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Neil Mackay: SNP infighting making it unfit to lead fight for independence

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THERE’S one of the SNP top brass I’m friendly with, and not so long ago they brought the MP Joanna Cherry up in conversation apropos of nothing. She must have been playing on their mind.

“It’s all about Joanna,” they said – with an acid-drop hiss which made clear they wouldn’t be inviting their party colleague around for Sunday afternoon tea any time soon. Cherry, they felt, is too fond of the limelight and her ambition is damaging and distracting the party. My acquaintance is a big noise in the SNP – one of the party’s most prominent politicians and a close pal to Nicola Sturgeon.

The SNP’s psychodramas have been playing out behind the scenes for a long time now. Of late, though, such matters have become unedifyingly public – and Cherry does seem to be at the centre of quite a lot of it.

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The transgender rights row, the Salmond-Sturgeon divide, the Plan B debacle over the surest route to independence – each of these divisions has seen Cherry, MP for Edinburgh South West, seemingly slap bang at the heart of controversy. When the fight over who’d run at Holyrood in the Edinburgh Central constituency became a proxy war for these many divisions, Cherry stood on one side, and Angus Robertson, a Sturgeon ally, stood on the other. Robertson won.

Of course, many admire Cherry, and for sound reasons – she fought hard in Westminster against Brexit with admirable guts and vigour. And why, indeed, shouldn’t a politician insert themselves into every controversy going? After all that’s part and parcel of the job description. But there’s also plenty of others who are sick to the back teeth of Cherry and what they see – rightly or wrongly – as her relentless attention seeking.

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One guesses – as with nearly everything in life – that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. However, over the weekend Cherry certainly managed to steal the spotlight from the First Minister and the SNP conference.

Nicola Sturgeon was giving her opening address to conference, and John Swinney was announcing free school meals for all primary school children, but there was Cherry – everywhere. She was on the front of one paper under the headline: “Controlling Sturgeon ‘unhealthy for the SNP’”, with a sub-headline reading “Joanna Cherry accuses leader of stifling debate”.

Forgive me if I turn to social media for reaction, but that’s where most of the SNP’s psychodramas unfortunately seem to play out these days. In response to the above headlines, one SNP activist commented online: “Words have consequences, and here are Joanna Cherry’s sitting in plain view in my local shop, for all passers-by to see and take in. It’s not just the Twitter bubble – her actions are threatening to turn real members of the public off our party.”

Like a latter-day Delphic Oracle, Cherry’s Westminster colleague, Pete Wishart, responded online with an eloquent “Geez…!”

Cherry was on the front of another paper the same day with the headline: “Joanna Cherry calls for indyref2 … even if UK govt says no”. There were more stories as well such as: “Joanna Cherry: Alex Salmond’s place in the SNP should be reinstated & ‘not guilty’ verdict respected”.

What a busy day … and it certainly eclipsed John Swinney’s talk about free school meals, and the First Minister’s statements about covid and independence.

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But the excitement wasn’t over yet. Later on, Cherry angrily took to Twitter claiming: “Earlier today members of [the SNP] joined with members of other parties to publicise a letter containing a defamatory statement about me”. The issue concerned trans rights. SNP and independence supporters weren’t impressed. One person on social media said: “Seriously though, all of you, if you are serious about independence take all these hideous rows out of the press and Twitter. Every unionist paper in the land is going to milk this. Not cool. Work together or hell mend ye.” Another said: “So sick of this. [Their] arrogance (both sides) is putting independence at risk.”

It’s hard to chose the best way to describe the SNP’s behaviour on social media: a hot mess? A total cringe? An absolute riddy? Whatever term most fits, it’s utterly ghastly to behold.

Only last week, we had SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford acting like a Witchfinder General when he issued this declaration of outrage to a photographer: “As you live in the south of England and travel to Scotland is only for permitted reasons I am sure there will be a valid reason as to why you are posting a photo from the north of Scotland?” The photographer lives in the Highlands. Blackford apologised. Sturgeon defended him.

Top all this off with the weeping sore that’s the Salmond inquiry – and its gory insight into SNP dysfunction – and you’ve a party which in any other country in Europe would be a national embarrassment. However, given that the only comparison we have to the SNP government is Boris Johnson and his clown cabinet in Westminster, Nicola Sturgeon’s party is able to maintain the phoney veneer of sensible authority and wise leadership. Imagine how dire the SNP would look if there was a capable government in London today?

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What grates on me is that I’m your average moderate Yes voter – I’m not a rabid SNP zealot or flag-wrapped ‘Little Scotlander’ – and I think all this is simply damaging to the cause of independence. And, of course, this is no way for a party in government to behave. Little wonder that the SNP seems to fail on everything it touches from education to the handling of the pandemic.

The SNP is a party suffering from terminal entitlement. It’s been in power too long, and it is now shameless about washing its dirty laundry in public.

Preening MPs and MSPs may labour under such delusions of grandeur that they think the starstruck Scottish public is actually interested in their petty little wranglings and power disputes. We’re not – the Scottish people couldn’t care less who hates who and who wants what job. You are boring us. We want this country governed well. Shut up and do the job we pay you to do. And as a Yes voter, never has it been more important for the Scottish people to take possession of the independence project. The SNP is unfit to do it justice any longer.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald

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