Disgraced MP risks undermining public health advice by defying calls to quit, Sturgeon warns

Dan Sanderson
·4-min read
Nicola Sturgeon with Margaret Ferrier ahead of the 2019 general election - Jane Barlow/PA
Nicola Sturgeon with Margaret Ferrier ahead of the 2019 general election - Jane Barlow/PA

Nicola Sturgeon has warned a disgraced MP who committed an “egregious” breach of coronavirus rules that she risks undermining vital public health messages if she continues to defy her call to quit politics.

Margaret Ferrier was again urged on Monday to quit her Commons seat by the First Minister, after she travelled to Westminster after experiencing virus symptoms and undergoing a test, only to travel back to Scotland by train after receiving a positive result.

The Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP has remained silent since she released a statement apologising for the breach on Thursday. 

Both Ms Sturgeon and Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, have publicly called for her to resign her seat, although they cannot force her to do so.

Speaking at her daily press briefing , Ms Sturgeon warned that her continued refusal to step down from her £81,932 post risked undermining the confidence of the public in the rules.

Ms Sturgeon, who mistakenly referred to the MP as “Margaret Covid”, said: “I couldn’t be clearer that I think she should step down as an MP. The reason I’m clear about that is I do think when you have egregious cases of people like MPs breaching the guidelines there is a danger that it undermines the public health message. 

“For me right now there is nothing more important than the public health message, that’s why I’ve made it very clear that I think she should step down.”

The First Minister added that there were House of Commons procedures that could be pursued to oust Ms Ferrier, who was an SNP MP until she had the whip removed for the breach.

Should she be suspended from parliament for 10 sitting days, her constituents could trigger a by-election if 10 per cent sign a petition calling for the move.

Although she was last week only suffering mild symptoms, Ms Sturgeon suggested that the virus, rather than defiance of her call for her to quit, could explain the delay.

“It doesn’t take away from the very real anger that I still feel at her actions, but she does have Covid,” she said. 

“Perhaps there is an element there of bearing that in mind in terms of the timing of some of the decisions she might arrive at.” 

While a series of SNP MPs have called on Ms Ferrier to stand down, George Kerevan, a former nationalist MP, offered her support. He suggested she had been the victim of “trial by media” and attacked “virtue signallers” in his own party.

Writing in The National, a pro-independence newspaper, he described her actions as an obvious “lapse of judgment” but suggested that she had travelled to London for the good of the party.

He wrote: “I can personally understand her motivation in travelling down to London and Westminster… she went there, ill advised as her decision was, to give her Scottish constituents a voice and to try and hold the incompetent, flailing, useless, arrogant, racist government of Boris Johnson to account. Personally, I find that somewhat heroic.” He then suggested she had travelled back to Scotland as she could not face self-isolating in "lonely London".

Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is to hold a virtual meeting with Ms Ferrier’s constituents tomorrow. The party would see the seat as an attainable target in a by-election, having won it in the 2017 election only for the SNP to regain it last year.

Sir Keir Starmer will hold a call with members of the public in the constituency on Wednesday -  Dominic Lipinski /PA
Sir Keir Starmer will hold a call with members of the public in the constituency on Wednesday - Dominic Lipinski /PA

Ms Sturgeon rejected accusations that the SNP was “dragging its heels” over expelling Ms Ferrier from the party, saying it was legally-bound to follow “due process”

Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said:  “If the SNP expect the public to keep making sacrifices, they’ve got to take action, warm words won’t cut it.

“This is not a trial by media. It’s a trial by her own sheer stupidity and there is no doubt she’s guilty, so the SNP must expel her.”