Sin­is­ter min­is­ter

SNP hold cri­sis talks over sacked kids’ spokesman as he changes pro­file pic to creepy shadow lurk­ing by hedge

Sunday Mail (UK) - - Front Page - Mark Aitken

The SNP were last night braced for a new cri­sis over shamed ex-child­care min­is­ter Mark McDon­ald.

Se­nior sources said the party were split over the MSP, who quit his cab­i­net post eight days ago.

They fear there could be new claims about McDon­ald with the po­ten­tial to em­bar­rass the lead­er­ship.

Mean­while, McDon­ald re­placed his Twit­ter pro­file pic­ture with a sin­is­ter shadow fig­ure lurk­ing be­side a privet hedge.

It was pulled by McDon­ald and re­placed with a blank space af­ter the Sun­day Mail drew it to the at­ten­tion of SNP of­fi­cials.

We can re­veal that McDon­ald’s con­duct has been the sub­ject of high level dis­cus­sions within the party even af­ter he quit Ni­cola Stur­geon’s cab­i­net.

There are now two fac­tions emerg­ing – one wants a line drawn un­der the sor­did af­fair.

But it is un­der­stood some MSPs – in­clud­ing sev­eral se­nior women – are an­gered by the party keep­ing him as an MSP with­out cen­sure.

A se­nior source said: “Lines have been drawn be­tween those who back McDon­ald and women who are deeply unim­pressed with the party’s at­tempt to pro­tect and sup­port him.

“Min­is­ters have held meet­ings to dis­cuss McDon­ald and there is real con­cern at the pos­si­bil­ity of new rev­e­la­tions, es­pe­cially with his im­mi­nent re­turn to Holy­rood.

“Then there is the Twit­ter pic­ture. If he isn’t tak­ing this se­ri­ously, it raises con­cerns about his suit­abil­ity even as an MSP.

“Con­cerns for his health have led to ac­cu­sa­tions that a softly softly ap­proach has been adopted while there has been no sup­port for women who come for­ward.”

McDon­ald, MSP for Aberdeen Don­side, quit his post last Sat­ur­day af­ter a com­plaint was made in the wake of sex­ual mis­con­duct claims at Holy­rood.

He apol­o­gised for be­hav­iour he thought was “merely hu­mor­ous or at­tempt­ing to be friendly” but the woman he sent a mes­sage to said she took ac­tion be­cause she be­lieved “peo­ple have to change”.

McDon­ald is ex­pected to re­turn to Holy­rood this week. Since the SNP’s state­ment, McDon­ald has not been seen at the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment, his of­fice in Aberdeen or at his fam­ily home.

The 37-year-old has also deleted his Face­book ac­count.

Op­po­si­tion politi­cians have ques­tioned why he has been al­lowed to con­tinue as a MSP.

In his res­ig­na­tion let­ter to Stur­geon, McDon­ald said he hoped to re­turn as a min­is­ter.

He wrote: “I will con­tinue to serve my con­stituency in Aberdeen Don­side and hope I may be able to serve the Gov­ern­ment in the fu­ture.”

In re­sponse, Stur­geon said she had no doubt he would “con­tinue to make a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion in par­lia­ment and to serve your con­stituents well”.

Stur­geon al so de­fended McDon­ald stay­ing on as an MSP dur­ing First Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions on Thurs­day.

She said his be­hav­iour was to do with “lan­guage and not phys­i­cal con­duct” and that it was not lan­guage that would come close to re­quir­ing to be re­ferred to the po­lice”. On Wed­nes­day, a woman who was sent “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” mes­sages by McDon­ald said she took ac­tion be­cause she be­lieved “peo­ple have to change”.

She said: “Apolo­gies are all well and good but if it doesn’t change how peo­ple act... that’s why peo­ple have come for­ward. Peo­ple don’t want this. I don’t want it.”

Fa­ther- of-two McDon­ald was elected as an MSP in 2011 and was ap­pointed Min­is­ter for Child­care and Early Years last year.

He was re- elected with a ma­jor­ity of more than 11,000 last year but SNP se­nior fig­ures fear a bruis­ing by-elec­tion if McDon­ald steps down or is or­dered to quit.

The SNP are two seats short of a ma­jor­ity at Holy­rood and rely on the Greens to pass leg­is­la­tion.

An SNP spokesman: “Mr McDon­ald has taken re­spon­si­bil­ity for his be­hav­iour and re­signed as a Gov­ern­ment min­is­ter. He is go­ing to con­tinue to serve his con­stituents in Aberdeen Don­side as an MSP.”

On Mon­day, a Scot­tish Par­lia­ment helpline was launched for staff who wanted to re­port in­ci­dents.

Four calls had been re­ceived as of 5pm on Wed­nes­day. A Holy­rood spokesman yes­ter­day de­clined to say if there had been com­plaints since then.

MSPs have agreed to launch an in­quiry in the wake of the sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dal, which will hear from equal­i­ties groups, em­ploy­ment law ex­perts and trade unions. The stan­dards com­mit­tee have also agreed to re­view the code of con­duct gov­ern­ing MSPs’ be­hav­iour.

Mean­while, the BBC have con­tin­ued to de­fend ask­ing an MSP live on TV if she was a vic­tim of sex­ual ha­rass­ment de­spite com­plaints about the in­ter­view.

Pre­sen­ter Gor­don Brewer was crit­i­cised for his ques­tion to MSP Ma­ree Todd dur­ing a pol­i­tics pro­gramme at Holy­rood.

She was named McDon­ald’s re­placec­ment as child­care min­is­ter on Tues­day.

A BBC Scot­land spokesman said: “It wasn’ t Gor­don’ s in­ten­tion to up­set any of the in­ter­vie­wees, in­clud­ing Ma­ree Todd, as we know this is a sen­si­tive sub­ject.”

FEARS Mem­bers of the SNP are wor­ried the party is now split over how the McDon­ald sit­u­a­tion is be­ing han­dled

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