OPINION: SNP dropping Joanna Cherry is a concern for those of us who want independence

It seems to me that the SNP Westminster Group’s reshuffle today was a very public and very blunt message being sent to Joanna Cherry. Make no mistake about it, this is a factional battle playing out in public.

Joanna Cherry QC is an incredibly popular politician in the independence movement, and she is most certainly the frontrunner outside the establishment Sturgeon camp when it comes to identifying Nicola Sturgeon’s successor. And with the Gender Recognition Reform a difficult topic, and the Sturgeon/Salmond splits in the party, it isn’t really a great shock to see the party hierarchy move to weaken the opposing faction’s leading figurehead. Not to mention the fact that Joanna Cherry is herself concerned about the Scottish Government’s plans on Gender.

It does of course raise questions of how justifiable it is to bench a star performer, known UK-wide for victories against the UK Government. She is a respected politician and the public, and wider Yes movement like her. Therefore, the big question for the SNP leadership is how they intend to manage the reaction of their members?

The SNP Common Weal group enjoyed great success at the recent internal elections. Their founder and convener, Craig Berry expressed his disappointment with the decision to drop Cherry from the Westminster front bench. There are other SNP members considering their membership with the party and expressing their intentions to raise the issue of Cherry’s removal with their branches.

I find it difficult to see how this goes away. If anything it might just galvanise the anti-Sturgeon SNP members behind Cherry. It could, of course, galvanise the anti-Cherry faction also. With the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints still to welcome Alex Salmond and the First Minister to their hearings, we could see the disgruntlement crystalize into a full throated call for Ms Cherry to replace Ms Sturgeon.

No matter what the inquiry finds, or the investigation into possible breaches of the ministerial code by the First Minister, I expect there to be a motion of no confidence tabled at Holyrood against the First Minister by the Conservatives. The bit I’m unsure about is how many sitting SNP MSPs might vote with it and if the idea of Cherry as leader will help convince enough of them to. I suspect that if there is little blowback against Sturgeon following the conclusion of the inquiry and investigation then the SNP will close ranks and see off the vote.

Nonetheless, there is a lot of messy internal disagreements going on in the SNP. While many of the anti-Sturgeon faction have held firm to date, one has to wonder if this Cherry affair might just tip them into full on dissent and action. This is as much a battle for the future of the party as it is about Salmond vs Sturgeon in the short term. The disagreements about the policy for achieving independence is personified in Cherry vs Sturgeon. The party will have to be flexible enough to survive this and heal. Or else I suspect their will be a lot of people in Joanna Cherry’s ear trying to convince to strike out from the SNP and launch a new political party.

The hope amongst those of us who support independence has to be that this doesn’t derail the progress that has been made, and that it doesn’t deny the team of one of its star players come kick-off for Indyref2.

Author: Grant McKenzie

Grant McKenzie is a freelance journalist, broadcaster and streamer. He is the founder of Cross/Rip. He works in radio and has written for Bella Caledonia, DC Thomson and Johnston Press in both news and sport. Grant has worked covering the SPFL, Solheim Cup and European Tour. He also streams regularly on Twitch talking about various issues including mental health. Grant is also a proud Dundonian studying a part time MA degree at the University of Dundee.

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