HERE is one for practitioners of modern political etiquette. How soon is too soon to ask a senior political figure about an embarrassing leak of the audio kind?

On Saturday a report appeared in the Daily Mail, based on a secret recording received by the paper, about a meeting of SNP MPs at Westminster.

Ian Blackford, the party’s Westminster leader, had called for colleagues to support Patrick Grady, the SNP MP given a two day suspension by Commons authorities for making “unwanted sexual advances” towards a teenage party worker.

Mr Blackford said of the former chief whip: “He’s going to face a number of challenges over the short term and so he should have our absolute full support.”

Mr Blackford’s comments did not chime with a statement he made in 2017 committing the party to “zero tolerance of unacceptable behaviour”.

There were calls from Opposition parties, and from some within the SNP, for Mr Blackford to resign.

A significant story, one that STV News reporter Vanessa Taaffe asked SNP depute leader Keith Brown about when she interviewed him on camera on Saturday afternoon. The clip was tweeted at 4.15pm.

“Well, I’ve been up from quite early this morning,” said Mr Brown, adding that he had not seen the story. “Of course I’m aware of the fact that Patrick Grady was suspended I think for two days, and that there is further consideration of that matter by the SNP group. Beyond that I don’t know anything about it.”

A day later, Martin Geissler, presenter of BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show, asked Angus Robertson, the Constitution Secretary, about the story at the end of an interview about indyref2. As a former journalist he would have known Geissler was never going to pass up such an opportunity, and this time the Minister was ready with backing for Mr Blackford.



While Mr Robertson’s response may not be end of the matter, it was at least a response.

Now is the summer of our chaos. It does not quite have the poetic ring of Shakespeare’s words about the winter of discontent, as applied to 1978-79. But then opinion is split over whether the planned strikes of the summer, starting this week on the railways, are a return to the heady days of flares and flying pickets, or the start of a new era in industrial relations.

Grant Shapps, the UK Transport Secretary and yesterday’s Minister for the Sunday shows, is firmly in the new era camp. Asked on Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday and the BBC’s Sunday morning why he had not sat down for talks with Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT, Mr Shapps said negotiations were a matter for the employers. Mr Lynch may be nostalgic for the days of beer and sandwiches at Number 10, said the Minister, but times had changed.

Times had not changed enough, however, to avoid an old fashioned row between the Minister and the union leader. Mr Shapps accused the RMT negotiators of going to a workers’ rally on Saturday instead of staying in talks.

“What he says is untrue,” said Mr Lynch, adding that no talks had been scheduled.

The Minister was also accused of issuing a not so veiled threat to rail workers when he called the strikes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday a “huge act of self-harm”.

Speaking to Ridge on Sunday, he said: “Of course, it is a reality that if we can’t get these railways modernised, if we can’t get the kind of efficiency that will mean that they can work on behalf of the travelling public, then of course it is jeopardising the future of the railway itself.”

Mr Lynch accused Network Rail and the Government of being “just as ruthless as P&O”, the ferry company which sacked 800 staff with no notice in March.

For Labour, shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy said that only the Government could now resolve the dispute and prevent the strikes going ahead. She told Ridge on Sunday: “During the pandemic they took the right to negotiate back from train operating companies, so they’re the only people who can resolve this and yet they’re not prepared to. The biggest problem that this country has is not militant workers, it’s a militant Government.”

It was left to Gordon Brown to offer the day’s most positive words.

Asked on Sunday Morning if he had any advice for Labour leader Keir Starmer on being called “boring”, the former Prime Minister said: “Ignore it. Keir Starmer was the Director of Public Prosecutions. He’s been a great public servant over many years, and I think he’ll make a great Prime Minister.”