FLUENT, tall, undaunted by the bearpit and without notes or downward looks, Stephen Flynn, scored long before he rose to speak at Prime Minister’s Questions.


Compared to every other political leader in the creaking Commons, he is so very young.

Flynn aged 34 and the 28-year-old Mhairi Black embody an age group, class background and nationality too rarely seen or heard in the corridors of power.

READ MORE: New poll makes grim reading for Unionists – The REAL Scottish Politics

Of course, the words of the new SNP Westminster leader were also impactful – we’ll get there in a minute.

But in a world where image matters and in a chamber dripping with symbolism, the very tilt of this new, young, defiant SNP leadership duo is powerful – instantly redefining a party and a cause lazily characterised by Unionist detractors as out of touch, over the hill and out of steam.

With 56% support for independence, and young folk now champing at the bit in London – the weakness of that dismissive posturing is obvious.

Despite the Supreme Court verdict – indeed because of the energy unleashed on the streets of Scotland and Europe – independence is enjoying a resurgence. Not beaten. Not over. Not restricted to generations who saw Thatcher use North Sea oil to sell off the family silver. Not a crazy preoccupation of the stubborn, ageing few. But something that motivates folk who were in primary school when the Scottish Parliament reconvened in 1999.

That’s as welcome as it’s sudden and relatively unexpected.

The shift to Flynn/Black doesn’t just mean a new top team of straight-talking, focused and combative young Westminster leaders, but also an MP group ready to jump generations, shrug off the polite pecking order that usually determines seniority and accept leadership from colleagues half their age.

Doubtless, some will try to suggest the youth and relative lack of front-bench experience is a weakness for Flynn and Black.

Is it heck.

Look again at those two sitting on the green benches ready to spring into action. What they convey, what they prove, what they embody is Unionism’s worst nightmare.

New energy. Fresh blood. Nightmare on Elm Street Part 73.

Another legion ready to pick up the standard and keep arguing the case for independence. And another behind them. And another. Maybe the Tories thought they’d won the constitutional arm-wrestling contest once and for all with last month’s Supreme Court veto on a Holyrood-led referendum.

Not now.


Disappointment too for UK Labour – still convinced the Scots’ wee obsession with independence will soon be over and the teenage phase will pass, leaving voters free to return to the Big Two.

They were convinced Yessers would abandon the cause – ground down by the stonewalling, deflection and supercilious game-playing of successive Tory prime ministers.

It hasn’t happened. It isn’t going to happen.

And nothing symbolises the regenerating capacity of the independence movement more graphically than this Westminster baton change – from one generation of SNP leader to a new one.

And it was pretty seamless.

Flynn was poised and confident – a natural performer as befits a man who apparently loves his karaoke. His questions were short, to the point and impactful. True, he didn’t skewer Rishi Sunak, but it’s hard to know what question could ever floor a PM whose customary answer to Ian Blackford was always essentially “You’ve had yer vote”, followed by “Are you still speaking?” Cue contemptuous snorting laughter from the Tory backbenches.

And that’s still the main challenge facing Stephen Flynn once his front-bench appointments are complete. Small parties only get noticed for rocking the boat – not for playing nice.

Apart from Ian Blackford’s unplanned walkout in 2018 – and the court battles fought by parliamentarians like Joanna Cherry over Brexit – there hasn’t been a whole lot of boat-rocking by the SNP at Westminster.

Indeed, I was surprised to be invited to an online seminar organised by Ian Blackford’s office on November 23 – Supreme Court decision day. I was busy helping to organise rallies that night in Edinburgh and across Scotland – and wondered why the SNP leadership in Westminster weren’t kinda busy too.

Dissatisfaction over their low-key approach seems to have come to a head in March of this year when David Linden MP quit as the SNP’s work and pensions secretary after defying the party whip over a vote on the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill. Linden and fellow Glasgow MP Chris Stephens, voted against the Bill, while the rest of the SNP group abstained – making Amy Callaghan’s gruelling round trip to attend fairly pointless. The East Dunbartonshire SNP MP has been off work for two years after a potentially fatal brain haemorrhage.

Just for the record, none of these MPs or their staff have spoken to me. But the episode evidently annoyed others.

And whilst this internal argument drew very little public attention, it was a sign of the deep frustration felt by many SNP MPs – taunted by Yessers and their own constituency activists for appearing to settle down not settle up in London.

Stephen Flynn has a mandate to provide more robust leadership, but that’s easier said than done.

Partly because strategy must chime with the cautious outlook of party leader Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh. Partly because robust speeches, clever interventions and extra-parliamentary activity (if that ever returns to fashion) will continue to go relatively unnoticed, without a great deal more vigour from the SNP Media Unit in London.

Worse – what seems radical, outspoken and pushy in London may actually look a bit wabbit from the perspective of Scotland, where Yes meetings openly talk about recalling MPs or running on a manifesto of not taking seats at the next de facto indyref General Election.

No MPs want to replicate “the feeble 50” – Labour’s contingent of Scottish MPs dismissed as invisible, ineffective and totally inactive by the SNP in 1987. But as expectations mount back home, how easily can they “raise their game”?

It’s hard to get a meaningful response at PMQs playing the game – no matter how well the question is constructed. So maybe the strategy will be to contrive memorable queries that don’t depend on an answer for their impact – like Flynn’s opening salvo which asked Rishi Sunak whether his government’s greatest achievement was “leaving the single market, ending free movement, denying democracy to Scotland, or getting Labour to agree with all of these?”

Certainly, Sunak recovered quickly enough, playing the Tories’ well-used furlough and vaccine cards. But the taunts captured within the question were spot on. Likewise, Flynn’s mention of 56% backing for Yes in the latest Ipsos Mori poll findings. It was an impressive start.

But are words enough?

What strategy does the SNP have to upset the apple cart in the weeks and months ahead?

Actually, that’s not really a question for the SNP’s new Westminster leader, but for his Edinburgh boss.