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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Pippa Crerar Political editor

Aberdeen MP elected new SNP leader at Westminster

Stephen Flynn MP
Stephen Flynn is expected to promote fellow members of the ‘Tuesday Club’ of SNP MPs at Westminster. Photograph: Parliament TV

An Aberdeen MP little known outside Scotland’s political bubble has been elected the Scottish National party’s new leader at Westminster, as the party tries to keep its independence dreams alive after a fresh vote was blocked by the supreme court.

Stephen Flynn, 34, a former city councillor who only won his seat in 2019, will face Rishi Sunak at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday after beating Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss, a surprise late entry into the race, to lead the UK parliament’s third biggest bloc.

Allies of the new leader, who had been the favourite to win, said that he was expected to shake up the SNP frontbench in response to concerns that the group had drifted away from the sharp campaigning approach it had adopted at the 2015 general election.

They claimed he would be more willing to stand up to what they perceived as interference by Nicola Sturgeon’s team in Edinburgh than his ousted predecessor, Ian Blackford, who was regarded by some in the group as too close to Scotland’s first minister.

Several SNP MPs also said they felt “abandoned” by headquarters in Edinburgh, where Sturgeon and her husband, the party’s chief executive, Peter Murrell, run what is described as a “very tight ship” but which internal critics say keeps a “too tight” grip on power.

In a statement, Flynn, whose new deputy will be Paisley MP Mhairi Black, said: “Under my leadership, SNP MPs will be relentlessly focused on standing up for Scotland’s interests and our democratic right to decide our future in an independence referendum.

“Families across Scotland are paying a devastating price under Westminster control, with Brexit, austerity cuts and the Tory cost of living crisis hammering household budgets. SNP MPs will work harder than ever to hold the Tory government to account – and make the case that independence is the essential route to safety, fairness and prosperity for Scotland.”

Flynn, who was the SNP’s energy spokesperson, has been praised for his sharp interventions in the Commons and the media, but little is known about his policy priorities or which direction he intends to take the group.

Insiders said members of the group known as the “Tuesday Club” – which regularly plays five-a-side football and holds curry nights in London – including Brendan O’Hara, David Linden, Steven Bonnar, Alan Brown and Richard Thomson, were in line for promotions.

Blackford said at the weekend he was the victim of a plot by the group to oust him from the role. In an interview with Scotland’s Sunday Mail newspaper, he said they wanted more independence from the Scottish parliament and Sturgeon – and he warned the SNP would not survive unless they were united.

“One of the things I decided to do early on was to support the Scottish government,” he said. “I saw ourselves as having that supporting role and I think there are some people in the group that would have preferred me to be a bit more independent. That has got more to do with it than anything else.”

Blackford’s decision to step down, which came after a turbulent few months of plotting from within SNP ranks, was seen by some in the party as a blow to Sturgeon’s authority after her closest aides tried to keep him in post.

The former banker had faced several attempts to force him out after a testing year in which he had to defend himself against bullying allegations from an aide. His handling of sexual harassment claims made against the MP Patrick Grady by a young staffer was also widely criticised after a leaked recording showed him urging colleagues to support Grady while failing to mention his victim.

• The headline and text of this article were amended on 9 December 2022 to refer to Stephen Flynn as an “Aberdeen MP”, rather than an “Aberdeenshire MP” as an earlier version said. He is MP for Aberdeen South.

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