Joanna Cherry: Abrupt sacking of high-profile MP threatens to inflame the SNP's civil war

·4-min read

One of the Scottish National Party's most high-profile MPs has been sacked from a top post at Westminster, in a move that threatens to inflame the civil war between supporters of Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond.

In a ruthless purge by the first minister, top QC Joanna Cherry has been removed from her job as spokesperson on home affairs and justice, a role in which she has been one of the SNP's most able performers in the Commons.

Her abrupt dismissal was immediately seen by SNP MPs as punishment for her strong allegiance to Mr Salmond, the former first minister, who is locked in a brutal battle with his successor over sexual misconduct allegations against him.

Ms Cherry's dismissal from the SNP's front bench team at Westminster was confirmed in a statement from the party's Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, announcing a reshuffle of his team but making no mention of her removal.

That prompted Ms Cherry, whose political victories have included teaming up with businesswoman Gina Miller to overturn Boris Johnson's suspension of parliament in the Supreme Court in September 2019, to break the news herself.

In an angry tweet, Ms Cherry, MP for Edinburgh South West since 2015, said: "Despite hard work, results & a strong reputation I've been sacked today from @theSNP front bench.

"My constituents & fellow party members who gave me a resounding mandate in recent NEC [the SNP's national executive committee] elections should rest assured that I will continue to work hard for them."

Allies of Ms Cherry reacted angrily to her dismissal and claimed she had been sacked because she is seen as a rival and potential successor to Ms Sturgeon if the first minister is found guilty of a cover-up over the Salmond controversy and forced to quit.

Last year Ms Cherry's attempt to stand for the Scottish parliament in this May's elections was blocked by the SNP high command - who insisted she would have to quit as a Westminster MP - in a move seen as thwarting a challenge for the party leadership.

It was claimed that her bid to become an MSP at Holyrood was aimed at taking on Sturgeon ally Angus Robertson, who lost his Westminster seat of Moray to the Tories' new Scottish leader Douglas Ross in 2017, for the party leadership.

Reacting to Ms Cherry's dismissal, SNP MP and close Salmond ally Kenny MacAskill, a former Scottish justice secretary, tweeted: "I know how highly rated Joanna Cherry is in UK justice circles as well the party grassroots in Scotland.

"She remains head and shoulders above most others and I for one stand by her. This is the leadership's call but many of us find this inexplicable and harmful to our cause."

Another leading Salmond ally, Angus MacNeil, who chairs the International Trade Committee of MPs, retweeted claims that the decision to sack Ms Cherry was "ridiculous", adding: "Jo was the best of the best at any of the 3rd party briefs."

At Westminster, it is now being viewed as highly significant that after Mr Blackford's reshuffle every SNP has a front bench role except the three seen as closest to Mr Salmond: Ms Cherry, Mr MacAskill and Mr MacNeil.

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Ms Cherry has also clashed with Ms Sturgeon over transgender rights, opposing the first minister's plans for legislation on gender recognition reform. In comments interpreted as being aimed at Ms Cherry, Ms Sturgeon has claimed transphobia is unacceptable in the SNP.

For her part, Ms Cherry has infuriated the first minister and her allies by claiming gains for women's rights over decades could be swept away by the proposed Holyrood legislation allowing men to self-declare themselves as women.

The top QC has also challenged Ms Sturgeon on the party's tactics on a Scottish independence referendum, advocating a plan B which would involve a legal challenge asserting the Scottish parliament's right to hold a vote at the time of its choosing.

But MPs believe the main reason for the purging of Ms Cherry is that she is a leading supporter of Mr Salmond as he seeks revenge in a vendetta against Ms Sturgeon after he was cleared of serious charges in court last year.

Next week a Holyrood investigation is expected to hear the former first minister make the explosive claim that his successor - and former protégé - misled the Scottish Parliament over when she knew about the allegations.