How the SNP has coped with losing 21 MPs

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with all 56 newly elected SNP MPs. Picture: Jane Barlow
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with all 56 newly elected SNP MPs. Picture: Jane Barlow
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When the SNP won a record 56 seats in the UK Parliament in 2015, there was a rush to discover everything about the MPs who had been elected.

Much was found out about ‘the 56’, not all of it positive, and some of it even a shock to the SNP themselves.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.

By the time of the snap general election in June, the 56 were down to 54 and their numbers shrunk even further when the party lost 21 seats.

It has been, in many ways, a rude awakening for Nicola Sturgeon’s party, who seemed untouchable at Holyrood and Westminster for several years.

We look at how the party has fared in this new reality.

Big Losses

The sheer numbers aren’t the only change that has the potential to trouble the SNP group at Westminster.

A surge in support for the Conservatives saw some big-beasts of nationalism defeated, and while Alex Salmond was the best known, the loss of Angus Robertson will surely be felt most keenly in the SNP.

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MP for Moray for the best part of two decades, Mr Robertson found himself ousted by football referee Douglas Ross.

It is a testament to his popularity within the party that despite losing his seat, there is precious little internal desire for him to give up his role as Deputy Leader.

New leadership

Mr Roberston was replaced by Ian Blackford, the SNP MP with the second largest majority following their setbacks in June.

As a parliamentarian for just two years, Mr Blackford looks understandably less assured in his weekly exchanges with Prime Minister Theresa May.

In normal circumstances, the SNP might be concerned about not landing many telling blows on the Government, as was the case when John Swinney struggled at First Minister’s Questions during his tenure as party leader.

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However, Angus Robertson had Theresa May (and predecessor David Cameron) on the ropes multiple times with searching, well-researched questions, not necessarily all pertaining solely to Scotland.

He was spoken of highly by opposition politicians and the media, but it didn’t help Mr Robertson himself or the party when it came to the election.

Ms Sturgeon may consider that for now, the more understated leadership of Mr Blackford is just as effective as that of Mr Robertson.

More influence?

Counter-intuitively, it could be argued that with minority government in place, and Theresa May relying on DUP support, the SNP have more influence than before.

After being elected in huge numbers in 2015, the SNP made their mark felt quickly, but for an opposition party facing a majority government, legislative achievements are always hard to come by.

As the SNP themselves can tell you, one of the ways to strengthen your hand as a minority government is to effectively act like a majority government. That’s a tactic that was employed almost immediately, and successfully, by Alex Salmond after the 2007 election give the party a one-seat lead.

Theresa May’s government hasn’t quite mastered that yet, and their new policy of not voting on opposition motions looks set to backfire.

A Labour motion, backed by the SNP, to force the Government to reveal the details of reports about the impact of Brexit, was ruled binding by the Speaker.

As recently as last night, an SNP motion on women affected by pension changes passed unanimously after the Government whips ordered their MPs to abstain.

The future

The SNP will use the vote to put pressure on the Conservatives over the ‘WASPI’ issue, and turned up the heat on individual Scottish Tory MPs.

As the Brexit negotiations heat up, both the SNP and the Labour party are keen to use the status of Ms May’s minority government to try and wield outsize influence.

While the party is still clearly not fully adjusted to the loss of nearly a third of their MPs, the parliamentary arithmetic gives Mr Blackford, and by extension Ms Sturgeon, the chance to try and win back some of the support they lost in June.