Tommy Sheppard won’t rule out standing for SNP

Tommy Sheppard says the SNP is the best vehicle for representing Scotland. Picture: Cate Gillon

Tommy Sheppard says the SNP is the best vehicle for representing Scotland. Picture: Cate Gillon

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COMEDY boss Tommy Sheppard has indicated he could stand as an SNP candidate after announcing he had joined the party in the wake of the independence referendum.

Mr Sheppard, a former deputy general secretary of the Labour Party in Scotland, said he was not a nationalist, but believed the SNP was the best vehicle for representing Scotland’s interests.

He said the SNP needed to focus on next year’s Westminster general election.

And the one-time Labour councillor in Islington, London, did not rule out standing for election himself at some level.

He said: “I’ve held elected office in the past, so I’m not averse to it. But I don’t think a two-day-old member has any claim to stake. There are plenty other people ahead of me.”

Mr Sheppard, who runs The Stand Comedy Club in York Place, said he had gradually drifted away from Labour and had not been a member of the party for the past ten years.

“I’m not a nationalist, I remain a social democrat, but my belief in social democracy will now be advanced far better in the SNP.

“What is important is we look at how best to represent the interests of Scotland, not just at Holyrood but at Westminster. My judgement is that the SNP is the best vehicle to do that.

“But the SNP has never really seriously bothered about Westminster elections. It needs to have a very serious focus on that. We need to get our sleeves rolled up and get stuck in.”

Mr Sheppard’s move to the SNP came as former First Minister Henry McLeish warned Labour was in danger of dying out in Scotland unless radical action was taken.

Highlighting the big working-class Yes vote, Mr McLeish said: “We can’t ignore this. Far too often we are seen trying to catch the middle ground but it doesn’t exist. We need to get our values in order and explain what they are.

“A number of Labour voters don’t know where we stand any more. On social justice, morality and a whole range of issues, we need to stop thinking there is an entitlement for people to vote Labour.

“We need full autonomy from UK Labour so we can have a clear identity. Ed 
Miliband’s Labour is fighting for English votes on different issues.”

Mr Sheppard told the News he had been impressed by the attitude and character of the people in the SNP he had met during the campaign.

“A generation ago I would have been calling them ‘Tartan Tories’. It is clear the SNP has changed beyond recognition and it is now much more a party of social democrats and people who want political reform.”

In a blog, Mr Sheppard explained his decision to join the SNP, saying it was the best way of guaranteeing Scotland’s interests.

He said: “The Yes campaign has been the biggest progressive movement I’ve been involved with in over 35 years of political activity. The level of involvement has been unparalleled – so many people, so much hope and an incredible unity of purpose. This was a tremendous flowering of democracy – people prepared to confront and overcome the feeling of being powerless in a world controlled by unelected elites.

“Most of all, this was the moment when politics became too important to leave to the politicians.

“Gladly, few seem to be content now to go back to the sofa and let the political class just get on with it.”

In a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the referendum and its aftermath, Lothian Conservative MSP Gavin Brown said it was “critical” that the Scottish Government delivers on its pledge to work constructively with Lord Smith of Kelvin, the man tasked with bringing the parties together to talk about more powers.

Mr Brown said: “If this process is to succeed, if it has any prospect of delivering for Scotland, everybody has to get on board and we mustn’t snipe from the sidelines before the process has fully begun.”

He said the eyes of the world were still on Scotland and called on the Scottish Government to ensure that the country was “open for business”.

Edinburgh Northern and Leith Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm hit out at Nicola Sturgeon for refusing to rule out another referendum on independence as she launched her SNP leadership bid.

“That is completely contrary not just to what the First Minister said but also what she said about this being a decision for a generation,” he said.

“So it seems a political generation may have become a mere five years.”

He said he supported extensive fiscal and other powers for Holyrood.

But he said: “What was promised by the leaders and indeed by Gordon Brown was not devo max, and I can see some people are trying to set this up as ‘if it is not devo max, they have reneged on their promise’.

“They never promised devo max, you know Gordon Brown doesn’t support devo max, everybody knows that none of the Better Together parties support devo max. Devo max doesn’t exist anywhere in the world.”

Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone called for Lord Smith’s commission to involve as many people as possible.

She praised the “outstandingly positive level of engagement” in the referendum debate, adding: “As tight as the timescales are that Lord Smith has been given to work to, we must do all that we can to ensure that those who contributed so much to the debate are given every opportunity to contribute to this process, too.

“This debate has shown us that democracy begins at street level.”

Finance Secretary John Swinney highlighted the “solemn commitments” by the anti-independence parties on extra powers for Holyrood and said the SNP was happy to engage in a process of dialogue.

He said: “It sets an important benchmark of the type of level of agreement that has to be secured if there is to be a faithful commitment delivered to those who, in good faith, voted No on the expectation that additional significant powers were to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.”

Brown and Hosie ready to contest deputy leadership

TWO contenders for the SNP’s deputy leadership were expected to throw their hats in the ring today after Nicola Sturgeon officially announced she was bidding to take over from Alex Salmond.

Transport Minister Keith Brown, who is MSP for Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, was declaring his candidacy at the Scottish Poetry Library this morning.

And Treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie, MP for Dundee East, was due to reveal his bid this afternoon.

Other possible names in the frame include two other MSPs – Humza Yousaf, External Affairs and International Development Minister, and Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead.

Ms Sturgeon, who is expected to be elected SNP leader unopposed at the party’s conference in Perth in November, will not endorse any of the would-be deputies as her running mate.

She will be Scotland’s first female First Minister.

Confirming her own leadership bid yesterday, she said: “I am putting myself forward for two simple reasons: I want to serve my party and my country. And I believe I am the best person for the job.

“I also hope that my candidacy, should it succeed, will send a strong message to every girl and young woman in Scotland: no matter your background or what you want to achieve in life, in Scotland in 2014 there is no glass ceiling on ambition.”

She said she would be a “willing partner for progress” in talks about transferring more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

She said: “If I am elected to lead, I pledge today that the SNP and the Scottish Government will be full, active, genuine and constructive participants in that process of change, wherever it happens – in Holyrood, in meeting rooms and, most importantly of all, in discussions across Scotland. There will be no sitting on the sidelines.”

But she said the deal on more powers must be one “that maximises devolution in substance not just in rhetoric”, adding: “That is what I believe the majority of people of this country now want.”

She dismissed any idea of an alternative route to independence.

“Scotland will only become independent if the people of Scotland vote for independence in a referendum. There is no short cut.” But she would not say if the manifesto she would put forward for the 2016 Holyrood elections would include a commitment to holding such a vote.

Provost hails ‘appetite for democracy’

LORD Provost Donald Wilson has hailed the “renewed appetite for democracy” demonstrated in the independence referendum.

And he pledged the city council would play its part by promoting openness and transparency.

In a blog entry, the Lord Provost, below, said: “Last week’s vote brought intense debate, delight and disappointment depending on how you marked your ballot paper, but the sheer number of registered voters who turned out to cast their vote highlights Scotland’s renewed appetite for engaging in democracy.

“As the turnout proved, people in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland got more engaged and excited about politics and democracy than they have been in a long time. Over 84 per cent of the people in Edinburgh who were registered to vote did so last week.”

He said the council was now enabling the public to scrutinise and engage with local decisions by webcasting more meetings than ever before. “From decisions on town planning and roads, to changes to bin collections, parks and libraries; people will be able to tune in to decisions that affect them and their communities,” he said. “We are also piloting e-voting by councillors, which will give greater transparency as to how councillors vote.”