“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--forever.”
Guest Blog by Gordon Millar on his experience of the SNP disciplinary process.
Gordon's testimony -
Oddly enough, I've never been stabbed in the back before. So, now that the dust has settled, I thought that I'd record my experience of being suspended and turned into a non-person by the SNP.
We start on Wednesday morning, two days before the SNP's virtual conference kicks off on Friday.
I've just wasted two days working on a set of accounts with what the client now says were the wrong figures so, as I scan my emails, I'm skipping over all the usual rubbish from what seems like every organisation I've ever interacted with online (note to self – use the “unsubscribe” links!) as I search for the one particular message with the new figures.
So, at first, I don't notice. Then it registers – did one of these messages contain the word “suspension”? What would that be about? I trawl back down the page and, yes, there it is: “National Secretary – suspension of membership”. What! Why!?
But when I open the message, I'm not much wiser: “Dear Mr Millar, I have been alerted to a series of Tweets that you have posted which traduce the reputation of a number of SNP members and question their commitment to independence. I will be forwarding a complaint to the Member Conduct Committee for consideration. In the meantime, I am suspending your membership of the SNP with immediate effect. Yours sincerely, Stewart Stevenson”
You'll notice that there's nothing about which tweets or whose reputation. And what about prior warnings or some sort of procedure? But, as I suspect it would for most people, this blunt message puts me completely on the back foot and these obvious questions don't cross my mind. At least not yet.
In reality, my SNP membership has been on its last legs for a good few months. I started the year as the Political Education Officer of The SNP's London Branch but criticism because I stood in the 2020 internal elections on the Good Guys and CWG lists made this uncomfortable. Subsequently, there was a major dispute over my rather robust criticism of the SNP's attitude towards Alba, the gerrymandering of candidates such as Angus Robertson and Graham Campbell and the blatant dishonesty of the Both Votes SNP campaign. This gave the lie to assurances that differing views were welcome and made remaining in the Branch untenable.
So I suppose that I shouldn't care that much about a Party and a leadership that I no longer have any confidence in. But people's minds don't work like that. I am genuinely shocked and outraged that all the effort that I've put in over the last few years counts for nothing. But I also have a nagging worry – could the suspension be justified?
I pull myself together and e-mail Stewart Stevenson: “Perhaps you would be good enough to let me know which tweets are in question and which SNP members have had their reputations traduced? Please also let me know why, if there is considered to be a problem, I was not warned of this and given an opportunity to edit or apologise for the tweets (if I considered this appropriate) before suspension, which should be a final sanction, not a first step”
And the reply? “Dear Mr Millar, You will have full sight of the complaint, detailing any alleged breaches, at least fourteen days in advance of any hearing by the Member Conduct Committee. I will not rehearse that here. But I do reassure you that suspension is an administrative step at this stage, and not a disciplinary determination. Were any sanction to be handed down by the Committee at the conclusion of a hearing, then time spent under administrative suspension would be taken into account when doing that. Should a complaint be upheld then you would have the opportunity to seek to appeal that decision to the Conduct Appeals Committee”
Well, by now I've calmed down and I'm beginning to think more clearly. And beginning to get angry. Because this reply is a brush off, pure and simple. Stewart Stevenson's original e-mail said that he had “been alerted to a series of Tweets that you have posted” and that he was “suspending your membership of the SNP with immediate effect”. So, the decision was his and his alone. And now he's saying that he “will not rehearse that here” - in other words, although it was his decision, he's not going to tell me why it was made or what the problem was.
Well now. Let's consider the “commitment to independence” point. The SNP is a political organisation, whose number one aim, as set out in the constitution, is “independence for Scotland.” It is a members' organisation, run by and for the membership and Alyn Smith, in the pages of The National, has assured us that it is “brutally democratic.”
So why is my alleged suggestion that certain party members are not committed to the Party's over-riding aim an offence meriting suspension? Surely such questioning is to be expected and the individuals in question can presumably defend themselves by showing what they have done to further the independence cause. If I was wrong in my suggestion I would, of course, apologise, but the fact that I am now suspended rather suggests that no such explanation would be forthcoming.
And then there's traducing reputations. Having had time to think this through, I'm now furious rather than just angry. Because, while not knowing which Tweets have caused offence is a slight problem, I can find nothing in my Twitter account which approaches the offensive, bullying and threatening comments which have been made, or endorsed, against Joanna Cherry, a senior SNP MP, by, amongst others: Kirsty Blackman MP, Mhairi Black MP, Jonny Keihlmann, the signatories of Alyn Smith MP's recent open letter, BAME Convenor Graham Campbell, Fiona Robertson, Kat Cary, Hannah Bardell MP and the Convenors of SNP Students, Out for Indy and YSI.
And, more importantly, despite complaints being made, none of these individuals suffered any sanction (indeed several were standing in the internal elections at Conference).
So, it's back to the keyboard and, on Friday 26 November, I put these points to Stewart Stevenson. In view of the fact that it seems to be OK with the leadership to abuse Joanna Cherry, I also include a slightly tongue in cheek request: “to save problems in the future, I would be grateful if you could let me have a guide as to the level of abuse permitted before action is taken and whether this is affected by the identity of the person being traduced”.
And his reply, in its entirety: “It is public attack on fellow members and is, if proved, in breach of Party rules”
Ah right, of course. That's exactly the comprehensive answer I was looking for. I'll just go and sit quietly for the next few months while the Conduct Committee (you know – that committee that hasn't met for a year) gets round to dealing with my case.
Or maybe not. I respond: “As I am sure you are aware, that does not answer my questions. In particular, it does not explain why I have been singled out when . . . . those who have made much worse attacks on Joanna Cherry - driving a coach and horses through Party rules - have received no sanction whatsoever. This is a point which, if not addressed, I will take further, either inside or outwith Party structures”.
Unsurprisingly I don't get a reply. Although, to be fair to the hapless Stevenson, it would be impossible to present any coherent reply justifying the treatment of Joanna Cherry.
So, what next? It's clear that I'm getting nowhere – simply the latest victim of the current leadership's policy of not replying to complaints and turning dissidents, however minor, into non-persons. For example, despite assurances that the suspension was just an administrative matter, I can't log in to MySNP, attend or vote at Conference and my name has been removed from membership lists. As far as the SNP is concerned, I actually have been turned into a non-person.
Resignation has now set in. I've already decided by this point that I'm leaving the Party. No-one with any self-respect would allow themselves to be treated like this. But I may as well go down fighting with one last e-mail to Stevenson.
Because his handling of this affair has been lamentable. In particular, he is unable or unwilling to explain why I have been singled out for “traducing” un-named individuals in unspecified ways while party members who have made much worse - and well documented - attacks on Joanna Cherry have received no sanction whatsoever.
If I were asked to characterise events to date, I would have to say that:
· I have been suspended from membership of the SNP on the whim of the National Secretary.
· The National Secretary, despite having made the decision, has declined to specify the issues leading to the suspension.
· Unlike normal disciplinary processes, no warning was given, nor was any attempt made to address matters before sanctions were applied.
· Also, despite assurances that the suspension was just an administrative matter, it is actually a sanction.
And, more importantly, it is also apparent that the SNP disciplinary system is badly designed, no longer has any credibility and is incapable of delivering any kind of just verdict:
· The Member's Conduct Committee has not met for at least a year.
· Complaints about the treatment of Joanna Cherry MP and other female members have been ignored.
· Candidates for the Members Conduct Committee standing at the current conference included several who have participated in, or endorsed, the bullying of Joanna Cherry MP.
· In comparison to most disciplinary or conduct regimes, the SNP version works backwards. There are no warnings or prior discussions. Instead, the first thing that a member gets is an email telling them that they are suspended without giving any details of why.
· They then must wait for an indeterminate time until the Member Conduct Committee has been convened for a hearing at which the member is treated like a guilty person pleading for mitigation, with the position being no better at the Conduct Appeals Committee.
· No employer could get away with such a poorly thought out, biased process. If the SNP was an employer rather than a political party, I think that the National Secretary would be spending most of his/her time in front of employment tribunals.
So, I e-mail the above points to Stewart Stevenson and ask him “in conclusion, do you really believe that the above process is fair, transparent or capable of delivering a valid result? Do you really expect me to wait patiently for the Conduct Committee to be convened and then submit myself to this charade of a process?”
As I'm sure you've already guessed, I get no response.
But I no longer really care. I've made up my mind and I won't be sticking around.
As Iain Lawson has already pointed out on his “Yours for Scotland” blog, while the SNP could not find enough candidates in the recent internal elections to fill the NEC places, there was a surplus of candidates anxious to join the Thought Police, or “Conduct Committee” and “Conduct Appeals Committee” as they prefer to be known. Looking at the election results, these positions appear particularly attractive to members of the intolerant, gender ideologue, science-denying, Veruca Salt wing of the SNP. Many of them have been active participants in the persecution of Joanna Cherry. The chances of anyone who opposes their views (like, to take a random example, me) getting a fair hearing are nil.
So, I'm resigning from the SNP. How do I feel about that? An odd mixture of anger and relief is probably the best description of my feelings. And also disquiet.
Anger first. Since joining the Party in 2014 I've spent four years on the London Branch committee, two of them as PEO. I've attended the last 8 conferences and travelled at my own expense from London to Edinburgh to campaign in the 2017 and 2019 elections. I spent the past year as an active member of the Policy Development Committee. Of course, others have done more, and I am sure that the Party can stagger on without me. Nonetheless, I do think that I deserve a lot more consideration and rather better treatment than I've received.
However, the relief is stronger. Stewart Stevenson's unreasonable behaviour has made up my mind for me. I no longer have doubts or a conflict of interest. I don't have to watch what I say about Nicola Sturgeon and her betrayal of the independence movement. I remain a strong believer in Scottish independence, and I am fairly sure that a reformed SNP is still vital to the broader independence campaign. My problem is with the current SNP leadership. But, in the meantime, I can continue to fight for independence under the Alba banner, along with thousands of other ex-SNP activists.
And the disquiet? Regardless of the outcome, I still feel uncomfortable because I don't know, and probably never will, exactly why this happened. Who did this to me and why? I suspect a personal element. I may have aired some robust views on Toni Giugliano's unsuitability to be PDC Convenor, but I only had 137 Twitter followers at the time and can't imagine that anyone who didn't know me personally would have bothered reporting me. I'll never be able to prove anything, but I think this originates with former “friends” in the SNP London branch. So, although it was probably only one or two individuals, I now view a lot of people that I used to like and respect with an element of suspicion and would feel uncomfortable in their company – an unexpected and undesirable outcome.
All in all, being stabbed in the back has been a novel experience, but I wouldn't recommend it. Anyway, it's over now and I intend to put it behind me and focus on the future.
Yours for Scotland,
Gordon's experience is very similar to my own case, I was resigned by text message. Unlike Gordon, I foolishly attended the Conduct Committee, which was a pointless and humiliating experience.
There was zero concern for any evidence, in fact, they presented none, and zero concern for my mental health. It was just a nasty, vicious, kangaroo court, presided over by the then SNP national secretary, Angus McLeod a man who believes my views on women's rights are 'morally repugnant'.
I would advise everyone, DO NOT go through the SNP's brutal and unjust disciplinary process. You are worth a lot more and they are not worth your time.