Margaret Ferrier faces being kicked out of her seat by her constituents, the SNP’s Westminster leader has warned her as she continued to ignore Nicola Sturgeon’s personal appeal to quit.
Ian Blackford said the Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP, who travelled from Scotland to the Commons and back by train while suffering from coronavirus, should “do the honourable thing” and resign her seat.
In a direct warning to Ms Ferrier, he told the Daily Telegraph that failing to resign “on her own terms” would mean she risks “having her fate taken out of her hands.”
SNP chiefs are understood to believe that she will be suspended from Parliament for at least 10 sitting days, or 14 consecutive days, the benchmark that could allow her constituents to recall her and force a by-election.
But they are extremely worried that the longer Ms Ferrier clings on, the more damage will be inflicted to Ms Sturgeon’s public health message to the Scottish people and her personal authority.
The First Minister spoke on Friday morning to the MP, whom she described as a friend, urging her to resign but the 60-year-old defied her. She did not quit even when the Metropolitan Police launched an investigation on Friday evening.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, stepped up pressure on Ms Sturgeon to expel the MP from the SNP. Ms Ferrier has so far only been suspended.
The SNP also faced further questions yesterday over when the party found out about Ms Ferrier having Covid after it emerged she asked for a proxy vote last Monday “for medical or public health reasons related to the pandemic”.
She learned of her positive test result that evening, shortly after speaking in the Commons, and told SNP whips she had to return to Scotland because of family illness.
Mr Blackford and Ms Sturgeon have insisted the party found out on Wednesday she had the virus, and only discovered on Thursday morning that she had been tested before and not after her 800-mile round trip to the Commons.
However, Mr Blackford insisted that Ms Ferrier’s proxy vote reason was a catch-all form of wording suggested by the Speaker that included family illness. He told the Telegraph: “Margaret has to respect the fact there’s been a breach of trust between her and the electorate. She has to preserve her own self-respect and dignity and do the honourable thing.
“A failure to resign on her own terms means she will face a parliamentary standards inquiry. Nobody knows where that will go but she runs the risk of having her fate being taken out of her hands.”
SNP sources warned she risked public humiliation if she attempts to cling on amid concerns about her mental health.
“This is not going to end well for her – that’s the bottom line. It would be far better for her to take control of the situation than have it taken away,” one said.
Under the Recall of MPs Act, a by-election will be triggered if she is suspended from parliament for the required period by the Standards Committee then 10 per cent of her 81,000 constituents sign a petition.
There is anger in her seat over her decision to visit a beauty salon, gym and gift shop on the day she first displayed symptoms, even buying a face mask in the latter.
Later the same day, Saturday, Sept 26, she travelled to a Covid testing centre after feeling increasingly unwell.
However, she took the train last Monday to London while she awaited the results because she was “feeling much better” and spoke in a Commons coronavirus debate at 7.15pm that evening.
John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, told BBC Scotland’s Sunday Politics programme the SNP had “done all the actions that we can do as a political party” after suspending her and asking her to resign as an MP.
Asked if the party would support her constituents starting a petition to recall her, he said: “These are questions that local constituents need to resolve. It’s up to them to do that.”
If Margaret Ferrier does not step down over the weekend, I am calling on @NicolaSturgeon to work with me – provided Ms Ferrier is suspended from the Commons for 10 sitting days – to support a re-call petition to remove her from office.
— Richard Leonard (@LabourRichard) October 3, 2020
But Mr Ross told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge programme: “I’m surprised, amazed and shocked that she hasn’t resigned.”
He added: “Nicola Sturgeon believes Margaret Ferrier shouldn’t be a Member of Parliament but she’s not said why she should continue as a member of the Scottish National Party.”
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, told the same programme, that Ms Ferrier’s actions were a “whole different level” to Dominic Cummings’ controversial lockdown trip to Durham as she travelled on public transport following a positive test.