Scottish National Party Europe Spokesman attacks British PM and governing Tories, warning hard Brexit could cost Scotland 80,000 jobs on Conflict Zone. Is independence the cure?
"We're in the middle of a snap general election that the Prime Minister called to take full advantage of a civil war that was raging in the Labour party," Stephen Gethins of the Scottish National Party (SNP) told DW's Conflict Zone.
"We have a Westminster government who - instead of tackling the very significant problems that they have - are in the middle of making the most of a Labour Party civil war for political gain and at the most of having to deal with Brexit and not telling anybody what it means," Gethins added.
The SNP, led by First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, opposes British Prime Minister Theresa May’s austerity measures, cuts to public services and her plans to leave the EU's single market.
A new independence vote?
The majority of the Scottish population - 62 percent - voted Remain in the UK referendum in 2016. The SNP wants to use the General Election on June 8 to reinforce its push for a new independence vote, meaning it could apply to re-join the European Union. British Prime Minister Theresa May has so far rejected the proposal.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has blocked proposals for a second Scottish independence referendum following Brexit.
In 2014, when Scotland last voted on independence from the UK, the Scottish population rejected independence by 55 percent to 45 percent.
"Scotland was told that the only way to remain part of the EU in 2014 was to vote 'No' to independence. We were explicitly told that that was the only way to guarantee our place in the European Union and we were told that Scotland's voice would be respected," Gethins said.
'They voted with their eyes wide open'
Sebastian responded: "You said, if we remain part of the UK, a referendum on future British membership of the EU could see Scotland taken out of the EU against the wishes of the people of Scotland. So you warned them and they chose to ignore your word. They voted with their eyes open."
Would anything be different this time? The Scottish National Party was formed in 1934 and has been in government since 2007. In 2015, it won 56 of 59 seats for Scotland in UK Parliament in 2015. However, it is expected to lose seats in the June 8 general elections while still remaining the largest political force in Scotland. A poll of 2,000 Scottish voters found SNP support has gone below 40 per cent for the first time since 2014 due to a Tory surge in Scotland.
DW’s Tim Sebastian confronted Stephen Gethins with the SNP’s loss in momentum. Gethins disagreed: "The SNP are still far, far ahead in the opinion polls. (…) The SNP will hopefully win this election. We won the local elections. We increased the number of seats we won the local elections. That's a pretty good result after 10 years in power. There are many governments across Europe who can have that electoral record." He also attacked the Tories' election campaign: "The Tories (…) are still wildly unpopular in Scotland." The latest YouGov poll found the SNP to be at 42 percent, followed by the Tories with 29 percent, meaning they are now the second largest force.
In the party's election manifesto that was published on May 30, Sturgeon said the SNP is the only party that can stand up to May’s Conservatives. "There is just too much at stake for Brexit simply to be imposed on Scotland, no matter how damaging it turns out to be. Our future must be decided by us, not for us," the party leader said in Perth.
'An extraordinary amount of pain' because of Brexit
On Conflict Zone, Gethins emphasized that Scotland is a different political landscape compared to England and values a more positive relationship with EU member states: "We want to see freedom of movement continue here in Scotland."
"Scotland is about to go through an extraordinary amount of pain by being taken out of the European Union against its will," Gethins said.
In the SNP’s party manifesto, Sturgeon promised to keep Scotland in the single market to protect the 80,000 jobs that could be at risk in case of a so-called "hard" Brexit.
"Our relationship with Europe is critical. It will be the biggest challenge in the next Parliament to get the best deal that we possibly can and hold the Tories to account over a hard Brexit that's going to cost jobs and be damaging to our economy," Stephen Gethins said. But Scotland would have to apply to join the EU, a senior European Commission spokesperson said in March 2017.
Former Commission President José Manual Barroso already said in an interview in 2012: "For European Union purposes, from a legal point of view, it is certainly a new state. If a country becomes independent it is a new state and has to negotiate with the EU." The Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis underlined this in March 2017: "Spain supports the integrity of the United Kingdom and does not encourage secessions or divisions in any of the member states. We prefer things to stay as they are.”
Gethins rejected the idea that Scotland would have to join the queue: "There is no such thing as a queue in Europe. Turkey applied to join, 'joined the queue' before half of the members who are currently members had even got the application forms in. There is no such thing as a queue in Europe."
Stephen Patrick Gethins was born 1976 in Glasgow and obtained a law degree from University of Dundee. He has worked in NGOs in the Caucasus and Balkans, and has served as an Member of the UK Parliament for the Scottish National Party since 2015.