A 50-year veteran of the SNP who served as election agent for Joanna Cherry quit the party after a bitter clash with the MP now engulfed in a row over bullying allegations, it has emerged.
Bill Henderson, who also helped run winning election campaigns for two SNP Holyrood candidates, left the party over personal differences with the Edinburgh South MP.
It comes after days of recriminations over complaints from four former staffers in Ms Cherry’s constituency office, which are now being considered by Commons officials and which the MP strongly denies.
Ms Cherry has suggested she is the victim of “politically motivated smears” by rivals in the SNP, but was offered support from Nicola Sturgeon yesterday, who called her a “massive asset” to the party.
Mr Henderson served as an SNP Councillor for the Pentland Hills ward in Edinburgh from 2012 until 2017, when he allowed his membership to lapse because he no longer felt able to work with Ms Cherry or remain in the party while she was his local MP.
The pair would have worked closely together during the 2015 general election, but Mr Henderson decided to see out his term on Edinburgh Council before leaving the party.
A senior SNP source confirmed the fall-out was due to a personality rift between the Nationalist stalwart and Ms Cherry. It is understood the pair frequently clashed and did not get on, with the acrimony prompting Mr Henderson to ultimately end his five-decade-long association with the party.
He is not thought to have made any formal complaint. However, the dispute is understood to have resulted in a complaint from Ms Cherry to party officials, alleging bullying by Mr Henderson that left her in tears on the night of her election victory. No action was taken by the SNP. Amid claims the party was descending into infighting, Ms Cherry received a boost from the First Minister, who used her first intervention in the row to describe the Edinburgh South West MP as “hugely talented”.
Ms Sturgeon said it was important that any complaints against Ms Cherry were “properly considered”, but called for “due process”.
Ms Cherry accused others of “lies” and “politically-motivated smears” that “may have come from within my own party”.
She also posted on social media to say support she had received from constituents “makes a nice contrast with [a] lack of support from SNP hierarchy”, who Ms Cherry claimed had failed to contact her when she received death threats that resulted in police officers being sent to her constituency office after she confronted social media company executives over their failure to tackle misogyny.
SNP sources told The Scotsman at the weekend that Ms Cherry is “seen as a rival to both Nicola and Ian [Blackford] and there is a lobby within the party to discredit her”.
The First Minister said she had spoken to Ms Cherry about the matter on Saturday.
“What I would say is this: firstly, Joanna is hugely talented,” Ms Sturgeon said. “She is a massive asset to the SNP and to the Westminster parliamentary group and I think everybody recognises that. Secondly, where complaints are brought forward by the staff of any parliamentarian, it’s important that they’re properly considered, but that should happen under due process, not in the pages of the media.”
Asked if there was infighting within the SNP, Ms Sturgeon said: “No, I don’t think there is.
“The SNP is not just a big party, we represent a mass movement. That’s a real strength, and an attribute that most other leaders of most other parties would give their eye teeth for. There are vibrant debates and that’s a good thing for democracy, but I lead a party that’s very focused.”
Responding to the First Minister’s words, Ms Cherry posted on Twitter she was “pleased to have the support of Nicola Sturgeon”, adding: “I echo the views on the need for due process.”