Nicola Sturgeon has condemned the behavior of her own MPs as “completely unacceptable” after a leaked audio recording appeared to show some of the SNP’s Westminster group gathering behind a colleague who had been suspended for making an unwanted sexual approach to a teen employee.
It was the party’s former Commons chief whip Patrick Grady suspended from Parliament for two days last week after an independent panel found he had behaved inappropriately towards the 19-year-old man at a social event in October 2016.
At a Prime Minister’s Question (FMQs) session on Thursday, Sturgeon was repeatedly challenged over her party’s treatment of the victim. He has accused the SNP of serial errors in their handling of his informal then-formal complaints, which have taken six years to reach a conclusion in which Grady was promoted and the victim says he found himself ostracized by the Westminster office.
Sturgeon offered to meet the man to apologize to him in person, amid widespread frustration among SNP activists over what many see as a systemic error in dealing with harassment and other complaints openly and equally.
The Guardian understands that Sturgeon’s reprimand was met with “rage” from some SNP MPs, who believe they are being forced to take responsibility for management failures in both Westminster and Holyrood.
The group was allegedly threatened with criminal acts due to the Daily Mail leak of the recording, in which several MPs speak for Grady, including Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who says he would “encourage the group to provide as much support as possible”.
Sturgeon’s critique of the leaked footage, which she said “suggests that more concern was shown for the perpetrator of this behavior than was shown for the victim of it”, would add force to repeated calls for Blackford’s resignation, although most had previously assumed his position to be safe because of his proximity to the Prime Minister.
Tuesday night, Blackford announced an external review after fellow MP Amy Callaghan accused the SNP of “clearly falling short” of supporting complaints of sexual harassment. Grady’s victim immediately dismissed this as an advertising stunt.
In broadcast interviews Thursday night, Blackford said he would not resign and that it was up to Grady “to reflect on his behavior”.
Meanwhile, a group of respected activists, as an indication of the strength of the SNP grassroots sentiment, are planning a proposal for the next party conference calling for zero tolerance for sexual harassment and more explicit and consistent sanctions in the handling of complaints .
Grady’s victim says that the way his complaint was handled – including that he was moved from his job at the Whips office, instead of Grady himself being relocated – has only exacerbated his stress, but that he has little faith in, that progress is being made. He told the Guardian: “Any change in the party’s procedures would have to be adopted at the conference, which would mean that victims and politicians would all have something to say and this is not a debate the party wants to have in public”.
In her final report to the party’s National Executive Committee, published last December, the SNP’s former gender equality activist Fiona Robertson warned of the “value of years” of internal complaints still waiting to be dealt with by officials and a current system “unsuitable for the purpose” “.
This criticism is repeated by other SNP insiders who say the party has never dealt with becoming a mass membership organization after 2014 and the consultation, transparency and accountability that it requires.
On Wednesday, the party’s youth wing issued an online statement calling for a review of the party’s grievance procedures at all levels, urging MPs and MSPs to “double their efforts to strengthen an atmosphere of tolerance, security and inclusion in our party”.
Another activist, who joined the party in 2019 after the referendum campaign and is heavily involved in the daily campaign, explained: “If we do not improve the way we deal with harassment, I am concerned about how it affects our vision for independence. “We have new members coming in every day who feel left out by the British government, but how do we convince them that the SNP is not like the Tories? The party has to take a long, hard look at itself.”