Scottish independence: Joanna Cherry and other Alex Salmond supporters are waging civil war within SNP at precisely the wrong time – Laura Waddell

News of Joanna Cherry’s shuffling off the SNP’s frontbench should please those whose priority is independence, rather than stoking civil war.

Joanna Cherry’s early potential as an SNP politician has been squandered on petty battles, the gender debate, and loyalty to Alex Salmond, says Laura Waddell (Picture: Isabel Infantes/Getty Images)

Those who supported independence in 2014 know how slow the climb has been to this point; before that, even longer for the SNP to be seen as a serious force. As a Yes voter, I still remember the chills I felt seeing newsstands on the cold misty eve of the vote showing the latest poll ticking over the line to 51 per cent. It felt historic.

It must not be taken for granted that polls now consistently favour Yes, nor the record popularity of SNP leadership. Those bent on stoking civil war risk endangering all by magnifying grievances.

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A scorched earth approach to avenging Alex Salmond and advancing fractious figures within the party could not be more damaging to the cause for so little benefit to anyone else. Nobody whose own colleagues can’t stand them has a hope in hell of either climbing to the top spot, or convincing No voters about independence. Twitter trolls may be a formidable force in bloating the ego and attacking foes, but they do not convert to true political esteem.

But what would be the point in independence that harks back to conservative social values? For those who object to Cherry’s approach to Gender Recognition Act reform, including young SNP activists, first attracted by its progressive image, who quit the party, the reshuffling was a happy start to LGBT history month.

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Personally, I couldn’t be excited about an independent Scotland that operates with even a hint of how politicians have weaponised GRA reform. I have no patience for the ‘both sides’ analysis of the situation if one side has all the power – parliamentarians, lawyers, and strong representation in the press. The massive power disparity, and their responsibility for the tone of the debate being dragged into the mud has to be taken into account.

As for women’s rights, and these are MY rights, not some hypothetical talking point, I firmly believe women are not safe in a country that lets the loudest voices – those with the greatest power in society – scaremonger about minorities and bodily autonomy.

If the leading party of an independent Scotland can’t stand up to right-wing bigots, or indeed turns its head from them being courted, it’s aping Westminster rather than aspiring to something better.

So how does a parliamentarian, mere years ago a rising star, fall from grace to the point their demotion is celebrated by onlookers?

It’s a tragedy of her own making that Cherry was once clearly an asset to the SNP. Among the unprecedented 2015 intake, varying in talent, a few stood out. In Cherry was a forthright legal brain capable of taking on Westminster foes and challenging their greasy ability to weasel out of answering Scottish questions.

Clips of her performances went viral, second only to the authentic sensation of Mhairi Black representing the people of Paisley. Cherry soared highest with the victory over the Supreme Court on the matter of parliament closing in the run-up to Brexit D-Day. In her early years at Westminster, it seemed inevitable her career in the SNP would continue to grow.

But in the last two years standards have taken a precipitous plunge. Contrary to the opinion of a legion of online fans, including many anon accounts from the “gender critical” swamp and diehard Salmondites who see her as his true heir, any politician who wants to rise to the top needs the support and esteem of their peers. It’s no secret Cherry has had run-ins with many of her party colleagues behind the scenes: much has been played out online for anyone to see.

Cherry’s early potential has been squandered by trumpeting on social media about petty battles, the gamble of making the GRA reform a flagship issue, and loyalty to Salmond.

His own drama with SNP leadership is still unfolding, but what modern party needs an MP harking back to a time before the dial on the polls clicked to indy? In a recent letter to the Irish Times, Cherry took umbrage with accomplished writer Fintan O’Toole, complaining Salmond hadn’t been mentioned in his article, as though she were his press spokeswoman. But the independence movement is evolving to a newer, more successful phase.

“SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford announces a reshuffle of his frontbench – without a single mention of the most notable sacking Joanna Cherry” was a typical press tweet, this one from Financial Times Whitehall editor Sebastian Payne.

The belief it’s all about Cherry is exactly the problem. Recently, every action the SNP takes has being viewed through a cherry-coloured prism, and in the foreground is carnage.

On Monday senior indy commentators like Iain Macwhirter and Lesley Riddoch were "astonished” by the reshuffle, as though repercussions for lack of party loyalty is something they’ve never encountered in lengthy political reporting careers.

But what happened was unsurprising, happening in every party, at every reshuffle. Some bide their time and reappear later. Some instead moan to Twitter about it.

A party needs internal debate in order to grow. But disloyalty is not debate; it is trouble making. No party wants to be putting out small fires every other day.

On the eve of the last few SNP conferences, stories undermining the present leadership and exclusive interviews with Cherry reliably appeared in the right-leaning press, dominating the news cycle and online discussion for days afterwards, obscuring conference highlights.

The SNP, once compact, prided itself on a tight ship. But now it has swollen to Scottish Labour proportions in the days before that party haemorrhaged public support.

The tension, threatening to break the party apart, couldn’t hold indefinitely. On Monday afternoon many independence supporters were delighted to see the demotion of Joanna Cherry. And that is not what the independence campaign, nor the country, needs in a figure who would be leader.

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