Mr Flynn took Mr Blackford’s place during PMQs for the first time since his appointment today, referring to Mr Blackford as a “giant of Scottish Indpendence,” a comment which earned a smattering of laughs from thoughout the Commons. Mr Blackford chuckled uncomfortably following the remark from the new Westminster leader, who is slated to represent a desire among a group of Scottish MPs to move away from Ms Sturgeon’s leadership.
The former Westminster business spokesman for the SNP also commented that Mr Blackford had “seen off not one, not two, but three consecutive Tory Prime Ministers – indeed, he was on to his fourth.”
Another underhanded remark came from Rishi Sunak, who when paying tribute to Mr Blackford, was met with a swell of laughter when he said, with a discernible smirk: “I know the whole House will miss his weekly contributions.”
Mr Flynn had defeated Alison Thewliss, the favoured candidate for those still loyal to Ms Sturgeon, by 26 votes to 17. His success in the vote has already been heralded as a sign that Ms Sturgeon’s “once-iron grip on her party is slipping”, with the new Westminster leader denying claims of a coup while calling for a “fresh approach.”
Another blow for Ms Sturgeon came in the form of Mhairi Black, who has been appointed to the position of deputy leader, and was critical of the SNP leader’s response to her Supreme Court defeat on attempts to secure an independence referendum.
Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said: “Stephen Flynn’s victory over Nicola Sturgeon’s candidate is a personal humiliation for the First Minister and lays bare the deep splits within the SNP.”
He added: “Now, having persuaded Alison Thewliss to stand as the ‘stop Flynn’ candidate, Nicola Sturgeon has been overruled again by her rebellious Westminster MPs. It’s clear the First Minister’s once-iron grip on her party is slipping. This result is sure to lead to increased tensions between the SNP leaders at Westminster and Holyrood, not least over oil and gas policy, where Mr Flynn – a serial flip-flopper on this issue – is, for the moment, at odds with Miss Sturgeon.”
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Taking on Mr Sunak across the dispatch box for the first time as the SNP’s Westminster leader, Mr Flynn took aim at both the Conservative and Labour parties simultaneously, asking the Prime Minister: “What does he consider the greatest achievement of the Conservative party in government since 2019? Leaving the single market and customs union, ending freedom of movement, denying Scotland her democracy, or getting the Labour Party to agree with all of the above?”
Mr Sunak, after offering his “genuine and warm wishes” to Mr Blackford, said: “The things we are most proud of over the last couple of years is making sure that we protected the country during the pandemic, with furlough and with the fastest vaccine rollout.”
Mr Flynn responded with a jibe about the PM’s wealth, referring to him as a “near-billionaire”, and cited a recent Ipsos poll which found 56 percent of Scots support IndyRef2, insuinating that the polling numbers would only improve for the SNP if Mr Sunak continued to allow energy bills to rise.
The SNP MP’s reference was to a cost-saving cut in the Tories’ “energy price guarantee”, which will now see the typical household’s energy bill rise from £2500 a year to £3000 a year from April.
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In response, the PM claimed his government was delivering £55 billion of support for energy bills for people across the UK, saying this would “save a typical homeowner about £900 on their bills this winter with extra support for the most vulnerable”.
Following his appointment to Mr Blackford’s role, Mr Flynn rejected the idea that it represented a “coup”, commenting: “Far too many people have been watching House of Cards”. He also praised Mr Blackford’s “fantastic job” and said they were “really good friends.”
On social media after the result was announced, Miss Sturgeon said: “Congratulations to new SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn and deputy leader Mhairi Black – a truly formidable team. Looking forward to working with them both.”
Miss Black said: “I’m delighted to have been elected as SNP Westminster deputy leader and look forward to working closely with Stephen Flynn and MPs across the parliamentary party as we stand up for Scotland and make the case for independence.”