Passing the baton

The SNP Westminster group has chosen its new leader and deputy leader to replace Ian Blackford and Kirsten Oswald who have stood down as leader and deputy leader respectively. The leading contenders were Aberdeen South MP Stephen Flynn , who ousted Tory Ross Thomson at the 2019 General Election, and Alison Thewliss, who has represented Glasgow Central since 2015. Stephen Flynn chose Paisley MP Mhairi Black as his running mate and as his deputy, whereas Alison Thewliss chose Stuart McDonald, who represents Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East – not to be confused with the similarly named Stewart McDonald, the MP for Glasgow South since 2015.

The Thewliss and McDonald team was perceived as being close to Nicola Sturgeon whereas the Flynn- Black team is reportedly in favour of a more robust and confrontational approach for the SNP in Westminster and a greater willingness to adopt positions at variance with the Scottish Government. Stephen Flynn has already signalled that he is in favour of granting new exploration licences for oil and gas in the North Sea, an issue which resonates in his own constituency.

In the event the Flynn and Black team won, by 26 votes to 17, in a vote of the party’s MPs, one MP did not vote, thr result gives the Aberdeen South MP a greater margin of victory than some had predicted. Shortly after his victory was announced, Flynn chose Mhairi Black as his deputy, the new leader and deputy leader represent the leadership baton being passed to a younger generation of politicians, Stephen Flynn is 34, while Mhairi Black is 28. This could be significant given the demographics of independence support, the new leadership team belong to an age cohort amongst whom there is a large majority in favour of independence. Both are too young to have had any political awareness of a time before there was a Scottish Parliament, Stephen Flynn was just nine and Mhairi Black was only three when Scotland voted in the 1997 referendum in favour of a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. They belong to a generation for whom the idea of Scotland making its own decisions is entirely normal.

Congratulations Stephen and Mhairi – now let’s get this thing done.

The new SNP Westminster leader has said that under his leadership : “SNP MPs would be relentlessly focused on standing up for Scotland’s interests and our democratic right to decide our future in an independence referendum.” He added : “SNP MPs will work harder than ever to hold the Tory government to account – and make the case that independence is the essential route to safety, fairness and prosperity for Scotland.”

Of course the anti-independence press are spinning this development as a ‘blow for Nicola Sturgeon,’ well they would say that wouldn’t they, and in order to make their case they rely on quotes from Conservative politicians who would describe absolutely anything as a blow for Nicola Sturgeon and who proved just how good their judgement is by backing Liz Truss just a few weeks ago. In fact all that it proves is that Bute House does not have the iron grip on the party that the SNP’s detractors claim it does.

This is good for party democracy and demonstrates a healthy independence of thought amongst the party’s Westminster representatives and a willingness to explore the new tactics that will prove necessary now that the independence campaign is operating in a new post ‘voluntary union’ landscape. But of course it’s a blow for Nicola Sturgeon, because, you know, everything is.

If the vote had gone the other way the story would have been about how the SNP group at Westminster was a creature of the leadership in Edinburgh and not permitted any freedom of thought and action. No matter what the development is a negative spin is going to be put on it. That’s what Scotland’s media exists to do.

The first test for the new leadership team comes on Wednesday at Prime Minister’s Questions, although it would be more accurate to call it Prime Minister’s contemptuous evasions. Stephen Flynn’s rise has been rapid, he has only been an MP since 2019, too short a time for the usual jibes of the critics of the SNP’s Westminster contingent to be at all accurate in his case. He’s not an MP who intends to settle in at Westminster, but rather to settle the score with Westminster, even more so given that he becomes Westminster leader at at time when the British state has destroyed the traditional unionist claim that the UK is a voluntary union and we are looking at a de facto independence referendum at the next Westminster General Election as the most likely means of ensuring that Scotland gets its say on its place within the failing democracy of the British state.

The braying boors on the Conservative benches will not be giving the new leadership team any time to settle in. There are reports that the new Westminster leader plans to shake up the party’s front bench team. It has also been suggested that he will be more prepared to be confrontational in the Commons, rather than playing by rules that are stacked against Scotland.

I have seen, and been mightily impressed by some of the speeches that Mhairi Black has delivered in the Commons, she takes no prisoners in her condemnation of the misdeeds of the Conservative party, and that no holds barred approach is exactly what is required. I am less familiar with Stephen Flynn, but I hope that he displays the same strength of character and an unwillingness to be shouted down by the jeering English nationalist bigots and morons who populate the Conservative benches. He has certainly displayed a more combative approach in some of his interventions in the Commons, an approach which has won him the support of a majority of his colleagues in the Commons.

Fire must be fought with fire. That’s what Scotland needs right now, Westminster’s contempt for Scotland must be countered robustly and head on. We are in new territory now, with a Westminster and both Labour and Conservative parties which do not disguise their contempt for the democratic choices of Scotland. It must be no more Mr and Ms Nice Guy from here on in. Here’s hoping that is exactly what this new young leadership team will deliver.


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