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Why is Ian Blackford facing calls to quit as SNP Westminster leader?

Ian Blackford MP.

The SNP has been plunged into turmoil in the fall-out of an MP’s sexual misconduct ruling, with calls from rivals for leader Ian Blackford to quit.

The senior nationalist was caught in the backlash among his colleagues, public anger and rival political demands since SNP MP Patrick Grady was found guilty of sexual misconduct by an independent parliamentary panel.

The scandal has already to damaging splits, apologies and even whispers about potential successors, including Aberdeen MP Stephen Flynn.

What did Patrick Grady do?

Glasgow MP Mr Grady inappropriately touched an SNP member of staff, then aged 19, during a London night out in 2016.

An independent probe ruled he made an “unwanted sexual advance” to the victim by stroking him.

The investigation said that the touching was “clearly sexual in intent”.

Mr Grady was handed a two-day suspension from the House of Commons and urged to make an apology.

How did the SNP respond?

When the SNP first became aware of the accusations against Mr Grady he was not forced to step down from his role as the party’s chief whip.

Mr Blackford organised an informal meeting between Mr Grady and his victim, where the Glasgow MP said sorry.

The complainant initially accepted the apology but later admitted he felt “ambushed”.

Patrick Grady MP.

He said the ordeal has been a “living hell” for him and has blasted the party for a lack of support.

Mr Grady left his post as chief whip in 2021 and was temporarily suspended from the SNP following the misconduct ruling.

Nicola Sturgeon admitted her party would have to “reflect” on its complaints process.

But it would soon emerge that Mr Blackford and party MPs were strongly backing their colleague behind the scenes.

Bombshell secret recording of SNP MPs

In an astonishing secret recording of an SNP meeting, Mr Blackford urged fellow MPs to give Mr Grady their “absolute full support”.

The party’s Westminster chief said he would “look forward” to welcoming Mr Grady back once his suspension had come to an end.

East Dunbartonshire MP Amy Callaghan insisted colleagues rally together to support him and was met with applause.

But when the recording went public, she quickly issued a groveling apology.

The recording was met with anger from rival politicians who claim Mr Blackford must stand down.

It is also remarkable that someone made the recording in the group in the first place.

It points to deep disquiet in the group. A mole-hunt is under way.

Ian Blackford under pressure

Mr Blackford has been a longtime SNP supporter and first stood for them in the late 1990s.

Previously working in the banking industry, he became an MP for the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency in 2015 when he ousted ex-Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy.

He took over as SNP Westminster chief in 2017 and has since become well-known for his heated clashes with Boris Johnson.

Ian Blackford regularly clashes with Boris Johnson.

But the senior nationalist now faces the toughest test of his political career if he wants to keep his top post.

Scottish Labour said it was “disgusting” that the Highland MP had given Mr Grady his backing.

Scottish Tories insist Ms Sturgeon must sack Mr Blackford if he does not stand down.

Mr Grady’s victim is considering legal action against the SNP and said it would be tough to return to his job due to the party’s response.

However, Mr Blackford’s predecessor Angus Robertson defended him and insists other political parties are being hypocritical.

What happens next?

The first minister steered clear of commenting on Mr Blackford’s position since the leaked recording emerged. But with an independence campaign re-start under way, she will want this distraction to go away.

Ms Callaghan’s lengthy apology adds to the pressure on others to follow suit.

MP Joanna Cherry – who has clashed with leadership regularly – claimed the party has “significant problems” when it comes to handling complaints.

If Mr Blackford does eventually resign, it will detract from the independence campaign and lead to an internal contest.

Aberdeen MP Stephen Flynn has already been touted as a possible replacement, but denied he was interested in the role.

Chris Deerin: Ian Blackford leak shows SNP’s ‘concern’ over ethics is only optics