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Scottish nationalism finds a new home in the House of Lairds

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Besuited humble crofter Ian Blackford isn’t the only Scot Nat MP fancying an ermine cloak when they quit or are evicted from the House of Commons. The former Westminster leader of a party refusing to nominate peers makes no secret of personally desiring a seat in the House of Lords. A snout whispers at least three other SNPers are believed to have let the Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, know they too would be prepared to lounge on the burgundy benches. Names in the frame are rebel Angus MacNeil, MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, sitting as an independent since falling out with the SNP hierarchy; East Kilbride’s Lisa Cameron, who defected to the Tories last year; and, unlikely to be favoured after she was ousted in Rutherglen by a recall ballot over Covid breaches, Margaret Ferrier. Denials may be heard all round, obviously.

Meanwhile, the Plaid Cymru aide Carmen Smith is due to replace Dafydd Wigley – who is hanging up his ermine as the Welsh nationalists’ sole existing peer – in the Lords. At 27, Smith will be the new baby of an upper chamber she says she does not believe in. Unless she is joined there by allies in the war against a Disunited Kingdom, hers could be a lonely six-decade stretch.

Keir Starmer’s Rochdale fiasco over Azhar Ali and tortuous £28bn green U-turn have left Labour frontbenchers screaming that indecision must cease to be final. Success has many parents, but these two blunders are orphans, nobody wishing to own responsibility. The leader’s powerful chief of staff, Sue Gray, herself accused of digging in heels over the £28bn binning, is said to want to beef up the comms team with a new overlord. Spin maestro Matthew Doyle’s mates complain that the messenger is always shot first by those dictating the message.

Never short of self-importance, the bar etiquette of pint-sized Mark Francois is furrowing brows. Buying himself a bevvy in Strangers’, the puffed-up Brexit and Rwanda crusader was observed throwing a fiver on to the counter rather than handing it to the bartender. Francois did add, “Keep the change,” from a £4.35 drink. Perhaps he didn’t want returning coins hurled on the bar.

Labour MPs mutter their ex-comrade Ian Austin – gifted a peerage by grateful Boris Johnson after Austin had urged people to vote Tory in 2019 – is now seeking to rebuild burned bridges with his old party ahead of Westminster regime change. Two MPs who are survivors of the cull the Corbyn-phobic Austin encouraged – one an old and now very former friend – vow zero reconciliation. Labour in the Lords remains short of numbers, however. The peer sits at the moment as an independent – is Austin convertible?

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[See also: Labour’s quandary: should that £28bn go in recycling or straight to landfill?]

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This article appears in the 14 Feb 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Trouble in Toryland

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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