Talk is cheap for Secret Sturgeon and her ‘defence’ of SNP harassment victims

First Minister’s claims that she did not preside over ‘culture of secrecy’ ring hollow to those who suffered at the hands of her colleagues

There was a stench of humbug in the air on Thursday as Nicola Sturgeon tried to present herself as a defender for the victims of sexual harassment and bullying by senior nationalists. 

In the face of accusations that her only concern has been protecting the SNP’s good name, she insisted that her record in refusing to cover up high-profile accusations against Alex Salmond proved that she did not preside over a “culture of secrecy” in her party.

Mr Salmond had denied the accusations and was subsequently acquitted after a high-profile court case two years ago.

But this and other excuses rang hollow given that she has always been quick off the mark to highlight bad behaviour by Tories, and in no way did it wipe out the stain of the appalling treatment meted out by her party in offering succour and comfort to a sex pest rather than to the young man he had abused.

The First Minister has only now agreed to meet the party worker who had been sexually harassed by Patrick Grady, the SNP’s chief whip in the Commons. And this, six years after the incident occurred, and only after he had complained publicly on Thursday about his ordeal, saying that his life as a result of the ordeal was “torture” and “a living hell”.

Douglas Ross, of the Scottish Tories, said that the young staff member has been disregarded and that he claimed Grady and Ian Blackford tried to “take advantage of me being young and inexperienced”. In Mr Ross’s words: “The victim feels betrayed.”

Grovelling apologies galore

Ms Sturgeon sought to distance herself from Mr Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, and the bulk of her MPs who had been secretly recorded cheering, applauding and shouting their backing for Grady, who has been suspended for two days by the Commons authorities for sexually harassing the party worker.

And yet, according to Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, in the six years since he had committed the harassment, Grady had fought two general elections, been promoted to chief whip and had actually led for his party in a debate on sexual harassment.

Furthermore, only this week one of Ms Sturgeon’s senior colleagues, Angus Robertson, the constitutional affairs minister, appeared to sum up the disgraceful attitude of the party’s leadership when he said that Grady’s offence should not be regarded as “career-ending”.

The angry reaction to the nationalists’ laissez-faire attitude to this case has now led to grovelling apologies, including one from Ms Sturgeon at Question Time, when she insisted that she did not plan to “defend the indefensible”, adding: “I am going to take action to put them right.”

Less humbug, more reflection needed

However, that statement did not square with what she planned to do to meet complaints from Mr Sarwar that, in another case, she had kept secret the details and outcome of bullying accusations levelled against a former senior minister.

She has repeatedly said that she could not say anything about this case for fear of identifying the victim, but has now changed her mind. 

However, in spite of independent legal advice that she could now discuss it, she claimed that her government lawyers had advised her that she could only identify those involved in future cases.

Mr Sarwar had said that after 15 years, there was “a culture of secrecy and cover-up at the heart” of the SNP government. But Ms Sturgeon said the evidence of her clashes with Mr Salmond refuted that allegation because she had “refused to brush things under the carpet”.

The jury’s still out on that. But what is clear is that there is a young man who believes his life has been ruined by his association with the SNP. Ms Sturgeon should reflect on that now.