SNP conference should be postponed for leadership race, says Flynn

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The SNP’s Westminster leader has said the special SNP conference should be delayed to allow for Nicola Sturgeon’s successor to be appointed.

The party planned to hold a meeting on March 19 to discuss the path towards an independence vote, with Ms Sturgeon backing the use of the next general election as a de facto referendum.

But Stephen Flynn has said the meeting should be pushed back.

“I personally think that party conference should be paused, for obvious reasons.

“I think the new leader should have the opportunity and indeed the space to set out their position, their values and their intentions going forward.

“So that would be my take in relation to that. I think it’s sensible that we do hit the pause button on that conference and allow the new leader the opportunity to set out their vision.”

The Westminster leader has previously ruled himself out of contention for the role, adding that the next head of the SNP will come from the Holyrood group.

Stephen Flynn
SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said he wants to see the conference delayed (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

She remained tight-lipped on arrival at her home on the outskirts of Glasgow on Thursday afternoon.

Cutting a casual figure in a hoody, jeans and trainers, she smiled and waved at assembled media from her doorstep.

SNP president Michael Russell has said he expects the leadership contest to be “shortened” and for there to be a “contested election”.

He told the BBC on Thursday there may be a need to delay the independence summit until a new leader has been selected, suggesting it was “unlikely” the race would be over by then.

“Therefore there is a question to be asked about whether that should be postponed while a leader comes into place,” he said.

Nicola Sturgeon resignation
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon arriving at her home near Glasgow (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Mr Russell said he thought the leadership race was an “important moment for the SNP”, urging members to discuss who the right candidate is “positively and constructively to decide who is the right person to take us forward”.

Though there is no obvious candidate to succeed the outgoing First Minister, potential candidates include: External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson; Finance Secretary Kate Forbes; Health Secretary Humza Yousaf; and Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

Ms Sturgeon’s resignation follows a series of political challenges in recent months as her Government sought to push through gender reforms, only for them to be blocked by Westminster.

She insisted the row surrounding a transgender double rapist being sent to a women’s jail “wasn’t the final straw”, but said it is “time for someone else” to lead the party.

Ms Sturgeon acknowledged the “choppy waters”, but insisted her resignation was not in response to the “latest period of pressure”.

(PA Graphics)

“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now. That it’s right for me, for my party and my country,” she told reporters at Bute House, her official residence.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar suggested there was now a belief in Scotland that a UK Labour government was possible for the first time since the party lost power in 2010.

At the same time, he said it would require the party to make “significant gains” in Scotland at the next general election – expected in a little over 12 months – for that to happen.

“For 12 years I don’t think people in Scotland have believed that a Labour UK government was possible. I think that is changing now. I think people believe a UK Labour government is possible,” he told the BBC.

The Scottish Tories, meanwhile, had no warm words for the departing First Minister, with the party leader Douglas Ross insisting Ms Sturgeon had “presided over a decade of division and decay in Scotland”.

Mr Ross also rubbished claims that Labour could win across Scotland at the next general election.

Scotland opinion polls: voting intention in next general election
(PA Graphics)

“We are the the clear challengers to the SNP in multiple seats across Scotland.”

The Conservatives at Westminster tried to strike a more cordial tone, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paying tribute to Ms Sturgeon’s “long-standing service”.

But his Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, said her resignation was “a welcome opportunity for the Scottish Government to change course, and to drop its divisive obsession with independence”.

The SNP’s vote share in opinion polls in Scotland has dipped in recent months, though the party remains ahead of its rivals across the board.

While the SNP enjoyed ratings in the high 40s or low 50s for much of the period after the December 2019 election and through the pandemic, in 2022 the figures started to drift downwards, briefly touching 42% in April and 41% in November.

This was mirrored by a rise in support for Labour, whose ratings had hovered around 20% for much of the previous two years, but which began to see an increase from early 2022.

The latest monthly average puts the SNP on 43%, Labour on 30%, the Conservatives on 16% and the Liberal Democrats on 6%.

At the 2019 general election, the SNP won 45% of the vote in Scotland, with the Tories on 25%, Labour on 19% and the Lib Dems on 10%.

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