Disgraced ex-SNP MP Margaret Ferrier spared jail for breaching Covid – but could still lose seat

Margaret Ferrier - Jane Barlow / PA

Margaret Ferrier – Jane Barlow / PA

A disgraced Scottish nationalist MP has been spared jail for breaking Covid rules, but she still faces losing her seat in the House of Commons if she is handed a lengthy suspension by Parliament.

Margaret Ferrier, who was elected as an SNP MP and now sits as an independent, has been sentenced to 270 hours of unpaid labor after she admitted risking the lives of others by ignoring self-isolation orders in September 2020.

The 62-year-old admitted she culpably and recklessly exposed the public to “the risk of infection, illness and death” at a hearing at Glasgow Sheriff Court last month.

The Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP took a Covid test after noticing symptoms of the virus, but instead of isolating herself, she visited several businesses and a church in her area and then took a train from Glasgow to London.

She then visited Parliament, spoke in the House of Commons and chatted for 20 minutes with DUP MP Jim Shannon, who is now 67 at a time when Covid vaccines were not yet available. After learning she had the virus, she traveled back to Glasgow by train rather than self-isolating in London.

Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull told Ferrier Tuesday morning he decided against handing out a prison sentence that would have automatically triggered a recall request.

However, her constituents would still have the option to oust her if she is suspended from the House of Commons for 10 or more session days.

MPs, who would ultimately decide the length of a suspension on the recommendation of the Commons Standards Committee, are likely to be skeptical of Ferrier’s actions.

Sheriff Turnbull told Ferrier: “You intentionally flouted guidance and failed to self-isolate after your test.

“Their behavior was premeditated and spanned several days.

Ferrier – who wore a face mask in court – further confirmed to the sheriff that she would agree to the terms of the community repayment order.

A recall request would be only the fourth in UK history under a system introduced in 2015 following the expenses scandal, allowing voters to remove MPs.

A by-election would then be held if 10 per cent of her constituents in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, where there is considerable public outrage over her actions, sign a petition to oust her within six weeks. When the threshold is reached, Ferrier would be forced to vacate her seat.

Scottish Labor Party insiders said the party would “throw the kitchen sink” on winning the constituency, which would be the first electoral test of Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to hold a new independence referendum next year.

Labor got less than 300 votes to win the constituency in 2017 before Ms Ferrier increased her majority to 5,230 in the last election.

The SNP whip was removed after she broke the Covid rule and Ms Sturgeon urged her to step down, calling her actions “dangerous and unjustifiable”.

However, she has continued to ignore calls to quit her £84,144-a-year post.

Ms Ferrier’s lawyer, Brian McConnachie, told the court the MP had “satisfied himself” that the test would be negative and that there was no danger. There was then “uncontrolled panic” when it came back positive.

“There have been a number of high-profile cases in the South that have been handled in a different way,” McConnachie said.

“I recognize that in some ways they are different [from Ferrier]. Less serious on the one hand, but more so on the other because public gatherings were effectively for fun.”

The KC said 34 testimonies were written on Ferrier’s behalf, including one from Mr Shannon. He added Ferrier is likely to lose her seat in the next election as she is an independent.

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