Right or wrong, SNP women accorded early notoriety, but no ‘proof’ yet

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Nicola McGarry on election night last May

Commentary by Derek Bateman

At last, the SNP are in trouble. You can almost hear the squeals of delight. It’s what David Clegg and the one-eyed Record live for. When you’ve been systematically humiliated, rejected, reduced to electoral rubble and find yourself defenceless with neither leadership nor policy, you have to hang on to something. And somebody else’s woes will do. That yet another young Scottish woman politician has a difficulty is of no matter – just keep pushing to get her out…all that feminist solidarity thing can wait for another day.

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

Intriguingly, not one of Jennifer Dempsie, Michelle Thomson nor Natalie McGarry has been ‘convicted’ of anything. In politics, which should be the arena for a higher standard of probity, this makes no difference. It is enough to brand, accuse and smear. Job done. And behind each you’ll find the impressive figure of Jackie Baillie, exultant smile on face, pointing to the gallows. Grateful we are for one of such imperious moral standards and rectitude who has never put a foot wrong.

It would be interesting to ask voters which of the four women mentioned they would prefer. Ms Baillie might be in for a shock. As indeed might Labour if her campaign to oust Nationalist MPs were to be successful. In Edinburgh West Thomson has a 3200 majority but that’s over the Lib Dems. Does anybody see them surging to by-election success? And it’s the Tories who are in third with Labour back at number four on less than 12 per cent of the vote. There is little sign here of a potential Green rush either to take SNP votes. They came in with 2 per cent, fractionally ahead of UKIP.

DISAFFECTED

Labour is in second position in Glasgow East but Natalie McGarry was swept in with a majority of 10,387. Looking at the polls, do you see Margaret Curran recovering that ground nine months on? McGarry has 57 per cent of the votes, a stonking endorsement. Of course if found guilty of some heinous crime, public support could in theory evaporate overnight but to whom would the disaffected turn? Would they welcome the return of Curran, the Trident-replacing, £180,000-a-year expenses claimant who was blamed by Johann Lamont for her downfall and who is disliked by another Glasgow fixer, Anas Sarwar?

There is lingering discontent that a high proportion of party funds were directed to Glasgow East at the expense of other seats in the General Election meltdown. A by-election would be a serious test of Labour activism and just imagine the doubly crushing effect of losing seats twice over. Such an outcome would deflate further the oxygen-starved Labour effort, make certain a Labour rout next May and leave Dugdale’s leadership on life support. But I’m sure Jackie could come up with a good excuse. Ms Baillie should be careful what she wishes for.

I confess to being confused by her attempts to liken McGarry to Alistair Carmichael and the suggestion she was incorrectly elected. Carmichael admitted lying to the voters about the leak of a document designed to damage his opponents and not owning up until after he was narrowly re-elected. The court ruled ‘a false statement about his own personal character or conduct made before or during an election for the purpose of affecting his return at the election’ had the effect of engaging section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

The judges then stated that they wish to hear evidence in relation to two remaining issues – the distinction between a personal and political lie for the purposes of the act, and whether that lie affected the ultimate outcome of Carmichael’s election.

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP '56': facing a backlash from familiar opponents, post election
Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP ’56’: facing a backlash from familiar opponents, post election

As far as we know, McGarry is implicated in funds from a separate campaign group going missing. They did so during the independence referendum, not in the General Election so the Baillie charge is irrelevant. Also did McGarry speak about this before or during the election? Did she lie to voters? Did she make a false statement about her character or conduct? Was she manipulating events illegally to ensure her election? Did it affect the outcome? Eh, no.

In the certain knowledge that I’ll offend someone, let me speculate nevertheless. The matter of the missing money has been referred to the police but there is no indication that a law has been breached. If she was nominated to have responsibility for the account, was she not therefore authorized to use the money? It seems WFI had not been incorporated into a formal entity at the time and therefore there were no rules or protocols to be observed when it came to expenditure. Whose money was it? If it’s raised for a campaign, does not an official of the campaign have the authority over it? If there is no legal entity in existence at the time, there is no entity to be ‘robbed’.

TRUST

There would certainly have been a matter of personal trust involved and that may be the reason for WFI disquiet but that’s a personal issue between the individuals involved. The public who donated are unlikely to have specified what their donation should be spent on in detail and so long as it can be said to meet the published description – spent broadly on WFI work in the referendum – there appears to be no comeback.

It looks like a breach of trust between individuals at worst and at best, a misunderstanding. Grisly and destructive of reputation for sure, but hardly terminal for her career, especially if they agree to a rapprochement based perhaps on some repayment. This is not strictly a party issue – it involves a separate organization composed of all parties and none – so there is unlikely to be a reason for the SNP to refuse her the whip. Where Baillie is right however is that both Carmichael and McGarry will be accompanied henceforth by the whiff of notoriety.

(Wonder why the Thomson inquiry is taking so long? If it’s mortgage fraud, the lender could tell the police in a single phone call.)