The third largest party you’ve only just heard of

What has the SNP been up to in Westminster (almost) a year after the General Election?

It is hard to believe it has been almost a year since the General Election and the landslide of SNP MPs elected to the House of Commons. Since those heady days, SNP parliamentary attention has focussed on the Scotland Bill, the EU referendum and the forthcoming Holyrood election.

Still overlooked by many has been the fundamental re-balancing of Westminster with the SNP becoming the third largest party in the UK. While a honeymoon period could have been predicted by any commentator, no one was so bold to suggest that it would continue and morph into the party arguably becoming the de facto opposition. Labour’s disarray combined by an outbreak of vicious infighting in the Conservatives over Europe has allowed the SNP to claim this mantle. Meanwhile the party has been crucially using this first year to build the internal capacity to fulfil their elevated role at Westminster.

Having seen off the Tory cash-grab for ‘Short Money’ the SNP now have resources beyond their wildest dreams and with it can amass the staff and specialisms required. This is often overlooked by those in and out of the Westminster Bubble – where before the party was limited by capacity (with only 6 MPs) they are now totally unencumbered and can develop comprehensive new policy and attack lines. Businesses should be aware that the approach will include areas that are not just ‘Scottish’. It is also worth remembering that the SNP is allocated considerable opportunity to speak on issues beyond those related to the constitutional future of the UK.

In my previous job I witnessed some quite awkward engagement by businesses and the third sector with the SNP and Scottish politicians in the House of Commons. The consistent theme throughout was a pretty remarkable ignorance of devolution. Many conversations started with the MP simply explaining what it was. Make no mistake, devolution has changed everything – both North and South of the border and that change is permanent. We can argue about its direction but all major parties in Scotland want more of it.

The devolution of significant tax powers to Scotland does not mean the debate shifts entirely there – indeed some struggle to grasp that it actually makes the relationship between the two parliaments and government much more complex and therefore presents a myriad of challenges and opportunities for companies and organisations across the UK. This new level of fiscal scrutiny combined with English Votes for English Laws and a fractious Tory party with a slim majority and you’ve got yourself a whole new political ballgame.

Engagement with the SNP has to be cognisant of all of these variables. It also has to be creative. Clever reading of the runes and especially recognising triangulation with other issues is vital. Neither parliament can or should be seen in isolation. What might be a perfectly reasonable position for you may have serious political or legislative repercussions for Scotland. Being able to understand that long before you seek to engage will make all of the difference in the next four years.