Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, on Friday told a member of the UK parliament from her Scottish National party that she should resign for travelling across the country while infected with coronavirus.
SNP MP Margaret Ferrier admitted on Thursday she had travelled to and from her constituency of Rutherglen and Hamilton West and given a speech in the House of Commons while suffering from coronavirus, making her one of the UK’s most high-profile examples of defiance of pandemic regulations.
“I’ve spoken to Margaret Ferrier and made clear my view that she should step down as an MP,” Ms Sturgeon said in a tweet.
“I did so with a heavy heart — she is a friend and colleague — but her actions were dangerous and indefensible,” the SNP leader said. “I have no power to force an MP to resign but I hope she will do the right thing.”
The SNP has moved swiftly to distance itself from Ms Ferrier, hoping that the strength of its condemnation will soften public anger toward the party. Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP group at Westminster, suspended Ms Ferrier from the parliamentary party on Thursday and made clear on Friday morning that he thought she should step down as an MP.
The SNP approach contrasts sharply with Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson’s robust defence in May of his top adviser Dominic Cummings, who travelled to the north of England after exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms at the end of March during the national lockdown.
But critics have raised questions about when SNP leaders knew about Ms Ferrier’s actions, which only became public when the MP issued a statement and apology on Twitter on Thursday.
Ms Ferrier said she experienced coronavirus symptoms on Saturday and took a test for the virus, but still travelled to London by train on Monday after feeling better.
After giving a speech in the Commons chamber, she later on Monday received a positive test result for coronavirus, but returned to her constituency on Tuesday, again by train.
Mr Blackford said the SNP chief whip at Westminster was only informed on Wednesday afternoon that Ms Ferrier had tested positive and that he himself had not learned until Thursday that she had travelled and attended parliament while infected.
Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the Commons criticised Ms Ferrier’s actions as “completely reckless” and “totally unacceptable”. The situation had been made worse by the fact that he learnt about the situation on Wednesday when she herself had known about it on Monday, Sir Lindsay told Sky News.
Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said Mr Blackford was “treating the public like fools” with an account that claimed the party had not earlier established the truth about Ms Ferrier’s “potentially criminal” actions.
“The SNP’s timeline is full of holes and any reasonable person can see that,” said Mr Ross, who in May resigned from his position as parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland over Mr Johnson’s decision not to fire Mr Cummings.
But Ms Sturgeon said her SNP colleagues had only learned on Thursday through the Commons test and trace system that Ms Ferrier had travelled to parliament while infected.
“I think the SNP has acted quickly, appropriately and actually we have not tried to protect a colleague here, we have tried to do the right thing,” she said.
The first minister said Ms Ferrier had told her she was not suffering serious coronavirus symptoms and had not indicated whether she would resign.
Richard Leonard, leader of Scottish Labour, joined a chorus of calls across Scottish politics for Ms Ferrier to resign, but some UK Conservative politicians took a more cautious line.
Robert Jenrick, UK government housing secretary, said it was a matter for the police, Ms Ferrier and the SNP.
“I don’t think it’s wise for politicians to be passing comment on individual cases,” said Mr Jenrick. The housing secretary in May said Mr Cummings was right not to resign and that the special adviser’s decision to drive from London to Durham with symptoms of Covid-19 was “reasonable”.