Pete Wishart ‘bemused’ at SNP Commons leadership change as he quits front bench

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An SNP MP has said he is “bemused” at the change in his party’s leadership at Westminster as he ruled himself out of a front bench role.

Pete Wishart was first elected to Westminster in 2001, and has held a variety of front bench posts, most recently serving as the group’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesman.

Aberdeen South MP Stephen Flynn succeeded Ian Blackford as leader on Tuesday following speculation of a coup within the Westminster group.

Mr Blackford, who led the party in the Commons from 2017, announced he would not stand for re-election at the SNP’s annual general meeting.

However, he told TalkTV he could have won the leadership bid if he had put himself forward.

In a statement announcing his resignation from the front benches, Mr Wishart told Mr Flynn he did not understand his reasons for seeking leadership change.

He wrote: “I remain bemused as to the reasons why you felt it was necessary to seek a change in our leadership, particularly when we see yesterday’s opinion poll, which shows support for independence at a near all-time high and support for the SNP at Westminster at an unprecedented 51%.

“Usually change of this significance accompanies failure, whereas we are looking only at sustained and growing success as a movement and party.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Stephen Flynn took over as the SNP Westminster leader on Tuesday (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/AP)

“I also look forward to learning first-hand what you hope to do differently in the day-to-day management of the group.”

However, the Perth and Perthshire North MP said Mr Flynn has his “full support”, adding “I remain at your service if you do wish to make use of my experience in the Westminster group.”

Following the leadership change, Owen Thompson was replaced by Martin Docherty-Hughes as the party’s chief whip at Westminster.

Responding to the letter, Mr Flynn thanked Mr Wishart for his “exemplary service” on the SNP front bench.

He added: “As ever, my door remains open and I look forward to working with you as we support colleagues in Holyrood, hold the Tories to account, and work to deliver independence.”

Glasgow MP Stewart McDonald has also announced he is stepping away from the front bench.

He has served as SNP spokesman for defence since 2017 said thanked “his friend” Mr Blackford for the opportunity.

He congratulated Mr Flynn on his election and said he was confident the new leadership would keep the party’s unity at the “forefront”.

“We are at our best when we collaborate as a united party and sell a modern vision of what Scotland can still achieve,” he said.

In his TalkTV interview on Wednesday, Mr Blackford said: “I could have seen this off, I believe I would have won if I’d put myself forward.”

He added: “Some people have a different way of wanting to do things and I think its fair to say that some people probably wanted to see the end of my backside off the front bench. That’s fine. They’re entitled to that.”

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