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Ian Blackford stepping down as SNP’s leader at Westminster – UK politics live


Ian Blackford steps down from role as SNP leader in Westminster

Ian Blackford is stepping down from his role as SNP leader at Westminster but will remain MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, he has announced.

In a statement, he said:

I have today informed SNP MPs that I will not be restanding as leader of the Westminster parliamentary group at our AGM next week.

After more than five years in the role, now is the right time for fresh leadership at Westminster as we head towards a general election and the next steps in winning Scotland’s independence.

During my time as leader, the SNP won a landslide victory in the 2019 general election, with an increased share of the vote and MPs, and support for independence has continued to grow with polling this week showing a majority in favour.

While I am stepping down as Westminster leader, I will continue in my role as the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and I have also accepted a new role at the centre of the SNP’s independence campaign, leading on business engagement.

I would like to thank our MPs and staff for all their support over the past five years. Whoever replaces me as Westminster leader will have my full support as, together, we stand up for Scotland’s interests and democratic right to choose our future in an independence referendum.

Key events

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Ben Quinn

Ben Quinn

Away from Westminster, my colleague Ben Quinn has this report from two miles away at the London Assembly.

Misogyny and racism among Metropolitan Police officers is a problem found in “widespread pockets” rather than being “pervasive,” the force’s new commissioner has insisted.

Sir Mark Rowley, who was appointed to the top job in British law enforcement in July by promising “urgent reforms” to lead the country’s biggest force out of crisis, told London Assembly members that public trust in the force was “dented but not broken” and his leadership team was “going after” corrupt officers.

He opened a session alongside London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, by paying tribute to the work of thousands of Met officers, noting that 95 had been assaulted on duty in London over the past week alone, but added: “We also have hundreds of people in the organisation letting us down.

“We haven’t been vigorous and clear enough in our leadership and culture to reduce that problem to an irreducible minimum, and we will do. Setting up the good officers to succeed is critical, as is taking on those who have undermined the trust of the public through their corrupting behaviour,” said Rowley.

Back to the SNP and Ian Blackford’s decision to step down as Westminster leader for the party.

Stephen Flynn, the SNP MP for Aberdeen South, is reportedly touted as the “overwhelming favourite” to replace him.

The National, the pro-independence newspaper, has a profile of the frontrunner here.

“Sources suggest that Flynn has been manoeuvring “for some time” for a shot at the leadership role,” the profile suggests. It adds:

Born in Dundee and a graduate of the University of Dundee, Flynn previously worked as a political researcher for SNP MPs and MSPs.

The 34-year-old is significantly younger than Ian Blackford, who turned 61 in May.

The Daily Telegraph are reporting that Boris Johnson has told his local Conservative Party he will stand again as an MP at the next general election.

The former prime minister indicated his decision ahead of Monday’s deadline for Tory candidates to inform the party whether they wish to contest the poll, which is expected to be held in 2024.

The report comes as the government braces itself for an exodus of MPs who would rather step down than campaign in seats that they believe they are certain to lose in the face of grim polling for the Conservative party.

Hello, Jamie Grierson here picking up the blog while Rachel has some lunch.

SNP MPs and their staff are lining up on Twitter to pay tribute to Ian Blackford’s tenure as Westminster leader for the party.

“Shift” must be a key word in the media lines from SNP HQ…

Big news in Westminster from @Ianblackford_MP. He’s put in an incredible shift as leader and got us all through some real tough times and some huge successes. He’ll not be lost to us or the Cause 👏

— Alyn Smith MP 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇪🇺 (@AlynSmith) December 1, 2022

I am deeply sorry to see my friend @Ianblackford_MP stand down as leader. He has put in some shift, leading us through some of the most tumultuous political times, taking on 4 Prime Ministers, and delivering a stunning 2019 election result. All with his customary good nature. https://t.co/dnt7MRXwVm

— Stewart McDonald MP (@StewartMcDonald) December 1, 2022

What a phenomenal shift @Ianblackford_MP has put in as SNP Westminster leader. It has been a real pleasure to work alongside him, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to do so. I know he will be a huge asset in his new role working at the heart of the independence campaign. 💛 https://t.co/mKKGr4jKXZ

— Kirsten Oswald MP (@kirstenoswald) December 1, 2022

Ian Blackford has put in a phenomenal shift for both the SNP and independence over the decades, for which we should all be grateful. https://t.co/6grB1nKOV3

— Marcus Carslaw (@marcuscarslaw1) December 1, 2022

Responding to the resignation of Ian Blackford as SNP Westminster leader, Liberal Democrat Scottish Affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine MP said:

From his bitter campaign against Charles Kennedy to his mishandling of sexual harassment allegations against an SNP MP, it’s clear that Ian Blackford has never been fit to lead.

He should have stepped aside a long time ago. It’s been clear that his SNP colleagues have been pushing him to go and the recent failed leadership challenge was just one indication of their dissatisfaction.

Ian Blackford knows that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are breathing down his neck in Ross, Skye and Lochaber. While he spends the next two years banging on about breaking up the UK, we will be laser focused on health, education and the cost-of-living crisis; the issues that really matter to the people of the Highlands.

Blackford was accused of abusing former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, and refused to apologise during an appearance at an Edinburgh fringe event in the summer.

Scottish Labour says Blackford resignation shows ‘SNP is in total disarray’

Reaction to Blackford’s resignation is starting to filter in.

Here are the comments from Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray, who says it is a sign of SNP in-fighting:

The SNP is in total disarray – the nats are deserting the sinking ship.

Nationalist MPs know Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for a de facto referendum is finished before its even started and are worried about Labour gaining seats.

Across Scotland, Labour is growing in strength every single day.

At the next election, Scots can do more than just oppose the Tories, we can replace them altogether with a Labour government that grows the economy and creates a fairer, greener future.

Nicola Sturgeon pays tribute to Blackford

Libby Brooks

Libby Brooks

The Guardian’s Scotland correspondent Libby Brooks has the response from Scotland on Ian Blackford’s resignation.

Commenting on Blackford’s announcement that he will not be standing again for leader of the SNP’s Westminster parliamentary group, SNP Leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

I would like to pay tribute to Ian Blackford for his five years as leader of the SNP’s Westminster group.

He led the group at a time of huge electoral success for the SNP, particularly at the 2019 general election, and has done an outstanding job in holding the Tory government to account and in promoting the case for Independence.

I would like to place on record my thanks for Ian’s diligence, tenacity, friendship and loyalty in his time as group Leader. He will continue to play an important role as constituency MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and I have also asked him to take on a role as part of the wider SNP team preparing the case for Independence.

I look forward to working with Ian’s successor as group leader at Westminster, as we continue to make the case for the people of Scotland to have a democratic choice on the country’s future.

Robert Booth

Robert Booth

The Guardian’s social affairs correspondent, Robert Booth, reports on the latest warning from the housing watchdog following the social housing scandal:

The reputation of social landlords will be “irreparably damaged” if they do not prioritise the standard of housing they provide, the housing watchdog has told landlords, issuing a new warning after the death of Awaab Ishak due to mould that on of their main jobs is “to provide safe, well-maintained homes”.

Bernadette Conroy, chair of the regulator of social housing, told social landlord bosses in a speech on Thursday:

The importance of the first of those fundamental roles has been starkly highlighted by the recent inquest into the tragic and shocking death of Awaab Ishak [a two year old boy who died of respiratory disease resulting from prolonged exposure to mould in his social housing flat in Rochdale]”. And she instructed them to own up to any breaches of standards immediately.

She spoke as Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, which had failed to fix the mould in Awaab’s home, appointed a new interim chief executive following the sacking of Gareth Swarbrick, the boss in charge when Awaab died in December 2020.

Awaab’s family have called for the entire leadership of the social landlord to quit warning “while the current board remains, there is an ever present risk and danger to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing tenants.”

But the landlord’s chair, Alison Tumilty, remains in place and she announced the appointment of Yvonne Arrowsmith to “deliver the quality of homes and services that our tenants deserve and expect.”

Pippa Crerar

Pippa Crerar

The Guardian’s political editor Pippa Crerar has the full story so far on Ian Blackford’s stepping down – one party insider told her it was a “generational” issue and there was a “need to look to the future”.

Rory Carroll

Rory Carroll

Rory Carroll, the Guardian’s Ireland correspondent, has some detail on an interesting report in the Irish News:

Vladimir Putin met Official IRA representatives during two previously unreported visits to Northern Ireland during the Troubles, it has been claimed.

The then KGB officer was part of Soviet delegations to Ireland that crossed the border and visited Belfast, County Down and County Armagh for several days in the spring and summer of 1986, the Irish News reported on Thursday.

Citing unnamed former members of the Official IRA, the paper said the delegations met different “groups and societies” and that the future Russian president had a Guinness at a social club in the Lower Falls, a west Belfast republican heartland.

The report could not be independently verified.

The Official IRA was a leftwing republican rival to the Provisional IRA. It declared a ceasefire in 1972 but was still involved in sporadic violence and feuds within the republican movement in the 1980s. The Officials had ties to communist governments and left-wing groups.

Some of the Soviet visitors used false identities but the delegations notified the UK authorities before crossing into Northern Ireland, a source told the paper. “It was low key … it was a learning experience for them.”

Ian Blackford steps down from role as SNP leader in Westminster

Ian Blackford is stepping down from his role as SNP leader at Westminster but will remain MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, he has announced.

In a statement, he said:

I have today informed SNP MPs that I will not be restanding as leader of the Westminster parliamentary group at our AGM next week.

After more than five years in the role, now is the right time for fresh leadership at Westminster as we head towards a general election and the next steps in winning Scotland’s independence.

During my time as leader, the SNP won a landslide victory in the 2019 general election, with an increased share of the vote and MPs, and support for independence has continued to grow with polling this week showing a majority in favour.

While I am stepping down as Westminster leader, I will continue in my role as the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and I have also accepted a new role at the centre of the SNP’s independence campaign, leading on business engagement.

I would like to thank our MPs and staff for all their support over the past five years. Whoever replaces me as Westminster leader will have my full support as, together, we stand up for Scotland’s interests and democratic right to choose our future in an independence referendum.

Labour condemns government for blocking anti-VIP lanes amendment

Peter Walker

Peter Walker

The Guardian’s political correspondent Peter Walker writes about how the government is blocking legislation that would prevent a repetition of the scandal over the preferential awarding of contracts during the pandemic.

Labour has condemned the government for voting down a cross-party opposition amendment in the Lords that would have sought to block the future use of so-called VIP lanes for suppliers with links to MPs or peers.

The amendment to the procurement bill, led by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven, follows revelations about the way some suppliers received apparently preferential treatment in access to contracts for protective equipment during the Covid pandemic, among a business recommended by the Tory peer Michelle Mone.

Scriven’s amendment sought to bar “any preferential treatment on suppliers connected to or recommended by members of the House of Commons or members of the House of Lords”. In a Lords vote on Wednesday evening it was defeated by 220 to 201, with 189 of the opposing votes coming from Conservative peers.

Speaking for the government in the debate, Cabinet Office minister Lucy Neville-Rolfe argued that the amendment was not needed given the procurement bill already included safeguards against such potential conflicts of interest.

But Florence Eshalomi, a Labour shadow Cabinet Office minister, said ministers “simply can’t be trusted at their word to say VIP lanes will not happen again on their watch”. She said: “They must explain why they’ve scrabbled to block cross-party attempts to close loopholes in legislation that are still open for others to exploit in the future.”

The government’s approach to the Online Safety Bill does “absolutely nothing to tackle the harmful content at its root”, Labour has said.

Shadow culture minister Alex-Davies Jones told MPs:

The government are making an absolute mess of the online safety bill. After years of inaction, we now know that the government plans once again to delay this bill from progressing.

Their approach would supposedly give adults greater choice online, but it does absolutely nothing to tackle the harmful content at its root. So can the minister confirm whether the abhorrent yet legal extreme content that led to a man to shoot and kill five people in my honourable friend, the member for Plymouth and Devonport (Luke Pollard)‘s constituency would still be available to view and share freely online under the terms of this bill?

Culture secretary Michelle Donelan replied:

Not a single clause in this bill is actually changing in relation to children, it is being strengthened. In relation to illegal content, of course that is still being taken down which the honourable member would know if she read the stuff that we have published.

We are also introducing a triple shield of defence which was lacking before and we have made the promotion of self harm and intimate image abuse an offence, whilst also protecting free speech and every choice. It’s important that the opposition remember that making a Bill stronger is not watering down.

Levelling up should not be about “pitting arts organisations against each other”, Labour has said.

Shadow culture minister Barbara Keeley told the Commons:

We all support a fairer distribution of arts funding and the principle that communities outside London should get a fairer share so that everybody everywhere can enjoy the arts.

But levelling up should not be about pitting arts organisations against each other. What we have seen is an attempt to address regional disparity by shifting some funding to the regions, but doing so from a funding pot, which has been shrinking since 2010.

So does the minister agree with me that these very short timeframes and the lack of consultation on these cuts to funding could have a very damaging impact on the ecosystem of the arts?

Culture minister Stuart Andrew replied:

I have to say that London will still be getting the lion’s share of the funding from the Arts Council. And I make no apology for seeing areas like Blackburn, for example, that has never received any funding and now four projects are receiving funding.

Why can’t talented artists in Blackburn get the same access to those opportunities as artists in London? I don’t understand the problem.

MPs are discussing an urgent question on rail cancellations in the north in which Labour has accused the government of systematically allowing rail operators to continue to provide poor service.

Transport secretary Mark Harper said he wanted to take the opportunity to set out the “disappointment from the government on the experience of many passengers”.
He said:

We recognise the current performance is not acceptable and is having a significant effect on passengers and the northern economy.

Two rail services providers are facing problems at the moment: Transpennine Express and Avanti.

Transpennine Express has been dealing with higher than average sickness levels, a withdrawal of the option for drivers and conductors to work non working days as overtime and strike action as part of the RMT dispute. Harper said they were “undertaking an intense programme of crew training to address the backlog”.

He said Avanti also had a shortage of fully trained drivers, and was struggling to adjust to no longer being able to use overtime to run the timetable to the mutual benefit of staff and operators.

Noting that nearly 100 additional drivers will enter service this year between April and December and that the companies are taking “positive steps to get trains moving they must do more to deliver certainty of service”. He said the government would hold them to account for matters within its control, but some aspects are the responsibility of others.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said rail services in the north were “once again in meltdown”.

She said:

People are cut out from jobs and opportunities. Investors in Manchester I spoke to are thinking again about investing in the north.

The damage this fiasco is doing is enormous.

For months and years [the government] has forced the north to settle for a substandard service, forced it to accept delays, cancellations and overcrowding while ministers not only allowed it but actually rewarded the abject failure of these operators. Six years s ago Transpennine express had exactly the same issues as they face today, then as now they blamed it on staff shortages and rest day working. They said six years ago they would recruit drivers and improve resilience but here we are again in crisis, and it’s the public paying the price.

She asked whether the government would introduce a binding remedial plan to fully restore services or face penalties, claw back taxpayer money paid out in dividends, and whether the minister of state was preventing an offer being reached on rest day working.

Harper said the government is in talks aimed at working practice reforms which would mean rail operators no longer have to seek the approval of their workforce to implement a seven-day working week, and to speed up the training of new drivers.

He said:

This can’t be unilaterally dealt with, it requires the agreement of unions to modernise.

YouGov have published the results of its latest poll on voting intention, showing that support for the Conservatives has dropped by a further three percentage points, and Labour have dropped by one percentage point, though the party retains a strong lead. Rightwing populist party Reform has gained four percentage points, though support remains low, at 9%. The other parties have stayed stable.

A poll in Scotland suggests that more people support Scottish independence than want to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The research found that 49% of Scottish respondents said they would vote Yes and 45% said they would vote No if there were to be a referendum tomorrow on whether Scotland should be an independent country, with the remainder saying they do not know.

Redfield & Wilton Strategies carried out the poll on 26-27 November, days after the UK supreme court ruled another independence referendum cannot be held without Westminster’s consent.

Support for independence was higher than a comparable poll on 18 September last year, when 44% of respondents said they would vote Yes while 47% said they would vote No.

The latest poll, of 1,000 Scottish voters, also found 46% said they would support a referendum on Scottish independence being held in the next year, while 43% would oppose one, 9% said they would neither support nor oppose the prospect, and 2% said they did not know.

SNP depute leader Keith Brown said:

This poll shows growing support for what the people of Scotland expressed in the 2021 election, they want a choice to become an independent nation.

The chaos at Westminster in recent months has tanked the UK economy, accelerated inflation and crippled household budgets with soaring mortgages, all from successive Tory governments that Scotland didn’t elect.

Last week’s ruling showed clearly that the UK is not a voluntary union.

In a democracy, it is right for the people to have their say and neither the Tories or Labour should be able to deny that.

The message to Westminster parties now is clear, Scottish democracy cannot be denied.

Polls open in Chester byelection

Rachel Hall

Rachel Hall

Good morning and welcome to the politics blog today.

The big politics story today is that the first Westminster byelection since the resignations of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss and the financial fallout from the mini-budget takes place in Chester today.

In the first electoral test for Rishi Sunak, polls in the City of Chester constituency are open until 10pm tonight to replace Labour MP Chris Matheson, who resigned in October after allegations of sexual misconduct.

Labour, which has a majority of 6,164 votes in the affluent constituency, is expected to retain the seat – but it’s not a done deal as the seat, which is one of the oldest in the UK, has been held by the Conservatives in the past, most recently in 2010.

Election expert Robert Hayward told Politico’s Playbook that the Conservatives will be pleased to win more than 20% of the vote, while Labour would expect to get above 65% – or at least 60%.

He said:

It should be a very, very comfortable Labour victory.

The Labour candidate is Samantha Dixon, previous leader of Cheshire West and Chester council, while the Conservatives put up Liz Wardlaw, also a local councillor, and the Lib Dems selected school teacher and parish councillor Rob Herd. You can see the full list of candidates here.

Here’s what else is happening today:

9.30am: Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions in the House of Commons, followed by Commons leader Penny Mordaunt’s weekly business statement. Later in the day, MPs will discuss the legislation for a bill which adds Princess Anne and Prince Edward to the list of royals who can deputise for the king. There will also be a backbench-led debate to mark World Aids Day.

10am: The DCMS committee will grill BBC execs including Director of England Jason Horton on the corporation’s deep local radio cuts. The Public accounts committee will ask Home Office officials on fraud against businesses and individuals.

3pm: Tory MP Jackie Doyle-Price will lead a debate on the international day for the elimination of violence against women and girls.

Home secretary Suella Braverman and policing minister Chris Philp will also meet police leaders in Downing Street today to discuss extreme protest tactics.

I’ll be keeping you updated with all the key happenings in Westminster for the rest of today, but if you think I’ve missed anything do drop me a line at rachel.hall@theguardian.com.





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