Sturgeon ally Alison Thewliss launches bid to become SNP Westminster leader

Alison Thewliss has been an MP for Glasgow Central since 2015 - House of Commons/PA
Alison Thewliss has been an MP for Glasgow Central since 2015 - House of Commons/PA

Nicola Sturgeon’s allies have persuaded one of her loyalists to stand to be the SNP’s new Westminster leader in a last-ditch attempt to stop the MP who ousted Ian Blackford.

Alison Thewliss, the Glasgow Central MP, said she previously had “no intention” of running while Mr Blackford was in post but she believed she could do the job well and had a “duty” to step up.

It is understood that Ms Thewliss was persuaded to stand on Saturday by allies of Ms Sturgeon concerned at the prospect of Stephen Flynn being crowned without a contest.

Drawing a dividing line with Mr Flynn, Ms Thewliss pitched herself as the pro-Sturgeon continuity candidate by stating the group “needed a leader who can build on Ian Blackford’s achievements”.

In an attempt to win over female SNP MPs, she said she would be a “clear contrast” to “two men shouting at each other across the despatch box”.

Although she has little time to build support ahead of Monday’s SNP Westminster group annual general meeting, when Mr Blackford’s successor will be decided, she is highly respected among her colleagues and is seen as one of the party’s best talents.

Flynn would ‘stand up to Sturgeon’

Mr Flynn last week succeeded in ousting Mr Blackford, a close ally of the First Minister, after dissatisfaction with the leader’s performance among SNP MPs came to a head.

Before Ms Thewliss’s late intervention, the Aberdeen South MP was the clear favourite to become the new leader, with his supporters confident last week that he had the necessary support among the party’s 44 MPs.

They said he would stand up to the First Minister more than Mr Blackford did, with some extremely unhappy at her plan to use the next general election as a “de facto” independence referendum.

His allies also told The Telegraph he wanted to convince Ms Sturgeon to drop her “crazy” opposition to new North Sea oil and gas fields. Thousands of his constituents work in the industry.

Confirming he was standing last night, Mr Flynn wrote: "Few working class folk ever make it to parliament, fewer still run to be political leaders.

"Even fewer do so having spent almost the entirety of their teenage and adult years battling a physical disability.Your experiences tend to shape you and I am no different."

He concluded: "Strong voices are needed and I'm ready to stand up for Scotland. I'll be asking my colleagues to put their faith in me to deliver for them and our nation."

Ms Thewliss became MP for Glasgow Central in 2015 after unseating Anas Sarwar, the current Scottish Labour leader. A confidante of Ms Sturgeon, she is the party’s Treasury spokesman.

In a statement posted on Twitter accompanied by a smiling photograph, she wrote: “I’ve been working for independence for over half my life. Scotland is closer to achieving that now than ever before.

“The Westminster group needs a leader who can build on Ian Blackford’s achievements and demonstrate that independence, far from being abstract, is the alternative to Brexit, the cost of living crisis and Tory austerity.”

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In a pointed reference to Mr Flynn only being elected an MP in the 2019 general election, she concluded: “I believe I have the experience and the attitude to lead the Westminster group forward so that ultimately we can win the opportunity to leave the UK Parliament once and for all and build a better future.”

Pete Wishart, the Perth and North Perthshire MP and a Sturgeon loyalist, praised Mr Blackford's "amazing legacy", tweeting: "That is why I will be supporting Alison Thewliss to be our next group leader."

Portraying herself as the unity candidate in a second tweet, Ms Thewliss said: “I’m absolutely overwhelmed by all the kind support people have given me - from all parties and none.

“I’m a campaigner and a team player. As SNP Westminster leader, I will harness the talents of our MPs and our movement to secure Scotland’s independence.”

Pete Wishart, the Perth and North Perthshire MP and a Sturgeon loyalist, praised Mr Blackford’s “amazing legacy”, tweeting: “That is why I will be supporting Alison Thewliss to be our next group leader.”

Owen Thompson, the SNP’s chief whip at Westminster, informed Mr Blackford after last Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions that Mr Flynn had 23 signatures supporting his leadership challenge - more than half the group.

On Sunday, Mr Blackford continued to insist that he was not forced out, claiming that he would have retained the leadership if he had fought Mr Flynn at the AGM.

He admitted there was a “question” over the SNP Westminster group’s role, and his view was that it should support Ms Sturgeon and her government.

The Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP told the Sunday Mail there were some MPs who “would have preferred me to be a bit more independent”.

He said the members of the so-called Tuesday Club - a men-only football and drinking group that included Mr Flynn - had been out to get him. Kirsten Oswald, the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, has also confirmed she is standing down.