SNP are discovering the truth in the old saying, the opposition is in front of you but your enemies behind - John McLellan
New Drugs and Alcohol Policy Minister Elena Whitham did, that’s who, her colourful WhatsApp messages leaked to the Daily Record this week revealing a less than complementary view of her Scottish Government colleagues.
It should make for an interesting conversation the next time she meets First Minister Humza Yousaf, which might now be sooner than later.
On two occasions in 2021, Ms Whitham had a pop at Finance Secretary Ms Robison’s oracy, as Sir Keir Starmer might put it, first saying “She is like an automaton,” and then a few weeks later, “I find Shona R painful to listen to.”
And when Mr Robertson was appointed to the Cabinet in May 2021, she posted, “Angus in Cabinet [rolling eyes emoji] the ego has landed.” Oh dear.
In fairness to Ms Whitham, the comments were two years ago, she’s apologised, and her subsequent criticism about the SNP’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against former Westminster chief whip Patrick Grady were justified, but the content of the leaked messages matters less than the fact they were leaked at all.
Open internecine warfare has been a fact of life for UK parties since before Pitt the Younger was out of nappies, but until now it’s been rare in the SNP. Despite regular spats in the opposition years, such as Alex Salmond and the left-wing 79 group’s expulsion in 1982, since taking over in the Scottish Parliament 16 years ago, breaches of discipline have been comparatively rare.
But since Westminster leader Ian Blackford was ousted in early December, there has been the gender recognition rebellion, attacks on the deposit return scheme and marine protection plans and then the leadership campaign hostilities, all set against the background of the ongoing fraud investigation into SNP finances.
In the past month long-serving MP Angus Brendan MacNeil has been suspended, eight of his colleagues have decided to quit, and now a disgruntled insider has felt emboldened enough to land a government minister in the soup.
Ms Whitham must have irked someone enough to embarrass her publicly, but so do lots of politicians in what is a very nasty game, with so much truth in the old saying that your opposition is in front of you but your enemies behind.
It looks very like an attempt to have her stripped of her ministerial role, but even if fails it has still caused a needless problem for the leadership, and under the previous regime that would probably have been enough to make any potential SNP stool pigeon think twice.
It’s also why departing MP Mhairi Black’s podcast comment to comedian Matt Forde that the SNP was undergoing a “generational shift” was notable, because that implies there is more shifting to be done.
With Ms Black not ruling out a return to front-line politics, who would bet against her and Ian Blackford’s steely successor Stephen Flynn engineering a takeover if the general election outcome is as bad for the SNP as the polls are predicting and Mr Yousaf is forced to fall on his sword.