Nicola Sturgeon was accused of making “the wrong call” as her party is engulfed in factional infighting over allegations of bullying by Joanna Cherry, the Edinburgh South West MP.
Four former members of staff have complained about Ms Cherry and the allegations are being considered by House of Commons officials. But the MP has strongly denied the claims, and publicly declared they are “lies” and “politically-motivated smears”.
On Monday, in an attempt to bridge divides in her party, Ms Sturgeon described Ms Cherry as “hugely talented” and “a massive asset to the SNP and the Westminster parliamentary group”.
She also denied there was any party infighting, saying it was a “mass movement” where “vibrant debates” took place. She added that any complaints had to be “properly considered under due process, not in the pages of the media”.
Ms Cherry later thanked the First Minister on Twitter for her support and said she echoed “the views on the need for due process”.
However, yesterday Scottish Conservative MSP Annie Wells hit out at Ms Sturgeon’s involvement in the matter. She said: “Bullying and harassment are serious allegations and all employees have the right to work in a safe environment.
“Given that disciplinary actions are ongoing, it was ill-advised for the leader of a party to get involved. Time and again Nicola Sturgeon has made the wrong call on issues such as this and she should have learned by now that she should listen first before dismissing these claims.”
Ms Wells made a similar statement on Twitter, but later deleted the tweet after Ms Cherry, a QC, said it was “actionable”.
Ms Cherry did not comment on Ms Wells’ statement, but it is understood she believed it to be defamatory and prejudged the allegations made against her.
The allegations surfaced at the weekend, just days after Ms Cherry spoke of being abused on social media, including receiving death threats for which she required a police presence outside her office.
The abuse stemmed from her appearance at the Commons’ Human Rights Committee where she quizzed a Twitter representative over its banning of “gender-critical” women from its platform when they discuss proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
Ms Cherry was also heavily criticised by the youth wing of her own party after she replied to a tweet in which a Labour women’s officer, Lily Madigan, was misgendered as a “he”.
In a separate case, fellow SNP MP Chris Law, who represents Dundee West, is being taken to an employment tribunal over claims he failed to protect a former caseworker from abuse. Dundee City councillor Roisin Smith has lodged the claim for constructive dismissal. He has denied all the allegations.
A House of Commons spokeswoman said there was “zero tolerance for abuse or harassment”, but that grievances were dealt with in “absolute confidentiality”.