In an interview for the Big Issue with X-Men star Alan Cumming, a longtime supporter of the SNP who joined Sturgeon on the independence referendum campaign trail in 2014, she said: “There are a lot [of people] in England – a lot who contact me – who feel completely disenfranchised, that there is nobody speaking up for them.”
The SNP leader then quipped: “Our London branch is booming at the moment.”
Party insiders, rather bemused at the attention attracted by a remark they interpreted as tongue-in-cheek, were similarly impish in pointing out that “anything is possible” if Theresa May’s government continued on its disastrous road towards Brexit. But joking aside, they made clear that there were no such plans.
An official spokesperson said: “While it is no surprise that many people in England and Wales would welcome the chance of voting for the SNP, we remain firmly focused on working for Scotland and have no plans to field candidates anywhere else in the UK.”
But there have been plenty of people who took the first minister’s offer very seriously indeed, including Andrew Marr who responded with a welcoming “Finally!” on Twitter.
This is not the first time that the issue has been raised. The question of whether non-residents of Scotland can vote for the SNP featured in a list of most searched-for terms provided by Google after Sturgeon impressed voters across the UK in the first leaders’ debate of the 2015 general election campaign.
The short answer, of course, is no: the nationalist party, whose primary aim is Scottish independence, has only ever fielded candidates in Scotland.
But Sturgeon was not unaware of the usefulness of appealing to voters elsewhere: the question of whether former Labour leader Ed Miliband would make a post-election pact with the SNP became one of the key debates of last year’s general election, and is also believed to have pushed many voters towards David Cameron’s Conservatives.
Indeed, this was reflected in her opening remarks at that first debate, during which she insisted: “I know it’s not just people in Scotland who feel let down by Westminster politics. My message to the people of England, Wales and Scotland is one of friendship,” she said.
In the Big Issue interview, which was conducted before US president-elect Donald Trump’s telephone call to Sturgeon last Friday, the first minister also said that she would happily meet the tycoon on his next visit to Scotland.
Sturgeon said: “Obviously he spends time in Scotland, he has Scottish ancestry and if he comes – as I’m sure he will – he’s the president of America and if the opportunity is there, I’d meet him.
“I’ve written to him to congratulate him. I don’t think it’s any secret that I would rather that he hadn’t been elected. But he has, and so I’m going to respect that, but I’m not going to abandon my own values, just as I’m sure he’s not going to abandon the things he believes in. Hopefully we can have a relationship based on values, although I do hope he does abandon some of the values that he campaigned on.”
Sturgeon stripped Trump of his honorary role as a Scottish business ambassador last year, after his attack on Mexicans and Muslims, describing his rhetoric as “obnoxious and offensive”.
Asked by Cumming for her hopes for 2017, Sturgeon said: “That it is slightly calmer than 2016.”
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