This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

There's probably never a good time to suspend a former minister and prominent MSP from a party's group at Holyrood but just a week ahead of a by-election is certainly not it.

The move to withdraw the SNP whip from Fergus Ewing last night after he supported a no confidence motion in the Scottish Greens minister Lorna Slater back in June has inflamed tensions in the party at a crucial time and just when some calm appeared to have been restored in recent weeks after many months of troubles.

Next Thursday sees voters in Rutherglen and Hamilton West head to the polls to elect a new MP after Margaret Ferrier, twice elected for the SNP, in 2019 and in 2015, was removed by constituents in Scotland's first recall petition following her conviction for breaking lockdown rules. Ms Ferrier sat as an independent since her breach emerged in 2020.

Labour is in fighting form with UK party leader Sir Keir Starmer expected to be campaigning in the constituency very soon and with his party hopeful of victory just in time to celebrate at his annual conference in Liverpool which starts the weekend after the by-election.

Humza Yousaf, meanwhile, looks set to be facing a party in poor spirits when he addresses his first SNP conference as leader, the first since the resignation of his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon, and the first to take place since the escalation of the police investigation into party finances.

Mr Yousaf is already facing a potential revolt at the Aberdeen conference next month over his preferred route to independence with the SNP's longest-serving MP Pete Wishart arguing instead for a mandate to begin negotiations with the UK Government based on the party winning most votes rather than seats (as the FM's and his party's Westminster leader Stephen Flynn's motion does) at the general election.

Many of Mr Ewing's allies, including his sister, the SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing, who was visibly upset after his week long suspension last night, Mr Yousaf's narrowly beaten rival in the leadership election Kate Forbes, and SNP MSP Christian Grahame, are likely to be downhearted over the punishment of a brother, friend and colleague they clearly deeply care for.

All three women stood beside Mr Ewing as he delivered his statement to the press last night.

As for the former minister turned rebel, he was defiant, telling journalists "Je ne regrette rien" as he walked into the meeting and issuing a scathing assessment about the SNP's direction under its pact with the Scottish Greens in a short statement afterward.

The Herald:
He said he had opposed policies such as the deposit return scheme and the highly protected marines areas (both now shelved) because they were not in his constituents' interests.

"I choose to defend my constituents and let the cards fall as they will," he concluded.

While the vote to suspend the Inverness and Nairn MSP passed easily with 48 voting for the motion, nine MSPs opposed the move while four abstained.

With the party not releasing the names of how MSPs voted, it's not yet known who were the nine MSPs who opposed the sanction, but it's likely they're not happy today and could cause further difficulties for Mr Yousaf's leadership in the weeks and months to come.

Read more:

Unspun | UK Government fails to reap benefits of net zero as Rosebank given go-ahead

Last night SNP MSPs were stony faced as they left the 65-minute meeting, reluctant to expand on what had happened inside Committee Room 6.

But this morning cabinet minister Mairi McAllan was less quiet, telling the BBC that she was among those who voted for the action against Mr Ewing.

She defended the sanction as "proportionate" for what she described as "a serious breach of party standing orders" and said she would have expected to be disciplined in the same way had she done so.

Close followers of party politics may think this is all fair enough, Mr Ewing broke rules and had to face the consequences of his action.

Had the leadership – it was the party's chief whip Rona Mackay who proposed the motion to suspend – not taken action, Mr Yousaf would have been accused of being weak, of not enforcing discipline, or of failing to stand up to rebels.

Get Unspun, Scotland's top politics newsletter, sent directly to your inbox.

However, at a deeper level, the episode once again highlights Mr Yousaf's own fragile grip on the party and is symptomatic of wider problems he doesn't seem to have tackled.

Questions were raised back in Spring about why the new FM hadn't formed a Cabinet which included senior people who backed Ms Forbes' campaign as a way of uniting the SNP after a fractious contest.

Now with Mr Ewing's suspension and little prospect of him falling into line, those matters of party management have returned with a vengeance to haunt Mr Yousaf's leadership.