How did the SNP's new Westminster leader Stephen Flynn perform at PMQs?

Stephen Flynn won the race to replace Ian Blackford on Tuesday evening, and was thrown in at the deep end, with PMQs the next day.

After paying tribute to a predecessor some in his party believe he forced out, the Aberdeen South MP made a strong PMQs debut, albeit one with a few hiccups.

The previous SNP Westminster leader was known for his long questions asking for precise details or commitments, often with the aid of notes.

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Mr Flynn’s tact was very different. He spoke from memory and used short, aggressive and open-ended questions.

Stephen Flynn made a mixed start to PMQs as SNP Westminster leader.Stephen Flynn made a mixed start to PMQs as SNP Westminster leader.
Stephen Flynn made a mixed start to PMQs as SNP Westminster leader.

In his first question, he took aim at the Labour party, representing a clear sign of just how improved their fortunes are under Scottish leader Anas Sarwar.

Addressing Rishi Sunak, Mr Flynn said: “What does he consider to be the greatest achievement of the Conservative Party in Government since 2019?

“Leaving the single market and customs union, ending freedom of movement, denying Scotland her democracy, or getting the Labour Party to agree with all of the above?”

This is a good line on Labour, reiterates their public stance on Brexit, and attempts to draw parallels between the Tories and Sir Keir Starmer’s party.

The problem is, by being such an open question, it represented an open goal for the Prime Minister, who could speak about whatever he liked.

Mr Sunak will always try and answer the question he wants to be asked, but part of PMQs is being able to narrow his options.

The Prime Minister said: “May I also congratulate, or join the First Minister, in congratulating the honourable gentleman on his appointment as the Westminster leader of the SNP.

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“The things that we are most proud of in the last couple of years is making sure that we protected this country through the pandemic, with furlough and with the fastest vaccine rollout.”

There is value in having your own soundbite, but it came at the cost of an easy hit for the Prime Minister.

More impressive was Mr Flynn’s mention of the latest polling showing a six point rise for independence. It showed an ability to adapt not often seen from Sir Keir, and one that gives his opponent less chance of a prepared answer.

The new SNP Westminster leader said: “In the last 15 minutes, a poll has landed which shows the support for Scottish independence has now hit 56 per cent. And support for the Scottish National Party sits north of 50 per cent.

“So, in that context, can I ask the Prime Minister, does he consider that increasing energy bills on households in energy-rich Scotland by a further £500 will cause those poll numbers to rise or to fall?”.

The question failed to pin Mr Sunak down, allowing him to avoid it entirely and list off UK Government support.

He said: “What we’re delivering for households across the United Kingdom, including those in Scotland, is £55 billion of support with energy bills.

“It will save a typical homeowner about £900 with their bills this winter, with extra support for the most vulnerable, and that is an example of the United Kingdom and the union delivering for people in Scotland.”

Mr Flynn showed confidence and charisma, but will need to be a little bit more savvy to really hurt the Prime Minister.



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