New SNP Westminster intake: the young, the inexperienced and the untamed activists

Mhairi Black, 20, takes down Douglas Alexander on the night of May 7. PA/David Cheskin

While we come to terms with the political earthquake that has taken place in Scotland, there is no doubting the figures. The Scottish National Party (SNP) will be sending 56 MPs south for the next five years, 50 more than before.

A lot of the selection battles were hotly contested. I have heard numerous reports ofd Machiavellian politics behind the scenes to secure nominations, and internal stresses between those who had been waiting years for their turn and those who had only recently joined the party.

Of those elected, some have parliamentary experience, the existing six and former leader Alex Salmond, who has been elected as member for Gordon in Aberdeenshire. Then you have got a group of just under 20 councillors, including Highland Council leader Drew Hendry. Their arrival will trigger a series of by-elections across Scotland.

The rest are a combination of longstanding party members and activists, many of who cut their teeth in the referendum campaign and have not been heavily involved in party politics. Here are a few to look out for:

Mhairi Black, Paisley & Renfrewshire South

The 20-year-old politics student who overturned Douglas Alexander’s majority in Paisley & Renfrewshire South. Still sitting her exams, Black is outspoken, passionate and not afraid to speak her mind. It will be very interesting to see how she performs in the House of Commons, which can be quite an unforgiving place. If she plays her cards right, you could see her having a serious role in the SNP for a long time. She is exceptionally articulate.

Tommy Sheppard, Edinburgh East

Tommy Sheppard.

Shepperd is the former deputy general secretary of the Labour Party in Scotland, who founded the Stand Comedy Club. He’s very much of the mind that the Labour Party left him because it doesn’t espouse the same values and beliefs that it once did. He joined the party after the referendum campaign.

Natalie McGarry, Glasgow East

Natalie McGarry.

McGarry had a very prominent role in Women For Independence and had one of its highest public profiles. Given the political issues she has been fought over, such as equality and feminism, it will be interesting to see if she brings this agenda to the Commons and whether she can work with members of other parties to tackle it.

Chris Law, Dundee West

Chris Law.

He was behind the Spirit of Independence movement, which used a fire engine to take the campaign to the streets. Tall and ponytailed, he’s very much an advocate of social justice. He’s another person who is very different to most MPs, with a real informality to the way he goes about politics.

Alex Salmond, Gordon

The former first minister has not expressed any desire to take the leadership of the Westminster group from Angus Robertson, but he seems bound to become a de facto leader. Yet equally this does not have the same meaning within the SNP as it does in other parties. The upper echelons of the party have all known each other for a very long time, since the days when they were organising campaigns in one another’s kitchens. Even those that don’t get on have a sense of collegiality from knowing each other for so long.

Salmond’s relationship with Robertson is in any case close. Robertson ran the party’s 2011 Scottish election campaign, for example, which was very successful.

Two points of order

The new intake will have to get used to the formal nature of politics at Westminster. They may bring be a breath of fresh air to the Commons, but too much activism might upset some people.

Then there is the question of expectations. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon had been hoping to work with a Labour government to keep the Tories locked out. Now that this has not happened, the group is going to have to react to the circumstances that have come about. Being in opposition in the House of Commons gives you very limited power, really. In this situation, the challenge will be to show the Scottish public that SNP MPs can serve them better than Labour MPs did.

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