The nationalists go marching in
How are the SNP's new members finding their surroundings?
So it wasn’t a dream after all. Fresh from their astonishing triumph at the ballot box last week, the SNP’s newly-swelled contingent of MPs arrived to much fanfare at the House of Commons. What would they make of the Westminster parliament they had spent so much time decrying, and what would Westminster make of them?
With the business of the Commons not due to start until next week, most new SNP members have spent the last few days familiarising themselves with their surroundings. Some of the SNP’s expanded caucus have already been keen to give the London establishment a taste of the new politics, and observers can expect a few rhetorical fireworks when Parliament formally convenes.
But while one or two nationalist members will look to emulate Alex Salmond in his youth and make a splash with their early parliamentary interventions, to suggest SNP MPs will behave as a mob is well wide of the mark. As academic James Mitchell observed before the election, the SNP is rooted in constitutional politics, and has emphasised responsibility as a means of advancing the cause of independence.
As if to underscore this approach from the get-go, the SNP’s Westminster group opted for continuity in its top team. Incumbent leader in the Commons Angus Robertson was re-elected unanimously, and the SNP’s Deputy Leader Stewart Hosie – who has established himself as a player on the Commons Treasury Select Committee – was confirmed by Robertson as economic spokesman. Another old hand, Mike Weir, will be in charge of herding the newbies as Chief Whip.
That the SNP is thinking strategically about how to use its newfound clout has also been clear from its behind-the-scenes efforts to secure plum positions in the Westminster system. The party has obtained the chairmanship of the Scottish Affairs Committee, a role that will give it the chance to scrutinise the Cameron government’s moves on devolution and help determine what reports that panel publishes on Scotland. This chairmanship and another promised to the SNP will also give the party the chance to grill David Cameron at high-profile meetings of the Liaison Committee.
Almost lost in this buzz of activity is Alex Salmond himself, newly returned to the Commons as MP for Gordon. The former First Minister has been handed the role of foreign affairs spokesman at Westminster, leading some to speculate he is being put in a box by the SNP high command. This has a grain of truth in it, but having him in the post will give the SNP a powerful voice in the debate on Britain’s EU membership. In this brave new world for the SNP, even yesterday’s man has his part to play.
Photograph: Angus Robertson