First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has suggested her former boss Alex Salmond would have expected a “bigger defection” than the one he oversaw last week.
Ms Sturgeon commented on Kirkcaldy MP Neale Hanvey and East Lothian MP Kenny MacAskill leaving the SNP to join the newly formed Alba Party by saying they should stand down and let the voters decide if they should continue representing them.
Polling conducted exclusively for this paper by Survation showed Mr Salmond’s new venture would secure around 3% of votes, and that the former SNP leader is less popular than Boris Johnson.
Of Mr Hanvey, she said her only real dealing with him was when she had to suspend him as a party member after it was discovered he posted anti-Semitic tropes on social media.
I suspect, knowing him as I used to, Alec would have been wanting and expecting a bigger defection of elected representatives from the SNP to his new party. ”
Mr MacAskill had been branded an “increasing embarrassment” by SNP leader at Westminster Ian Blackford.
It followed news first reported by us that the former justice secretary had flouted lock-down rules by living in his Banffshire holiday home, a 340-mile round-trip away from his constituency office.
Speaking to journalists on Friday afternoon, Ms Sturgeon said her focus remains on supporting SNP MPs “of good standing”.
She also commented on revelations reportedby us regarding Angus SNP branches repaying public money meant for Covid support.
“People make up their own minds on what party they want to be members of,” she said.
“I suspect, knowing him as I used to, Alec would have been wanting and expecting a bigger defection of elected representatives from the SNP to his new party.
“I think Kenny (MacAskill) can speak for himself. He has obviously not been that comfortable in the SNP for some time. He has made that decision and he is entitled to make that decision.
“He should remember, though, he was elected as an MP as an SNP candidate and perhaps we should all be clearer when somebody is elected as party representative they have a duty to allow voters to decide that.
“Neale Hanvey has been an SNP MP for a period, since he came back into the party.
“I do not know Neale, obviously, as well as I know Kenny; my principal experience with him during the 2019 election was having to suspend him from SNP membership because of anti-Semitic comments.
“These guys have made their own decisions and are entitled to do that, so there we go.
“My focus remains on the vast bulk of MPs who remain in SNP membership in good standing.”
Longer term than Thatcher planned
Ms Sturgeon added she would remain first minister for a full term, if elected this May.
The SNP leader, who has been first minister since 2014, said she was “putting herself forward for a full term of office” in the post.
That would see her serving almost 12 years at the head of the Scottish Government – longer than the 11 years Margaret Thatcher spent in Downing Street as Tory prime minister.
But Ms Sturgeon refused to commit to fighting another campaign as SNP leader in 2026.
She said: “I am fighting this election campaign, I am putting myself forward for a full term of office as First Minister, should the people of Scotland elect me. And that is entirely up to the people of Scotland.
“And, frankly, I will think about the next election when we get closer to that.
“One of the things I have learned… is to take every election as it comes and not take the voters or the country for granted.”