Former Sport for Yes leader Michael Stewart is one of three candidates in the running to be named the SNP’s Westminster candidate for Edinburgh West. Part of our #newvoices series
I started my footballing career at Manchester United, trying to break into what was then the best midfield in the world. That experience gave me the best grounding ever. I got to work alongside the best in the business and to appreciate just how much hard work, self belief and team work is needed to be a success. In any sphere of life.
I was reminded of many of those early life lessons during the referendum campaign. I’ve always been engaged and interested in politics and it was both a pleasure and a privilege to be able to get active by running Sport for Yes and getting involved in local campaigning in Edinburgh West area.
Sport for Yes was, I felt, a mini-version of all that we were trying to achieve during the referendum. To highlight the benefits to be gained from representing ourselves on the world stage, of the opportunities that would bring Scotland, of the changes that would result from taking charge of all our resources but also taking responsibility for ourselves.
And some of the best conversations I had during that campaign were held with people I met in Muirhouse and Drylaw. They knew exactly what the referendum was about and why they were voting Yes. People were engaged, thoughtful and enlightened. It was an absolute pleasure to play a small part in helping them exercise their right to vote – for some, for the first time ever.
All of that experience gained over the last two years led me to the conclusion that I couldn’t simply return to the sidelines and hope that others would take up the fight. I want to continue to play my part and I’m standing for the SNP candidacy for Edinburgh West because it’s where I’m from.
I care passionately about my country and my city, but most especially my home patch. The community in which I grew up, where I went to school, where I first got involved in football and where my mum and dad still live.
We might have finished fourth in the last Westminster election, but with the right candidate, message and campaign, the SNP can win this seat. We did it in 2011 after all. And we now have a remarkable base of SNP members and supporters to help do it. Their experience and enthusiasm make for a formidable team.
While Mike Crockart, the current MP, is a decent man who has stood up for his principles, he’s playing for the wrong team. The Lib Dems will be harshly judged in Edinburgh West – and elsewhere in Scotland – for propping up the Tories. And frankly, I don’t think Labour will ever be forgiven in neighbourhoods like Drumbrae, Carrick Knowe and Stenhouse – strong working class areas in my youth – for standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories during the referendum.
I believe this Westminster election is a seminal moment in Scotland’s history. We must persuade the thousands of Yes voters to continue supporting independence through the SNP. There are over 22,000 of them here in Edinburgh West. Even if only they or just three-quarters of them vote SNP in this election, we will win.
But that’s not enough for me. I believe that a team plays best when it is united. So we need to also encourage everyone who voted No because of the Vow made during that last heady week of the campaign, that voting SNP is the way to guarantee it being delivered.
This is a unique moment in the life of the SNP and the independence movement. We have a fantastic opportunity to make gains in seats and powers at Westminster. But to do that, we have to make sure we send a strong team of all the talents to Westminster. We need not just the usual politicians but people with a broader reach into the community and Scottish society.
I have had the privilege of representing both major football clubs in Edinburgh. I know how passionate their fans are: it’s because of that passion that they are now wanting to take a leading role in the welfare of their clubs. Fans know that people, communities, countries and yes, clubs work best when they take responsibility for themselves.
This theme is at the core of my beliefs. It is why I believe passionately in Independence for Scotland.
There was no bigger honour for me in my playing career than pulling on the blue of the Scotland jersey. I want to pull on that jersey again, to walk out with the rest of the SNP team onto the Westminster field and play to win.