15 years of sleaze and cover-up have left the SNP sinking in a moral quagmire
NO sooner had Nicola Sturgeon’s bid to jump-start the push for another referendum begun last week than it was knocked dramatically off course by a sex scandal.
As she desperately tried to breathe new life into her zombie government, a Commons probe concluded that SNP MP Patrick Grady was a sex pest who had targeted a teenage boy.
And within 15 minutes, as the Mail revealed on Saturday, Ian Blackford — the party’s leader at Westminster — was urging his troops to rally round not the victim, but the perpetrator.
It’s light years away from those high-minded — and hubristic — boasts about a refreshingly different way of doing business when the SNP took power in 2007.
This squalid saga is emblematic of the wider sense of decline which has gripped the party as Miss Sturgeon and her colleagues try to convince us that they’re capable of building a bold new state.
It was only a few days ago that Angus Robertson was promising a second referendum in autumn next year, setting out a path that would supposedly lead us towards a socialist nirvana free from Tory rule.
But on Sunday he showed where his true priorities lie when he said there has to be a ‘way back’ into the fold for miscreants such as Grady — a message that might be tough to sell on the doorstep.
Mr Robertson also attacked the SNP’s critics for having the temerity to ask questions about the Grady row when, as he sees it, they’ve failed to put their own houses in order — but ‘we’re all as bad as each other’ is a ramshackle defence.
Tribalism trumps basic decency — and the priority is survival, at any cost.
Just as they’re desperate to persuade us that they’re up to the monumental task of building an independent Scotland, the SNP’s mask has slipped — they’re not the progressive, 21st-century reformers they’d like you to believe they are.
After we broke the story of that shabby cheerleading session for Grady, SNP chiefs warned their MPs that they could face legal action over the leaked recording, in which Mr Blackford could be heard demanding that Grady ‘should have our absolute full support’.
So the first item on the ‘to do’ list was to ensure Grady had the backing he needed — and in Mr Blackford’s view deserved — then set about rooting out the mole.
Fifty years ago, Watergate was playing out, featuring a paranoid President determined to hunt down the source of leaks — which might sound a little familiar to anyone paying attention to the Nationalists’ current behaviour.
That was also a drama, albeit of a different kind, about who knew what, and when.
Who knew what about the Grady incident is unclear, though Mr Robertson had yet to lose his Moray seat and was still Westminster leader in 2016 when the teenage SNP staffer was inappropriately touched by Grady.
Mr Blackford is believed to have been informed of the allegations in February 2018, with the party apparently attempting to resolve the matter informally — but Mr Grady continued as chief whip until March last year.
Over a year ago, Tory MP John Lamont wrote to Mr Blackford asking what he would do to prevent sexual misconduct in the future, but no reply was ever received.
As Mr Lamont pointed out yesterday, Mr Blackford’s ‘disgusting actions have made it less likely that any future victims [will] come forward’, and yet it seems he’s going nowhere.
Far from a slick professional PR machine running at top gear ahead of a second referendum, the SNP is plainly in crisis mode — and to many of its grassroots activists it must look like amateur hour.
Back in 2015, the SNP was accused of a ‘Stalinist’ approach after passing rule changes that blocked new MPs from speaking out against party policy.
That mindset has now reached further afield — members of SNP quangos are told to sign agreements stipulating that they won’t criticise their colleagues in public.
The new HBO police drama We Own This City, by the makers of The Wire, contains a telling line about the futility of battling corruption when so many Baltimore cops are bad apples — that you can’t mop a floor with dirty water and hope to make any difference.
Incompetence may be more in evidence in public life than corruption, but how can any public body — or party — hope to crack down on misconduct of any kind when measures are in place which appear to be designed to prevent whistleblowers from speaking out?
And there must be consequences of that highly secretive strategy for victims — such as Grady’s — and how they’re perceived by senior Nationalists.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they’re regarded as little more than an inconvenience.
There are some signs of dissent — SNP MP Joanna Cherry has said the party has ‘significant problems’ in how it handles complaints, which is something of an understatement — and the fact that audio of the Blackford meeting was leaked at all shows not everyone is prepared to observe the SNP’s omerta.
Amy Callaghan, SNP pensions spokesman at Westminster — who was at the meeting and called for her colleagues to back Grady — issued a ‘searingly reflective and honest’ mea culpa yesterday as she lobbied for an external review of the way grievances are dealt with.
Fine words, but if it’s approved, the proof will be in the pudding — will such an inquest be enough on its own to change such manifestly bad practice?
Meanwhile, police are still looking at allegations of £600,000 missing from party funds that had been earmarked for the independence crusade.
And the Crown Office is examining allegations of perjury by the SNP’s chief executive, Peter Murrell — the First Minister’s husband — over his evidence to a Holyrood inquiry into Salmondgate, the SNP Government’s handling of sexual harassment claims against the former First Minister.
The Grady episode, sickening for what it reveals about the Nationalists’ double standards, also shows a party that has lost its moral compass — assuming that it had one in the first place.
The rot set in a while ago — remember shamed former finance secretary Derek Mackay, who quit in 2020 after bombarding a 16-year-old boy with 270 online messages, including one where he called him ‘cute’ and another where he asked him to dinner?
He later received a £53,725 resettlement grant — even though he had not set foot in parliament for the last 15 months of his ten years as an MSP.
Mark McDonald, who quit in 2017 as children’s minister, was suspended by the SNP then quit Holyrood after he was found to have sent lewd messages to women.
Cover-up and closing ranks are reflex actions for the SNP when it comes under scrutiny — but this time round, it’s nowhere near good enough.
In 2007, the SNP presented itself as a dynamic force and a new broom, heralding a fresh start for moribund Scottish politics after years of Labour domination — and bear in mind that there were plenty of sleaze allegations back then, too.
Fast forward to 2022 and the SNP remains in charge, its sole cynical mission to keep Miss Sturgeon in office despite her long record of failure — as the party founders in a moral quagmire of its own creation.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on June 21, 2022.
- *Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant