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SNP in “unprecedented turmoil” after reshuffle according to Edinburgh MP

A senior SNP MP has said the party is in “unprecedented turmoil” after being dropped from the party’s shadow cabinet at Westminster.

Joanna Cherry, MP for Edinburgh South West since 2015, rose to prominence as shadow justice secretary.

In this role, she launched numerous legal cases against the government at the height of Brexit tensions in 2019.

However, in a reshuffle announced last week, she was demoted, leading many to argue the decision was personal as well as political.

Close ally Kenny MacAskill labelled the decision “inexplicable and harmful to our cause.”

Within the SNP, Cherry is a prominent critic of the gender self-identifying legislation that the SNP plan to introduce for trans people.

Current SNP policy is to turn the current draft legislation, open for consultation, into law to make the legal process of gender transitioning less “demeaning, lengthy and stressful” whilst expanding the remit of Westminster’s landmark 2010 Equality Act to protect trans, non-binary and intersex people.

Writing in the New Statesman, Cherry accused the party of “performative histrionics redolent of the Salem witch trials” over the issue, citing the level of abuse she has previously faced for wanting to protect the rights of women.

Her statement was published days after Neale Hanvey was dropped as shadow vaccines spokesman for supporting a campaign to sue fellow MP Kirsty Blackman, who he accused of misogyny.

Blackman supports the right of trans people to self-identify without medical recognition, and is seen as loyal to Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership.

Hanvey’s initial appointment provoked criticism from the Labour MP Ian Murray, who acknowledged on Twitter that the Scottish government did not have its own designated vaccine minister or spokesperson.

Cherry’s positions on trans rights – as well as her vocal defences of Alex Salmond during the Scottish parliament’s inquiry into the Scottish government’s botched investigation into sexual misconduct allegations – highlight the many divisions the SNP are facing in the run up to this year’s Holyrood elections.

Whilst it remains unclear if these divisions have impacted popular opinion of the party, the latest opinion poll – commissioned by The Scotsman – suggests overall support for Scottish independence has dropped for the first time in three months to 47 per cent in favour compared to 41 per cent opposed.

The party currently remains on course for a fourth successive victory at Holyrood, having first entered into a minority government in 2007, before winning a majority in 2011.

In the short term, Cherry’s sacking from the Westminster front bench means that she and MacAskill, two of the most prominent supporters of Alex Salmond, find themselves without a role in the shadow cabinet.

Recent consolidation by the Westminster leadership around Sturgeon has followed a surge in her personal popularity following her handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The SNP’s ability, following the independence referendum of 2014, to become a big tent for the independence movement has enabled the party to gain a comfortable grip on power north of the border.

Sturgeon will be keen to avoid any future disputes which threaten to put the unity of the SNP, and its strong footing in Holyrood, into question.

Image: David Woolfall via Wikipedia

By Callum Devereux

Editor-in-Chief May 2022-present
Former Deputy EIC & Opinion Editor