However, asked about the Commons Standards Committee’s recommendation to suspend disgraced former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier from the Commons for 30 days – a sanction that could result in a recall by-election – the new First Minister said he thought her constituents should get the chance to replace her. A politician saying what is right, even though it conflicts with their own interests, is worthy of praise.
Opinion will be divided over whether Ferrier, who travelled by train despite knowing she had Covid at a time when there was no vaccine, is guilty of a worse offence than Boris Johnson, who broke his own lockdown rules and then clearly lied about doing so.
Johnson is also facing a possible suspension that could lead to recall election, and some of those involved in recommending Ferrier’s punishment will also judge him. An SNP MP and, curiously, three Conservative MPs on the committee voted to reduce Ferrier's suspension to nine days, just below the ten-day threshold that allows a potential recall election. And all four sit on the Privileges Committee that is to rule on whether Johnson knowingly misled MPs over Partygate and, if so, what sanction to recommend to MPs.
In the Commons, MPs are not permitted to call each other liars for good reason: if this accusation was made on a routine basis, cynicism about politics would soar. So MPs who abuse this rule, who lie knowing they have a degree of protection, should face serious punishment.
The introduction of recall elections was a welcome step to give voters the power to throw out badly behaved MPs, many of whom cling defiantly to their jobs, regardless of the extent of their disgrace. It is good that Ferrier’s constituents now look likely to be given the power to do so and Johnson’s should too.
It would send a message to all MPs that parliament requires them to adhere to reasonable standards of behaviour and to be honest. And that message would be heard by the public, helping to rebuild much-needed trust in our most important institution. Failing to do so will have the opposite effect.