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By Ben Guerin
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Where Are They Now? Former SNP MP Stephen Gethins Talks About Life Post-Parliament

4 min read

Stephen Gethins’ re-election in 2017 was one of his favourite moments of his political career. However, with a majority of only two votes (requiring three recounts), it wasn’t a shock when he became the only SNP MP to lose their seat two-and-a-half-years later.

Speaking from his home in rural Fife, Gethins says his slim majority didn’t change his approach – partly because he was so distracted by the chaos of Brexit and the pressures of a hung Parliament.

“You’re there. You owe it to constituents to make the most of your time,” he says. “One thing the Brexit referendum taught us is that there’s no such thing as a really safe seat, there is no such thing as a settled status quo.”

“You can’t be in elected politics and not plan for defeat. Victory and defeat are two sides of the same coin, you accept that that’s something that’s going to happen. But members of staff I had been very close to – and I still am close to, we’re still good friends – who had worked so extraordinarily hard, to lay them off was difficult.”

Losing to somebody you respect and you like makes a big difference

Gethins is full of praise for the House Authorities and friends and former colleagues across the political spectrum who helped him and his staff, finding them new jobs.

“I was fortunate, people were so kind – and also my successor [Liberal Democrat] Wendy Chamberlain is lovely. You don’t want to lose, but if you’re going to lose then losing to somebody you respect and you like makes a big difference.”

Gethins is one of life’s optimists, even finding the positives in his pandemic experience – partly down to his beautiful countryside surroundings, but also because he could make up for lost time with his two small children. “In Parliament, it’s so difficult to get quality time. I’m mindful that I’m so lucky that I was able to help out and get time with the children that I maybe missed out on prior to 2019,” he says.

As well as family commitments, Gethins utilised the extra time and new-found video calling proficiency to realise a long-held ambition of writing a book on Scottish foreign policy, conducting more than 50 interviews. This was alongside his post-Westminster-role as a professor of practice at the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews. He also advises the university on external affairs.

“Before I went into politics, I worked in the European institutions, I worked for international NGOs. Then in Westminster, I was on the Foreign Affairs Committee and I was frontbench spokesperson on foreign affairs for my party. So I hopefully,” he emphasises the last word with a grin, “provide some insights to students about how international affairs works in practice – what happens when the rubber hits the road.”

Gethins clearly relished his four years on the Foreign Affairs Committee – he is still friends with chair Tom Tugendhat, and praises both Tugendhat’s and previous chair Crispin Blunt’s efforts to include him, despite him being the only SNP member. The benefits of cross-party cooperation, including his work on the Letwin amendment to prevent a no-deal Brexit, is a recurring theme of our conversation. His one regret, he says, is that Brexit took up so much space that it left little room for tackling the climate emergency.

Gethins seems torn when asked if a return to politics is on the cards.

“I don’t know. I’m really enjoying academic life at the University of St. Andrews. I’m lucky, I see the stresses and strains that friends and colleagues have got – being an MP is a hard life, it’s a hard job. So right now, no, but who knows what will happen in the future? Politics is the way to change things. You meet great people across the political spectrum.”

And his advice for those on the green benches now? “Keep perspective. There’s a big wide world out there.”

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