Margaret Ferrier lost her appeal against the proposed 30-day ban from the House of Commons due to breaches of the Covid rules, paving the way for a byelection in the Scottish MP constituency.
The former Scottish National party MP was found to have brought the Commons into disrepute and put people at risk after taking part in a debate and traveling on a train while he had Covid in September 2020.
The failure of his appeal could prompt a recall petition in his Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency, where a byelection would give Labor a fighting chance of a seat in Scotland, where it hopes to win the general election.
The seat was won by the SNP in 2019 and by Labor in 2017, and will be a key electoral test for Scotland’s new first minister, Humza Yousaf, whose party has been mired in financial scandal and personal infighting.
Any suspension of 10 or more working days will automatically trigger a recall petition, which, if signed by 10% of the constituents, will lead to a byelection.
The length of Ferrier’s suspension has alarmed supporters of Boris Johnson, who is being investigated by the privileges committee about breaches of Covid rules in Downing Street. He hopes to avoid an equally long sentence, which could prompt a byelection in his Uxbridge seat.
An independent expert panel on Monday dismissed Ferrier’s appeal, saying it was “without substance” after the Commons standards committee recommended his suspension in March.
“The first stage of the appeal process has not been completed. The sentence imposed was not unreasonable or disproportionate. For these reasons, this appeal is dismissed.
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Jackie Baillie, said a byelection had moved “one step closer” to the constituency, where the party already has a candidate in Michael Shanks, a modern studies teacher who lives locally.
“It’s a shame this community has been left without proper representation because of Margaret Ferrier’s actions,” Baillie said. Shanks will give constituents the “clean start they deserve,” he said.
The SNP says it is “ready to take the fight to the Tories and pro-Brexit Labor party” but is struggling to find a suitable candidate to contest the byelection.
Yousaf is trying to find a candidate after refusing to endorse any of the three local councilors who put themselves forward.
Opponents of the SNP believe that no one in the party wants to fight for the seat because of the high probability that they will lose, and will have to spend a large part of the contest to prevent visible anger locally over Ferrier’s behaviour. .
Ferrier, who lost the SNP whip, was sentenced to 270 hours of community service after pleading guilty to breaking Covid rules. In September 2020, he took a Covid test after having symptoms but the next day went to church and had lunch with a family member.
Two days later, while awaiting the results of a Covid test, he traveled by train to London, took part in a parliamentary debate and ate in the members’ tearoom. He then traveled home to Glasgow by train the next morning despite being told he was positive.