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Elena Whitham is in a sorry state. 

“These comments were not acceptable and I apologise sincerely,” the SNP minister for drugs and alcohol policy said on Twitter today.

It followed the Daily Record publishing her posts to a party WhatsApp group after she was elected in 2021 that were less than enthusiastic about some of her colleagues.

Shona Robison, now the deputy First Minister and finance secretary, was a “cold fish”, an “automaton” and “painful to listen to”, she reckoned.

While fellow cabinet secretary Angus Robertson had a bit of an “ego”.

The SNP also mishandled the Patrick Grady affair at Westminster, Ms Whitham felt. 

“Why are we supporting Grady??” she wondered after the Glasgow North MP was found to have sexually harassed a junior SNP staffer while drunk in a pub.

As for last year’s folderol around the Queen’s platinum jubilee, that was “royalist b*****ks”, the plain-speaking MSP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley declared.

The Tories and Labour were quick to say it revealed a party in disarray.

Leaking and infighting are classic symptoms of government decay after all.

The incident showed that instead of getting on with the day job, someone else in that WhatsApp group reckoned the priority was taking Ms Whitham down a peg or two.

Mhairi Hunter, the former SNP Glasgow city councillor and long-time aide to Nicola Sturgeon, said it was “a reminder to be cautious in group chats because you never know when someone is a treacherous backstabbing piece of s***”.  

She and the opposition parties are all onto something.

It wasn’t so much what Ms Whitham said, as the fact that we can now all read it that’s the most interesting aspect of the story.

For most of what she said – I’ll say nothing about her description of Tory MSP Brian Whittle as a “p***k” – seems pretty much on the money.

Listening to the deputy First Minister make a speech isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun day out. 

Some MSPs are gifted public speakers, some are Shona Robisons.

Nor is it controversial to detect an out-sized ego swelling within Angus Robertson. As I’m sure the constitution secretary would agree, it’s a side effect of towering genius. 

Scepticism about the jubilee wasn’t confined to Ms Whitham either. Many in the SNP and beyond will have had little time for it.

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As for Patrick Grady, Ms Whitham was surely on the side of the angels when she ventilated about the SNP getting his case horribly wrong. 

The former chief whip was guilty of sexual misconduct yet was treated with kid gloves by the party hierarchy in private while it boasted in public about taking a “zero tolerance” approach.

It would also be unfair on Ms Whitham to think she was alone in these various thoughts.

She wasn’t locking them away in a diary but sharing them with SNP colleagues who – on the basis of feedback – she probably expected to think likewise. They will have struck a chord.

There is no suggestion she was haranguing MSPs or staffers with her bon mots.

Worse may emerge, of course, but the material published so far feels less than damning. Embarrassing, cringeworthy, snide and naive, but hardly a disciplinary matter. Yet the episode does say something about life inside the governing party.

The Herald:

When Ms Whitham was criticising the SNP’s Westminster group for supporting Mr Grady it was after a recording of one of its weekly meetings was leaked.

“Who is recording group meetings?!” she wrote. To which we can now add: “And who is leaking WhatsApp messages from Holyrood, and what else do they have?” 

Perhaps the leaker disliked Ms Whitham’s blunt honesty, perhaps there is some more obscure malice at work. 

Whatever it is, it is a sure sign that discipline is fraying, with point scoring put ahead of unity, exposing the party as a whole to ridicule.

It is a small, scratchy affair, but also a straw in the wind for an ageing government.

The SNP has been in power for 16 years. Progress on independence is stalled. The party’s main priority is re-election, but it’s too squeamish to say it. Bad faith is in the air.

In such tired and strained environments, people grumble and lash out, misdirecting their energies into squabbling rather than a common purpose. 

Today it is Ms Whitham in the headlines, but there is surely more to follow, whether from the same source or others like it. Humza Yousaf had better get ready.

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