Nicola Sturgeon leads vastly enhanced SNP team to Westminster

Scottish Nationalist Party newcomers soak up atmosphere at centre of UK power

SNP MPs crowd around party leader Nicola Sturgeon, who has spent the last few days in London to drive home the message that she is in charge. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

SNP MPs crowd around party leader Nicola Sturgeon, who has spent the last few days in London to drive home the message that she is in charge. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

 

Photographers crowded outside the St Stephen’s entrance to the houses of parliament in the untypically warm May sunshine, struggling to fit all of the Scottish National Party’s newly-elected MPs into one shot.

“Young lady, can you come forward,” said the man from the Daily Mail, pointing to a diminutive blonde-haired woman with a ponytail. The young lady was Mhairi Black, the youngest parliamentarian since 1667.

She happily obliged, as the SNP’s team crowded around party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, who has spent the last few days in London to drive home the message that she is in charge, even if much of the action in coming months lies there, not in Edinburgh.

The group had gathered 20 minutes before in Westminster Hall, soaking in the history of a place that saw King Charles and Thomas More condemned to death. Her predecessor, Alex Salmond was late in coming.

He had still not arrived when the group moved outside for the group photograph, where they were greeted by a Glasgow councillor who had travelled south with a huge saltire.

Salmond duly arrived, carefully taking up a place three or four rows back, emphasising the public message Sturgeon is keen to have understood that it is “The Nicola Show”, not “The Nicola and Alex Show”.

‘Loose Women’

Earlier, Sturgeon had appeared on ITV’s popular lunchtime Loose Women show, where she spoke about the trials of being a woman in a public role, where criticisms about clothes and hairstyles can often be bitter.

“I’m not going to sit here and lie and say that you don’t pay more attention to all of that the more you are in the public eye. Let’s face it, you don’t want to be looking like I did in some of these pictures,” she said.

Loose Women thrives on celebrity titbits, so Sturgeon obliged, telling the audience that she has taken voice coaching: “I’m about to namedrop horrendously here – I did once get some advice on how to project my voice from Seán Connery.”

The SNP had hoped Labour would be dependent for its survival on its votes, but it now finds itself on the margins in the wake of the Conservatives’ victory – one partly secured on the back of the Conservatives’ warning to English voters about the influence the SNP could have.

Mhairi Black insisted Cameron will be making a mistake if he decides to pay it no heed: “We want to see an end to austerity, so they would be quite foolish to ignore that voice.”

Yet to finish her university exams, Black, who defeated Douglas Alexander, the man who would have been foreign secretary had Labour won, was not intimidated by the Westminster surroundings.

“The ones who should be nervous are the ones who’ve put forward policies that have put so many people into poverty, into lives where they are now struggling, leading anxious lives,” she declared.

Varied group

The SNP newcomers are a varied group. Philippa Whiteford is a surgeon who was criticised during last year’s independence referendum campaign for claiming NHS privatisation had forced a Newcastle hospital to cancel cancer operations.

Though the election had not been about independence, Whiteford believes it will happen: “The truth is that the two countries have been moving apart since the 1980s, if not before,” she told reporters.

Chris Laws, the businessman who ended Labour’s 65-year hold on Dundee West, arrived in London only on Sunday night: “It has been very quick for me to understand why I am here; the sense of purpose.

“I can feel that I am getting over the tiredness,” said the bearded, tall, ponytailed Laws, a former chef who once ran a business that offered travellers’ motorcycle tours of the Himalayas with 1950s motorcycles.

Asked if Westminster felt a “foreign” parliament to him, Laws was judicious in his reply: “It isn’t a question of whether it is or it isn’t. It is a question of this is where the job needs to be done,” he told The Irish Times.