SNP leaders have been accused of “ruthlessly wielding the knife” against Joanna Cherry in a dramatic escalation of the party’s explosive civil war.
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil attacked the decision to remove Ms Cherry from the party’s front bench team at Westminster, saying it had left many people “stunned”.
Ms Cherry, who had served as justice and home affairs spokeswoman, has been viewed as a critic of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and a key ally of her predecessor, Alex Salmond, amid an ongoing power struggle between their two camps of supporters
She had also recently clashed publicly with Aberdeen North MP Kirsty Blackman and others on issues such as trans rights.
The reshuffle of the party’s frontbench team was announced just hours after a huge row erupted on Sunday night over the leaking of legal advice that had been considered by the SNP’s national executive committee (NEC), in relation to putting BAME and disabled candidates at the top of regional lists for the election.
However, one source claimed the two issues were unrelated, and suggested that Ms Cherry had been tipped off about a plot to remove her on Saturday.
Her sacking sparked a fresh war of words between party colleagues, just three months before the scheduled Holyrood election.
Mr MacNeil said: “Jo Cherry has been held in very high regard by everybody. I hold her in high regard when I agree with her and when I disagree with her.
“This is normal and healthy in politics, to agree and disagree, but to ruthlessly wield the knife in this fashion has left many stunned.”
‘I feel very sorry for Jo’
The long-serving Western Isles MP, who is also considered to be in Mr Salmond’s camp, suggested that Ms Cherry would be able to put her free time to good use.
“I feel very sorry for Jo Cherry but, when I reflect, it’s good to realise that, in effect, it was only a third party spokesman role,” he said.
“And Jo Cherry hasn’t lost anything materially from this. She has, however, gained a lot of personal time.
“She was effective in the role and gave a lot of her own time. That time is now her own.”
Despite hard work, results & a strong reputation I’ve been sacked today from @theSNP front bench. My constituents & fellow party members who gave me a resounding mandate in recent NEC elections should rest assured that I will continue to work hard for them.
— Joanna Cherry QC (@joannaccherry) February 1, 2021
I know how highly rated Joanna Cherry is in UK justice circles as well the party grassroots in Scotland. She remains head and shoulders above most others and I for one stand by her. This is the leaderships call but many of us find this inexplicable and harmful to our cause.
— Kenny MacAskill (@KennyMacAskill) February 1, 2021
"Team working and cooperation are key to ensure results and this reshuffle will give us a strong team to take us forward."
— Tom French (@tomfrench85) February 1, 2021
‘List situation is bizarre’
Mr MacNeil also criticised the leaked proposals to ensure BAME or disabled candidates top regional lists at the election, depending on the area.
A document published by Nationalist blogger Wings over Scotland suggested the NEC approved the move despite legal advice suggesting it could be successfully challenged in the courts.
“The list situation is bizarre. It goes against legal advice and some of the people who voted for it stand to gain personally from it,” said Mr MacNeil.
“Theoretically, it could mean that the membership’s 10th choice could be top of the list.”
‘We remain steadfast’
An SNP spokesman said: “SNP conference passed a resolution to increase minority representation of our candidates – we remain steadfast to that.
“The Scottish Parliament needs to be far more reflective of the diversity of a modern Scotland if we are to truly become a fairer country.
“It is unclear how existing legislation relates to enabling this much-needed diversity – now NEC has made a decision that we are willing to test that legislation.
“The SNP leads the campaign for independence and so we must apply the same values of fairness and equality in our processes that we aim to see across all institutions in a future Scotland.”