AT the SNP’s National Conference next month the most pressing issues facing this party won’t be heard.
The SNP has become expert at chivvying anything thorny from its rank and file members off the conference floor. Those whom it can’t silence it simply intimidates by deploying its scarecrow wing to pillory them from the front two rows.
You’d expect there to be some debate as to why so many activists – many of whom devoted their entire adult lives to the cause of independence – lately felt so marginalised and menaced within the SNP they had no option but to leave.
The party’s strategy when anyone mentions this is borrowed directly from the playbook of US Senator Joe McCarthy. They are run to ground on social media by a hand-picked cast of loyal glove-puppets whose sole function within the party, it seems, is to disparage and insult those who’ve been handed the black spot.
Read more analysis from Kevin McKenna every Wednesday in our political newsletter, Unspun.
Others become anonymous sources to drip poison about the apostates into the ears of their pet journalists. On the party’s ruling Executive Committee miscreants were simply subjected to verbal abuse by fellow members eager to find favour within Nicola Sturgeon’s inner sanctum … or Peter’s WhatsApp cabinet as it’s commonly known.
Those who choose to stay and fight for decency and accountability find themselves marginalised and excluded. The more able and influential they’re deemed to be the more poisonous are the efforts to silence them.
This has been the fate of Joanna Cherry, who despite intense overtures from Alba, has wisely chosen to remain in the SNP. On days like last Friday she must wonder if it’s worth all the back-stabbing from her Westminster colleagues and all the sly imprecations by brave actors seeking, perhaps a future soft landing and a nice pension as a special adviser or a spokesperson (the SNP now has so many of these vestigial creatures that they will soon be seeking to have their characteristics protected by international protocols).
Ms Cherry issued a statement following the sentencing of the male SNP activist who threatened her with sexual violence. The MP effectively accused the entire leadership of the SNP of permitting an atmosphere of hostility and malignancy to be built around her at her main place of employment. It was an unforgivable dereliction of their duty of care to her.
It’s difficult to conclude anything other than that Ms Cherry is correct in her assertions. Her words reveal a party that’s rotten to its core and from which pity and mercy have fled. Consider these words about the day she received the threats. “Earlier on the same day I had been sacked from the SNP Westminster frontbench after senior SNP politicians, members of the SNP NEC and staff employed by the party had wrongly accused me of transphobia, simply because I had spoken up to defend the rights of women and girls and the right to free speech. These irresponsible accusations put a target on my back.”
Ms Cherry said her attacker was among a group of men from the Stirling area who had repeatedly abused and harassed her and other female SNP members on social media. She added: “I am very disappointed that no-one in the SNP hierarchy has acknowledged or condemned Grant Karte’s threats towards me, despite his criminal conviction.”
The party responded in a way that’s become characteristic of this ruthless body, with chilly and forced sympathy expressed from the corner of its thin lips. The threats of extreme sexual violence faced by Ms Cherry it described as “unacceptable behaviour” before informing us that “support services are available to all elected representatives and staff”.
“Joanna was offered support from senior levels of the SNP at the time,” it added, “and that offer remains open. We hope that the conclusion of this case will bring her some relief.” Given the levels of poison that she’s encountered from those “senior levels of the SNP” my advice to Ms Cherry would be similar to those I’d proffer to the fly after getting his invitation from thon spider: “Don’t do it, but if you must please take a large chib with you for protection.”
News the following day that the party had appointed one Ricky Taylor as its new “Complaints Officer” seemed to render their statement shallow and not a little cruel. In January of this year – a month before Ms Cherry received threats of violence – it emerged that Mr Taylor had disparaged her thus on Twitter: “I’m not in any nasty minority. I’m a member of the party that’s deeply concerned with the open transphobia that you constantly spout.” At least it showed that if you take the approved line on issues you eventually get rewarded in this party.
It seems that as well as the backlog of historic complaints by female SNP members that have been ignored by HQ Mr Taylor will have to add one pertaining to his own conduct. What a deeply unpleasant and vindictive organisation the SNP has become.
Last Wednesday evening saw the inaugural Glasgow meeting of Restore Scotland, the pro-independence party formed to contest some seats in May’s Scottish election. Any hopes it might have entertained of making an impact on Holyrood were scuppered when Alex Salmond’s well-funded and highly publicised Alba party launched.
Restore Scotland occupies territory attractive to those independence supporters who are sceptical about gaining sovereignty only to surrender large parts of it to the EU without a referendum. It also carries appeal to those who have become alienated (but not to the point of obsession) by the cultish and esoteric contortions of the SNP leadership around Hate Crime and Gender Reform.
Their highest-profile recruit is Jim Fairlie, the hugely respected former deputy leader of the SNP. Among its founders is Ewan Gurr, who, as leader of the Trussell Trust in Scotland, organised its successful and life-saving foodbank operation. Its heart is in the right place and, more importantly, it radiates the kindness and compassion that have lately departed Scotland’s main party of independence. It may yet become a haven for those seeking to flee the SNP and the sewer that runs beneath it.
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