Ian Blackford's SNP group at Westminster were a rabble without a cause – Brian Wilson

Few who have followed the post-merchant banking career of Ian Blackford will feel much sense of loss as he departs the front line of politics to spend more time with his sheep.
Outgoing SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford won't be missed, says Brian Wilson (Picture: House of Commons/PA)Outgoing SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford won't be missed, says Brian Wilson (Picture: House of Commons/PA)
Outgoing SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford won't be missed, says Brian Wilson (Picture: House of Commons/PA)

It says little for the SNP’s sense of decency that he ever became their leader at Westminster. The election campaign in which he defeated Charles Kennedy remains a blot on the recent history of Scottish public life and has never been apologised for.

In 2015, the post-referendum tide washed Mr Blackford in with the rest. It would have happened without a single tweet or hashtag and Charles Kennedy could have departed with dignity to fight bigger personal battles.

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Instead, by dog-whistling a foul campaign, his successor acquired a reputation which followed him to the House of Commons, which is a place of long memories. There were few more unctuous spectacles than Mr Blackford’s blustering assertions of high moral ground and increasingly his own troops seemed as unconvinced as his opponents.

I am not privy to the internal affairs of the SNP’s Westminster group of 44 but they have never seemed a happy lot. Largely devoid of purpose while awaiting the break-up of the British state, their main public role has been to act as extras while their leader fulminated to his own too obvious satisfaction.

The SNP group at Westminster comes across as a rabble without a plan and it is not difficult to see why its younger personnel think they might do better. However, changing leader without a fundamental re-think about how to offer something constructive for Scotland, will not improve the output even if the volume is lower.

Opposition is a difficult business for any political party and there has to be an imperative to keep going. For the main opposition, it is the prospect of forming a government, however remote that sometimes seems. I did ten years of it, others much longer. It was hard work but the prize of one day being in a position to make a real difference was always in sight.

For third parties, the only incentive offered by the prospect of a general election is to end up opposing a different government. Since the SNP’s dreary narrative assumes one lot to be as bad as the other, and that only constitutional upheaval offers an escape, that does not leave a lot of room for working with anyone, while awaiting the promised land.

I’m sure that within the 44, there must be a few who go beyond that one-dimensional nationalist narrative but it is rare to hear anything about them. That is Scotland’s loss. There were always Scottish MPs, across all parties, who led on important reforms which benefited the whole country. Where are they now, under SNP hegemony?

I can recall when Labour enjoyed a similar scale of victory in Scotland at the 1987 general election, the supposed impotence of the elected MPs led the SNP to dub us “the feeble 50”. Well, not so feeble as it turned out as the people who voted for us were in time rewarded with a Labour government and all that flowed from it, including devolution.

That cohort included major political figures and a body of specialist knowledge and worldly experience which allowed Scottish representation to make a huge impact on the House of Commons. In contrast, the current 44 are of such marginal relevance to anything that nobody has even thought it worth coining an alliterative aphorism in their honour.

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Like the SNP in general, its Westminster group of MPs faces the problem that the strategy to which Ms Sturgeon has committed them leads to a dead end. Worse than that, it is they who are to be offered as sacrificial lambs by the “de facto referendum” wheeze at the next general election, if it survives that long which I doubt.

The new leader is apparently going to be Stephen Flynn of whom I know nothing except that his whole career has been spent as a political apparatchik. However, knowing nothing about Mr Flynn can only be an improvement on knowing too much about Mr Blackford.



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