ARTICLE OF THE WEEK.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE NATIONAL. MY ARTICLE OF THE WEEK.
A WEEK is a long time in politics. The past fortnight feels like an eternity. Two weeks ago, the SNP leadership produced an 11-point plan conceding the need for a plan B if the British Government continues to refuse a Section 30 order and embracing the legal route for a second independence referendum for which I have long advocated.
I cannot pretend I’m completely satisfied with the detail of the plan but it’s a step in the right direction.
One week ago, the Justice Secretary introduced an amendment to the Hate Crime Bill to address concerns raised by a wide range of civic society bodies, MSPs and others. The amendment was designed to ensure that women who wish to discuss women’s sex-based rights would be protected from charges of transphobic hate crime. This seemed reasonable in a democracy bound by the duty to protect free speech under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
But this week the Justice Secretary withdrew his amendment after (unsubstantiated) allegations of transphobia, and I found myself summarily dismissed from the position of SNP spokesperson on justice and home affairs at Westminster
I got 30 minutes’ notice of the announcement, no proper explanation of why I was being sacked and no acknowledgement of or any thanks at all for the work I have done in that role over the last five-and-a-half years. Indeed, the press release announcing the reshuffle was a masterly piece of Stalinist revisionism in which I was not even mentioned. Airbrushed from history. A non-person. Sounds familiar?
It is not sensible to take people for fools and of course what happened was not swept under the carpet as some had hoped. While I am alarmed by the reports of mass resignations from the party as a result of my treatment, I have also been overwhelmed by messages of support from party members, constituents, members of the public and cross-party colleagues.
I could have done without the tsunami of abuse on social media and the threats of rape etc, but when a target has been painted on the back of a female politician this is to be expected and the police have been very helpful.
I want to thank all those who have sent kind messages and expressions of concern for my wellbeing and to reassure them that I have developed a pretty thick skin and I have a loving partner, family and friends and great staff which really helps.
This is not the first time I have required help from the police or indeed faced going to court to give evidence against men who have threatened me in the course of my employment as an MP.
However, it’s pretty upsetting when the threats and abuse come from within your own party and those in authority refuse to condemn them. That said, I am comforted by the fact a man has been arrested and charged. I am constrained in what I can say about the case for now but suffice to say that when the full story becomes public it will make very uncomfortable reading for some.
As to the internal politics of the SNP, what is now in the public domain is the tip of the iceberg of behaviour which I and others have had to put up with for years. I really do understand why people say – “sort this out in private, it’s harming the cause”, but please be aware there is no internal way to properly discuss policy or strategy and there is no functioning link between MPs and the leadership. I know people were shocked that I first saw the 11-point plan on a Saturday morning in the National like everyone else, but that is how things are.
And at least we now have a pretty good idea of what you can and cannot do under the current SNP leadership and keep your position.
IT’S fine to publicly call women, including survivors of sex abuse and your constituents, “Jeremy Hunts” when they write to you with concerns about self-identification of gender. In fact, you will be lauded and retweeted by the party’s official social media account.
If you are part of the party’s old guard and male, it’s fine to publicly rubbish the party’s conference backed policy on Brexit and a second EU poll and to defy the whip repeatedly. You won’t be disciplined – in fact you will be promoted.
It’s fine for staff employed by the party and the Westminster group to conduct a vendetta against a sitting MP to the extent of disrupting a National Assembly event.
It’s fine for a parliamentarian to repeatedly tweet and retweet unfounded allegations about a colleague leading to a tsunami of abuse culminating in threats of sexual violence. If you complain, you are the problem.
And it’s fine to refuse to give evidence to a committee of the Scottish Parliament and to remain in post while members of that inquiry call for you to be investigated for perjury.
All that is fine. Behaviour without consequences. Behaviour which if not actually encouraged is given tacit approval.
But it is not fine to advocate for a policy which the party leadership then adopts and to congratulate a Cabinet Secretary on the Scottish Government’s own amendment to a controversial bill. And it is not fine to get yourself elected to the NEC with a mandate of more votes than all the other candidates put together.
As one Glasgow councillor informed her Twitter followers, people have been elected to the NEC who shouldn’t have been.
And I don’t think she was trying to be funny.
There is a lesson to be learned from the backlash to my sacking – when you don’t speak to anyone and try to suppress discussion people will find public forums to ventilate ideas. And attempts to intimidate or smear those who want to debate policy don’t make the party stronger. It is left weaker when other opinions are not sought and ideas are not tested.
Notwithstanding what has occurred, I shall continue to do my job as a constituency MP and as an elected member of the SNP NEC. I love the former. I can’t say I enjoy the latter much at the moment, but it’s made a little easier by the presence of such morally upright people as Roger Mullin and some fantastic feminist sisters.
And it’s not all been bad news for me this week. I hope soon to be able to make some exciting announcements about how I will use the time freed up by the removal of my front-bench duties.
On the NEC I will continue to work with fellow elected members to try to ensure that the party adheres to its constitution and does the necessary policy and strategic work to prepare us for independence.
We cannot “wheesht for indy” much as we might want to. As a party and a movement we must address policy issues and do the heavy lifting needed to counter the arguments against independence and to prepare for the transition to a new state. No debate is not an option, if we cannot test ideas together in a civilised fashion we cannot possibly hope to persuade others.
I cannot recall ever meeting Joanna Cherry QC. It is something I hope to have the opportunity to do once the virus not longer makes that impossible. She is a figure who I can admire. She has grit, determination and an abundance of good sense and ability, and despite being treated most shabbily by her own Party emerges with her status and abilities intact and more than capable to take her arguments forward in the most formidable fashion. These problems she now faces are the result of the weakness and petty jealousies of others. She will prevail in the end, of that I have no doubt.
I am, as always
YOURS FOR SCOTLAND.
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