The SNP is today facing a backlash over suspending the prominent MSP Fergus Ewing from the party's Holyrood group.

Supporters of Mr Ewing took to social media to condemn the decision to withdraw the whip from the long-serving MSP and former senior minister for a week.

The 66-year-old, who is among the party's few MSPs who were first elected for the party to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, was suspended after he voted against the circular economy minister Lorna Slater in a motion of no confidence over her handling of the controversial deposit return scheme.

He was expected to be disciplined shortly after the vote in June but action was paused following the death of his mother, the legendary SNP politician Winnie Ewing.

READ MORE: Defiant Fergus Ewing says SNP no longer puts Scotland first

Allies of Mr Ewing last night criticised the move which followed a 65-minute disciplinary meeting, held in private in a Holyrood committee room, though this morning cabinet secretary Mairi McAllan, who voted for the suspension, said the action was "proportionate".

A total of 48 SNP MSPs voted for his week long suspension, nine opposed it and four abstained.

Neither First Minister and SNP leader Humza Yousaf nor his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon attended the meeting with the former unwell and the latter having a prior engagement.

"I may not agree with Fergus Ewing on everything but he is a man of integrity. I’m glad there were rebels on this vote. His rebellion is the product of years of inadequate debate in our party about policy making. That needs to change. Don’t shoot the messenger," wrote MP Joanna Cherry last night on X, formerly Twitter.

READ MORE: SNP MSPs vote to suspend Fergus Ewing from Holyrood group

SNP grandee Alex Neil, a former health secretary, also criticised the move.

"Doing this to Fergus Ewing shows how divorced from reality and intolerant of other people’s views the SNP leadership has become, I am sad to say," he wrote on X.

Angus MacNeil, the party's former MP, who was expelled from the SNP this summer and now sits as an independent, also hit out saying the party had "left us both".

"Fergus calls as  Old SNP meets New SNP," he wrote on the social media platform.

"I saw it as Settle Up met Settle Down.  Either way SNP left us both.  - sad turn of events. Time to prioritise independence!!!!"

Mr MacNeil, who is to stand against the party in his Western Isles constituency at the general election, also called for the party to say how each of the SNP MSPs voted.

READ MORE: Fergus Ewing suspension inflames SNP tension amid deep seated problems

"Voters and SNP members surely have the right to know how each SNP MSP voted here on Fergus Ewing.  Or else there is going to be a week of media questions," he added.

Mr Ewing was supported by his sister the SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing, who was close to tears, and colleagues Kate Forbes and Christine Grahame, as he gave a defiant statement after the meeting in which he attacked the party he was born into and said it no longer put Scotland first.

He said he had criticised policies including the deposit return scheme and the highly protected marine areas, both now shelved, and the plan to ban fossil fuel boilers, as they would have had a damaging impact on his constituents.

"I was literally born into the SNP. For me, and indeed many others, support of the party and advocacy of an independent Scotland has been a life’s work," he said.

"My loyalty to the party has been great. Many is the time as a minister and as an MSP I have bitten my tongue for the greater good.

"I did this because I knew that whatever disagreements or policy shortcomings I thought the party had, it was fundamentally attempting to do the right thing by my constituents and for Scotland.

"It was never an ordinary political party because it was one which put Scotland first. In good conscience, this is no longer the case and it has nothing to do with personalities or my antipathy towards the Green Party."

He added: "It has to do with policies on the deposit return scheme, on fishing, on transport, tourism and small businesses, and on boiler replacement, which are deeply hostile to the interests of my constituency."

His suspension comes just ahead of the Westminster by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West next Thursday and as Mr Yousaf prepares to address his first SNP conference as party leader the following week.

It also comes just months after intense debate in the party over whether Ms Sturgeon should be suspended following her arrest by police investigating the SNP's finances. The former first minister was released without charge pending further inquiries. Mr Yousaf declined calls to suspend her.

Opposition parties were quick to highlight the divisions inside the SNP over Mr Ewing's suspension with the Conservatives underlining his criticisms of the party's direction under the co-operation agreement with the Scottish Greens.

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy MSP said: “Humza Yousaf has once again shown his contempt for remote and rural Scotland by punishing an MSP who has dared to point out how his government has failed these areas.

“The SNP leader should be listening to Fergus Ewing on issues like oil and gas, dualling the A9 and devastating fishing restrictions, rather than being in thrall to the extremist Greens.

“It tells you everything you need to know about Humza Yousaf’s priorities that Lorna Slater remains in government despite her catastrophic mishandling of the Deposit Return Scheme, while a member of his own party who rightly called for her to go has been ostracised.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie MSP said:  “The division at the heart of the SNP is pantomime in its proportions.  

“The fact that Fergus Ewing has to turn up to a meeting with his party colleagues with legal counsel in tow is yet more proof of the hostilities and bitterness distracting the nationalists from the day job.  

“The SNP should be fixing our schools, getting islanders lifeline ferries and cleaning up the sewage in our rivers. Sadly, they’re too caught up in their own soap opera to pay much attention."

“I’m glad there were rebels on this vote. His rebellion is the product of years of inadequate debate in our party about policy making. That needs to change. Don’t shoot the messenger.”

But speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Thursday, Ms McAllan, the cabinet secretary for net zero,  defended the punishment as "proportionate" and said there is still room for free thinkers within the SNP.

Asked if she had voted in favour of his suspension, Ms McAllan said: “In full transparency, yes I did.

“It is something I certainly would expect to be the outcome if I had done what Fergus did.

“It is part of a normal party mechanism in a democratic system.”

Asked whether politicians can express their opinions within the SNP, she added: “Of course, I like to think of myself as a free thinker.

“In particular the First Minister has been quite clear he wants people to come to him and to speak to him internally if they have any concerns they wish to raise, he has an open door in that regard.

“But Fergus is a longstanding MSP, he has been a minister, he understands the procedures here and what the outcome is of voting the way he did.”

Ms McAllan also made clear she does not agree with Ms Cherry’s comments, adding that suspending Mr Ewing was “a proportionate response to a serious breach of party standing orders which was voted on by majority, overwhelming majority, by the group in Holyrood”.