The Patrick Grady scandal has shown the SNP to be just like all the rest
For a party that has taken hating the Palace of Westmonster – as some of its MPs have dubbed it – to an art form, for the SNP to be shown the moral high ground by the House of Commons is a humiliation that not only exposes the rotten hypocrisy at the core of its leader’s much trumpeted policy of zero tolerance to harassment and abuse, but also ignominiously, for a party that trades on exceptionalism, shows itself up to be just like the rest.
For despite some in the party having known about serious complaints made against the now former SNP MP Patrick Grady for some years now, it has taken the Westminster authorities, and not Mr Grady’s own party, to impose sanctions on the MP for Glasgow North for making “an unwanted sexual advance” towards a teenage party worker.
And while the party has since championed support for the shamed MP in his comeback after a 48-hour exclusion, scant regard has been paid to the emotions of the young man at the core of this scandal who was just 19 at the time and has waited six years for any justice to be done.
And while the risible two-day suspension from the House of Commons for Grady, and the removal of the party whip during that absence may, to those of us looking in from the real world where sexual harassment carries a much heavier price, derisory, it is still more than the party of the self-righteous has done.
Having sat on its hands for years; having mishandled the complaint; having had the leader of the Westminster group, Ian Blackford, “ambush” the young man into a highly unorthodox face-to-face meeting with his abuser which made him feel “bounced” into accepting an apology from the much older Grady who was crying and asking for forgiveness; having allegedly attempted to smear and besmirch the complainant as a fantasist with a drink problem, the party was only forced into any real action last March when the nature of the complaint went public, and Nicola Sturgeon, who lest you forget is the leader of said party, was able to recall that she had “an awareness previously of a concern, but not a formal complaint”.
Sturgeon is right to say that all parties have faced these kinds of scandals but the fact that there were two byelections in England last week is precisely because those MPs from other parties were suspended and then resigned.
Patrick Grady has spent six years knowing these complaints were hanging like a sword of Damocles over him. In that time, he was promoted to being chief whip, has stood as an SNP candidate during two general elections, and has led a debate on harassment in the Commons while being investigated for harassment by the Commons. You couldn’t make it up.
This is abuse in plain sight. And no matter what end of the lens you choose to view it from, this was just an age-old power dynamic at play.
The situation was already messy enough, but the SNP’s leadership just seemed intent in making everything so much worse.
From the leaked recording of an SNP group meeting in which Blackford can be heard calling for the party to rally round Grady in this time of need, through to Amy Callaghan cheer leading for Grady only to recant less than 24-hours later when she realized how tin-eared that must have sounded to victims, to the late night threat from the chief whip to call in the police to investigate who did the leaking, it’s been a disaster that has never had the complainant at its heart.
Blackford has faced repeated calls for him to resign over the mess and in a television interview which made for uncomfortable viewing refused to explicitly answer the question, “is it appropriate for a sex pest to be an MP?”
Of course, the answer is no. For outsiders looking in it is always hard to explain how the first instinct for politicians whose colleague has been found guilty of complaints made against them of a serious sexual nature, could forget about who really matters here. But that would be to completely misunderstand the bizarre nature of party politics where the defensive reflex is built in.
But it is difficult to see, given its travails around harassment of recent years, how the party got this so wrong. This is a party that has shown itself ill-equipped to deal with investigating itself, highly selective in its complaints process, and for whom the blame always lies elsewhere.
Nicola Sturgeon has previously claimed that in relation to a zero-tolerance approach to harassment, she refuses to follow the age-old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connections to get what he wants.
But these are just words. The age-old pattern here is not about the first minister, as a woman, taking the blame for the actions of a man, it is about a party that she leads, closing ranks simply to prevent any tremor that could threaten to topple her House of Cards. And in that, the SNP has proven itself to be no different from any other.
This article first appeared in the Sunday Post.