SNP full of placemen, TV extras and lobby fodder for the party

IF nothing else, Margaret Ferrier’s breach of the Covid rules was at least thorough and comprehensive.

It demonstrated a level of dedication most of her number would struggle to muster, even if her efforts were misdirected.

She was expected to help spread public health advice about a deadly virus, but perhaps wires were crossed: instead she did her bit to spread Covid.

Even some of the party’s supporters would acknowledge the SNP’s benches, in both Edinburgh and London, are hardly groaning with talent.

Miss Ferrier proves the point: classic lobby-fodder, she was one of the Nationalists’ many placemen and time-servers.

Tellingly, most of us had never heard of her before her spectacular downfall.

Miss Ferrier and her ilk are the equivalent of extras on television soaps who pretend to sip pints in the background, as the camera lingers on their higher-profile counterparts.

At Holyrood and in the Commons, they’re clones who do what’s asked of them – though in. Miss Ferrier’s case there was a malfunction, and now she’s out in the cold.

Former East Lothian SNP MP George Kerevan came to her defence, condemning the ‘rush to consign her to political outer darkness’, which he insisted was ‘both hypocritical and blatantly self-serving’.

She was a touch hypocritical herself, of course, when she delivered a broadside against Dominic Cummings for his own idiosyncratic adaptation of the Covid regulations, at the height of the pandemic.

Yet while she’s lost the whip, she has kept her salary of more than £80,000, for now, plus expenses (in 2016, it emerged Miss Ferrier clawed back 80p for ‘wall tack’, 82p for highlighters and £1.10 for rubber bands).

Now police are investigating after the honourable member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West took a train from London to Scotland, despite testing positive for Covid.

Legitimate questions abound about how much the SNP knew of. Miss Ferrier’s travels, given that chief whip Patrick Grady agreed on Monday last week that he would vote on the MP’s behalf.

This is allowed under arrangements for people who can’t attend the Commons ‘for medical or public health reasons related to the pandemic’.

For her part, Miss Sturgeon has said her party at Westminster only became aware of. Miss Ferrier’s positive test last Wednesday, and yesterday the First Minister said Miss Ferrier had been heading home because of a sick relative.

We may never know the truth – after all, we’ve seen exactly how much senior SNP figures value transparency and accountability in their increasingly fractious dealings with the Scottish parliament’s Salmond inquiry.

It’s also perplexing that despite angrily calling for. Miss Ferrier to quit, Miss Sturgeon, or a colleague, hasn’t yet made a formal complaint via the party’s internal machinery, which could trigger Miss Ferrier’s expulsion from the SNP.

If she needed a refresher course on these procedural mechanisms, Miss Sturgeon could always ask her husband, Peter Murrell – the SNP’s chief executive.

Is it really any wonder that a party in power for so long – complacent, arrogant, and out of touch – should produce politicians of such strikingly low calibre?

An overwhelming sense of entitlement, borne from buoyant poll ratings, may mean they don’t feel the need to bother much about detail when it comes to candidate selection.

Vetting appears somewhere between limited and non-existent – remember SNP MSP Bill Walker, who was convicted in 2013 of assaulting three of his ex-wives and his teenage step-daughter?

(Happier times: Ferrier and Sturgeon)

In 2017, he claimed SNP party chiefs carried out a ‘cover-up’ over allegations made about his behaviour before he was a Holyrood candidate (the party didn’t comment at the time).

In Miss Ferrier’s case, it’s possible she’s fully aware of the growing backlash against her, but is determined to hold out for the sizeable salary.

Perhaps that also explains Derek Mackay’s position: the former Finance Secretary quit in February after it emerged he’d bombarded a 16-year-old boy with more than 200 online messages.

Last week it emerged he had continued to claim expenses for a second home – despite not being seen at the Scottish parliament for more than seven months.

He had admitted to having ‘behaved foolishly’ and, like. Miss Ferrier, had the SNP whip removed – meaning he now sits as an independent MSP, ‘earning’ nearly £65,000 a year.

Yet he hasn’t taken part in a single debate or vote since the row that destroyed his career.

Mr Mackay was also entitled to a severance payment of £11,945 for losing his Cabinet post – three months of a minister’s salary.

At the weekend, it was claimed the SNP had paid for counselling for Mr Mackay, a suggestion that wasn’t denied by the party’s spokesmen.

Try getting a quick appointment for the same kind of treatment on the NHS, and see how far you get.

You may have a lengthy wait, given the health service is now more or less pulling down the shutters for all but the most serious cases.

We’re about to endure one of the worst economic crises in history – but still the state is forking out for a disgraced ex-minister to live in comfort.

While he was in the job, £1,000 of taxpayers’ money was spent on voice coaching and public speaking lessons for him, after rivals unsportingly likened him to a Dalek.

It did have an effect, making him sound marginally less grating when he announced all those tax rises – but given his eventual fate it was money down the drain.

And all the professional advice in the world couldn’t conceal his lack of expertise in one of the most important posts in government (not that this appears in any way an impediment to advancement within the SNP ranks).

Shameless doesn’t quite cover the behaviour of these over-promoted under-achievers, who cling to their jobs in defiance of voters sickened by their brazen exploitation of the public purse.

Childcare minister Mark McDonald has faced calls to quit his seat since complaints about his conduct emerged, which led to him resigning in November 2017.

An investigation had found the father-of-two caused women ‘distress’ by sending ‘inappropriate’ messages.

The Aberdeen Donside MSP concedes, a little self-pityingly, that he will forever be ‘defined by the mistakes [he] made’, for which he has paid a ‘significant, lasting price’.

But his decision to stay on as an MSP until next year means he will be entitled to a taxpayer-funded ‘resettlement’ grant of around £50,000 to help him adjust to life outside politics.

Cash before principles isn’t exactly a new political phenomenon – but some in the SNP have turned it into an art-form.

Its assorted no-hopers, parasites and chancers don’t so much represent us, as their own interests, particularly of the financial variety.

In time, they will leave elected politics behind them, but for now they couldn’t care less what we think of them – and their snouts remain firmly in the trough.

*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on October 6, 2020.

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Graham Grant.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Columns on MailPlus https://www.mailplus.co.uk/authors/graham-grant