‘Dam has burst’ on political abuse allegations, says SNP Westminster leader

Ian Blackford

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has said politicians should be “ashamed” that they did not act on harassment before now as fresh allegations rocked Holyrood.

The Highland MP spoke out as Scottish Labour’s interim leader and deputy leader Alex Rowley was suspended amid an investigation into allegations of abuse.

The party announced the move last night after calls for action from former leader Kezia Dugdale and the two men battling to succeed her.

Mr Rowley denied claims made in a newspaper, in which an ex-partner said their relationship “felt like emotional blackmail and abuse”.

The latest allegations emerged as Westminster’s women and equalities committee took evidence from party chiefs on the escalating harassment scandal, which has already led to a series of resignations and investigations north and south of the border.

Asked why women were now coming forward when they had felt unable to do so before, Mr Blackford said “I think the dam has burst.”

He added: “I think there have been abuses of power and this is something that goes right across political parties.

“I am appalled that we have not shown due leadership on this historically.

“The fact it has been public pressure and the media that has brought this to the fore, we actually should be ashamed of ourselves that we haven’t given proper leadership on it.”

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon quit over harassment allegations and investigations are continuing into First Secretary of State Damian Green and International Trade Minister Mark Garnier.

At the Welsh Assembly, Communities Minister Carl Sargeant was sacked over allegations and days later committed suicide.

And at Holyrood, Aberdeen Donside MSP Mark McDonald quit as early years and childcare minister following a complaint about an inappropriate text message.

Now Scottish Labour has been left leaderless after Mr Rowley stood down just three days before the party’s leadership contest was due to conclude.

Mr Rowley, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said: “I totally refute these allegations and will take all steps necessary to clear my name.

“These allegations must be properly and thoroughly investigated in line with our party’s procedures – and I will refer myself to the party so such an investigation can take place.

“While that investigation is carried out, I will step aside as deputy leader, as well as interim leader, of the Scottish Labour Party.

Scottish Labour Business Manager James Kelly said: “It is important that the investigation into these allegations is fair and transparent, and the matter will be thoroughly investigated using the Labour Party’s internal complaints procedure.

“However, in light of the serious nature of the allegations, Labour at Holyrood has taken the decision to remove the whip from Alex Rowley for the period of this investigation.”