THE SNP’s John Nicholson has been cleared of bullying after he liked a number of tweets criticising Nadine Dorries, including one describing her as a “mendacious, vacuous goon”.

The former broadcaster was initially carpeted by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner but had the ruling overturned on appeal. 

An independent expert panel described it as an "unusual" case and said Parliament’s bullying policy “had to be interpreted so as not to preclude vigorous opposition to government."

The panel added that the standards commissioner had been wrong to ignore Ms Dorries’ own record of tweeting and the fact she had made previous “broad” complaints that had been rejected.

Taking to Twitter Ms Dorries said she was disappointed by the ruling and that in any other  workplace, the SNP politician would “have been instantly dismissed.”

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The former culture minister’s complaint related to a series of tweets Mr Nicolson liked and retweeted following her appearance at the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in November 2021.

Mr Nicolson tweeted six tweets relating to his questioning of the then culture minister.

These tweets received thousands of notifications, 110 of which the SNP politician liked. He also retweeted another. 

In his initial investigation, the Commissioner went on to conclude that of these 41 were “disparaging”.

He said that some of the material liked “went far beyond fair criticism and was both hostile and insulting in nature.”

These included one tweet calling Ms Dorries "grotesque" which went on to say she had "too much power" and was "as thick as two short planks."

Another described the Tory as a mendacious, vacuous goon you wouldn’t employ to babysit your dog”

Mr Nicolson also retweeted one that said “Nadine Dorrie’s (sic) being completely rag-dolled (again) by a Scottish MP is the perfect remedy to a cold autumn night here."

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Appealing, Mr Nicolson pointed out that at the time of the tweets, Ms Dorries, as a minister, was in a more powerful position than he was himself.

He also said the tweets he liked or retweeted were not violent or couched in foul language and that he had arranged matters so that Ms Dorries would not see them or be aware of them unless she set out to find them.

He also argued that Twitter was an essential tool for the modern politician and that if the approach of the Commissioner was accepted, then "effective opposition would be seriously impeded" as "proper vigorous opposition through social media would be swamped by spurious complaints, taking advantage of far too low a bar for bullying and harassment."

The Herald:

Mr Nicolson also pointed out that Ms Dorries was a "frequent and aggressive tweeter, using terms far more threatening and aggressive than he had done."

He claimed the "true explanation" for the complaint was because he had been "effective in exposing the complainant’s weakness as a minister and exposing problems with her own record, which might militate against her being accorded a peerage."

Overturning the decision, the panel found Mr Greenberg had not considered the "realities of Parliamentary politics" in his consideration. 

They said he should have also considered Ms Dorries' "own history of use (and alleged abuse) of social media, in particular Twitter, some of which is a matter of public record."


"The question of whether she was genuinely shocked or disturbed is obviously capable of being affected by her own behaviour. If her own use of Twitter might at times be thought aggressive, or even threatening, it would suggest it was less likely that she was affected as she claimed," the report said.

They included an example of a tweet where she threatened to "nail [a journalist’s] balls to the floor using [the journalist’s] own front teeth”. 


In their conclusion, the panel said Parliament's bullying and harassment policy should not be interpreted "so as not to impede or prevent proper opposition, or proper and vigorous defence of government policy."

"The context of this case is far removed from a case of a Member alleged to have bullied a member of staff, or indeed from a case of behaviour between Members in private, or simply as colleagues."

"As in so many cases, context is vital to understanding a case and applying these tests. We emphasise that there are limits to behaviour even in the context of heated debate between government and opposition, but breach of those limits must be examined in the proper way.

The panel did, however, note that liking and retweeting tweets were not “neutral” acts and Mr Nicolson had been “unwise” to do so with some of the tweets in question.

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Ms Dorries tweeted: “In any workplace other than Parliament where the rule of law, not privilege applies, Nicholson would have been instantly dismissed.

“I’m disappointed that the Standards Commissioner’s verdict has been overturned in this way. It seems strange to me that it can be done on the basis of 'new evidence' which I have not seen or been given the opportunity to respond to.

“Once again, a shadow of doubt cast over Parliamentary process and the conduct of individual MPs.”