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Pete Wishart and Stewart McDonald quit SNP frontbench

Pete Wishart and Stewart McDonald quit SNP frontbench

The SNP's longest-serving MP as well as its Westminster spokesperson on defence have quit the party's front bench two days after the election of new group leader Stephen Flynn.

Flynn was voted leader of the 44-member group on Tuesday after incumbent Ian Blackford stepped down.

Blackford denied being forced out of the role, following reports that Flynn was to challenge for the post.

Pete Wishart, who has been an MP since 2001, and Stewart McDonald have today relinquished their front-bench roles, the former as spokesperson on Defra and the latter on defence. 

In a letter sent to Flynn this morning, Wishart said he is "bemused as to why you felt it was necessary to seek a change in our leadership".

Citing new opinion polling which puts support for independence at 56 per cent amongst those who intend to vote in another referendum and points to a 58-seat win for the SNP at the next general election, Wishart stated: "Usually change of this significance accompanies failure, whereas we are looking only at sustained and growing success as a movement and a party.

"I am sure that this is something that will become apparent to me during the course of your leadership. I also look forward to learning at first-hand what you hope to do differently in the day-to-day management of the group."

Assuring Flynn of his "full support", Wishart said many members of the SNP group at Westminster "carry the scars" of trying to manage the "unfortunate tension" of being "a party of power in a parliament in which that power can never be exercised," and cautions Flynn that "relationships with colleagues" in the Scottish Parliament are "extremely important for the general culture within the party".

Flynn ran against Alison Thewliss in the leadership contest. The latter was seen as continuity candidate with strong ties to the First Minister, and Flynn's victory was regarded by commentators as a blow to Nicola Sturgeon's authority.

Responding to Wishart in a Twitter post, Flynn said: "Pete, thank you for your exemplary service for the SNP on the front bench in Westminster over so many years. As ever, my door remains open and I look forward to working with you as we support colleagues in Holyrood, hold the Tories to account, and work to deliver independence."

At lunchtime, McDonald tweeted that "serving as my party’s defence spokesperson has been a job I’ve loved" but added that "today I’ve decided it’s time for a change".

In an accompanying statement, he said that the defence brief was "one of the toughest roles in the party but one I embraced with enthusiasm".

He also thanked "his friend Ian Blackford" for giving him the opportunity to take on the position.

McDonald ended his statement by congratulating Flynn and his deputy Mhairi Black, saying both have his "full and unequivocal support".

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