SNP MPs to focus on defeating minority Tory government

The slimmed down SNP group at Westminster will refocus its efforts on defeating the minority Conservative government under a new leader to be named this afternoon.

Nicola Sturgeon with the SNP's 35 MPs outside Westminster. Picture: Adrian Dennis/AFP

Nationalist sources said the party would dispense with some of the trappings of political life at Westminster, and could abandon the centuries-old convention of sending MPs to participate in non-binding Westminster Hall debates on issues that aren’t relevant to Scottish voters.

Ian Blackford is believed to be the favourite to 
succeed Angus Robertson as SNP Westminster leader, a role which offers the chance to quiz the Prime Minister every week at PMQs. The Scotsman understands that Mr Blackford was nominated for the group leadership yesterday by two high-profile SNP MPs, Mhairi Black and Stephen Gethins.

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The Edinburgh South West MP Joanna Cherry and Highlands MP Drew Hendry are also challenging for the role.

An SNP source said the party would dispense with “hobby horses” and focus on inflicting defeats on the Conservatives on Brexit and welfare policy.

“There’s a feeling that we can’t allow Westminster to tie us up in a way that it perhaps has done over the past two years, with unnecessary projects,” the source said.

“While they might be good things to work away on, the result shows they haven’t delivered for us. What you’re going to see is a laser-like focus, once we’ve the new team is in place, once we’ve got new spokespeople, 
there’s a real desire among the group to get down to business and use guerilla style tactics that the Tories have used against us in Holyrood to fight back.”

Yesterday the Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard withdrew from the race, saying he had insufficient support. In a statement, he said the SNP should focus its efforts on fighting off Labour in the Central Belt rather winning back ground lost to the Tories in northeast Scotland.

“We need to win these voters back and we might not have long to do it,” Mr Sheppard said. “In my view this means our priority should be to focus on our left flank and take the battle to Labour in Scotland.”

The contest comes after Mr Robertson lost the Moray seat he had held since 2001 to Douglas Ross of the Scottish Conservatives.

The SNP won 35 seats in last week’s election, down 21 from 2015, with the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all making gains across Scotland.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has admitted the issue of another independence ballot was a factor in last Thursday’s vote, and she said the party will reflect on its plan amid calls for it to be taken off the table.

She has focused on the UK’s Brexit approach as political leaders including Ruth Davidson call for consensus.