Sir Keir Starmer was told Scottish Labour was a “joke” when he hosted a virtual meeting to highlight local frustration over Margaret Ferrier’s breach of Covid rules.
The UK Labour leader held one of his “Call Keir” meetings with members of the public from the Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency that Ms Ferrier won for the SNP.
Speaking from Westminster via Zoom, Sir Keir encouraged participants to give their views on Ms Ferrier as well as their thoughts on what Labour needed to do to recover in Scotland.
The meeting was held as Scottish Labour launched a petition calling for Ms Ferrier to quit as an MP.
The UK Labour leader received a blunt verdict from the first person to take part in the session. The voter, called Elaine, said she had been a “lifelong” Labour supporter who began campaigning for the party in 1979 – although she admitted to switching to SNP last year.
She said she was “so disillusioned” with the Labour Party, going on to make a reference to recent calls for Scottish leader Richard Leonard to quit.
“I think when you look at it in Scotland just now it is just an absolute… it’s a joke,” she said. “They are all in-fighting. Apparently there is something going on and they are trying to get rid of the leader just now. It is just so disheartening.”
She admitted voting for Ms Ferrier at last year’s General Election, but said she should resign as an MP following her train journey to the House of Commons and back while suffering from the coronavirus.
Ms Ferrier’s actions, which included visiting a beauty salon and reading a lesson in Church after taking a Covid test, were described by her as “absolutely shocking”.
Sir Keir described Ms Ferrier’s error of judgement as jaw dropping and asked how she could remain as an MP.
Ms Ferrier has been suspended by the SNP, but Nicola Sturgeon has been facing calls to expel her from her party.
Labour ‘a new team’
Sir Keir said he would have to take criticisms of Labour “on the chin” and make changes.
“If you’re disillusioned something is wrong and needs to change in the Labour Party,” the UK Labour leader said. “I get it. That’s why I’m not one of those people who says there is nothing wrong.
“We are a new team. We are going to address what happened in December (in the General Election”.
Sir Keir went on to criticise the SNP’s handling of the Covid crisis, arguing that current restrictions would not be necessary had it been better dealt with earlier.
Another voter, Jacqueline Govan, a local government worker who’d always voted Labour, said members of her family felt the party didn’t really care about Scotland.
Ms Govan expressed disappointment that the Scottish Government had cancelled exams. But the “plus side” for the SNP leadership was that Nicola Sturgeon had made it “abundantly clear” that what Ms Ferrier did was “wrong”.