Nicola Sturgeon resignation: What is the mood among the MPs in Westminster?
The First Minister’s departure is undoubtedly a blow to the SNP, and their political opponents are celebrating it as also a setback for independence. Earlier the party’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn suggested the SNP special conference should be postponed to allow for a leadership race.
However, while there is clear sadness among her party, the mood among the Westminster group remains upbeat, with some believing the change could extend their appeal rather than reduce it. Former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford told The Scotsman that Ms Sturgeon’s departure had left “challenges”, but created an opportunity for debate.
He said: “I’m disappointed that the First Minister has gone because she has been an inspirational leader. There are challenges ahead of us, but I would argue she’s left us a very solid foundation to move forward.
“Whoever becomes leader will put their stamp on things and have to make sure the Scottish Government delivers on the day job, but also need to think about how we empower the votes that happened in the Scottish election, the support for independence, and how we take that forward.
"You can have debates about process, but at the end of the day it’s about the kind of country you want to live in.
“There is then that question of what is the role of the Westminster group. It’s about holding the [UK] Government to account, but also about making sure that group works with the group in Edinburgh, whoever it is.”
Senior back bencher Stewart McDonald insisted this could be an opportunity for the party to reinvigorate itself. He said it was not so much about the person who led the SNP, but the ideas and strategy to take them into the next “era”.
"Much in the way Sturgeon came to power in a way promising to modernise the party, what I want to see is an upgraded version,” he said.
“The question is who’s ready to take the SNP into a new era. It’s not just who’s the next leader, it’s who’s going to do the upgrade the party needs, whether that’s in organisation terms, policy terms, or crucially on the independence question. How do we breach this holding pattern we’re in?
“Personalities will obviously play a part in it, we’re all human beings, but we should resist temptation to put too much stock in that, and focus on ideas, direction and whether this person has a plan to keep this coalition of voters we’ve got, and go further still.”
However, the Glasgow South MP insisted he had nobody in mind yet for the role. He explained: “I’m boring and old fashioned, and rather than get into is it this person or that person, I think we need to keep this on ideas and substance."
The former SNP defence spokesperson added he was “gutted” when he heard the news of Ms Sturgeon’s resignation. He said: “I was totally stunned, genuinely stunned. I was not enormously surprised though, even in the last couple of months she was becoming less and less coy while hinting at a life after politics.
“The general mood across the Westminster group is just of being stunned by the announcement.”
In the party machinery, there also remains a sense of optimism, bordering on outright defiance on what they see as Labour over-confidence this will make things harder for the SNP.
A senior SNP figure told The Scotsman while MPs were sad to see Ms Sturgeon resign, it would not change the approach of the Westminster group. They said: “Of course, everyone is gutted that Nicola Sturgeon is leaving – that’s to be expected given she's one of the outstanding political figures of her generation.
“But the doomsayer predictions that we’re getting from Westminster is wishful and arrogant thinking on behalf of the Tories and Labour Party.
"Fresh leadership has the potential to provide huge opportunities for the party and independence cause. And whoever becomes the next leader, the SNP will enter the next general election in a position of strength.
"We'll be the only party offering Scotland a choice over our future, the only party offering an escape from Brexit, and the party most-trusted to stand up for Scotland at Westminster.
"Voting SNP will also be the best way to get rid of the Tories in Scotland at the election – and the only way to get rid of Tory governments for good with independence. By arrogantly boasting about their chances, the Tories and Labour Party might well find they put the backs of voters up and encourage more people to vote SNP."
However, opposition parties smell blood, with Scottish Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael comparing the situation to the performers who balance spinning plates on poles. He said: “It looks to me like Nicola Sturgeon has seen some of these plates start to wobble a bit.
“Once the door closes behind here, there will be quite a lot of breaking crockery noises, and whoever succeeds her will spend a lot of time picking up broken plates.
“Things that haven’t really mattered for some reason, such as poor performance, education, health, drugs deaths, ferries, now like the deposit return scheme, the teachers’ strike, all these things are beginning to stick to them in a way they just didn’t do before.
“For as long as it was Nicola Sturgeon, she was just about able to hold it all together, but I don’t see anybody in the ranks behind her who has the necessary skills to hold these issues together, and the plates will come down”.
Shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray claimed Ms Sturgeon’s departure showed the SNP were out of “ideas, out of momentum and increasingly out of personnel”.
“The SNP group at Westminster can list their achievements on a back of a postage stamp, although one big achievement is the coup on Ian Blackford that fires the starting gun on Nicola Sturgeon’s demise,” he said.
“At the next election, Scots will have the choice of MPs who sit on opposition benches achieving little to nothing, or Scottish Labour MPs ready to deliver for Scotland in government”.
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