THERE are only two contenders in the running to take over the role of SNP Westminster leader after Ian Blackford resigned from the job after five and a half years.

Stephen Flynn, MP for Aberdeen South, and Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, are set to go head to head at the group’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Tuesday night, where SNP MPs will vote to choose the winner.

Both have now reportedly picked their top choice for deputy. For Flynn it has been suggested that firebrand Mhairi Black (MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South) will act as his second in command, while Thewliss has won the backing of Stuart McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East).

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With suggestions that some in the group hope a Flynn win would end “remote control” from Edinburgh, Thewliss has been seen as the continuity candidate who would strengthen links with party HQ and has already called for "unity"

But how different are the two candidates, what policy areas do they thrive in, and what divides them?

When were Flynn and Thewliss elected, and how frequently have they contributed to debates?

Thewliss has more parliamentary experience than her competitor Flynn, having been elected first in 2015 to serve as an MP for Glasgow Central, while the Aberdeen South MP was elected in 2019.

She has contributed a whopping 1094 times to the Commons chamber during various debates, particularly in her role as shadow chancellor which she took on in June 2017. Thewliss has also lodged 881 written questions.

Flynn meanwhile has made 385 spoken contributions to the Commons, largely on energy policy in his role as business and energy spokesperson, which he has held since February 2021. He has lodged 53 written questions.

What are the main issues Stephen Flynn has spoken about in the Commons?

As an MP for Aberdeen Flynn has made numerous contributions arguing for the UK Government to go further on supporting a just transition to help North Sea workers into renewable green industries. In debates he frequently challenged the Westminster government to match the Scottish Government’s £500 million fund to support the industry.

Flynn was accused of backing energy firms in a debate earlier this year when Labour first argued for a windfall tax. He told the chamber that he had concerns his constituents would “lose their jobs” if the party’s plan was implemented. The SNP denied the claims and said Flynn had always supported a windfall tax, but that he had issues with Labour’s proposals. The party argued that the tax should be extended to other record profit-making companies including Amazon.

Flynn raised the lack of a Norwegian-style oil fund on multiple occasions in the Commons, has called for VAT on energy bills to be scrapped, and backed large-scale solar farms and onshore wind farms.

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What are the main issues Alison Thewliss has spoken about in the Commons?

As Shadow Chancellor, Thewliss has focused on countering Tory austerity policies and taken a hard-line against the UK Government’s “hostile environment” immigration system.

A Glasgow MP, Thewliss’s constituency was the site of the Kenmure Street protest and the Park Inn hotel tragedy where six people were stabbed by an asylum seeker whose mental health had plummeted due to accommodation conditions. During a debate on hotel asylum accommodation on November 23, she told the Commons: “At my surgeries week in, week out, I see families and people with vulnerabilities who have been sent to shoddy, poor, substandard accommodation by the Home Office while contractors rake in the profits.”

Thewliss has also argued for benefits to be extended and kept at pace with inflation and the cost of living crisis.

She has faced numerous Tory chancellors at the dispatch box during her time in the job. During the Autumn Statement she told Jeremy Hunt: “Now the UK is £30 billion worse off because of the incompetence of the Conservative party. Scotland is paying a heavy price indeed for being in this Union.”

Thewliss has campaigned against the UK Government's two-child benefit cap and the rape clause, called for further funding for the Scottish Government to allow them to pursue policies to eradicate child poverty and gave voice to her constituents fears over soaring energy bills in a debate on the Tories cost of living support plans.

What about independence

Thewliss has said she wants to bring together the most talented people in the Yes movement to push the case for independence across Westminster, Holyrood and Scotland as a whole. She stressed that it was important for those in the party to work as a "unified whole" on the issue. 

However, insiders have said that installing Flynn as leader would result in the end of "remote" decision making from Edinburgh. With the MSP insisting that the "solutions to the problems we face don't lie in Westminster" it could mean a more combative stance toward the UK Parliament. 

Where do they differ?

Both contenders are aligned on the majority of big issues in the SNP, however, the one issue that appears to divide them is the future of the North Sea's oil and gas industry. Flynn’s supporters briefed the Telegraph over the weekend that he would challenge First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s “crazy” opposition to drilling for new oil and gas fields.

Earlier this year the UK Government opened up a further licensing round, expected to bring over 100 new projects online, to the fury of environmental campaigners who say that all exploration must stop to put an end to global warming, a position supported by the United Nations.

The FM, following COP26, came out against the Cambo oil field being brought online, signalling a major shift in SNP policy. Thewliss has aligned with Sturgeon.

In a speech in the Commons on energy profits, Thewliss said the investment allowance in the windfall tax was “clearly contrary” to both Scotland and the UK’s climate objectives. One SNP member said of Flynn’s teams’ comments: “To me, this is a top reason for SNP MPs to #VoteAlison. Fossil fuels need to stay in the ground.”

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Who is expected to take on the top job?

Many think Flynn has the Westminster leader role in the bag - before Thewliss put herself forward, it is understood that he had the backing of around 30 SNP MPs. However, it is reported that briefings from allies claiming he would clear out the shadow cabinet if elected have been problematic for the MP. 

With Thewliss announcing her candidacy ahead of Flynn, despite his reported attempted coup against Blackford a few weeks ago, her allies believe the momentum is with them.

With less than 24 hours to go until we find out, we’ll just have to wait and see who the next SNP Westminster leader will be.