IN November 2017, the SNP Children's Minister, Mark McDonald, resigned after sending a couple of risqué texts to a female colleague. He lost his career, his seat and became suicidal, as he recounted in his emotional parliamentary apology. It has now emerged that, around the time Mr McDonald fell on his sword, accusations of more serious sexual misdemeanours by senior SNP figures in Westminster were being handled behind a discreet veil anonymity.

I have no inside knowledge of the affairs of the former SNP Chief Whip in Westminster, Patrick Grady, who has resigned over allegations that he groped male party workers four years ago. It is reported that he apologised to at least one of them but nothing further happened. According to the Sunday Post, Nicola Sturgeon was told about the Grady allegations by Alex Salmond in one of those meetings in 2018 about which she has had memory issues

I've no idea why he told her. Perhaps he was suggesting that Mr Grady's treatment was rather more “in house” than that of Mr McDonald, or himself. There were certainly no press releases or lurid leaks to the Daily Record. The First Minister seemed content to keep Mr Grady's behaviour under wraps for the next three years.

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There was also a claim of sexual harassment by a female SNP MP around the same time which has only now surfaced and been strenuously denied. It is not entirely clear why the complainant or complainants have decided to press their grievances right now, though at least one of them believes his complaint was covered up by SNP.

It is also claimed that Mr Grady sought to cover up, or at least justify, the behaviour of the former SNP Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay. Mr Mackay resigned as a minister a year ago after he was discovered to have been bombarding a 16-year-old boy with messages of an apparently sexual nature. Mr Grady insisted that the boy was above the age of consent, which was true – though his parents weren't entirely reassured by that.

At any rate, once again, Ms Sturgeon thought it was best not to tread into private grief. She launched an investigation into Mr Mackay's behaviour which has since been lost without trace. The affair has disappeared into that convenient repository of unwanted scandal, the long grass, while Mr Mackay continues to draw his salary.

Following the epic Salmond affair these episodes may seem trivial But they do cast a rather bizarre light on the way the SNP handles its internal complaints, or rather “concerns”, as Ms Sturgeon now calls them. It looks as if some “concerns” can be dealt with quietly and in a consensual manner if they involve the right people

It's all very messy and led the Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, to accuse the SNP this week of being “knee-deep in sleaze”. Well, he should know, since the Tories practically invented sleaze 25 years ago. John Major's Government became indelibly tainted with the term after the PM's Back to Basics campaign on family values famously became “back to my place”.

Minister after minister was found to be involved in various forms of extra-curricular sexual activity, though Mr Major's own affair with the Tory minister, Edwina Currie, only emerged much later. It was all rather quaint looking back. A more innocent time. But the sleaziness was politically damaging, especially after it became compounded with the cash-for-questions affair.

John Major had an affair with Edwina Currie

John Major had an affair with Edwina Currie

Some have been drawing comparisons with the current state of the SNP, which seems to be acquiring a similarly lurid image of sexual impropriety. The difference with Back to Basics is perhaps that today's allegations involve potential, and in Mr Salmond's case actual criminal charges. Except, that is, for Mr McDonald, who was never accused of any crime. Many people still don't realise that groping is now regarded as sexual assault and not just men behaving badly. Or in the SNP's case women behaving badly, allegedly.

What do the voters make of it all? Heaven knows. They've probably become inured in recent months to rumour and innuendo and headlines about obscure sexual misdemeanours. There certainly seems to be a lot of it about and I'm sure many voters are wondering how MPs find the time.

Society is pretty tolerant nowadays of sexual peccadillos, and sexual lifestyles, so long as they don't involve coercion or power play. But what they can't abide are double standards, unfair treatment and worst of all, cover-up. Grope-gate has amplified the reverberations from the Salmond affair and fuelled a sense that the SNP is not playing with a straight bat.

There is talk that Nicola Sturgeon's Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans, is being lined up to carry the can for mishandling the investigation into Mr Salmond's alleged misbehaviour in 2018. There was a litany of “catastrophic mistakes”, to use the First Minister's own language. The Scottish Government was found by the Court of Session to have behaved unlawfully, and it has since been accused of obstructing the committee investigating what went wrong.

Read more: So what will independence be if SNP no longer protect freedom of speech?

There is widespread acceptance that the female complainants were treated shabbily. Identities were leaked. They were not referred to the proper advice and advocacy services. The original complainants were referred to the police against their wishes, according to testimony from civil servants. This was not a great moment for the Scottish Government to pass the controversial Hate Crime Bill, which many women believe leaves them unprotected.

None of this has helped the SNP's prospects in the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary elections. A rather daft theory doing the rounds on the nationalist blogosphere is that Nicola Sturgeon is deliberately trying to reduce her majority in May so she doesn't have to deliver the promised independence referendum. Like a boxer, she's throwing the fight.

But politicians just don't do things like that, even if it were possible so to do. The SNP is not going to lose the election in May. But history may judge this as the moment the SNP began to lose the plot.

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