IAN Blackford told Joanna Cherry she was being sacked from the SNP’s Westminster frontbench because she "upsets people".  

It’s understood the party boss started discussing a possible reshuffle with his MPs towards the end of last week, but it was only on Monday afternoon, half an hour before an emergency group meeting, that Cherry found out she had been demoted to the backbenches. 

One source said: “Joanna asked him why, and he said she upset people and was not a team player.”

READ MORE: SNP sack Joanna Cherry from Westminster frontbench team

Cherry’s supporters believe the MP has been targeted unfairly, and that decision has come directly from Nicola Sturgeon.

But critics within the Westminster group accused Cherry of "bullying" and making the party "look like fools". They said the sacking had been a long time coming. 

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In a sign of how bad the relationship is between Cherry and Blackford, a press release put out by the SNP detailing the reshuffle, and announcing the four promotions, failed to mention that Cherry was no longer spokesperson for justice and home affairs. 

It’s understood Blackford also didn’t thank Cherry during the meeting, though singled out others moving away from the front bench. 

Cherry has been a fierce critic of the Scottish Government's planned reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, and has found herself at odds with trans members of the SNP and their allies. 

She's also a prominent supporter of former First Minister Alex Salmond and has called for him to be reinstated in the party.  

A source close to Cherry told The National: “This is not just about the trans thing, because Ian didn’t cite it and nobody has given Joanna any notification that there’s any official complaint against her for transphobia because there’s no basis for any such complaint. 

“She has also indicated that if anyone did accuse her of it she would defend herself vigorously and go to court if necessary, and what’s more the Edinburgh legal eagles have been falling over themselves to say they will defend her if there’s any party action against her.

“Certain people were raging when she got elected to the NEC with more votes than all the other candidates put together, so there’s definitely tall thistle syndrome at play here.” 

READ MORE: Joanna Cherry replaced by Stuart McDonald and Anne McLaughlin in SNP reshuffle

One of Cherry’s Westminster colleagues said the QC had left the leadership with little choice.

They pointed to an interview she gave the Times last November, ahead of the party’s conference, where the outspoken MP accused her party of an “unhealthy” tendency to shut down debate suggested the SNP was becoming like “the cult” of Nicola Sturgeon.

“How many times can you make us look like fools?" our source said. "She was bullying, she was briefing against people, she was histrionic on Twitter.”

They added: “The straw for me was the coverage she was getting on the day of our conference. She was attacking our leader on the eve of our conference. Come on, you can't maintain a front bench role when you're doing that. 

“Ian obviously took the view that there have to be consequences, so good.” 

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They added: “Being a front bencher does matter. If you're going to be that disloyal there needs to be consequences. She's going to claim victimhood and that it was a great big conspiracy. It's not.”

One SNP politician told The National they were sure the decision had come straight from the First Minister: “Ian was the stooge who wielded the knife. He was directed to do that. It's a personal vendetta with political effects.”

Another former senior party official told us: “I think they have gone mad, quite insane, across a range of fronts.

“The main thing to remember is that it’s only a matter of weeks since she was elected by the party membership to the NEC as top of the poll.

“You can’t then flagrantly insult the membership by sacking arguably your most talented front-bencher just because you yourself are a weak and insipid person. This is tall poppy syndrome writ large and just the opposite of how you lead a party.

“The leadership on a range of fronts are clearly suffering from some sort of lockdown syndrome and a collective madness which has been developing under pressure. It’s certainly not the most sensible way to proceed in politics.”

Another MP said they were worried about the consequences of sacking Cherry. “Jo thought she was bigger than the group, bigger than the party and bigger than the First Minister. She never really bought into collective responsibility. I’m sure she’ll be much happier on the backbenches.

"God knows what this means for the party though. There’s the mainstream SNP and then there’s the Woman’s Pledge/Salmond/Plan B-ers. Some of these differences here are irreconcilable.”