THE SNP’s 56 MPs are to get involved with more English issues and policies in a bid to extend the party’s influence elsewhere in the UK.
The new intake of Nationalist MPs have been told to look beyond Scotland and engage with people south of the Border.
SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson has instructed his enlarged group of MPs to come up with detailed plans outlining how they intend to make their presence felt.
Transport links between Scotland and the north of England, including the HS2 train, are among the areas the SNP intends to try to influence.
Also on the party’s agenda is getting involved in improving the economic performance of the north of England.
The plans are part of an overall strategy to “redefine” the relationship between the home nations. Mr Robertson wants the SNP to forge closer links with the English regions, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
The SNP’s Westminster leader unveiled his proposals at a dinner in London hosted by the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists’ Association.
The plans angered the party’s opponents at the end of a week which saw Mr Robertson and his colleagues force the UK government to delay its proposal to relax anti-fox hunting legislation which only applies in England and Wales.
The SNP’s decision to abandon its principled stance of not voting on English legislation after the general election in May has angered the Conservatives.
Mr Robertson claimed the SNP had been inundated with the “loveliest” e-mails from people outside Scotland, who were “delighted” that the party had “stood up for the English fox”.
After the SNP said it would vote against relaxing the anti-hunting law, Mr Robertson said hundreds of English voters had written to his party expressing their dismay that they were unable to vote for them.
Mr Robertson said the SNP intended to build on the goodwill from the rest of the UK.
“Because we have a vision for a different constitutional future for Scotland, does not mean that we do not share a great much in common when it comes to living in a fairer society or more successful economy,” Mr Robertson said.
According to Mr Robertson, the dramatic increase in size of the SNP’s Westminster group from six MPs before the general election to 56 means the party can broaden its horizons.
“We understand and have been very successful in talking with civic society in Scotland of having good links with business community, creatives and all of that. We are now going to be in a position to do that in the rest of the UK,” he said
“So if it is colleagues in the economy team speaking with a chamber of commerce in Leeds – talking about transport links and HS2 – whether it is speaking with the business community in Newcastle, whether it is talking with the trade council in Cardiff. All of the issues we have an interest in I am asking my colleagues in the various policy teams to have a plan in place to engage with the rest of the UK in a way that we have never been able to in the past.
“We are going to be working with civic life England, Wales and Ireland north and south. I think this will be newsworthy in Scotland and I think it will be particularly noticed elsewhere in the UK when people realise what the SNP wants is of benefit if you live in the north-west of England or the north-east of England. If Scotland’s economy grows we buy more from the north-east of England.”
Mr Robertson also said the SNP wanted to re-examine links with Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic using the British/Irish Council, the body created following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Another model under examination by the SNP is the Nordic Council, which brought about a common travel area in Scandinavia.
Asked whether the new approach meant the SNP could be described as a unionist party, Mr Robertson said: “No we are not in the traditional sense.” But he said new ways to explain the values shared across the UK and Irish Republic had to be found while the SNP remained true to its vision of Scotland as a “normal sovereign state”.
Last night the Conservatives and Labour said the SNP would be better advised to concentrate on the issues affecting its constituents. Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “I’m sure their constituents would much rather they focussed on the state of our local health service, the attainment gap in our schools and the serious concerns over the performance of Police Scotland.
“The SNP might not feel they have enough to keep them busy in Westminster, but there are plenty of issues under the control of the Scottish Government which are causing serious worry to people in Scotland. It’s for the voters to judge whether SNP politicians should stand up for Scotland or stand up for Scunthorpe.”
The shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: “In recent days we have seen the looming GP crisis in Scotland exposed, reports of cuts to the number of maternity beds in Glasgow, and the shambles in the police service. Instead of playing political games, people in Scotland would rather the SNP spent more of their time fixing the mess they have made of our public services.”