The SNP is facing demands for answers after an MP admitted breaking self-isolation rules by travelling to Parliament after developing coronavirus symptoms and then taking a train back to Scotland having tested positive.
Labour suggested the party covered up knowledge of Margaret Ferrier’s actions after it emerged they knew of her diagnosis a day before she disclosed it on Thursday evening.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon condemned the MP’s “utterly indefensible” behaviour and welcomed her having the whip suspended, but there were calls for Ms Ferrier’s resignation including from within the party.
The Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP said she took a test on Saturday afternoon after experiencing “mild symptoms”, meaning she should have self-isolated, before travelling by train to London on Monday having felt better.
She spoke in the coronavirus debate in the House of Commons on Monday and, by her account, tested positive for Covid-19 that evening. She did not make clear whether she received the result before or after she spoke.
In a statement, she said she travelled home to Glasgow on Tuesday, where she has been self-isolating ever since.
Police Scotland said the MP informed them of her behaviour on Thursday and officers are “looking into the circumstances” along with the Metropolitan Police.
The Commons said she did not inform her party whip until Wednesday afternoon and that one person was identified as a close contact and told to self-isolate.
Ms Ferrier could face a £4,000 fine for a first-time offence of coming into contact with others when she should have been self-isolating under a law that came into force on the day of her positive test.
“Despite feeling well, I should have self-isolated while waiting for my test result, and I deeply regret my actions,” she said.
The SNP gained the Rutherglen and Hamilton West seat from Labour in the 2019 general election, when Ms Ferrier won with a majority of 5,230.
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, said he was suspending the whip from Ms Ferrier.
I have spoken with @MargaretFerrier this evening who fully accepts that what she did was wrong. Margaret will be referring herself to the parliamentary standards commissioner as well as the police. I am tonight suspending the whip from Margaret. https://t.co/1bCst4r5Pu— Ian Blackford (@Ianblackford_MP) October 1, 2020
Ms Sturgeon welcomed the move and added: “It’s hard to express just how angry I feel on behalf of people across the country making hard sacrifices every day to help beat Covid. The rules apply to everyone and they’re in place to keep people safe.”
David Linden, the SNP MP for the Glasgow East constituency neighbouring Ms Ferrier’s, has called for her to go.
He told BBC Question Time her behaviour is “utterly inexcusable”, adding: “I don’t think her position is tenable and she should resign.”
This has since been echoed by Kirsty Blackman, SNP MP for Aberdeen North, and Stephen Flynn, SNP MP for Aberdeen South.
Ms Blackman said that while Ms Ferrier is an “unparalleled” campaigner for the party, she must resign.
“Margaret’s actions cannot be overlooked,” she added in a tweet.
I agree with David Linden. Margaret Ferrier must resign. Both David and Margaret are unparalleled campaigners for our party but in this circumstance David is right. Margaretâs actions cannot be overlooked.— Kirsty Blackman (@KirstySNP) October 1, 2020
Mr Flynn retweeted Ms Blackman’s post, writing: “Impossible to disagree. The public will expect nothing less.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who resigned from Boris Johnson’s Government over Dominic Cummings’ lockdown movements, said “the public deserve clear answers”.
“We now know that the SNP were informed on Wednesday that Margaret Ferrier had been tested, after she had already travelled back to Scotland from London by public transport while infected with the virus,” he said.
“These actions not only broke the law, they will have put lives at risk.
“We must hear from Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford about exactly when they knew and why they kept this information secret from the public for hours or maybe even days.”
SNP in chaos & appear to be covering up serious breach of public health laws. FM & Blackford must hold press conference tomorrow am to answer questions about what they did & didnât know. Speaker contradicts SNP story. There canât be 1 rule for the SNP, another for the rest of us.— Ian Murray MP (@IanMurrayMP) October 1, 2020
Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray also demanded answers from First Minister Ms Sturgeon and Mr Blackford.
The Labour MP tweeted: “SNP in chaos & appear to be covering up serious breach of public health laws.
“FM & Blackford must hold press conference tomorrow am to answer questions about what they did & didn’t know.”
An SNP spokeswoman insisted the party did not know until Thursday that Ms Ferrier had taken a test prior to travelling to London.
“Ms Ferrier informed the SNP on Wednesday, when she was in Glasgow, that she had tested positive,” she said.
“The SNP’s chief whip immediately informed Parliament authorities. The SNP only became aware on Thursday that Ms Ferrier had been tested prior to travelling to London and had travelled back to Glasgow, knowing that she had a positive result.”
On Monday, Ms Ferrier gave a four-minute speech in the Commons from 7.15pm and focused on the “economic health” of her constituents, calling for greater financial support.
A Police Scotland spokesman said officers are liaising with colleagues in the Metropolitan Police.
“Margaret Ferrier MP contacted Police Scotland earlier today about travelling between London and Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus,” he said.