I’d told my friend who works in the political lobbying sector that I was interviewing Stephen Flynn. “Oh, that’ll be very interesting,” she’d said. “What makes you say that” I asked. “Well, it’s just that he seems quite a refreshing character. Not like other politicians.”

Since he became the SNP’s group leader last December, the 34-year-old has excelled at the House of Commons despatch-box. Any thoughts the Tories might have entertained about easily repelling such a callow opponent have been rudely demolished.

No-one, it seemed, had foreseen Mr Flynn’s bid for the Westminster group leadership. All concerned would later refute claims that it represented a coup arising from intense dissatisfaction with Ian Blackford’s dwindling form. Perhaps ‘sting operation’ would be more appropriate. One moment Mr Blackford was in his pomp in the chamber; the next he was gone. 

We meet in a bar overlooking the V&A museum, still looking majestic on what must be the UK’s most handsome city centre gateway. Later, he’ll be making the half-hour drive to Gayfield to watch his favourites kick off the new season.

This interview has been arranged at short notice, yet he arrives pleasingly free from the attentions of any of those SNP party managers who are often found hovering nervously whenever their charges are meeting people like me. 

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He’s tickled by my friend’s observation that he doesn’t seem cut from the same cloth of his fellow politicians. “Too many people in parliament are trying to look like and sound like politicians. When I was growing up everyone in New Labour looked and sounded the same and it didn’t resonate with me.

If I was to start coming across as an identikit politician my pals would highlight this, my pals would be right on my case. To represent the people you have to be in tune with them and they have to believe you’re one of them. They need to know you’re coming from a place where you’re trying to do your best for them.

“Look at Wes Streeting (Labour’s Shadow Health spokesman). He’s a decent bloke on one level, but if you were going to design am identikit politician it would be Wes Streeting. That’s just not me.

“My job’s important but I never want it to define me as a person. I’m a dad and husband first and foremost. I enjoy the company of my pals. You have to have that. I don’t want to look back in 20 years’ time, or whenever I’m voted out, and realise I’ve missed out on the good things in life. Which is why I was in Oslo last month for the Scotland game and have booked up for Seville against Spain. It’s too easy to get consumed by the job.

And so, I test his candour with a wee teaser about Angus Brendan MacNeil, who recused himself temporarily from the party whip after expressing frustration about some of his colleagues’ lacklustre approach to Scottish independence. Party sources have since indicated Mr MacNeil’s exile may become permanent.

The Herald: SNP Westminster leader Stephen FlynnSNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn (Image: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

“He’s got a point surely,” I say. “Has he,” replies Mr Flynn. And then he adopts a conciliatory tone. “Look, it’s really out of my hands now. For Angus, you don’t get to pick and choose when you get the whip. And maybe he’s beginning to realise that. I don’t have a problem with him having his own views on independence.

“I hope we can get to a point where there’s an amicable outcome, but this requires action on both sides. Angus is a good man; his heart’s in the right place. But I’ve been in politics long enough to know that desired outcomes don’t always happen.”

We consider the Scottish Greens. “Isn’t it about time your party ditched them,” I ask. “After all, they’re an electoral liability and haven’t a clue about the impact of their self-indulgent whims on the working-class communities that came out for Independence in 2014. Alex Salmond managed pretty well with a minority government after 2011.”

He chooses his words carefully, only just managing to contain a wintry smile. “The dynamics of Holyrood now are very different from where we were in 2011. The constitutional divide post/2014 is much more tribal. Our partnership with the Greens provides certainty and the opportunity to govern firmly.”

“Aye, but even so,” I say.

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“It’s no secret that on some issues I’m not in tandem with the Greens. We’re there to govern for everyone in Scotland and everyone’s lives are challenging at the moment.

“There’s a large group of people who are being squeezed all over the place. We need to ensure that what’s coming out of Holyrood is mainly dealing with these concerns. In terms of the boiler situation, we need to acknowledge that people are less worried about what sort of boiler they have than how they pay for the energy that supplies it.

“When we’re dealing with these issues we need to remember that times are tough for folk. We have to take people with us and give them buy-in on what we’re doing. Because if they feel like something’s being imposed upon them then they won’t respond well.”

On the day after Stephen Flynn had become the SNP’s Westminster leader sources within the group suggested it would signal an end to the toxic culture of bullying and misogyny some claimed had been a characteristic of Mr Blackford’s five years in charge. Once more, he chooses his words carefully.

“I’m conscious that many of my colleagues elected in 2015 couldn’t have foreseen the intensity of Westminster life and mainly because of Brexit. There’s the pressure of knowing an election might come at any time and maybe inevitably you get to a point where the pressure can spill over.

“I’ve just tried to ensure I speak with everyone and let them know they can have a blether with me about work or anything else. This is a party of many different beliefs and preferences who will have disagreements on how best to reach independence, but we’re all united by that goal and shouldn’t lose sight of it.

“I was elected to Aberdeen Council when I was 25 and it was ferocious. But you learn how to communicate and how to get on with people across party lines. It was there that I learnt quickly how you can disagree without being disagreeable.

“I do disagree with people internally and externally, but I try to do so in a civilised way. No job exists in the world where everyone gets on; that’s just a fantasy.”

We discuss the performance of his Westminster party colleagues. I confess to having been personally disobliging about some of them. I’ve advanced the notion, shred by others, that too many have become seduced by London’s sultry charms and forgotten the main reason why they’re there and who they’re working for.  

I’d previously suggested I’d be happy to pop down to Westminster and have it out with them face-to-face and he holds me to this. “I’d sell tickets for that,” he says. But he thinks such criticism is unfair.

“I don’t doubt the motives of any of my colleagues. I struggle with the stuff about them settling down. It doesn’t marry with reality. What I see is a group of people who knock their pans in for the cause of independence. They make a lot of sacrifices. Why else would they have chosen to leave their families behind and, for many, rewarding and secure careers in other sectors?”

 “Yes, but surely it’s not a great look for someone like Pete Wishart, a party veteran, to be making a bid to become Speaker of the House.

“Oh come on,” he says. “I think that was Pete taking the piss out of the pomp and ceremony of Westminster. It can be a ridiculous place with all its medieval rules and procedures. Some people took this too seriously. If you knew Pete, you’d know he doesn’t much care for any of it.”

So, would he not like eventually to make his way to Holyrood? “I think almost all SNP MPs would prefer to be elected to Holyrood and not to Westminster. However, I won’t try to predict the future. I just need to be true to myself and hope we’re in a good place at the other side of the Westminster election.

“In a recent article I was described as the most ambitious nationalist ever. I am very ambitious, but for Scotland and that’s the most important thing”.

READ PART TWO OF THE STEPHEN FLYNN INTERVIEW TOMORROW where he discussed Mhairi Black’s sudden resignation, the Margaret Ferrier affair, the gender wars and the challenge of recovering trust in the Humza Yousaf era.