SINCE last year the harrowing of the Conservative Party to ensure only fervent acolytes of the hard- Brexit way remain standing has disfigured British public life. Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson, his Downing Street marionette, first moved against Tory No-Deal rebels in July 2019 by withdrawing the whip from 21 of them. The message was unmistakable: you don’t need to be competent to serve in the UK Government, just docile and unquestioning.

The Cummings/Johnson purge of all dissenters has begun to poison the world beyond Westminster. The UK’s most senior civil servant Mark Sedwill saw the writing on the wall and walked away earlier this year.

He had been effectively marooned within Whitehall following months of whispered briefings into the ears of friendly journalists. Others have been frog-marched out of the door by security detail merely on the suspicion of having emailed or tweeted out of turn.

It’s now difficult to escape the conclusion that something similar has taken root inside the SNP. What’s become clear over the last few days though, is that the cult currently attempting a coup inside Scotland’s party of government are nowhere near as efficient as the formidable Mr Cummings.

The attempts by the SNP’s National Executive Committee to remove James Dornan from his Cathcart seat would be deeply sinister if they weren’t so laughable. Presumably, the decision to remove Dornan, a party loyalist not above getting his hands dirty for his bosses, was approved by several levels of the SNP executive.

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Yet, it didn’t strike anyone that such a move might be unconstitutional. This speaks either of Homer Simpson levels of incompetence or the arrogance of a few operators inside the NEC who believe they are untouchable.

The vitriolic and unprecedented public attack on the party’s national secretary by its women’s officer over the affair served only to make it more curious still.

Rhiannon Spear accused Angus MacLeod of being “incapable” of doing his job. “Myself and my colleagues on the NEC should never be in a position where we have to vote on anything in front of us if it is constitutionally dubious,” wrote Spear in an email to MacLeod.

Several SNP politicians I’ve since spoken to expressed as much astonishment about the identity of this email’s author as they did about the original decision itself. Did Spear’s fury really arise from the “unconstitutional” element of the fiasco or something else entirely? Who can tell? For, right now the inner workings of the SNP are about as transparent as the Soviet politburo circa 1971, but not nearly as cuddly.

Compared with the state of open warfare that currently exists inside the NEC the Glasgow situation is a teddy bears’ picnic.

Last Thursday’s moves to block any prospect of Joanna Cherry competing for the party nomination to fight Edinburgh Central at next year’s Holyrood elections revealed that a party-within-a-party situation is now developing inside the SNP.

Just what is it about Cherry’s candidacy that led to such spiteful reprisals? Cherry has said she isn’t interested in challenging Nicola Sturgeon for the party leadership. It surely can’t arise from her reasonable caution, moderately expressed, about some aspects of the SNP’s proposed GRA legislation?

The National: Nicola Sturgeon

The NEC machinations revealed over the last few days have been the source of some angst long before now among the Holyrood and Westminster groups of MSPs and MPs I’ve spoken to.

It’s now clear that the group needs radical reform and that much greater transparency of its workings and membership is required.

The NEC should be elected by all party members and not by an anointed cadre of conference activists. Among its 40-strong membership are a suite of “affiliated groups” such as Out for Indy, effectively a group of chums with a similar cultural view of the world who elect each other and have somehow managed to secure significant party funding.

WHO gets to decide which affiliated groups get a seat on the NEC and which do not? What is the process for achieving such exalted status? My mum and her pals who voted Yes in 2014 regularly get together to discuss politics. Could they get a seat if they formed OAPs for Indy?

The following is an account of how last Thursday’s “stop Joanna Cherry” tactic unfolded. It comes from two NEC members: “As soon as dual mandate was mentioned Alex Kerr asked to come in on the debate saying he felt uncomfortable with all the press around this and would really prefer a secret ballot.

“Then Ian McCann said: ‘Oh don’t worry, it will be a secret ballot of sorts as we have a survey monkey ready for you.’ “Bear in mind, at this point the NEC had not yet voted ‘to do nothing’ or ‘to do something’.

“There was an initial vote to determine if something should be done or best just leave it for now.

“This vote narrowly went with ‘do something’. That initial vote was so close, it was taken again.

“So there was actually the need to vote twice on whether to do something to block Joanna before they then went to a secret ballot to block her. There was no obligation to take any of the suggestions a-e with a late f added in.

“Yet despite that, everything was all lined up ready to go for the secret vote that determined Joanna Cherry was effectively blocked.

“Survey monkey lets you see the results right away but despite that the meeting carried on for about another 30 minutes before they got the results as Ian McCann was ‘finalising and compiling them’.”

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As well as being a member of the NEC, Alex Kerr is convenor of the party’s Shettleston branch and convenor of the SNP’s Glasgow constituency group. He also made the SNP’s candidate list for last year’s European elections.

The Scotsman was there to observe him casting his vote: “SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cast her ballot at the Broomhouse Community Hall [Shettleston] in Glasgow on Thursday morning. She was joined by her husband and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell and SNP candidate Alexander Kerr.”

McCann is the party’s corporate governance and compliance manager and was described as Peter Murrell’s “deputy” in a 2018 article in the New Statesman.

In response to the contents of this account, Kerr said: “As an NEC member I don’t comment on leaks of confidential meetings. My view is that they undermine the cause of our movement.”

At a time when the wider Yes movement is reaching unprecedented levels of support, the main vehicle for independence is jeopardising the entire project. This isn’t the fault of “Zoomers” – the favoured term of commentators eager to retain their passes to Bute House – but of a party hierarchy that risks completely alienating its core membership.