Danny Alexander Is A Nice Guy But He Made Bad Choices, SNP MP Drew Hendry On His Stunning Election Victory


At 6am on May 8 Danny Alexander was on TV looking a bit sad. The reason he looked a bit sad was that he had just seen his 8,765 majority wiped out by the SNP. The chief secretary to the Treasury was one of the highest profile victims of Nicola Sturgeon's Scottish nationalist surge.

Drew Hendry, who replaced him as the MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, says he has a "perfectly good relationship" with the ex-Lib Dem cabinet minister. "I wish him well. Now, I think he has made some bad choices, but I don’t think he is a bad guy. I commiserated with him and he congratulated me. I'm perfectly happy to have a cup of coffee with him now, if he were here."

Here, is parliament's Portcullis House office building. In the first days after the general election, Tory MPs can be seen grinning at their unexpected victory. Labour MPs are more often than not exchanging concerned expressions. Lib Dem MPs are few and far between. While the 56 SNP MPs, most of whom are new to Westminster, can be spotted huddled in small groups comparing notes - or directions.

"Just trying to find things and get around has been interesting," Hendry tells The Huffington Post when asked how the SNP MPs are adjusting to life in the Palace of Westminster. "It's kind of higgledy-piggledy".

The Scottish nationalists have wasted no time challenging the conventions of the Commons. Their concerted attempt to occupy traditional Labour benches triggered protracted territorial war with Dennis Skinner. Also, they clapped in the chamber. Which is the Commons equivalent of trying to burn the place down.

Rather than a deliberate attempt to be irritating, Hendry, a former Highland Council leader, says its simply that new people bring a "breath of fresh air" to the "gothic" institution.

"I've spoken to three members of staff here who said they have never had an MP speak to them before," he exclaims. "The taxi driver this morning, Gary, who has a lot of MPs in his cab, said I was the first one he has had a conversation with."

"Getting a bunch of new people, the breadth of experience and ability in our group, is quite exciting. From all walks of life across Scotland. Having that here is going to make a bit of an impact. People are waking up to that."

As for the argument that SNP MPs, who after all want to see the break-up of the United Kingdom, would be a destructive rather than constructive force in the nation's parliament, he says: "I think it was disappointing because anybody who has spent any time in Scotland knows what SNP folk are like. We are very inclusive, very embracing, very open minded. That’s one of things people have been reflecting on here since we arrived."

Not only did Hendry overcome Alexander's hefty majority, he added another 10,809 votes on top. "The polls were exactly what we were finding on the doorstep. It didn’t come a surprise. But I wasn’t satisfied until the returning officer said I now declare," he says of the SNP victory.

"It was fantastic. At 6am we were kind of on our last legs, but that gave us another boost. When we finally got the result through it was a special moment," he says. "We found out literally two minutes before we went on stage." The scale of his victory, he says, is "quite humbling".

Alexander's top coalition position was a "double edged sword" for the then chief secretary during the campaign, Hendry says. He was able to point what the government had done for the Highlands seat. And was know for, as one Treasury source put it, being "a bit prone to supporting Lib Dem constituencies".

However voters also blamed him for the bad. Five years of association with the Tories did not help Alexander's reelection campaign.

For the Lib Dems, the results across the Scotland were a "a hammer blow", Hendry says. "How they will recover is up to them."

And he has a similar warning for Labour - the main victims of Sturgeon's near clean-sweep. "I think Labour will have to wake up pretty quickly to the fact they are in danger of losing not only Scotland but, the people in England.

"Because so far they haven’t really hit the kind of chords we thought they would be trying to hit with people. I don’t think from what I hear, that the people of England are very impressed by Labour's early moves."

Labour, under interim-leader Harriet Harman as well as the eventual long-term leader, "will have to look to work with us as quickly as possible", Hendry warns.

He argues that a lot of English voters want the same sort of "civic" progressive politics that is "significantly different" from the Conservative view - not just different "by a degree".

"Unless Labour wake up to that, they will find themselves in the same kind of difficulty they find themselves in Scotland."

The SNP lost last year's independence referendum. But suspicions abound that the party will push for a second vote as soon as possible - something Sturgeon was forced to spend much of the election campaign denying.

Is independence inevitable? "Yes," says Hendry." But the timing will be down to the Scottish people and will be down to any other significant events that come along. I don’t have a timeframe in my head. I think it is inevitable and I think most people in the UK, according to the polls, agree it is inevitable.

He adds carefully: "But I wasn’t elected on a independence ticket, I was elected on a progressive platform."

Former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown warned during the campaign that the SNP MPs would be "a Scottish raiding party" coming "to burn Westminster down". Instead, Hendry insists, he and his colleagues are "open, engaging and willing to discuss things"

He adds: "That will come through over a period of time. Our words and actions as we go forward will underline that."

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