Margaret Ferrier, an independent MP, faces a 30-day suspension from the Commons after a vote by MPs regarding her breach of Covid lockdown rules. This suspension will likely result in a by-election for her constituency of Rutherglen and Hamilton West. Ferrier had previously won the seat for the SNP in the 2019 election but lost the party whip and has since been sitting as an independent.
The by-election could serve as an early electoral challenge for the new SNP leader, Humza Yousaf, with Labour hopeful of winning the seat. Recent opinion polls suggest that the SNP’s support has waned amidst Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation as first minister and party leader, as well as the ongoing police investigation into the party’s finances.
Ferrier has been ordered to complete a 270-hour community payback order by a court after admitting to culpably and recklessly exposing the public “to the risk of infection, illness and death.” In September 2020, she spoke in parliament while waiting for a Covid test result during lockdown and later took a train home to Glasgow to avoid self-isolating in a London hotel after learning she had tested positive.
“I deeply regret my actions,” Ferrier has previously stated, but she has not resigned as an MP despite repeated calls for her to do so from many of her former SNP colleagues. SNP MP David Linden said, “There must now be a by-election, which the SNP has been calling for since Ms Ferrier’s Covid rule breach first came to light in 2020.”
MPs voted 185 to 40 in favour of suspending Ferrier from parliament for 30 days, with the suspension set to begin on Wednesday. Among the 40 MPs who voted against the motion and opposed Ferrier’s suspension, 32 were Conservatives, two were DUP, two were Alba, and one was Reclaim.
The vote result enables the initiation of a recall petition. A by-election will be held if over 10% of registered voters in the constituency sign the petition.
The Commons’ standards committee recommended Ferrier’s suspension in March. An independent expert panel later upheld the original judgement after she appealed against it. The panel concluded that she had acted with “blatant and deliberate dishonest intent” and displayed a “high degree of recklessness to the public and to colleagues and staff at the House of Commons.”
The panel added, “This is not one momentary error of judgment. It is a sequence of events amounting to a deliberate course of dishonest behaviour.” They stated that Ferrier acted selfishly, prioritizing her own interests over the public’s, and deemed that no lesser sanction could be applied for her conduct.
In September 2020, Ferrier took a Covid test due to a “tickly throat.” While awaiting the result, she attended church, gave a reading to the congregation, and later spent over two hours in an Ayrshire bar. She subsequently travelled to London on a train with 183 passengers and spoke in the Commons. After discovering her positive test result, she took a train back to Glasgow the following day to avoid having to self-isolate in a London hotel room for two weeks. She did not disclose the positive test result until she was back in Glasgow.
Ferrier’s appeal against the proposed 30-day suspension argued that it was too severe and that she was the victim of “double jeopardy” since she had already been punished by a criminal court for her offence.
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