“I think what’s clear is that the Borders wants its distinctive voice recognised”

Local democracy reporter Joe Anderson speaks to Calum Kerr, SNP candidate in the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency.

Friday, 15th November 2019, 11:33 am
SNP Candidate Calum Kerr

JA: You’ve been on the doorstep a little already, what are the big issues you’ve been hearing?

CK: I think the number one thing to say is that people are genuinely scunnered by politics and the number of people that are like ‘oh crikey, an election’ and the state of politics in general. 

That’s usually the opening response you get, and of course the big issues come up, like Brexit, the question of independence and the big personalities like Boris Johnson.

I think if you look back at the last couple of elections, in 2015 post-referendum we were carried through because I think people thought that the SNP would fight their corner, it wasn’t about independence. 

Then in 2017, the Tory party did work that was all about independence, and they’re trying to do a rerun of that.

I don’t think it works as well this time, even though it’s on the agenda, because people are looking at it like ‘do I really want Boris Johnson as prime minister?’ and ‘do I really want to lose my voice in Westminster?’, which they will, if they vote Tory. 

If you vote Conservative in a single issue election, you can’t absolve yourself of everything that goes with it.

JA: You said people are ‘scunnered with politics’, would a second referendum not exacerbate that?

CK: Well yes, second referendums, even. I think there is an element of that, that’s why going round the doors is so important because you get to have a proper conversation with them, but going into an election with poor weather and little daylight hours hits that badly. 

Are people a bit fed up? Is there a desire to move on? Yes, but what people don’t necessarily extrapolate from that is: let’s just get Brexit done. 

There are of course some leave voters who will happily leave on no deal, they’re a small minority. Most people, although they’ll say they don’t know much about it, they know enough to know that no deal is a bad idea. 

They know enough to know that they need to get the right deal, whether that’s for the Borders or Scotland or the whole of the UK. 

Do people want other votes? Not necessarily. Do people want politicians to actually work together? Yes. I think that’s one of the big things I’m saying to people.

I think Brexit and everything that’s happened is a symptom, not the cause. The fundamental system of government we have at UK level, with first past the post and adversarial politics, when you have a crisis like Brexit it doesn’t work.

You have this pathetic back and forward, and even infighting, between the two main parties and people are like ‘why can’t you behave like normal human beings’?

Find a common ground, and work together, and the system doesn’t do that. 

JA: You said the Tories will run a single-issue campaign, here in the Borders, what are the other issues that you’ll campaign on?

CK: First and foremost, we know if we vote for a Tory MP we increase the chances of Boris Johnson getting his appalling deal through. 

And even people who want Brexit completed, and want it done, don’t want the Borders to be done over by Brexit. 

Secondly, it’s not about whether people necessarily support independence or not, what people do agree with is Scotland’s own right to choose its own future, and that’s a more fundamental principle than just Brexit or independance; should we have a say and should our voice be respected, when it hasn’t?

People point to Brexit and they say: ‘doesn’t Brexit show that you’re better in the UK and why would you go back into the EU?’ and I say it shows the opposite, it shows that within the UK it doesn’t matter how loud your voice shouts, if 62% vote remain, it doesn’t matter that you bring forward a coherent plan for a Brexit deal that would do as little damage as possible, it makes no difference. 

We are told to be quiet, you’ve had your choice. Now in contrast, in the EU, look at how they have totally put the deal behind what Ireland wants. Ireland has been put to the front, rather than pushed to the back, and they are a much smaller part of the EU than we are of the UK. 

What I actually think is the biggest issue in the Borders is: we have a distinct identity here, for fifty years we voted for a Liberal Democrat, there was a set of circumstances that led to me being the MP, and then after that there was a set of circumstances that led to a Conservative MP. 

I think what’s clear is that the Borders wants its distinctive voice recognised, it wants its voice to be heard, it wants a politician that will put party second to people, and we have not had that, we have lost our voice the last two years by having a Conservative. 

Look at what happened to the father of the house Ken Clarke, and the former Chancellor Philip Hammond, if you don’t back Boris, you’re out of the party. Not just losing the whip for a couple of weeks, you are gone. 

So our Scottish Tories, if we put any of them back, we’ll have no voice for Scotland, they will literally be lobby fodder. 

One side of the Border gets more public spending per head than the other, do you not feel that within the UK you get a good deal?

You’re looking at how much funding goes where, I’m talking about representation, I’m talking about someone who will stand up and be counted for the region, as I did for rural affairs, on the front bench, guaranteed to speak in important debates, free to put forward what Scotland and the Borders needs. 

It’s that voice in frontline politics, combined with the way I approach things, which is maybe because I’m not a career politician, when I approach things it’s about outcomes and how we work together, whereas too many politicians are about scoring cheap points and cheap headlines. 

That’s why people are so turned off and scunnered by it. I think there’s a great opportunity to get our voice back, and if you’re not convinced by independence when a vote comes, then you can vote no, but in the meantime if they vote on that issue in this election, they will lose their voice. 

JA: What would you say to people who draw a parallel between Brexiters wanting to leave the EU and you wanting to leave the UK? Both are considered to negatively affect the economy and both lean heavily on nationalism. 

CK: Not in the way that you articulated it. Do I see a similarity in people who want to take back control, who want to feel that decisions are made local to them? Then yes, I understand that.

If you look at what we’ve been doing on Brexit. We got together a group of eminent professionals, after the Brexit vote, who put together ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe’, a proper, well thought out strategy of what we should do. 

It argued for staying in the single market, staying in the customs union, first choice for the whole of the UK, that’s what we think is best for the whole UK. Honour the vote, leave, but do a deal that does the least damage to our economy. 

Then, if you’re not willing to sign up for that, at least give Scotland a result that represents the differentiated vote. We voted 62% to remain, there has to be some acknowledgement of that.

We have unique challenges. We voted to remain, so show some acknowledgement of that and give us some control over immigration, for areas like the Borders where we rely on seasonal workers. 

I think now, if you look at what’s happened in Northern Ireland, they’ve been given the type of deal that we’re vying for in Scotland. JA: You understand why Northern Ireland has special status though?

CK: Of course, there’s a peace process there, but what it demonstrates is a differentiated settlement, which we’ve said all along is possible, and they’ve chosen not to do that for Scotland.

Scotland has been told: ‘you’ve had your chance, keep quiet’. 

JA: So you’d like the sort of special arrangement that Northern Ireland has, but SNP policy is to leave the UK then join the EU…

CK: Of course we would. If Scotland were to become an independent country, we would argue for full membership of the EU and that’s certainly what I personally believe in, but what we’ve done during the Brexit process is try to be constructive and what happens is that gets lost in the noise because everyone focuses on independence.

JA: If Scotland were to leave the UK, it would be difficult to join the EU as prospective countries need to have a budget deficit of less than 3% of GDP, Scotland’s is around 7% at the moment…

CK: First of all, this election is not about the details of the prospectus for independence. Are there questions that people likely have about the prospect of independence? Yes, there are. Is this election one where we’re going to go through the details of that? No it’s not, that will come at some point in the future. 

Do I have confidence that an independent Scotland would have the benefits of membership of the EU? Yes I do, and I think of the things that has happened because of Brexit is that figures within the EU are increasingly happy to make it clear that Scotland would be very welcome. 

As I said in 2017, that vote was about who was going to represent the Borders through a difficult period, and we have lost that voice because we have had a Tory party that is infighting, and personal preservation and party politics has taken over what’s best for constituents. 

JA: As much as you say the Tories are running a single-issue campaign, the SNP are to a large degree as well, a vote for you would be a vote for a second independence referendum wouldn’t it?

CK: That’s what the Tories want it to be positioned as, there are plenty of people that vote for me that don’t support independence, because they will look at it and go: ‘okay, I believe that you will fight our corner hardest at Westminster, and if I still don’t believe in independence when the vote comes, I’ll vote against it’. 

Because of the multiple layers of government we have, most people are able to split out issues.