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