FOR so many MPs, the last-minute calling of the latest General Election marked the start of a frantic few days in preparation for campaigning, canvassing and convincing constituents why they were still the right candidate.

For Philippa Whitford however, it was the polar opposite as it meant that her time in Westminster had come to an end.

“It came as a real shock. We’ve all wanted an election for ages, but then it coming so suddenly caught everybody out,” the now-former MP for Central Ayrshire says.

“It came quite suddenly and brutally in the end after working down there for nine years and there’s a lot of things that are a pain in the neck about Westminster but as I thanked people and whatnot it all felt rushed and unprepared.”

Whitford held her seat in Central Ayrshire for nine years, having won the seat on three separate occasions in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday National, Whitford reflected on what happened when the election was called, the discourse surrounding Gaza and what it’s like now the curtain has been drawn on her career in Westminster.

‘End of an era’

Although Whitford jokes that referring to the “end of an era” when it comes to her career sounds a bit grand, that is effectively what the calling of the General Election signalled to her after almost 10 years as an MP.

Whitford was one of nine SNP MPs to announce they would be stepping down, including Mhairi Black and Ian Blackford.

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Many will have noticed that her Twitter/X bio now also reflects her change in roles.

Looking back on the day the election was called, Whitford says: “I was in a meeting. I’ve been active in the campaign for compensation for victims of the infected blood scandal.

“In the middle of all this was then there was meant to be a Cabinet meeting and so on. We were talking about the Government agreeing compensation but then it was about the Government collapsing.

“They kept saying mid-November. Even at the start of the week, senior Conservatives were saying they’d been reassured that’s when it would be.

“It sounded as if he (Rishi Sunak) didn’t even discuss it with his Cabinet, let alone anyone else, he just made a decision so it was quite a shock.”

For Whitford (below) however, politics had looked a little different as she was “stuck at home on crutches” and so unable to travel to London as much as she would have liked.

Philippa Whitford worked as an MP for nine years. (Image: NQ)

After the announcement, she said she had around five days to get her office cleared and head on home.

“My family all came to be with us which was nice, we went out for a meal and we sat up until one minute past midnight when I was no longer as MP,” she says.

“There’s no question it’s the end of something, era sounds a bit grand, but in a personal sense that’s what it is.

“I am retiring. I won’t spend 20 years in the garden but I’m not going on to look for another full-time job.”

Frustration on Gaza

Whitford says she believes there wouldn’t have been any debates on Gaza in the House of Commons were it not for the SNP.

In February this year, Westminster descended into chaos as Speaker Lindsay Hoyle allowed a debate on a Labour amendment to an SNP motion on a ceasefire in Gaza.

It’s a topic which is particularly close to Whitford’s heart though as she and her husband worked at the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza in the early 90s.

In October, Palestinian officials said an airstrike on the building resulted in the death of 471 Palestinians and wounded 314 others.

Now that her time as an MP has come to an end, does it frustrate Whitford she won’t have the chance to raise the topic in the Commons anymore?

“Particularly because I was at home on crutches, I found that frustrating. If it wasn’t for the SNP, there wouldn’t have been any debates at all, just statements,” she said.

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“I was the only MP to have ever lived in Gaza. I found it immensely frustrating. I’ll have been one of the very few who has even been because generally Israel has not allowed Parliamentarians in.

“It’s no surprise the position the Tories have taken but that of the official opposition has been shocking.

“We were meant to be doing a live webinar with Al-Ahli when the bomb hit so I had no idea what happened to friends and colleagues.

(Image: Supplied)  Dr Philippa Whitford (second from right) pictured at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza

“Doctors we worked with have been killed or driven out. All that incredible work is lost.”

Whitford has still been trying to help in any way she can though, working with medic colleagues to try create a plan for healthcare recovery.

She also previously helped establish a partnership project between Scottish breast cancer experts and their Palestinian colleagues in the West Bank.

Whitford also says she hopes to encourage the National Prosthetics Centre to help those injured in Israel’s bombardment.

“I have friends out there who I get messages from on WhatsApp but it’s worse when they don’t even reply.

“It’s been heartbreaking. Not being able to bring that to the chamber, these are people and you’re just talking about them as if they’re numbers.

Whitford said she has received 'heartbreaking' messages from colleagues in GazaWhitford said she has received 'heartbreaking' messages from colleagues in Gaza (Image: Supplied)

“Western leaders will have no moral authority to criticise any government in the future because they are defending the horrors of what’s happening.”

Looking to the future

Despite the increasing likelihood of a Labour government heading up Westminster in just a few short weeks, Whitford isn’t confident there will be much change.

Even in recent weeks, Keir Starmer has been accused of “purging” the left of his party, with former candidate Faiza Shaheen saying Labour would rather lose than have a pro-Palestine candidate.

“I think it’ll largely be more of the same in the fact that in opposition, they haven’t been willing to oppose,” she says.

“Labour go through so much to prove they’re not antisemitic and they’re pro-Israel that all debate and discussion even within the party seems shut down.

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“Listening to Starmer’s word salads, they’re just meaningless bowls of words. Trying to avoid talking about collective punishment or calling for a ceasefire, defending the withholding of things like water, power and food – frankly, it’s shocking.

“And from a human rights lawyer that’s even more shocking.”

Unsurprisingly perhaps then, Whitford says she “doesn’t hold out much hope” that Labour will help to change anything.

“There’s this narrative that they’re promising nothing and saying nothing but it’ll all be socialist and wonderful.

“Generally it’s the other way around, people promise the earth and deliver somewhat short of that.”

Proud of Humza Yousaf

If anything comes from the last few months, Whitford hopes that it’s world leaders recognising there is no simple solutions.

“My hope is that western leaders will stop ignoring this. Before it was ‘oh that’s terrible’ and then they’d be busy with something else.

“We need them to realise that Israel can’t bomb it’s way to peace. You have to have a just peace between Israel and Palestine.

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“The idea that history started on October 7 is utter nonsense. The Hamas attack was horrific, the response has been utterly indefensible.

“We can’t just think this can be put back in its box. The texts I. get are so full of pain and heartbreak and I find it incredible our politicians are so dissociated with that.

“This kind of describing of Palestinians as a block of not really people, the dancing on the head of a pin to not talk about this slaughter.

“There’s also the idea that somehow Israel gains from this. Ordinary Israelis don’t, but they’d all gain from a just and secure peace.”

(Image: PA)

Looking back on Humza Yousaf’s (above) time as first minister, Whitford says she felt a sense of pride at how he handled the issue.

“He took a lot of flak, but right from the start he condemned what Hamas had done quite rightly but also the Israeli response, particularly the siege.”

“I think of the families of hostages as much as my friends in Gaza. The fact is it doesn’t matter what religion you are or your politics.

“You’re talking about people and families.”