Jamie Hepburn, the MSP for Cumbernauld, has much to recommend him. He is young (for a member of parliament), has an accent thick as treacle and positively oozing Scottish manliness (they don’t make them like that in Oxford), and a manner that instantly puts a nervous interviewer at ease, introducing the conversation with ‘Ha-iiii, how are you?’ and signing off with ‘Cheerio, bye-bye’. No wonder he got elected.
Having joined the SNP at 18, and presumably hacking his way through university and beyond, Jamie is probably the sincerest voice for Scottish nationalism since William Wallace. Speaking to him, I suddenly realise that a year and a half at Oxford has mellowed my Scottishness, deafened me to the impassioned call of my oppressed ancestors; I also realise that admitting this to Jamie would be the equivalent of confessing to a priest that you’d managed to commit every single cardinal sin before breakfast.
Given that the biggest stumbling block on the road to Scottish Independence is quite possibly going to be the lack of decisiveness among the Scottish people regarding whether or not they actually want it, I immediately steer us towards issues regarding the upcoming referendum. Particularly interesting is the potential disparity between the votes for SNP and votes for independence in an election. Jamie tells me that holding the referendum, rather than assuming that all SNP voters are behind the independence movement, is important because ‘our manifesto said there would be a referendum, it’s a manifesto commitment’ and that it will ‘ensure that Scots people are confident about the process’.
It’s true, of course, that Scots voted for a referendum on independence, not for independence itself, but I’m curious as to why many people would vote for a referendum for something they don’t endorse. Jamie ducks the question rather, with ‘You’d need to ask specific people’. He does, however, offer the reasons that the SNP have ‘other social and economic objectives, we have a raft of other policies we’d like to achieve … other than independence’.
However a question trying to draw out what some of these policies might be – ‘What is the SNP aiming for if not for independence’ – is immediately shot down by ‘well, we will be aiming for independence. We want to see the referendum through and we’re asking a very simple question, ‘Do you think Scotland should be an independent country?’’ I feel suitably rebuked for my lack of nationalistic certainty.
When tackled about the potential second question on the referendum, which would be to do with endowing Scotland with more devolved powers, Jamie did concede that many voters may ‘want something short of independence’ and that there ‘is legitimacy to that point of view’.
Undoubtedly the most emphatic moment of the interview was when I asked Jamie about the economic viability of independence, asking if Scotland could survive on its own. Jamie responded ‘A hundred percent yes!!’ and proceeded to criticise ‘anyone who tries to take forward the argument that Scotland is an economic basket case’, saying that they are ‘only trying to undermine people’s confidence’. He says that ‘it is true in some years there would have been a structural deficit, in other years there would have been a surplus’.
Jamie Hepburn defends Salmond’s position regarding the timing of the referendum. There has been some disagreement between Westminster and Holyrood on this matter, with Cameron urging Salmond to hold it earlier rather than later. Jamie says that as the time commitment has already been made it is one that should be honoured. He also tells us the later timing will help because the government are ‘trying to recover from economic mismanagement, to get the Scottish economy moving in the right direction again’.
To round off the interview I ask Jamie what he would like to say to Oxford students about how they should view Scotland. He advises us to ‘see Scotland as a neighbour country … but we want to be good neighbours on equal footing, an independent country’. He then expresses the very sincere hope that Oxford students will very soon be able to view Scotland as just that, an independent country.
As I cycle back to my flat, I fancy I can hear the ghosts of Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Robert Burns, Walter Scott and my own clansman Rob-Roy Macgregor clamouring for my attention. From somewhere among them Mel Gibson’s voice seems to be shouting something.
I wonder where I can get hold of some woad.