A wind of change… a blast of fresh air … and a sea of fresh faces: how could Scotland not warm to Westminster’s new SNP 56 and a dramatic break with the past?
It was hard not to be swept up in the excitement of last Thursday night as former Labour bastions tumbled like skittles.
And how tired and ‘past it’ the old Labour guard looked, as a new fresh-faced swathe of SNP MPs rose to take their place. Has not a new politics arisen in Scotland, the old order swept away?
Do we not have brand new MPs with different backgrounds, occupations and interests outside politics poised to usher in a new era?
There are indeed some genuinely fresh faces and some with experience of working in the private sector … but sadly not so many.
A clean break from the past?
Er, really? A quick browse through the biogs of the Fantastic 56 reveals an uncanny resemblance to the old politics. While several have indeed had private sector experience and run their own businesses, these are still few and far between. The ‘New 56’ remains public sector and local government dominated. And it certainly helps to have been “in politics” beforehand.
And scratch beneath the surface of the fresh yellow gloss and now and again you can even spot the ‘re-treads’ with the old red paint underneath. Scratch some of the others and it could easily be mistaken for Scottish politics as usual.
Take Tommy Sheppard, the beaming new SNP MP for Edinburgh East. He used to work for the Labour Party, was a former Labour councillor and former deputy general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party. He has been a member of the SNP “for a matter of months”. What a break from the past!
Salute Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, the new SNP MP for Ochil and South Perthshire. Tasmina has not always been an SNP supporter. She was a member of the Conservative Party until 2000, standing for the Scottish Parliament for the Tories in 1999. She left the party and joined the SNP in 2000. It later emerged that she had also been a member of the Labour Party in the 1990s and campaigned for former Glasgow Labour MP Mohammad Sarwar.
Natalie McGarry, the new SNP MP for Glasgow East is no stranger to Scottish politics.
She comes from a family of SNP activists – her mother is a councillor and her aunt is an MSP. But her partner is Glasgow’s sole Conservative councillor.
George Kerevan, the triumphant SNP MP for the golf links of East Lothian, is a prominent Scottish journalist, long standing economics columnist and contributor to ScotBuzz. George served valiantly as an Edinburgh Labour councillor for 12 years before switching allegiance to the SNP.
Christopher Stephens, now SNP MP for Glasgow South West, may not signal a total break with past structures. He is a senior Unison trade union activist employed by Glasgow City Council.
Ian Blackford is not exactly a new face in Scottish politics. The new SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, who unseated Cheerful Charlie Kennedy, was suspended as SNP party treasurer in 2000 after a motion of no confidence was passed at the SNP conference. He threatened to sue Alex Salmond amid the row.
Stuart Donaldson, the new SNP MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine is, of course, the 23 year-old son of Maureen Watt, minister of public health in the Scottish government.
The new intake has its fair share of well-established political figures. Drew Hendry, SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, is the leader of Highland Council. Anne McLaughlin, SNP MP for Glasgow North East, was an MSP between 2009 and 2011, having taken one of the SNP’s regional list places after the death of Bashir Ahmad. Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) has been a councillor since 2007 and is Convener of SNP Group on Aberdeen City Council. Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) is SNP Group Leader on Aberdeen City Council. Stuart McDonald, the new MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East has been an SNP activist for twenty years and works for a Glasgow-based anti-racism charity.
Martin Docherty (West Dunbartonshire) was first elected a councillor in 1992 at the age of 21 and currently sits on Glasgow City Council. Lisa Cameron, the new SNP MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, is an NHS consultant and union representative.
A new politics? A fresh start? The party colours may be different.
But this is still very much a public sector dominated Scottish political class. There are a few honourable exceptions to this rule, but, alas, not so many as to make a difference where it matters.