A reshuffle in Westminsterâ€™s third-largest party wouldnâ€™t often grab headlines â€” but the normal rules donâ€™t apply to the pro-independence Scottish National Party.
Leading spokesperson Joanna Cherry was effectively sacked from her role in the SNPâ€™s Westminster team Monday, and Scottish politics is still reeling.
In her words, Cherry said the ouster came â€œdespite hard work, results & a strong reputationâ€ â€” while signaling that â€œWestminster is increasingly irrelevantâ€ to Scotland.
A controversial figure in the party, Cherry, as an ally of Alex Salmond, has been closely involved in the power struggle between supporters of the former first minister and his successor Nicola Sturgeon.
She was also occasionally spoken of as a future leader, and has a much higher profile than most SNP politicians due to her battles in court over Brexit in the past few years. Whatever the politics and views involved, it is very worrying that Cherry had to report a â€œvicious threatâ€ to her personal safety to Police Scotland last night.
The move was announced â€” or rather, announced through omission â€” as part of a February reshuffle for the partyâ€™s Westminster front bench. Managing not to mention her at all, Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the move would help the party â€œdraw on new talentâ€ and that â€œteam working and cooperationâ€ were key going forward.
If those words donâ€™t feel pointed enough already, look no further than the well-connected Andrew Learmonthâ€™s reporting in the National, which says Blackford told Cherry she isnâ€™t a team player and was sacked because she â€œupsets people.â€
The reshuffle leaves Cherry as one of just three of the SNPâ€™s 47 MPs without a role â€” the other two are Kenny MacAskill and Angus MacNeil, both fellow outspoken Salmond allies who have spoken up in Cherryâ€™s defense.
Though Cherry has never been close to Sturgeon or the current leadership, in the past year she has made more of a habit of publicly disagreeing with the leadership, most strongly on trans rights and the partyâ€™s independence strategy.
SNP figures point to one particular interview with the Times in November, where Cherry criticized a lack of â€œcollegiate leadershipâ€ in the party and said debate was being stifled over trans rights. On the latter, Cherry has been vocally critical of the Scottish governmentâ€™s plans to make gender self-ID possible, even clashing with a fellow MP on the issue at the weekend. For Sturgeon-loyal MPs â€” who had, according to the BBCâ€™s Glenn Campbell, been preparing a vote of no-confidence in Cherry â€” the perceived disloyalty had piled up.
On the other hand, supporters of Cherry point to her open proximity to Salmond as the real reason for her banishment from the front bench. One told the Scottish Sunâ€™s Chris Musson the sacking was done â€œunder partly the cover of the self-ID issueâ€ but was far more about Salmond and â€œSturgeonâ€™s need for total loyalty to her.â€ Others highlight Cherryâ€™s apparent popularity among members. One SNP figure told the Times it was a case of â€œtall poppy syndromeâ€ from the SNP top brass. They also predicted members would leave the party in protest.
Cherryâ€™s SNP rogues are unlikely to do anything drastic like split from the party, but do expect them to kick up a fair bit of fuss in the next few days through media appearances and columnists sympathetic to their cause. Most will hold their powder for now, knowing Alex Salmondâ€™s appearance before the Holyrood Salmond inquiry committee this time next week has the potential to be explosive enough.