THE bumper crop of Scottish National Party MPs – including former members of the International Marxist Group, a bus load of town councillors, party apparatchiks, fading TV presenters and welfare rights officers - are a quixotic bunch. But among the Braveheart dreamers, useless time-servers and local authority drongos arriving in Westminster are some seriously ambitious Scots on the make.
One of the most ruthlessly power-hungry Nationalists among the contingent – self-styled as the “fantastic 56” – is Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh OBE. The 44-year-old lawyer, Bollywood actress, women’s rights campaigner, failed Tory candidate, political butterfly and now SNP MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, has been on an ideological odyssey across the political spectrum in search of office.
As a teenager she ran the Young Conservatives in Edinburgh Central and was a robust critic of the then SNP leader Alex Salmond during the Kosovo crisis in the late 1990s. His description of western action against the dictator Milosevic as “unpardonable folly” proved, said Ahmed-Sheikh, that he was “hopelessly naïve… He is hopelessly out of his depth in the arena of real politics, national, and international.”
Initially the Scottish Tories, wiped out north of the border in 1997, loved the prospect of a young Asian woman playing a prominent role as they tried to rebuild. But after failing to win a seat for the Tories in the first Scottish parliament elections in 1999, Ahmed-Sheikh suddenly discovered she was a nationalist after all and switched sides.
Salmond was gleeful at landing such a glamorous Tory defector, until it was pointed out that his new recruit had made those disobliging remarks several years previously. Salmond’s staff forced her to recant in a humiliating statement.
There was further embarrassment when it also emerged that she had been a Labour member in the mid-1990s, when Tony Blair was in the ascendency. It had all been a misunderstanding, she claimed, as her uncle – a Labour councillor – had told her to join the party (for two years) if she wanted to deliver leaflets for him. “All Tasmina needs is the Lib Dems for a full set,” said a former colleague. “But she was far too ambitious to waste her time on the Liberals.”
Someone else who worked closely with her was Clive Schmulian, her Tory election agent in 1999. The experience left him pleased to see her leave the party. “She was desperate for a high profile and has a huge ego but she was very politically naive,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “The SNP are welcome to her. She has very right-wing views and will never fit in with the SNP.”
Friend of Nicola
On the contrary, as a rampant careerist with endlessly adaptable views and an eye for the main chance, Ahmed-Sheikh fitted perfectly. She set about establishing close links with Salmond, and even persuaded him to make a cameo appearance as a ghost in one of her husband’s Bollywood soap operas. But it is the close relationship she forged with Salmond’s successor, Nicola Sturgeon, that has been the making of her.
In a bitter power-struggle with the SNP’s finance minister John Swinney, Sturgeon backed her friend for a place high up the party’s list in the 2014 European elections. When Tasmina subsequently failed narrowly to become an MEP, Sturgeon’s backing was instrumental in securing her one of the most winnable seats in the Westminster election. Safely ensconced in the Commons, this smooth-talking Nationalist is certainly an MP to watch, although her ruthless reputation suggests her colleagues should be watching their own backs when Tasmina is around.