The last few months have been a period of change for SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford. The waistcoat-wearing MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber placed one of his two Skye homes on sales for £400,000 and quit his £39,000-a-year directorship of Golden Charter – the investment firm which gets its money from pre-paid funeral plans. The company caused Blackford a fair amount of embarrassment last year after it was revealed to have bemoaned how 'excess deaths' caused by Covid meant it had to hand over more than usual to cover the costs of customers' funerals and cremations. Classy.
Now such Gordon Gekko antics are behind the former investment banker. Instead, Blackford has returned to reiterating his claims to being merely a 'humble crofter,' provoking much laughter at PMQs in May after stating he was simply a 'member of Scotland’s crofter community.' The refrain from the former SNP treasurer is one heard infrequently over the years – in 2018 he told a Budget debate that he was 'just a simple crofter with 10 acres,' promoting fellow former financier Greg Hands to retort: 'I had a career in the City and I don’t recall him being a simple crofter at that time. Maybe that was his codename on his Bloomberg terminal as he was buying and selling financial assets.'
Ever-keen to press his tenuous claims to being a member of the rural brethren, Blackford has resorted to new methods to take his message to the people. Updated expense claims from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority last week show he billed the taxpayer £100 in April to place an advert in Crofter magazine on – appropriately enough – April Fool's day. The sum is of course by no means the most extravagant of the Westminster political leaders – Sir Keir Starmer has billed some £3,900 for adverts in his local newspaper the Camden New Journal since taking the Labour reins in April 2020. But Mr S did enjoy the spectacle of Blackford shelling out to place an advert in the official magazine of the Scottish Crofting Foundation – a body which last month savaged the SNP's 'broken' pledges to help the industry.
Such matters presumably go over the head of a 'humble crofter' of course. Still, in one way Blackford has not abandoned the cynical arts of a conventional politician – his step-son John O'Leary continues to work for him as a part-time Senior Caseworker, drawing a parliamentary salary. Steerpike is glad to see that, in these tough times, one crofter is determined to keep the family traditions alive and well.