eric ,

    Found this on twitter. Seems our “indi friendly Sunday Herald ” has twisted and spun his interview.

    Its on Wings twtter as well.

    Poor Tommy isn’t happy . Another poor sow from the Sunday H.

  4. Corbyn’s allegedly radical manifesto included support for weapons of mass destruction, the unfair First-Past-The-Post voting system, hard Brexit and denying the right of Scots to determine their own future. He still comprehensively lost the election with 55 seats less than the Tories and only 7 seats in Scotland.

    If I was a progressive left of centre voter in Scotland I wouldn’t be voting Labour.

    A hard Brexit will soon become apparent and left/right labels will not be as important as they appear at the moment. Before too long Scotland will be glad it has a mandate for a new vote on independence.

    • I agree with much of this. But the reality is that there are independence supporters who want a Hard Brexit and plenty who voted Labour; without them, independence isn’t possible.

  5. Tommy made the statement in his maiden speech at Westminster that the decision about Scotland’s constitutional future would be taken by another chamber 400 miles from here (Holyood that is not Brussels).
    Nothing has changed.
    The unionists acknowledge this by trying to delay any decision until after the next Holyrood elections when they hope to have the balance of power.
    Doubt the Brexit negotiations will go on that long,so depending on the outcome,Holyrood may have to hold another referendum.
    Let’s be clear,it is the unionist parliament that is responsible for creating this situation,not Holyrood.

    • Yes, I think Tommy S occupies a position which suggests he speaks against the leadership but where he actually puts the things they can’t quite say yet. I’ve no doubt at all that the SNP leadership has always preferred a later date for a second referendum. I think you’re wrong about a Labour/Tory coalition, by the way. If there’s a coalition, which is very possible, it could only really be SNP/Labour.

  6. Another interesting read.

    In terms of policy, I’m inclined to think that the SNP have it about right, actually. They need to do better on things like education, but that’s a question of delivery rather than direction. But for the most part, I’m pretty comfortable with most of what their positions. Maybe that’s just me. 🙂

    However, you (and TS) are right that there needs to be a distinction made between the SNP and the wider Yes movement. You’ve correctly noted that there are now very significant numbers of Yes voters who voted Labour this month – it’s also worth remembering that if tens of thousands of voters moved from the SNP to the Tories then that must presumably include many who voted Yes in 2014 – the wider Yes movement must surely consider how they can be persuaded to vote Yes again?

    The suggestion I’d be inclined to make is a tweak to some of the rhetoric. Since it looks like iScotland would initially be outside of the EU, albeit with the potential for a fast-track re-entry, maybe a commitment should be made to look again at the Common Fisheries Policy? Since that’s such an issue for so many (and understandably so), surely it makes sense to acknowledge and address that concern?

    • Yes, I think that might be wise. There’s a train of thought within the independence movement which wants to cut aid to farmers and fisherfolk, though…

  7. Ian Blackford is Ross, Skye and Lochaber, not east coast.

    • Sorry, I wasn’t thinking Maria. It’s a bad description right enough. He’s my brother’s family’s MP and they live about as far East as you can. And the demographic is what I was getting at (previous Lib Dem, etc). But I take your point and I’ll put a note at the bottom.

  8. I’m not too clear on which of JC’s policies the SNP need to rival given that Corbyn seems to be promising much of what the SNP has already delivered in Scotland despite Tory austerity. Are young Labour voters and Tommy Sheppard attracted by his commitment to nuclear deterance and the UK’s nuclear arsenal being stored close to Glasgow? There’s probably more the SNP can and should do but they will never please all of the electorate all of the time and for every voter they persuade, they may lose one or more. I’m not sure Corbyn, despite the wave of popularity engulfing him at the moment, provides an enduring role model. His present status has been gifted to a major extent by the contrast provided by the catastrophe that is May and her team of self-important egos who, aided by large sections of the media, think assertion can masquerade as a powerful, intellectual argument. Only a very short memory is required to remember the wave of popularity that engulfed the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon in particular, and without the benefit of the contrasting shambles that is the present UK government.

  9. First, Tommy Sheppard has done no more than reiterate the existing SNP position on timing of #ScotRef.

    Second, #ScotRef is not dependent on #Brexit or conditional on whatever terms the EU chooses to impose on a helpless British state. The right of self-determination is vested wholly in the people of Scotland to be exercised entirely at their discretion.

    Third, there are procedures for formulating and amending party policy. Not even Tommy Sheppard is exempt from following those procedures. He would first have to persuade a sufficient number of party members, such as myself, that the SNP should move away from the path that has just brought us yet another emphatic election victory.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *