Analysis: Could defeated SNP MPs cause problems for Sturgeon?

Scotland had a coach-load of ex-MPs in 2015, most of them from the Labour party. Now, just over two years later, you could fill at least a minibus of defeated Westminster politicians.
Nicola Sturgeon campaigning ahead of the 2017 general election. The SNP would lose 21 of the 56 seats it won in 2015. Picture: PANicola Sturgeon campaigning ahead of the 2017 general election. The SNP would lose 21 of the 56 seats it won in 2015. Picture: PA
Nicola Sturgeon campaigning ahead of the 2017 general election. The SNP would lose 21 of the 56 seats it won in 2015. Picture: PA

21 MPs, all from the SNP, lost their seats at the election on June 8 - the vast majority of whom had only been in place since 2015.

But even some of the party’s most experienced politicians, such as Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson, are now looking for work.

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With Nicola Sturgeon under pressure from opposition parties over her stance on another referendum, the First Mininster doesn’t have her troubles to seek.

But could the departed MPs could cause an even bigger headache for the SNP leader, who has pledged to reflect on the disappointing result?

Loyal new blood

Some of the 2015 intake, who find themselves ending their new career just as it was getting started, might feel a little bitter about the manner of their departure.

As SNP members, many of some decades standing, it is reasonable to assume that all of them support the prospect of Scotland gaining independence.

That doesn’t mean that they all agreed with the timetable set out by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon back in March.

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However, once the emotions have settled, most of this group, which includes bright young minds like Stuart Donaldson and Callum McCaig, will realise that if their political defeat can be laid at the door of Ms Sturgeon, so too can their political victories.

The First Minister had an indifferent 2017 campaign, but just two years ago she criss-crossed the country, lending her considerable star power to candidates who might have struggled to win otherwise.

2015 Upstarts

The departure of a number of talented 2015 intake members will have stung the First Minister, particularly those with ministerial briefs.

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That doesn’t mean, however, there weren’t a few errant thinkers who can at least spare Ms Sturgeon headaches and controversy.

If they continue to make waves from outwith parliament, they could present an even bigger problem for the under-pressure SNP leader.

Some of the more outspoken members of the 56-strong contingent who won their seats in 2015 look set to be even more troubling for Ms Sturgeon off the leash.

John Nicolson has been marked as one of the more ungracious losers of the election, remarking on Twitter that his successor Jo Swinson was “not overly troubled by wit or self-deprecation”.

Paul Monaghan, who famously seemed to endorse a conspiracy theory about the BBC weather map, is another who could still cause a stir with his phone from outwith parliament.

The old hands

There are other MPs who can create more than a rumbling on Twitter if they decide to speak their minds.

If Alex Salmond or Angus Robertson, for example, came out against anything that the First Minister announced it would be front page news in Scotland.

The impact of SNP grandees going against the grain is not understated lightly, as the recent interventions by Kenny MacAskill and Alex Neil have proved.

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Even immediately proceeding, and in the immediate aftermath, of the SNPs success in 2015, Alex Salmond wasn’t shy about speaking his mind.

He insisted that the issue of independence was on the ballot paper for June 8, even as Nicola Sturgeon said it wasn’t about another referendum.

Tellingly, it seemed like Ms Sturgeon came round to Mr Salmond’s way of thinking, rather than vice versa, as she used a visit to her predecessor’s constituency to say the referendum was ‘at the heart’ of her campaign.

Big figures like Mr Salmond and Angus Robertson, and to a lesser extent Eilidh Whiteford and Mike Weir, will, it is fair to say, need to be placated after their losses.

The First Minister’s in-tray, already overflowing with politically dangerous issues, now has to consider how best to manage 21 ex-MPs.