Lisa Cameron's defection to Tories reveals the SNP's lack of leadership – Christine Jardine

Respect for others and personal loyalty are crucial to good leadership

While it was far from the most important thing happening in the world last week, SNP MP Lisa Cameron’s decision to leave her party and join the Conservatives could have far-reaching political consequences. While swapping separatism for the ‘unionist’ cause may have provoked gasps of surprise from the public, not so much at Westminster.

There, the previously hidden cracks in the SNP edifice have become increasingly obvious. That Cameron felt her only option was to leave should set alarm bells ringing in the SNP leadership and membership.

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The dismissal of her decision by her former party’s president, Mike Russell, as an “odd tantrum” was short-sighted and patronising. It might also ultimately be his party's undoing unless they wake up to the message their attitude sends, and the questions it raises over their ability to lead.

To leave the political cause to which you have devoted your time, energy and often substantial funds isn’t easy. There is the thought of letting down activists, friends and even family who have sacrificed their time and often ambitions to get you elected.

In your darkest moments, when you disagree vehemently with the party line or feel personally let down, it is that loyalty, those emotional debts, which keep you in the fold. Personal relationships are key. Neglecting them is dangerous.

To be pushed to the point of leaving is huge. The courage to break those bonds and step away takes strength. It’s clear from Cameron’s explanation that it was not individual differences on policy, or arguments over strategy, but a deeply flawed and unacceptable attitude in the leadership which pushed her to quit. It was an inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to respect individuals or their opinions. To build the personal relationships which are vital to good leadership.

Cameron described in her statement how she felt her contribution was valued by the Prime Minister, saying this was “the first time I have felt heard and shows positive, inclusive leadership in contrast to that which I have encountered in the SNP at Westminster over many years”.

This demonstrated how fundamentally lacking in leadership the SNP is. That obsession with independence which many long suspected was their only concern is shown clearly to be more important even than their own people.

My own experience of Westminster has been very different. I have been fortunate to serve under a number of party leaders who have shown deep respect for all those around them. But I recognise the abusive approach of which Cameron speaks as all too prevalent in Scottish politics.

I suspect it is the result of almost two decades in which identity politics has been paramount. It has been all about individuals and who they are. But not in a good way. It has divided rather than united. Talking at and over all other opinions rather than listening to them, showing respect and finding common ground. Gradually the scope of acceptable opinion has narrowed until even being on the same side of the political debate is not, it seems, enough for the SNP's inner circle.

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Respect for others and personal loyalty are crucial to good leadership. If you can't find it for your own supporters, what hope of achieving it for the rest of the country?

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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