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5 December 2022

Mhairi Black expected to stand for SNP Westminster deputy leader

The left-winger is set to become Stephen Flynn’s running mate in the contest to replace Ian Blackford.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Divisions in the SNP have intensified as Nicola Sturgeon’s allies take on the party’s new blood in the race to succeed Ian Blackford as its Westminster leader.

Blackford stood down last week, reportedly because he expected to be ousted in a challenge by Stephen Flynn, the Aberdeen South MP. There are now two candidates to succeed Blackford in a vote which will take place tomorrow.

Flynn, 34, who unseated the Tory Ross Thompson at the 2019 general election and is popular among the SNP’s 44 MPs, will compete against Alison Thewliss, 40, who has represented Glasgow Central since 2015 and is seen as close to Sturgeon, the First Minster and party leader.

Rumours are rife that Mhairi Black, a left-winger who sharply divides opinion in the group, is being lined up as the candidate to be Flynn’s deputy. Insiders expect Black, 28, the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, to run but she has not yet formally announced her intention. Thewliss has selected Stuart McDonald, 44, who represents Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, as her running mate.

Flynn is said to favour greater autonomy for the Westminster party from Edinburgh but those supporting Thewliss believe creating an “alternative power base” is unworkable and will intensify divisions as Sturgeon reviews her independence strategy. Black has also clashed with some of her female colleagues, most notably Joanna Cherry, over trans rights and sources predict fierce arguments at tomorrow’s meeting.

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One Thewliss ally, who says Blackford, 61, was a popular figure and should not have been forced out, warned that diverging from Edinburgh could damage party unity. They said: “Our relationship with Edinburgh can be difficult sometimes, because here we’re an opposition and there we are in government, and here the Tories are in government, but there they are in opposition. So ensuring that we get that balance right is an important one and can be tough at times, to be blunt. [But] a suggestion that somehow we can just walk away from that – I’m not entirely sure what the destination is there.”

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They added that the deputy leadership in Westminster was a “largely administrative” post and that Black’s “talents are much better used in a public-facing role”.

The fracture comes after the Scottish government lost a Supreme Court case in which it that argued Holyrood should have the legal power to hold a second independence referendum. Sturgeon has vowed instead to make the next election a de facto referendum.

Blackford is said to have told friends he believes the Westminster group has become “ungovernable”. Infighting broke out over the party’s handling of a complaint against Patrick Grady MP, who was found by an independent investigation to have behaved inappropriately towards a party staffer. Grady resigned his SNP membership and was suspended from parliament for two days. However, a recording was passed to the Daily Mail in June in which Blackford could be heard urging colleagues to give Grady their “absolute full support”.

Tensions also emerged over a Commons vote on an alleged breach of parliamentary rules by John Nicolson, the MP for Ochil and South Perthshire. He could face a ban from Westminster after sharing private correspondence from Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, about a decision not to refer him to the privileges committee. Less than half of SNP MPs voted to back him.

[See also: Growth through devolution will be Labour’s election pitch

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