New SNP Westminster leader ‘s disappointing speech to parliament

By Bill Heaney 

New SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn made a disappointingly low key debut at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons today.

“Cauld kale het up,” was the very Scottish way one observer described the clash between Mr Flynn and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who welcomed him warmly to the chamber.

Stephen Flynn said: “Far be it from me to offer advice to a near billionaire, but he is going to have to up his game.

“Here is why: in the last 15 minutes, a poll has landed showing that support for Scottish independence has now hit 56% and support for the Scottish National party sits north of 50%.

“In that context, does the Prime Minister consider that increasing energy bills for households in energy-rich Scotland by a further £500 will cause those poll numbers to rise or fall?”

He earlier paid tribute to his predecessor  Ian Blackford  “who has served us with diligence and duty for the last five years.

“He is a giant of the Scottish independence movement and has seen off not one, not two, but three consecutive Tory Prime Ministers—indeed, he was on to his fourth in recent weeks.”
He then asked: “What does Mr Sunak consider to be the greatest achievement of the Conservative party in Government since 2019: leaving the single market and customs union, ending freedom of movement, denying Scotland her democracy or getting the Labour party to agree with all the above?”
The Prime Minister replied: “Can I start by offering my genuine, warm and heartfelt best wishes to Ian Blackford? I know the whole House will miss his weekly contributions. May I also join the First Minister in congratulating Stephen Flynn on his appointment as Westminster leader of the SNP?
“I look forward to constructive debate with him across the Dispatch Box. The answer to his question is actually very simple. The thing we are most proud of in the last couple of years is making sure that we protected this country through the pandemic with furlough and the fastest vaccine roll-out.”
The Prime Minister looked far from fazed by his new SNP opponent.  He said: “What we are delivering for households across the United Kingdom, including those in Scotland, is £55 billion of support with energy bills—that will save a typical homeowner about £900 on their bills this winter—with extra support for the most vulnerable. That is an example of the United Kingdom and the Union delivering for people in Scotland.”

The House then turned to the question of banks disappearing from High Streets across the country.

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh said: “Members across this House know the devastating impact of bank branch closures on our communities, but as banks flee the high streets, our free cash machines disappear with them, hitting the most vulnerable hardest.

“Surely it cannot be right that a quarter of ATMs charge people to access their own money. Will the Prime Minister join dozens of his own Back Benchers today in backing my cross-party amendment and ensure that everyone has free access to their hard-earned money?”

Mr Sunak said: “This Government are legislating to safeguard access to cash, and that is what the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which we will debate this afternoon, will do through a very significant intervention.

“I also am pleased that we have put in place initiatives with the industry to subsidise free-to-use ATMs in deprived areas, and that almost 50 communities are benefiting from our new shared cash facilities, because access to cash is important, and that is what our new Bill will deliver.”

Labour’s Mary Kelly Foy put in a word for small businesses on the vexed question of “outdated business rates”.

There were echoes of the recently closed Gossip Shop in Dumbarton when she said: “Like so many small businesses, Daisy Rose Coffee House is the beating heart of the local community and the cornerstone of the high street.

“So many business owners I meet feel utterly ignored by the Government as they are clobbered by outdated business rates year after year.

“The Government must pick a side: are they going to continue to back the online giants, or will they join the Labour party in backing small business and scrap and replace the outdated business rates?”

The Prime Minister replied: “I congratulate Daisy Rose on winning its award and being the beating heart of its high street. I very much hope that it will benefit—I am almost certain that it will—from our discounts on business rates.
“Our retail, hospitality and leisure relief gives a 75% discount on business rates in the next financial year, and that comes on top of the support that we will be providing Daisy Rose and others with their energy bills, with bills being about half of what they would have otherwise been without our support.
 “What we are delivering for households across the United Kingdom, including those in Scotland, is £55 billion of support with energy bills—that will save a typical homeowner about £900 on their bills this winter—with extra support for the most vulnerable.

“That is an example of the United Kingdom and the Union delivering for people in Scotland.”

But it wasn’t long before Mr Flynn was urged by the Tories to apologise for “misleading claims” about Scottish energy.

Stephen Flynn, Tory MP John Lamont, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ian Blackford.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Mr Flynn is one of a number of SNP politicians who has made false claims that Scotland has ‘25% of Europe’s offshore wind capacity’.

“The claim has been utterly discredited by the fact-checking organisation Full Fact and the think tank These Islands.”

Scottish Conservative MP John Lamont has written to Mr Flynn urging him to apologise and correct the record.

John Lamont, said:“I hope the new SNP Westminster leader will start his new role by confirming he will use accurate and honest information in the future.

“Until now, Mr Flynn has used misleading statistics to repeatedly make false claims. He should correct the record, apologise for doing so and commit to being more truthful in the future.

We should all champion Scotland’s wind energy potential but, unfortunately, Mr Flynn’s statements seem to be full of hot air.

“Nobody benefits when the SNP use dodgy statistics to try to make political points. The new SNP Westminster leader must stamp out this practice.”

Meanwhile, The Democrat has received a short biography of Stephen Flynn whose appointment comes just two weeks after he denied rumours he would be standing for the leadership position, following speculation in news articles he was “mounting a coup” against Blackford, who resigned last week.

Announcing his candidacy, Flynn said: “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.

Both Flynn and his parliamentary colleague Alison Thewliss, who stood against him in the race to succeed Blackford, have hit out at Westminster culture.

“We have the people, the skills and the know how – we just need the power,” said Flynn.

“Because the answers to the problems we face don’t lie in Westminster. The Tories will keep shredding our relationship with Europe and the Labour Party will cheer them on.”

He was elected to Aberdeen City Council in 2015 and served as leader of the SNP group at the local authority from 2016 until 2019, when he was elected as an MP for Aberdeen South.

He succeeded Ross Thomson in his seat after Thomson declined to stand again for parliament.

The 34-year-old was immediately appointed to the role of shadow chief financial secretary to the Treasury. In 2021, he was promoted to the front bench as SNP spokesperson for business, energy and industrial strategy.

Flynn has suffered from a serious condition called avascular necrosis since his teens and underwent surgery for it two years ago.

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