Ian Blackford says SNP need to show economic vision to deliver independence and tips Humza Yousaf to 'surprise people'

The former SNP Westminster leader also revealed his best moments in the role, his MPs to watch, and reflections on winning his seat.

Ian Blackford has claimed the SNP must convey their economic vision to people to convince them to support independence.

The former SNP Westminster leader also tipped Humza Yousaf to “surprise people”, and suggested he could do more in his role as the First Minister’s Business Ambassador if he left the Commons.

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Announcing this week he would not run at the next election, Mr Blackford also offered his reflections on his time in office, discussing his best moments, and reflections on the campaign that saw him unseat Charles Kennedy.

Ian Blackford announced he was standing down as an MP at the next election.Ian Blackford announced he was standing down as an MP at the next election.
Ian Blackford announced he was standing down as an MP at the next election.

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, he said his departure was something he’d been thinking about since standing down as Westminster leader, and pondering how best he can serve Scotland.

He said: “I am passionate about helping the party, helping the government, helping the move towards Scottish independence. I had to think about if I came back after the next election. What would I do as an MP?

“And I've been engaged in work over the last few months, I'm writing a paper together with others, which is mapping out Scotland’s industrial future and I'm really determined that I can be an influence on driving that change in economic policy, driving sustainable economic growth and getting investment into Scotland.

"It’s about accelerating that shift towards an independent future and showing that we can make a difference for people.

“I think in working with the First Minister, who's appointed me as his business ambassador, that there's more I can do to assist the government in that journey.

“I think in terms of freeing up my time to do that, it’s probably better at the next election I don’t put myself forward."

First elected to the House of Commons for the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency in 2015, Mr Blackford served as his party's leader at Westminster from 2017 until 2022.

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He claimed the decision to stand down was “making a judgement about where I am”, and would allow him to focus on a role he believes can transform Scotland’s economy.

The 62-year-old said: “That chapter has come to an end, and I think there’s more I can do using my past experience in the business and the financial community. There's more that I can do right now in helping the First Minister and helping the Economy Secretary in making sure that we're all working together as team SNP to not just take forward the economic arguments, but show we can make a difference.

“I know given Scotland’s journey, given the opportunities that are going to be there from that green energy revolution, that we've got to capture the jobs, got to capture that opportunity to grow the economy, but to grow the economy for a purpose."

As a key ally Pete Wishart tweeted the day Mr Blackford announced he was leaving, on his last day as leader of the Westminster group the SNP were on over 50 per cent and support for independence was in the lead. Asked if he felt Scotland was closer to leaving the UK than he did when first elected, Mr Blackford claimed “things ebb and flow”.

He continued: “When I was elected in 2015, it was more powers in Scotland. What happened with Brexit, things change. We went back to the people of Scotland and asked for a mandate to decide on Scotland’s future.

“It’s fair to say a lot of the conversation has been about process. The whole point of doing the work I do on the economy, is we have to show people we have a vision that delivers for the people of Scotland and gives them hope.”

Quizzed on if he was hopeful of independence being achieved, Mr Blackford insisted “Humza will surprise people”. He added: “I think he has what it takes. I think he will empower people doing their jobs.”

Asked if he will miss Westminster and already missed being leader there, he suggested “nothing lasts forever”.

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He said: “I was leader for five and a half years, I've been opposite four prime ministers, I enjoyed the role, but for me, it was all consuming, it was 24/7.

“I put myself up for the job. I loved doing it, but I didn’t have a life outside of it. Living in a place like the Isle of Skye and committing to Westminster is a challenge, it's a 17-hour round trip a week.

“Now is the right time to do something different, I’ll support colleagues wherever they are, and I’ll certainly be there to support the Westminster group”.

Before entering politics, Mr Blackford worked in the banking sector and now lives on a croft in his constituency. He admitted he was looking forward to losing the commute, and spend more time with his wife, Ann.

He said: “I think having that balance, and using it to still make a positive contribution is exciting. So one of the messages I got yesterday after my announcement was from a well-kept figure on the Hibs board. He said ‘great, you can now get a season ticket again”. I’ve missed the fact I’ve not been able to see my football club as regularly as I would like.I’m going to have a balance in my life, and work hard to support the SNP and support the cause.

“[Ann] She's always been immensely supportive but you’re always going to get that sense of apprehension, like good lord what are you doing now? But I’m looking forward to spending some more time with her.”

Reflecting on his time as SNP Westminster leader, Mr Blackford claimed his best moments had been helping those facing deportation, or arranging transport for someone needing a lung transplant.

Asked about his best moments, he said: “If I really think about it, I want to come back to this bit about being a constituency MP, because no MP should ever forget that responsibility.

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“You're there to represent them to do their bidding and irrespective of anyone's political background, and that’s what's given me the biggest satisfaction, has been where we have been able to help people.

"I regret in some cases, you come up short, but if I think back, some of the most striking cases have been about migration.

There was a high profile case of the Australian family that were going to be deported from Dingwall, and we took on the UK government with great support from the media. We won that case.

"Not long after that I had another case, a woman who was returning with her husband to Dingwall, and she was facing deportation. We won that case.

“I can think of what we did last year with others and trying to get the Dnipro kids, the orphans that were associated with Hibernian Football Club, 50 of them out of Ukraine, and that was a sense of being able to do the right thing for the vulnerable.

“I can think of a constituent that was in need of a double lung transplant that lived in Fort William, and you need to get within a number of hours when lungs become available, to a hospital in London. And we were able to put in place transport to do that.

“It's not about you, it’s about using your office to help people.”

Mr Blackford also opened up about his campaign to replace Mr Kennedy in 2015, which became mired in controversy over online abuse aimed at the former Liberal Democrat leader and his long-running battle with alcoholism.

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Brian Smith, who was convenor of the local SNP branch, later resigned after it was reported that he had called Mr Kennedy a “drunken slob” and “quisling-in-chief” in a series of more than 130 tweets. Mr Kennedy then died one month after the election of a major haemorrhage linked to his alcoholism.

Asked about the campaign, he said: “I met Charles Kennedy on a number of occasions down the years and decades, and have the utmost regard for Charles Kennedy.

“I remember the election night when he congratulated very me warmly. My election leaflets are a matter of record, and the campaign that we fought. In politics, of course you get people that behave in a way that quite frankly isn’t acceptable. I am not responsible for what people do on social media. All of us get quite unpleasant things on social media. I think there has to be a sense of perspective.

"He is a man who has sadly passed an untimely death, and we should respect his contribution to public life.”

Despite standing down, Mr Blackford also shared the MPs he thought could be decisive for the party as the next wave of talent.

He said: “In some respects I’d hesitate to name names, there’s a lot of people I think have got talent.

"One of the things I wanted to do over the last few years is recognise you have a responsibility to bring people along.

“When I look at people like Alison Thewliss, and when I look at the two Stewart/Stuart McDonalds, as other examples and there are more, they are an example of the kind of person who has an awful lot to give, and i'll look forward to watching them over the coming months and years.”

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Finally, he insisted his departure from Westminster was not the end of his fight for independence.

He added: "I joined the SNP in 1978, I joined the SNP wanting to see a better Scotland, and that burning desire hasn’t changed, it’s still there, and I’m determined to play my part in it.”



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