FORMER MP Stephen Gethins has said he has “unfinished business” in making a strong case for Scottish independence through the prism of Brexit as he attempts to launch a political comeback in a new Westminster seat.

The ex-North East Fife representative will be the SNP’s candidate for the new Arbroath and Broughty Ferry seat at the next General Election – which will largely replace the Dundee East constituency held by the departing Stewart Hosie since 2005.

Gethins was taken on an emotional rollercoaster during his time in office. He won North East Fife for the SNP in 2015 – a seat they had never won before - as part of the party’s nationwide landslide victory, before having to fight to retain it just two years later – a feat he achieved by a mere two votes.

Two years after that, he lost his seat to the LibDems despite managing to bring the SNP vote back up to those lofty 2015 levels.

It meant he never got to serve a five-year term and did not get to finish what he started – using Brexit to unlock Scottish independence.

Gethins – who is a professor in international relations at the University of St Andrews - was the SNP’s Europe spokesperson right through the Brexit process and he has never lost the desire to get back in the politics game and convince Scots they are better off in the EU.

“I think there’s still a wee bit of fight left in me,” he told The National.

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“When you’re involved in politics and you have that bug, there’s always a bit of unfinished business.

“The party is going through a challenging period, so the question [for me] is do you step up or not? We’re still not independent, we’re still out of the EU, and that’s making us poorer as a society, so I feel I still have fight in me [to change that].

“I fought really hard around Brexit and I still think Brexit is the key to unlocking independence. I think it’s one of the most significant issues for Scotland and the UK because it is a structural and unnecessary impediment to business, wealth, innovation and opportunities for young people, and there seems to be a sort of received wisdom in Westminster – even with the Labour Party coming in – that this is just something we should put up with.

“There are 27 other member states who are thriving and Brexit Britain is floating on in greater isolation.”

Gethins – who spent time working in the EU and in areas of conflict in Eastern Europe before becoming an MP – has insisted Brexit strengthens the narrative around independence and boosts the intellectual case.

With his background, he feels he has a lot to give the SNP in this area as they work through what he previously described in a column as “one of the worst crises” since he joined in the 1990s.

The National:

He added: “Although the party have their challenges, we see independence is still very popular and this is one of the reasons [Brexit]. For me, it’s about making that case, and as someone who used to work in the EU with an international background, I think I may have something to contribute to the discussion.

“Brexit unlocks independence. The data tells us that shifting towards Yes has come because people took another look at independence after the EU referendum.

“Every country that joined the EU got wealthier and gained more rights for its citizens. One country left, it got poorer and it lost rights for its citizens.

“It’s a simple and stark message. For me, it makes the intellectual case so much more robust. I think it’s a case we need to continue to make and not be afraid of making.”

Losing his seat is not something Gethins sees as a failure - very much the opposite. He never believed the SNP would win North East Fife – which had been held by the LibDems for decades – until the LibDem candidate conceded to him on the night.

From there, he saw the SNP vote drop by 8% in 2017 before pulling it right back in 2019.

Despite it not being enough in the end, Gethins looks back on his journey with a great deal of pride.

He said: “We can look at things in a black and white, win or lose way sometimes but really, you’re [just] wanting to push support up for the SNP and for independence and that’s something we achieved.

“You saw the biggest collapse in North East Fife in the Tory vote anywhere in Scotland. The SNP vote went up very significantly, and there’s nothing else you can do but try and win votes for yourself. But in a first-past-the-post system, it doesn’t matter how much you push your vote up - if the other side pushes it up more, then that’s the way it is.

“There was a great sense of pride in what we did.”

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Although Arbroath and Broughty Ferry has grown out of Dundee East – a comfortable seat for the SNP - there are now huge parts of Angus in the constituency with contrasting communities that have different needs and so it is not a contest Gethins is going to take lightly, especially as he knows more than anyone how much every vote counts.

He said he will also not be taking for granted his family links to Tayside.

“I think the name is dreadful, first of all,” said Gethins.

“Arbroath and Broughty Ferry are wonderful places, but they are two parts of a much bigger constituency. This is a deeply diverse constituency that goes all the way up from Dundee and takes in Douglas and Lunan Bay, Letham and Carnoustie. So one of the things I’m doing at the moment is engaging with members in different branches.

“I have deep family links to Tayside, my auntie has lived in the same house in Barnhill for 90 years. But having deep connections in one part of the seat doesn’t mean much to people in other areas of it.

“I think it's important for your campaigning to fit the different communities you’re serving.”

On a more light-hearted note, Gethins’s victory in the members' ballot came just a day before his beloved Dundee United thrashed Arbroath 6-0 – an awkward coincidence as he attempts to go on to represent both places at Westminster.

He added: “As a Dundee United supporter, the timing couldn’t have been much worse - but that’s a political price I’m willing to pay.”