The SNP – the new “third party” of Westminster

George Kerevan MP speaks to an audience at Weber Shandwick on the SNP’s priorities in this parliament

The SNP is undisputedly the dominant party in Scottish politics – both domestically in Holyrood and in Westminster, given the recent landslide at the General Election when the Party won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland. Whilst this position is not without its risks, as George Kerevan MP the newly elected SNP member of the Treasury Select Committee noted in a business breakfast at Weber Shandwick’s London offices this morning, it means the Party is in a position of influence for the foreseeable future.

Mr. Kerevan spoke to business representatives from a range of sectors including banking, accountancy, energy, health, education, government services providers and developers. Mr. Kerevan made clear that the SNP in Westminster will not be an “abstentionist” party. This morning’s news that the SNP plans to vote against the Tories partially repealing the foxhunting ban have already resulted in a delay to the vote.

While the issue is completely devolved to Scotland, this stance is a reaction to the rejection of the proposed amendments to the Scotland Bill by all but one MP in Scotland. SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson described this position by the UK Government as ‘arrogant’. Indeed only two months into this parliament, the Conservatives have already shelved the vote on the so called ‘English Votes for English Laws’ (EVEL), thereby exposing the weakness of a thin majority of twelve.

The SNP has a vastly increased quota of MPs in the House of Commons. Not only does this give the Party unprecedented influence in British politics (see below) it also brings to Westminster a wealth of experience and talent across a range of backgrounds. Within the SNP are former journalists, academics, economists, bankers, oil company directors, health professionals and Arabic speakers for good measure. This means the SNP will have spokespeople dedicated to each area of Government policy and teams behind them. Mr. Kerevan was clear about the influence the SNP can wield as a smaller opposition party to a Government with a slim majority, a Labour Party in an existential crisis and a Liberal Democrat Party decimated.

The SNP is now the true “third party” in UK politics.

As the third party in Westminster the SNP has:

  • The Chair of two select committees. The SNP chairmanship of the Scottish Affairs Committee was a foregone conclusion and this went to Pete Wishart MP. In fact, the Tories have surrendered some of their seats on the committee to the SNP who now have 95% of the seats in Scotland. The Chairmanship of the Energy and Climate Change Committee gives the SNP the opportunity to call in the Government and scrutinise its policy – a position which went to Angus Brendan MacNeil MP. This will create challenges for the Government – the Tories being pro-nuclear, pro-fracking and anti-onshore wind; arguably the complete reverse of the SNP’s position on most of its energy policy. However the SNP will have to ride two horses as well – promoting a renewable energy revolution while seeking to maximise investment in the North Sea.
  • By virtue of their chairmanships SNP holds two places on the Liaison Committee. This provides them ample opportunity to hold the Prime Minister to account during his regular appearances at the Committee.
  • A seat on every select committee. With 56 MPs the party will have spokespeople on all areas of government policy and a seat on every select committee represents a further opportunity for the party to further exercise its influence and get its voice across on a range of policy.
  • A seat on special cross chamber committees, such as the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy and on the Intelligence and Security Committee.
  • Protected speaking time. This means that the SNP does not have to worry about being picked to participate in debates and following statements – the party is now afforded this privilege automatically.
  • Two questions to ministers at each question time, including at PMQs. This guarantees the SNP unprecedented opportunity to scrutinise the Government on the floor of the House of Commons on every aspect of policy at a UK wide and international level. So far during PMQs, the Leader of the SNP Westminster Group Angus Robertson MP has called David Cameron to account on his plans for English Votes for English Laws and the implementation of the Smith Commission. The SNP has most recently thrown the cat amongst the pigeons, or the fox amongst the chickens, in making clear it intends to defeat the Government’s plans to reintroduce hunting with dogs.
  • Other benefits include access to the so-called “usual channels”, which enables the party advance sight of and input into the running of parliamentary business, four opposition days a year, and vastly increased resources in the form of “short money”, which means the SNP will have greater support for their MPs in their roles as spokespeople.

It’s no longer enough to regard the SNP as ‘bit players’ in British politics. The aftermath of the independence referendum and the general election have produced an utterly transformed landscape in Scottish politics, in which the SNP are virtually hegemonic in Scotland. This dominance is only likely to increase after the Holyrood elections in May 2016. It’s vital that business begins to understand the SNP, its motivations, policies and personalities as their importance is only likely to increase.