IAN Blackford is a man of few silences. 

The loquacious former financier turned self-styled humble crofter has always enjoyed a blether. So when the Skye MP zipped his lip at the start of the week you knew something was up.

That something was the fall-out from the Patrick Grady affair, a scandal that was bad enough for the SNP to begin with, but which had been made immeasurably worse by the party’s dismal response to it, including Mr Blackford’s own reaction.

Mr Grady, the MP for Glasgow North, was SNP chief whip when it came to light he had sexually harassed a male member of the party’s Westminster staff 17 years younger than him in a pub in 2016. 

In 2018, after reports reached him, Mr Blackford invited the man into his office where, to his surprise, Mr Grady joined the meeting and made a tearful apology.

The staffer later called it an “ambush” as he felt bounced into accepting the apology, allowing Mr Grady and Mr Blackford to treat the matter as closed. 

Despite his mea culpa, Mr Grady remained chief whip until March last year, when the Herald revealed he had been accused of harassment. 

Only then did he quit the post. And only then did Nicola Sturgeon recall that she had “an awareness previously of a concern, but not a formal complaint”. 

Last week, Westminster’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) upheld a complaint filed by the staff member, finding the MP had “made an unwanted sexual advance” while “under the influence of alcohol”. 

The 42-year-old was suspended from the Commons and by the SNP for two days.

On the day the watchdog published its findings, Mr Blackford told his MPs to give Mr Grady their “absolute full support”. In 2017, he had promised the group would have a “zero tolerance of unacceptable behaviour”.

One of those present recorded and leaked his remark to the media and the normally chatty Mr Blackford fell mute. 

Meanwhile the new SNP chief whip, Midlothian MP Owen Thompson, lashed out at the leaker, saying it was “beyond the pale”, “unacceptable”, and muttered darkly about legal retribution. 

The victim of Mr Grady’s harassment seemed to be of relatively minor concern.

Amid public splits in his group, Mr Blackford sort of apologised on Tuesday. 

He was sorry the staffer was harassed, and regretted he was not “fully supported” after complaining, but did not directly apologise for his own comment or for trying to make it all disappear in 2018. 

“I am initiating an external review of support available to staff,” he declared. 

However, as the Commons already offers a 24/7 helpline to staff for all manner of personal and professional problems, as well as the ICGS system, plus pastoral care from the Members’ Services Team, that didn’t amount to very much. 

Mr Grady’s victim dismissed it as a ruse to save Mr Blackford’s job. It’s certainly hard to see it as credible or sufficient. 

I understand this Tuesday’s meeting of SNP MPs didn’t even discuss the Grady affair or Mr Blackford’s apology, so eager were those in charge to hurry on. 

That will come back to bite them. The SNP has an ingrained problem with failing to tackle misconduct, and token gestures and “learning lessons” won’t fix it. One party sources tells me a key issue is that processes are not applied equally if at all.

Discipline tends to get meted out to those the leadership dislikes, while the favoured few get the kid glove treatment. 

Although the Westminster had just set up a new complaints process when the Patrick Grady complaint surfaced, it was not applied to him. Instead, there was that informal ‘ambush’ meeting. 

When Mr Grady apologised to the Commons last week he revealed he had already “participated in bespoke and generic training, which has helped me to reflect more fully on my behaviour”. 

I understand that was courtesy of SNP HQ, which knew there was a problem with him, but put hush-hush continuity before discipline and publicity, with the victim left out in the cold. Running down the clock is another favourite tactic.

When Derek Mackay quit as finance secretary in February 2020 after pestering a 16-year-old boy with texts, the SNP suspended him pending an investigation.

But this was never concluded. Instead, on the eve of the 2021 Holyrood election, Mr Mackay quit the SNP and the party said that had brought “the matter to a close”.

No verdict meant no justice for his victim.

An SNP spokesperson said Mr Mackay had also been given support for his mental health by the party, adding: “We wish him well for his recovery.”  

A lot of this tracks back to SNP HQ, where Ms Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, has been party chief executive for 20 years. He is unsackable, though hardly irreplaceable.

With any rocking of the boat reflecting badly on him and the FM, most complaints go nowhere, says my source - unless the leadership wants to punish someone it already sees as a problem.

All parties hide their dirt, of course. But with a sclerotic back-office covering its tracks, and with independence always allegedly around the corner, the SNP’s aversion to putting its own house in order seems more pronounced than most. 

This week the Scottish Government disgracefully argued it was not in the public interest to disclose the findings of bullying probes into ministers. 

Apparently civil servants won’t complain if there’s transparency. 

At Westminster, a public reckoning is an integral part of the ICGS process. But here, oh no, constituents must never learn if their MSPs deserve to be kicked out for abusing their position in government. 

In her foreword to the Scottish Ministerial Code, written in 2018, the First Minister stated: “It is essential to set and maintain the highest standards of propriety and openness for Government ministers.”

Yet the public may never know if an errant minister is disciplined under that same code, for all its “openness”. 

Such warped secrecy is self-destructive. Mistreating victims and cosseting creeps is a recipe for more scandal in the end.