Patrick Grady row won’t hurt my Scottish independence plans, says Nicola Sturgeon

·2 min read
Nicola Sturgeon - Lesley Martin/PA Wire
Nicola Sturgeon - Lesley Martin/PA Wire

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted that the civil war enveloping the SNP’s Westminster group over an MP under police investigation for alleged sexual assault will not overshadow her independence blueprint.

The First Minister said that a mounting scandal would not hamper her efforts to deliver a separation vote as she prepared to unveil a “route map” to a new referendum at Holyrood.

She insisted that Ian Blackford, the SNP’s embattled Westminster leader, retained her support despite growing calls for him to stand down.

Mr Blackford initially urged MPs to rally behind Patrick Grady, a former SNP chief whip, who was found by a Westminster investigation to have made an unwanted sexual advance to a 19-year-old party staffer.

At the weekend, Mr Grady suspended his party membership after it emerged that police were investigating the incident, which took place in a London pub in 2016, meaning that he will sit in the Commons as an independent MP.

Patrick Grady - Richard Townshend
Patrick Grady - Richard Townshend

Ms Sturgeon confirmed to STV News that Mr Grady had suspended his party membership after the SNP initially refused to clarify whether he had resigned or been ousted. She also denied that the situation would hamper her referendum plan.

She said: “He’s not in SNP membership at the moment, there is a police investigation… ongoing and it’s important that we respect that and I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment in more detail.”

Asked why it was left to Mr Grady to take action to suspend his membership rather than the party, Ms Sturgeon said: “Last week, I set out in the chamber more broadly on that the reflections that I think are important on the part of the SNP.

“I’ll continue to take that forward and given developments over the weekend in Patrick Grady’s case, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to go into any more detail.”

Ian Blackford - PA Wire
Ian Blackford - PA Wire

Ms Sturgeon last week described SNP MPs’ backing of Mr Grady, which became public through a leaked recording of a group meeting, as “utterly unacceptable”.

Mr Blackford was heard on the tape urging his MPs to offer their “absolute full support” to Mr Grady, although he withdrew his backing for him last week, hours after Ms Sturgeon was repeatedly questioned over the affair by opposition parties at Holyrood.

Asked whether Mr Blackford retained her support, Ms Sturgeon said: “Yes, he does.”

She said that she was not aware of the detail of further allegations that Mr Blackford had regularly “manhandled” and bullied an SNP worker. Mr Blackford denies the allegations.