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7 rows that led to Fergus Ewing’s one-week suspension, as SNP punishes rebel

The long-serving Highlands politician has been suspended from the SNP for one week in a decision taken by his colleagues at Holyrood on Wednesday evening.

Fergus Ewing, MSP for Inverness and Nairn. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.
Fergus Ewing, MSP for Inverness and Nairn. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

SNP veteran Fergus Ewing has been suspended from the party for one week after a series of rebellions.

The MSP for Inverness and Nairn learnt his fate at a disciplinary meeting held at Holyrood on Wednesday night, confirmed in a statement by the party.

In total, 48 SNP MSPs voted to sanction Mr Ewing, nine were opposed to his suspension, and four abstained.

In a statement afterwards, he claimed the SNP is no longer putting Scotland first.

“The SNP I joined would never have asked me, or indeed any other elected politician, to choose between loyalty to party and loyalty to constituents,” he said.

The punishment has been imposed – but what caused the SNP to take such action in the first place? Here are just seven of the reasons.

1 – Vote against Lorna Slater

Likely the final straw, Mr Ewing voted against Green minister Lorna Slater – part of the SNP-Green government at Holyrood – in a confidence vote in June over her handling of the botched deposit return scheme.

This appears to be the point at which the SNP started to seriously consider taking disciplinary action against the party rebel.

Green minister Lorna Slater. Image: PA.

In a statement following the vote, Mr Ewing said Scotland’s circular economy minister “does not enjoy the confidence of business”.

He was the only SNP MSP at Holyrood to back the Tory motion against Ms Slater.

However, the punishment process was delayed later that month after his mother, Winnie Ewing, the SNP trailblazer, died.

2 – Voting to delay short-term lets scheme

The SNP started to move to take action against Mr Ewing once MSPs returned to Holyrood in September from their summer recess.

But speculation over his future did not deter the MSP for Inverness and Nairn from launching a fresh attack on his party earlier this month.

This time it was over the new short-term lets scheme which is due to be introduced on October 1.

The new regulations intend to tackle concerns over the high number of Airbnb-type properties in areas such as Edinburgh and the Highlands. Image: Shutterstock.

The mandatory scheme, which will include holiday cottages, B&Bs and guest houses, has been set up in a bid to ensure better regulation of the sector.

But Mr Ewing claimed the regulations have already caused “many businesses” in his Highland constituency to decide to close, blaming costs and complexity.

He said: “Hard working law-abiding people are now made to feel like they are criminals. This is what the industry are telling MSPs.”

3 – Publicly ridiculed SNP policies

The SNP rebel took aim at the government earlier this month for what he described as a year of “flushable” policies. 

Picking up the MSP of the Year Award at the Holyrood Magazine garden party, Mr Ewing joked they were destined for the “Scottish Government official policy recycling unit”.

He went on to name check the deposit return scheme, highly protected marine areas, gender recognition reform and the short-term lets scheme.

4 – Literally ripping up SNP policy

In extraordinary scenes at Holyrood, the SNP veteran stunned his colleagues by ripping up the government’s consultation document on the controversial fishing zones.

The former rural affairs spokesman claimed the issue will “haunt the Scottish Government”.

He added: “This is not a consultation document, it’s a notice of execution.”

It was a theatrical display, and it clearly caught the attention of his bosses.

He was a vociferous critic of the policy which was eventually scrapped by the government.

5 – Blasted Scottish Greens as ‘wine bar revolutionaries’

By now you’ve probably got the idea Mr Ewing is not a fan of the SNP’s Green coalition partners.

To hammer home that point himself, he once branded the party’s MSPs “wine bar revolutionaries” in a row over the future of North Sea energy.

Scottish Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater arrive at Bute House. Image: PA.

His sister, Deputy Presiding Officer Annabelle Ewing, had to remind MSPs to watch their language, following the outburst in April.

And in August, Mr Ewing said SNP members should be given the chance to vote again on the party’s deal with the Scottish Greens. 

He described the Greens as “extremists” who were “simply dragging the SNP down by association”.

6 – Held SNP to account over failed A9 dualling

The SNP parliamentarian has repeatedly held the Scottish Government’s feet to the fire over its failure to dual the A9 by 2025.

In an exclusive interview with the P&J, he admitted his party had lost its way over its inability to upgrade the route connecting Perth and Inverness on time.

Upgrades to the A9 have been continually pushed back. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.

Speaking on July 26, he said expelling him from the party would do nothing to stop his figh for the road to be dualled on behalf of his constituents.

A total of 13 people lost their lives on the road last year.

Speaking after his suspension, Mr Ewing again attacked the SNP for failing to deliver on its promise to dual the road.

He said: “Am I to pretend that the promises to provide the Highlands with safe roads were never made and can be ignored?

“I chose to defend my constituents’ interests and let the cards fall where they may.”

7. Calling out Humza Yousaf

Sticking with the road theme, he turned his criticism directly onto the SNP leader in July.

In a warning in a video clip shared by politics podcast Holyrood Sources, Mr Ewing said Mr Yousaf has “forfeited” the trust of people in the Highlands because of the SNP had “strung” people alond.

He said Mr Yousaf had a “narrow mandate” as leader, and claimed the chance to win people over across Scotland is “slipping away”.

His parting shot in the clip was a warning from the past. He said the Lib Dems – a party with a strong tradition in the Highlands – ruined it for themselves by joining forces in Government with the Conservatives.

“Maybe my party has chosen equally strange bedfellows,” he said.