IN the heady, strike-fuelled atmosphere of the Commons yesterday one member’s gas looked to be at a lower peep than normal.

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, can usually be found quivering with indignation at Prime Minister’s Questions, his efforts spurred on by the obvious contempt in which he is held on the Conservative benches (and, it has to be said, a few other places besides). It is quite the achievement to elicit more groans than the LibDem leader of the day, but the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber manages it every time.

Who could blame Mr Blackford for being less of a presence after the time he has had recently. It began when parliament’s Independent Expert Panel recommended that Glasgow North SNP MP Patrick Grady be suspended for two days for making “an unwanted sexual advance” towards a party worker that included “the touching and stroking of the complainant’s neck, hair, and back”.

The staffer was 19 at the time of the incident, which took place in a London pub in 2016.

Embarrassing enough for the party, but more was to follow when a recording of the SNP group meeting at Westminster was leaked to the Daily Mail.

On the audio, Mr Blackford and other MPs can be heard calling for the party to rally round Mr Grady. “He’s going to face a number of challenges over the short term and so he should have our absolute full support,” said Mr Blackford.

Others might have expected such sentiments to be directed towards the victim. But that is to misunderstand the topsy turvy world of the SNP, where the first response to complaints and criticism is to circle the wagons, start shooting outwards, and maybe, if they feel like it, ask questions of themselves later. The party’s endless sense of victimhood has become its vice.

The response to the leak played out at various levels of farce. Amy Callaghan MP, who had been one of the cheerleading squad for Mr Grady, issued an apology so wide-ranging one almost expected her to “cough” to starting the Great Fire of London. The chief whip, Owen Thompson, went to the other extreme and threatened legal action against the leaker.

And Mr Blackford? Not a peep until late Tuesday, four days after the story of the recording had appeared in the press. For a politician who usually has his response ready before his opponent has finished speaking, the silence was remarkable.

The same goes for the First Minister. Had this happened in any other party she would have been among the first to condemn the sluggishness of the process and question the punishment.

The long and short of it was that Mr Blackford apologised and promised the party would do better.

The victim remains unimpressed, describing Mr Blackford’s statement as a “publicity stunt”. He wants the whip to be removed permanently from Mr Grady and for Mr Blackford to be replaced as leader.

It is easy to see how the party got this one so wrong. Its complaints process, such as it is, seems scrawled in the wind. The same goes for the sanctions. Why did Mr Grady have the whip withdrawn for two days while the MSP Mark McDonald, who sent lewd texts to a woman, quit as a Minister and was cast out of the party? 

In the case of the complaint against Mr Grady, the party dragged its feet for years, much to the distress of the complainant.

Any public or private body that ran its complaints process this way would soon find itself in the courts and paying out a fortune in compensation.

Why the party gets it so wrong so often is just as important a question as how, which brings us back to its persistent sense of victimhood.

To hear the SNP it is a small, powerless force existing on the outside of politics looking in. A Dickensian urchin, forever peering in to a cosy club where the press and politicians think up ever more dastardly ways of doing the SNP wrong.

It has been like this from the party’s beginnings, sometimes with good cause. The SNP wasn’t always paranoid; the British establishment really has been out to get it, nowhere more so than at Westminster. Labour, in its infancy, was subjected to the same hostile treatment.

Yet it is impossible to reconcile the party’s vision of itself as plucky, hard done by victims with the reality that it has been in power for 15 years. No “big boys and girls” did things and ran away. They are the big boys and girls, have been for some time.

There has been opposition, certainly, in parliament and in the media but other parties, including the Conservatives, have been under more pressure at times.

Sure, politics is a tribal pursuit, a team sport. But the extent of the SNP’s victimhood has made it allergic to criticism, from within its own ranks and from outside.

Over-budget and overdue ferries, shocking hospital waiting times, an education system failing those who need it most, barely registering economic growth. Yet none of it is the SNP Government’s fault. It has power, it will agree, but it is never the right kind and never enough. Westminster still controls the “levers”, which in SNP terms are the equivalent of magic money trees. There could never be enough of them, outside of independence.
A party that believes it can do no wrong, that will not apologise or change direction until absolutely forced into it, is not a healthy or a happy entity. Its gaze is turned so far inwards it cannot see how bad it looks from the outside, as with the Grady complaint.
If it takes the leak of a recording to show SNP MPs the error of their ways they really ought to get out more. What party members might see as confidence others regard as arrogance. Loyalty to the party looks like disregard for everyone else. 

But if the Scottish public don’t like this and don’t want this, why do they keep delivering thumping majorities for the SNP? The absence to date of an decent alternative is one answer.

Unfashionable though it might be to admit mistakes, many would respect the party more for it. Who knows, they might even trust it more with the big stuff. Until then, as the leak to the press shows, the mounting concerns about the party’s arrogance and insensitivity are drawing increasingly close to home.