Part 3: Brexit and Independence
“Okay, so, we get onto the subject of Brexit…” I rifled through the sheets of paper I was holding, trying to look professional. “Why do you think the concept of a European identity appeals to the SNP more than a British identity?” (Context: this came after the SNP first threatened another independence referendum after the Brexit vote, so Scotland could stay in the EU.)
“Well, I’m not sure really it does,” Ash began, crossing her arms. “If you think about Scandinavian countries, Norway and Sweden used to be one country, and then they became separate countries […] and they don’t have any problem with being referred to as Scandinavians, so I think in some ways I don’t see any conflict with living in an independent Scotland but still thinking of yourself as British […] My interest in living in an independent Scotland is not so much to do with a rejection of British culture or British people, it’s more to do with the idea of Scotland being able to decide its own future and its own fate.
Also,” she added, leaning forward, “I disagree with almost everything the conservatives do at a UK government level, I think their policymaking is extremely poor and they make bad decisions constantly. So going to war in Iraq would be one example, allowing the debt to go the way that it has would be another, there’s so many examples of them doing things that I don’t support… so the opportunity to get away from that is such a motivating factor for me!”
“So if the UK government were run by a different party which the SNP agrees with,” I said carefully, wondering whether I was asking an obvious question, “Would that change anything?”
“Mmmmmm, I think it might well do, but I just think Scotland’s a country.”
There was a slight pause. She elaborated.
“There are roughly 200 countries in the world, we’re not even that small, we’re sort of average sized. All those countries seem to manage to be their own country perfectly well; nobody thinks that they’re too small or too stupid to run their own affairs, it’s just seen as normal. And I think, to me, there’s an element of that, Scotland should have the opportunity every other country’s got.”
“Okay, and would Scotland survive as an independent-”
I looked up from my notes and finished my question.
“-given that the economy grows far slower than the UK’s as a whole?”
“Well, you ask yourself why it does that. In my opinion, the state of the UK economy and the state of the Scottish economy is a judgement on the union, and not in any way a judgement on what Scotland could be like.”
“So the fact that, for example, the Scottish deficit per head is higher-”
“Scotland doesn’t have a deficit because we don’t have foreign powers to run one up. Scotland has a balanced budget, and it is a notional…”
I gave Ash a puzzled look. (I have since looked up “Scotland deficit”. If it really isn’t a thing, someone should probably tell the media and several politicians.)
“There are some problems with some of the figures and so on,” Ash said quickly, “So we’re not denying that Scotland would have to have certain spending commitments and so on, but Scotland would have to design its own economy to suit Scotland. And that’s the thing at the moment- when things are done at a UK level, quite often they don’t suit Scotland, it has to be something that just suits the whole of Britain. But Scotland’s economy is quite different with the whole of the UK’s, so it has some particular strengths, and there’s areas we could do better for sure, but it would give us the opportunity to do what’s best for Scotland. I have absolutely no doubt that Scotland would be a very successful and wealthy independent country.”
“Okay, recently a lot of newspapers have been reporting Scotland being worse off than even Greece, would you call these figures inaccurate?”
“I would. Yes, absolutely.” After Ash briefly criticised some aspects of the media, recommending a documentary about bias in the BBC, we moved on.
“How much would Scotland have to compromise to join the EU?” I asked, adding that the Spanish PM is completely against Scotland making a deal with the EU.
After a moment of silence, I elaborated that the EU needs a unanimous vote to let another member join, and if Spain didn’t cooperate, Scotland wouldn’t be able to join.
“Well, are you absolutely sure about that?”
“About the unanimous vote?”
“Um,” I said, confused, “Yes?”
(I’d been totally sure until then, but, with a Member of the Scottish Parliament – of the governing party, no less – doubting my statement, I panicked.)
“I’m pretty sure?”
“Like, fairly certain.”
“Well, I’ll have to check that,” Ash said. (For the reader: yes, you do need a unanimous vote.)
Ash then went on to explain her theory that, even if Spain’s cooperation was needed, “we export a lot of fish to Spain,” and this invaluable trade link would mean Spain would be favourable to keeping Scotland in the single market. Unfortunately, I found myself woefully ignorant of how highly Spain values its fish imports, so I moved swiftly on.
“Does the SNP have a plan for Independence – in case it is successful and it does happen?”
“Well, you know, everyone at the SNP has a different vision of Independence…”
“A… a different vision?”
“Yes, you have people within SNP with a broad range of views on where they want to take Scotland after independence,” Ash continued enthusiastically, going on to say that independence is their main goal, and we should focus on achieving it first, and then “seeing where that takes us.”
I faced determinedly away from my forgotten microphone as Ash theorised over what else could happen, suggesting that the SNP “could even disband” if it achieved independence.
Shortly afterwards, when it was pitch black outside the window despite it being barely 5pm, we wrapped up the interview, Ash smiling genuinely. It was amazingly kind of Ash Denham to dedicate so much of her Thursday afternoon to it, especially being the busy MSP she is.