Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
1 February 2021updated 23 Jul 2021 12:41pm

Joanna Cherry is sacked from the SNP front bench

It's a sign of things to come in the increasingly bitter civil war within the SNP.

By Ailbhe Rea

There’s a fresh development in the SNP’s ongoing civil war: Joanna Cherry QC, one of the party’s most prominent MPs, has been sacked from her role on the SNP’s front bench team in Westminster.

Ian Blackford, the party’s leader in Westminster, quietly announced a reshuffle of the party’s London team in a statement this morning, omitting to mention the most notable removal of Cherry from her role as justice and home affairs spokesperson. Instead, Cherry broke the news herself:

Why was she sacked? No official statement has been given by the SNP, but the factors affecting the move are plain to see.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

The first, simple, reason is that the Edinburgh South West MP is vocally at odds with her party’s policy on trans rights. She is a longstanding opponent of the Scottish government’s plans for Gender Recognition Act reform, and a vocal defender of “gender critical” views on social media, increasingly culminating in bitter Twitter clashes between Cherry and other SNP colleagues and activists. Last week the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, released an unexpected video on social media emphasising that transphobia was “unacceptable” within the SNP, in what was widely interpreted a criticism of Cherry in particular. 

But it runs deeper than this single issue. The fierce debate over trans rights within the SNP – which extends well beyond Cherry herself – is often spoken of a “proxy war” for the deeper divisions between Sturgeon’s supporters and those of the former first minister Alex Salmond. Plenty of politicians and activists on either side resent the suggestion that their views on trans rights are not deeply and sincerely held, but it is true that this issue maps neatly on to the Salmondite/Sturgeonite camps, and the more substantial power struggle between the two camps. 

Content from our partners
What are the green skills of the future?
A global hub for content producers, gaming and entertainment companies in Abu Dhabi
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets

Cherry, a key Salmond ally, is viewed as an effective politician and a potential rival to the First Minister, and has differed with the leadership not only on trans rights but on its strategy towards independence. Last July, a rule change by the SNP’s governing body meant that Cherry could not stand for election to the Scottish parliament this year without first resigning her Westminster seat, prompting her to bow out of consideration for a Holyrood seat, where she would have been a direct rival of Sturgeon’s. It comes against the wider backdrop of an ongoing inquiry into Sturgeon’s handling of allegations against Salmond, once her close mentor. 

After a week in which SNP tensions on social media reached boiling point, and at the beginning of LGBTQ+ history month, many in the SNP see this as the logical conclusion of Cherry’s longstanding difference with the party line on trans rights. But it hasn’t made the problem that Cherry poses go away. Nor does it resolve any of the deeper divisions between the Sturgeon and Salmond camps. If anything, it is a small sign of what’s to come.