A sex pest scandal finished the PM. So will SNP leadership pay price of party’s own squalid sagas?
JUST what would it take, short of a political earthquake, for the SNP to follow the Tories’ example — and ditch its deadwood leader?
After a nightmarish few months, it’s a time of new beginnings for the Conservatives, while the SNP is stuck in a Groundhog Day of its own creation.
One big difference between the Nationalists and the Tories is that at least the Tories eventually summoned the courage to axe Boris Johnson — they knew when enough was enough.
In stark contrast, the clones of the SNP — which long ago outlawed public disobedience — are unlikely ever to work up the nerve to topple the First Minister, or her tarnished Commons lieutenant Ian Blackford.
Mr Johnson was finally ousted over his knowledge of allegations against former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher, who quit after he was said to have groped two men during a drunken night out at the Carlton Club in London.
The PM apologised for appointing Mr Pincher, despite having been warned previously about his ‘predatory’ behaviour, but it was too little too late after a string of self-inflicted wounds, and led to his resignation.
Meanwhile, the SNP continues to be in denial over the future of Mr Blackford, who is embroiled in a row with clear echoes of the Pincher affair — though he’s yet to pay a price for his handling — or appalling mishandling — of it.
The latest developments in the story of sex-pest SNP MP Patrick Grady were eclipsed by the blood-letting in Whitehall last week.
But it’s worth reflecting on this squalid saga and what it tells us about the SNP, and its tolerance levels for misdemeanours within its own ranks.
Former SNP chief whip Grady was found guilty of sexual misconduct after making unwanted advances on a teenage SNP worker in a London bar in 2016.
The Mail revealed a leaked recording of a cheerleading session during which Mr Blackford told the party group that he ‘would encourage’ them to give ‘as much support as possible’ to Grady.
Mr Blackford incurred the wrath of Nicola Sturgeon with his clumsy response to the revelations and his belated expression of contrition — but last week it emerged that Grady’s victim had been threatened with disciplinary action by party bosses.
The victim told the Mail that he had refused to co-operate with the police probe over fears of a backlash in his SNP job, and as a consequence it seems Grady could resume his party membership and the whip.
On Sunday, the SNP’s deputy leader Keith Brown — who’s also Justice Secretary — backed Mr Blackford with a line that was heavy on meaningless platitudes: ‘Nobody is saying it’s the right way to deal with this situation, but it’s very important lessons are learned.’
Mr Blackford is believed to have been informed of the allegations against Grady in February 2018, with the party attempting to resolve the matter informally, but Grady — who was appointed as chief whip in June 2017 — continued in the role until March last year.
None of this resembles the moral high ground, and yet it’s against this backdrop that the SNP stands as it crows about Tory turmoil and naturally seeks to exploit Mr Johnson’s departure in a bid to advance its independence agenda.
For all of Miss Sturgeon’s talk of a modern, progressive SNP, there’s not much that could be described as 21st century, or forward-looking, or inclusive, about a party that appears to be hounding the victim — while sheltering the perpetrator.
And don’t forget that the First Minister was condemned by her own colleagues on a parliamentary committee for misleading MSPs over Salmondgate — yet another controversy triggered by claims of sexual harassment, on that occasion by her predecessor, Alex Salmond.
She clung to office by citing the outcome of a report by a former prosecutor who cleared her of breaching the ministerial code — in perhaps the most heavily redacted report in Holyrood’s history.
There was no uprising among her acolytes who backed her in a confidence vote.
Blind to any suggestion of fault or deficiency, the party rallied round Miss Sturgeon in a display of weapons-grade sycophancy — Jeane Freeman, Health Secretary at the time, hailed the First Minister as ‘most excellent’ as she denied that her boss has misled MSPs.
In reality, it was a dismal period during which some of the key institutions of state were dragged into the mire to save Miss Sturgeon’s neck.
SNP minister Angus Robertson was tasked with probing claims of ‘perceived’ inappropriate behaviour by Mr Salmond towards female staff at Edinburgh Airport back in 2009.
Leaving no stone unturned, Mr Robertson, former SNP leader in the Commons, said he raised it with Mr Salmond, who denied it — and a line was promptly drawn under the whole episode.
Mr Robertson recently insisted that there had to be a ‘way back’ for miscreants such as Grady.
Then there was the Derek Mackay scandal, which showed where the SNP’s true priorities lie — not with the victim, but with reputational management.
On the day of the Scottish Budget in 2020 — as families anxiously awaited news of the latest SNP raid on their finances — Miss Sturgeon’s Finance Secretary was forced to quit 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.
Mr Mackay 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.
At the time, one of Miss Sturgeon’s spin chiefs claimed that publishing the story would be an ‘intrusion’ into Mr Mackay’s private life in a failed attempt to shut it down.
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.
Despite losing his government job and the SNP whip, he continued to sit as an independent member in Holyrood, working in the building’s basement offices for a time while bosses worked out where to move him.
So there are many skeletons rattling around in the SNP’s cupboard but no one in a position of power has faced the consequences for the misjudgments, or the abortive cover-ups.
Of course, superficially, this is a low-point for the Tories, but — remarkably — they’re not as far behind Labour in the polls as they might have been, and are looking forward to something the SNP can only dream about — a fresh start.
There’s nothing fresh about what Miss Sturgeon and her party are offering — her grand plan for another referendum next year is already heading for the scrap heap, as Mr Johnson’s potential successors line up to rubbish it.
It’s designed to buy Miss Sturgeon time and keep the troops happy, but let’s face it — this crowd don’t have the gumption to get rid of her.
As the Tories look ahead to renewal under their next leader, the SNP is saddled with a dud, and locked on a collision course with the cold hard reality that her ramshackle strategy for achieving the only objective the Nationalists really care about is already dead in the water.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on Tuesday, July 12.
- *Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant