SNP 'no longer stands up for Scotland' claims veteran MSP as he is suspended from party
Fergus Ewing launched a fierce attack on his party’s direction of travel and accused it of no longer standing up for Scotland’s interests after his colleagues voted to throw him out of the SNP with a one week suspension.
The unprecedented disciplinary action against Mr Ewing comes after he defied party whips in a no confidence vote against a Scottish Green government minister, and follows months of stinging criticism of policies such as the deposit return scheme, highly protected marine areas, and the failure to dual the A9.
Repeating these criticisms, he said he had “bit my tongue” during his time in cabinet as rural affairs secretary when he disagreed with policies, but said he now faced the choice of standing up for his constituency or toeing the party line.
Walking into the meeting of the party group, the veteran MSP quipped “Je ne regrette rien”, referencing Norman Lamont’s comments ahead of the former Tory chancellor’s resignation from the John Major government in 1993.
SNP MSPs voted in private on a motion to suspend Mr Ewing from the party for one week, with 48 voting in favour, nine against, and four abstaining. Both the current First Minister, Humza Yousaf, and the former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, were not present.
It is the first time any SNP MSP has been suspended from the party by the MSP group in this manner since devolution, and further underlines the near complete break-down in discipline among party representatives.
Flanked by defeated leadership contender and fellow Highland MSP, Kate Forbes, his sister, Annabelle Ewing MSP, Borders MSP Christine Grahame, and his lawyer, Mr Ewing delivered a stinging rebuke of Humza Yousaf and Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership.
“I thought fundamentally that the party that has been such a big part of my life was fundamentally proceeding in the right way for Scotland and standing up for Scotland,” he said.
“The SNP is not an ordinary party, we are a party that has always put Scotland first and that means, to me, putting the interests of the people of Scotland first.
“But in good conscience, and it aggrieves me to say this, I don’t believe that is any longer the case.”
The veteran MSP is a fierce critic of the Bute House power-sharing agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens, and reserved criticism for policies driven through parliament during its existence such as the deposit return scheme.
He said: “I’ve never thought I would reach the stage where there is a conflict between my party and my constituency.
“I always thought and believed, when I was serving the party loyally, that we were standing up for both country and constituency. That was the essence of the SNP.
“I have found, I am afraid, that that is no longer the case.”
Mr Ewing also made references to the failed dualling of the A9 and said he had chosen to defend his constituents, rather than the government.
“What am I to do now?,” he said.
“Am I to pretend that the promises to provide the Highlands with safe roads were never made and can be ignored?
“Or am I to proceed as I have done and speak out fearlessly on these matters as I have done, and apply the same pressure as I did along with others, that has already dumped the deposit return scheme and HPMAs.
“I chose to defend my constituents' interests and let the cards fall where they may.”
Sanctioning the veteran MSP is a watershed moment for the party due to the connection of the Ewing name with the SNP’s history, notably through the campaigning and election victories of his mother, Winnie Ewing, who died earlier this year.
It also has the possibility of opening up fresh wounds in the party, after Kate Forbes, the defeated leadership contender, and her campaign manager Michelle Thomson warned Humza Yousaf he should be “extraordinarily careful” and that a sanction was “unwise and unnecessary”.
Asked for her reaction as she left Holyrood, Ms Forbes said she had “always valued” Mr Ewing as a “fellow Highland MSP”.
Others in the party suggested the decision was symbolic of a changing SNP.
Mr Ewing refused to take any questions including whether he intended to appeal the decision or whether he would call a by-election by resigning his seat.
He had attended the hearing alongside one of Scotland’s most senior lawyers, John Campbell KC, who worked as counsel for the Holyrood inquiry which examined the overspend connected to the construction of the parliament building.
Despite the vote by the SNP group, Mr Ewing has two weeks to appeal the decision which will then be considered by the party’s ruling body, the national executive committee.
This could result in Mr Ewing not being officially suspended until late October or November ahead of any final NEC decision, with any suspension only beginning after this decision or at the end of the appeal period.
Mr Ewing faced the disciplinary action after he defied party whips and voted against the government in a no confidence vote against Scottish Green minister, Lorna Slater in June
SNP sources at the time said the move would result in the MSP for Inverness and Nairn losing the whip, with one describing the veteran former minister as “toast”.
Party whips had warned rebels that voting in favour of the no-confidence motion relating to Ms Slater would result in them losing the whip. Mr Ewing was the only SNP MSP to vote against the Government.
In a statement in June, Mr Ewing said Ms Slater had lost the confidence of business and a change was required in her role running the deposit return scheme.
He said he had “voted today to seek a new minister appointed to take over this troubled matter to deal with the huge fallout of numerous compensation claims and reconsider afresh how best to achieve recycling objectives”.
Removing the whip from Mr Ewing reduces the Government majority to 68, but would go some way to tackle the accusations that a lack of action against the rebels within the SNP had left Mr Yousaf “weak”.
Scottish Conservative party chairman, Craig Hoy said the First Minister should be listening to Mr Ewing.
He said: “Humza Yousaf has once again shown his contempt for remote and rural Scotland by punishing an MSP who has dared to point out how his government has failed these areas.
“The SNP leader should be listening to Fergus Ewing on issues like oil and gas, dualling the A9 and devastating fishing restrictions, rather than being in thrall to the extremist Greens.
“It tells you everything you need to know about Humza Yousaf’s priorities that Lorna Slater remains in government despite her catastrophic mishandling of the Deposit Return Scheme, while a member of his own party who rightly called for her to go has been ostracised.”
A spokesperson for the SNP Holyrood group said: "At a meeting this evening, a proposal was carried to suspend Fergus Ewing from the SNP Holyrood Group for a period of one week."
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