UK Politics

Interviewing Ash Denham, Part 2 of 3

Written by Benedetta Benzoni

(Continued from Part 1)

Part 2 of 3: human trafficking, surveillance, and how to vote in parliament

“Now that you’ve made it into parliament, I saw you’re involved in preventing human trafficking. What do you think’s been the best initiative you’ve put through?”

After a hasty and somewhat vague comment on the previous SNP government’s ‘groundbreaking’ legislation of unspecified nature, Ash put forward her ideas on sex trafficking. “…In order to reduce trafficking, we need to address prostitution. We need to look at what a lot of other countries have done, which is criminalising demand. […] You criminalise the person that is buying sex and you decriminalise the people that are selling sex.” She went on to say that “many people that are involved in prostitution is because maybe they’ve been victimised as children, or they’re in a bad situation, they have an addiction problem and so on,” which is why piling convictions onto them would be unfair.

When asked what she’s going to do specifically about this, Ash said she’s “going to try and see if that’s something we can take forward. You know, build support for that within my own ranks.”

“Okay, to change topic completely,” I began distractedly, frowning as I looked at the time, “What do you think of the new surveillance bill Westminster just passed?” (In retrospect, this may have been a slightly unfair question – the Investigatory Powers Act hadn’t been reported too widely in the media.)

“Yeah, I don’t know the details, if you could give me a few more details about what it is…?”

“At the moment, what’s happened is that the government, the police, and several charities can see everyone’s Internet search history without a warrant – well, not everyone’s, MPs are protected from this.”

Ash looked momentarily disconcerted, but after a moment, she seemed to have gathered her thoughts.

“I suppose it’s probably naïve to think that the things you do online will be secret,” she said slowly, “But we know everything’s tracked now, from every time you use your credit card and buy tickets, everything’s tracked. I think in general I’m not very keen on the idea of being increasingly surveilled; I think people do have a right to some sort of privacy.”

“So, would you say you’d oppose this measure?”

“Honestly, um, I don’t know, I’d have to look into it a bit more…”

I would have left it at that – I was realising at that moment it wasn’t one of my best questions – when Ash asked, “Did the SNP vote on it?”

Caught off guard, I replied with something along the lines of “I’m not really sure.”

“Yeah,” Ash said in tone of finality, nodding briskly, “I’d have to look and see how the SNP voted.”

“So… you generally tend to vote with your party?”

She was nodding before I’d even finished the question. “Yes, mm-hmm.”

I asked her what would happen if there was a conflict between what her constituency and her party wanted her to vote.

“Well,” she began, businesslike, “I think the thing is you’re elected to represent everyone, so in my constituency […] it’s about 65,000 people, and not very many people every write to you. […] And the people in your constituency don’t agree about everything, you’ll get 1 angry email about something and then 5 emails saying the complete opposite, so it’s very difficult in that case to reflect on what the constituency would want you to vote, that’s one thing.

I suppose the other thing is that we have representative democracy, the point of MSPs and MPs is that they’re elected to consider issues and then vote according to what I thought was the right thing, but obviously part of that consideration is taking on the views of the people in your constituency.”

“Okay… so, for instance, would you vote for something that was against the interests of your constituency if it was in the best interests of the country?”

After twenty seconds of Ash making uncertain noises, with mentions of the MP Brexit vote thrown in, I interrupted, saying, “As an MSP who potentially could end up in that situation, at the moment, what would you lean towards?”

“Well, okay, obviously we know that in Scotland, a much lower percentage of people voted for leave, so I think I’d feel more confident in saying…”

(More uncertain noises…)

“I mean, obviously we know that we know that the SNP, you know, they favour remain, so… now, I don’t know whether we would be in a position where the Scottish parliament’s ever going to get any say over Brexit, so I don’t know what we’ll do yet. But I think I would certainly… I think I would really… I think, if I think about what I’m here to do, I am here to represent my constituents,” her voice got stronger at this point, “So I’m absolutely clear that I’m here to get the best deal for Edinburgh Eastern, cos that’s my job, but on the higher level, my goal here is to do the best for Scotland… if they were ever competing, I think it’s really hard and I don’t know what I would do, I’ve not been in that situation yet.”

At this point, she answered my question: “Possibly, the interests of Scotland would trump the interests of the individual constituency, but I’d have to see what that was.”

Part 3 of 3: Brexit and Independence

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Benedetta Benzoni

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