Fergus Mutch has long been considered one of the SNP’s brightest prospects, but his career might have taken a very different course had it not been for one of the party’s fiercest critics.
While studying law at Glasgow University nine years ago, the Aberdonian had been inactive politically, until one day George Galloway arrived on his street with a megaphone.
“I seemed to find a lot of other things to keep me entertained at uni, aside from politics,” he recalled.
“I think what prompted to me to go out and knock on some doors for Sandra White in 2011 was that George Galloway was standing in that election.
“I lived on Great George Street in Glasgow and George Galloway stood at the end of the road, on the corner with Byres Road, with a megaphone, spouting his usual bile.
“That really got under my skin, and was the first thing that really prompted me to get out and knock a door for the SNP.
“He spent the whole campaign with megaphone in hand at that corner of Byres Road beside my flat and I knew I had to do something about it.”
After Glasgow, Mr Mutch continued his studies in London, which was another important step in shaping his future career.
“I realised pretty quickly I didn’t want to be a lawyer, so then made the mistake of going on to study a masters in legal theory, at UCL in London, and then realised I really, really didn’t want to be a lawyer,” he said.
“When I went to university in London, I suppose Scots away from home can sometimes look for opportunities to club together with like-minded Scots, so I got quite active in the London branch of the SNP.
I suppose Scots away from home can sometimes look for opportunities to club together with like-minded Scots, so I got quite active in the London branch of the SNP.”
“I went to a lecture at the LSE that Alex Salmond was giving on the economics of independence, and that was the first time I had seen Alex Salmond speaking in person, and I was pretty taken with the positivity of it.
“I thought, ‘you know what, I would much rather go and work for these guys than go and become a lawyer’, so that was probably the point at which I decided I was going to fire my CV into a few jobs in the SNP.”
Mr Mutch was rejected by several lesser-known backbenchers before, to his surprise, he received an interview offer from Mr Salmond, who was first minister at the time.
The only problem was that the interview clashed with a holiday in Greece, so he had to have it rearranged to the day he returned to Scotland, but then missed his flight home.
Despite eventually turning up to the branch office in Inverurie “sweaty and late”, Mr Mutch impressed the SNP leader enough to be appointed his parliamentary assistant, and then later his office manager and ultimately his chief of staff.
“Latterly, when I was chief of staff, when he stepped down as first minister and still had a huge profile, and juggling his roles as MSP and MP, it was very interesting,” he said.
I suppose I learned a lot of lessons about how to operate in politics, the key one being that all politics is local, and it’s a cliché, but it’s an important one.”
“I suppose I learned a lot of lessons about how to operate in politics, the key one being that all politics is local, and it’s a cliché, but it’s an important one.”
‘Very nearly won’ Westminster seat
Further lessons were learned during four years as the SNP’s head of communications and research, a job that Mr Mutch left this year.
In the December election last year the 31-year-old came within 843 votes of a shock victory in the West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine seat at Westminster.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Fergus is a bright, charming and energetic advocate for the SNP and we are lucky to have him.
“He has made a great contribution to the work of our party in the Scottish Parliament and has given excellent advice and support.
“He led an enthusiastic campaign in the last UK Election and very nearly won. He is an outstanding campaigner with a great future ahead of him.”
SNP in ‘extremely fine fettle’
He also hopes to go one better than last year and oust the Tories in the Aberdeenshire West constituency at next year’s Holyrood vote, although it has recently been confirmed that Mr Mutch will face a selection contest with another highly-regarded SNP prospect, Fatima Zahra Joji.
“Eight years later and I’m still working in the political sphere,” he said.
“It was supposed to be a temporary thing but I got fairly well into it, and I enjoy it. I enjoy the people you meet and the fact every day is very, very different.”
It was supposed to be a temporary thing but I got fairly well into it, and I enjoy it. I enjoy the people you meet and the fact every day is very, very different.”
Mr Mutch believed the party would be going into the election in good spirits.
“The SNP is in extremely fine fettle at the moment. We’re ahead in the polls and that has increasingly been the case in the last few months,” he said,
“Independence is now the sustained position of a majority of people in Scotland. That is obviously our party’s raison d’etre, and that is extremely encouraging.
“And the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon has been tested in the toughest of circumstances over the last few months, and she has risen to the challenge.
“Compare and contrast that to the Tories at Westminster, and I think that stands us in extremely good stead.”