Ian Blackford won the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency for the third time – and immediately called for the General Election result to pave the way to a second referendum on Scottish independence.
In the wake of a thumping overall victory for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in last Thursday’s election, Mr Blackford said he wanted a fresh poll on independence to take place during the transition period after Britain had formally left the European Union.
Mr Blackford, who was elected as the SNPs Westminster Group leader after the 2017 election, increased his constituency majority to over 9,000 as he comfortably held off the challenge of Liberal Democrat Craig Harrow.
He was one of 48 SNP MPs elected on Thursday – an increase of 13 from two years ago.
However, legislation to pass a Brexit agreement – mote than three years after the country voted to leave the EU – was expected to come before parliament this week, and the PM now has the numbers to make good his pledge to leave by 31st January 2020.
In the aftermath of last week’s General Election, the Free Press’ Keith MacKenzie asked Mr Blackford how he saw events playing out…
Keith MacKenzie: “What message have the voters delivered locally and nationally?”
Ian Blackford: “I’m delighted with a very healthy share of the vote. I’ll never take that for granted. It’s an enormous privilege to represent Ross, Skye and Lochaber.
“The day-to-day constituency work is the most rewarding part of what we do, and if you don’t do it you’ll pay a heavy price.
“(People more widely) have put trust in the SNP. This election was about Scotland’s right to choose – and (the result) has reinforced that.”
KM: “One of the central strands of your campaign was to stop Brexit, but given the parliamentary arithmetic do you accept you can’t now stop Scotland, as part of Britain, from leaving the EU?”
IB: “We didn’t want the UK to leave the European Union, but that wasn’t entirely in our own hands. We needed people elsewhere to show the same resolve.
“The people of Scotland have said clearly they stand by that desire to remain as EU citizens. There’s a fundamental point about democracy. If the rest of the UK wants to leave the UK they are entitled to make that determination.
“But this goes back to 2014. (We were told) if we were to stay in the UK our rights as EU citizens would be respected.
“We have a cast-iron mandate, gained in the 2016 Scottish election, and reinforced in the election result last week, that people in Scotland are given that right to choose.
“We can’t stop the rest of the UK leaving the European Union, but we have that right to determine that we wish to remain.
“That can only be done now through an independence referendum. The number of Tory MPs has halved. We’ve seen the SNP get 45 per cent of the vote in Scotland against the Tories’ 25 per cent. Boris Johnson has got to accept democracy.”
KM: “If that Independence referendum does happen it couldn’t come until after the UK, and Scotland, has left the UK? Does this not make it a far more complicated process than you are making out?”
IB: “As things stand the UK leaves the EU formally at the end of January, but as part of the current arrangement we’re in transition until the end of December 2020.
“Boris Johnson has the option if he so chooses to extend that transition. I would appeal to him to do so. Any idea he could do a trade deal in 11 months is for the birds. There’s no experience of any nation ever doing a trade deal with Europe in anything less than 48 months.
“I accept there is a challenge, but it may not be the case that we come out of the transition by the end of next year. There’s still the opportunity to remain for another two years beyond that.”
KM: Is a referendum before the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2021 a realistic target?
IB: “Yes – definitively. There’s a bill going through the Scottish Parliament just now. That will finish its legislative process over the coming days. We want the Section 30 authority transferred to the Scottish Parliament. And the Scottish Parliament should determine on behalf of the people of Scotland when that referendum should take place. Ideally, we’ve said it should happen in the second half of 2020.”
KM: Boris Johnson will say no to that – and he’ll have a strong Commons majority behind him to be able to say no. Do you have a plan?
IB: “Plan A is working on the basis of the support we’ve just had. You may say that he would say no, but he’d be standing in the way of a mandate that an elected government has.
“And there has to be respect for a government that has that majority in favour of independence as well the expressed votes of the Scottish people in last week’s election.
“It’s an affront to democracy for Boris Johnson to refuse that application for a Section 30. And I suspect there are many people in Scotland, whether they voted SNP or not, who will recognise the basic legitimacy of the mandate that we have.”
KM: But in terms of the deal that the UK is going to negotiate with the EU, have you any chance of forcing concessions on that?
IB: “Yes. I made it clear we must respect the unique circumstances on Northern Ireland and the preservation of peace there. No one should play with that.
“But a consequence of the deal with the EU is that Northern Ireland is getting a preferential deal. In effect, they’d be staying in the single market.
“It makes the point it doesn’t have to be a one size fits all. If it’s right that they can stay in the single market and, in effect the customs union, then – given that Scotland voted heavily to remain and have continued to back the SNP on a remain ticket – we should be offered the compromise position of staying in the single market and customs union. Why should we not get those benefits?“
KM: This election has increased your support – but 45 per cent of the vote would still not be enough for independence. What’s your message to the other 55 per cent?
IB: “In Ross, Skye and Lochaber we got 48 per cent, which was higher than the national share of 45. We want to have a respectful debate. That must build a big tent and ask what kind of society does everyone in Scotland want to live in.
“We can’t be closed to other opinions. Out of the divisions, there are from Brexit, it’s important that informed debate can take place.
“We’ve set up a people’s assembly, and David Martin [former Labour MEP] is one of the two chairs. It’s not about us being right and others being wrong. But we need to have that debate.
“If we have that referendum on independence I want us to win it well. We need to demonstrate that there is breadth and depth of support, and even if that is the case, to create space for those who don’t agree with that, so they don’t feel threatened by it.”
KM: You’ve been elected for five years – will you still be an MP in five years?
IB: “That’s a question! I hope Scotland is independent by then, and if it is the answer would be no. But we’ve just had the third election in five years, so who knows what will happen.”
Result: Ross, Skye and Lochaber.
Ian Blackford – Scottish National Party (SNP) – 19,263 (votes)
Craig Thomas Alexander Harrow – Scottish Liberal Democrats – 9,820
Gavin Ingo Berkenheger – Scottish Conservative and Unionist – 6,900
John Robert Erskine – Scottish Labour Party – 2,448
Kate Brownlie – Brexit Party – 710
Donald MacLeod Boyd – Scottish Christian Party ‘Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship’ – 460
Richard Crewe Lucas – Scottish Family Party – Putting Families First – 268
Turnout: 73.5 per cent.