SNP MP brands councillor who quit party ‘dead wood’

Stirling MP Alyn Smith said allegations by Councillor Maureen Bennison claiming he is a 'misogynist' are 'absurd'.

A senior SNP MP has described a Stirling councillor as “dead wood” after she quit the party last month over alleged abuse against women.

Councillor Maureen Bennison accused Stirling MP Alyn Smith of being a “misogynist” and of making “derogatory comments” about her work in an email to party members.

Smith, who is the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman at Westminster, hit back at Bennison’s claim as a “bitter, hurtful and absurd allegation” that was “entirely untrue”.

He added: “Clearing out dead wood is a sensitive process.” 

Cllr Bennison launched the attack on the MP and on her former party at a virtual special meeting of Stirling Council on Thursday.

She said women in the SNP who have raised concerns about the Scottish Government’s plans for gender recognition reform have been “bullied, harassed, cancelled, manipulated and humiliated online by other party members”.

The controversial proposals, which include removing the requirement to provide medical evidence to a panel before you can switch gender, have caused internal divisions in the SNP.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen the legislation shelved for now.

The councillor, who serves as the local authority’s public safety convener, said she had “championed women’s rights and feminism” in her role but that the SNP had “failed to act” despite a number of complaints of abuse against women who have concerns about the Bill.

Bennison quit the SNP last month over “toxic abuse” in the local party which she claimed had “come to the fore” since Smith became Stirling’s MP last December.

Smith ousted Conservative MP Stephen Kerr in the 2019 general election, having previously served for years as a Scottish MEP in the European Parliament.

Addressing council, Bennison said “unfounded comments” about her had recently been provided to the press by an “unnamed Stirling SNP spokesperson”, which she believes was sanctioned by Smith.

Bennison continued: “I regularly call out sexism, misogyny and bullying.

“As a woman I have a right to raise these issues and as an elected member, as I have said in the council chamber countless times, we should all lead by example, and just to clarify, I mean all elected members, not just councillors.

“Women within the SNP who have questioned or raised any kind of concern regarding gender recognition reform have been bullied, harassed, cancelled, manipulated and humiliated online by other party members.

“Mostly men, I should add, and despite numerous complaints the party failed to act.”

She added: “Regardless of what your thoughts are on gender recognition reform, abusing women online is a form of gender-based violence and should never be tolerated, particularly by a political party.

“I was extremely disappointed in the press release and a follow-up email from the MP for Stirling to all SNP party members which made derogatory comments about my work as public safety convener and my wider role within the administration.

“These comments were completely unfounded – under no circumstances was my work or the commitment to our administration ever questioned.

“These retrospective allegations only reinforce my reasons for resigning from the party in the first place.”

Bennison also said “disparaging comments” had been made about her partner, former SNP MP Steven Paterson, who lost Stirling to the Conservatives in 2017.

Paterson tried to become the party’s candidate again in 2019 but Smith was ultimately selected for the Stirling seat.

“There was no need for our parachuted-in MP to drag my partner’s name through the mud again,” Bennison told the council.

“I have felt under increasing pressure to work with our MP, but I cannot work with a man who in my opinion, is a misogynist and I refuse to be pushed around by either him or his staff.” 

Responding to the claims, the Stirling MP said: “Clearing out dead wood is a sensitive process.

“This bitter, hurtful and absurd allegation is entirely untrue.”

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