SNP to Tory: Has there ever been a more bizarre defection?

SNP MP Lisa Cameron has defected to the Conservatives citing 'toxic and bullying' treatment.

SNP to Tory: Has there ever been a more bizarre defection? Lisa Cameron MP

The news that Dr Lisa Cameron, the SNP elected MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow has defected to the Conservatives must rank as one of the oddest defections in political history.

To go from backing independence to being a cheerleader for the Union when she had no apparent history of doubting the SNP’s constitutional raison d’etre, is indeed peculiar.

It seems that her deep antipathy to her Westminster colleagues and the alleged toxicity within the SNP group has led her to reassess her politics.

In her case, the antidote to allegedly appalling treatment at the hands of colleagues is to conclude that independence should be rejected in favour of the Union.

Kenny MasAskill (East Lothian) and Neal Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) left the SNP in 2021 for Alex Salmond’s Alba PartyAlba Party

Two of her former colleagues, Kenny MasAskill (East Lothian) and Neal Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) left the SNP in 2021 for Alex Salmond’s Alba Party. Both now sit as Alba Party MPs having been elected for the SNP at the General Election in 2019.

Both were appalled at the treatment of Salmond by some in his former party and have voiced frustration at the way in which the SNP has apparently gone soft in the pursuit of independence.

Another elected for the SNP, Angus MacNeil now sits as an independent, such is the way in which his relationship with his party broke down irretrievably.

Angus Brendan MacNeil was the Scottish National Party MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar but is not an independent.UK Parliament

Normally defections would be accompanied by a lot of soul searching and political angst, sometimes played out in public.

For example, in 1990, the Labour MP Dick Douglas found that he could not back his party’s stance on administering the poll tax. He quit Labour for the SNP who at the time favoured a campaign of non-payment of the tax.

Douglas would have known he was committing political suicide but the decision to effectively end his career was taken because of a genuinely held view that his party was not showing enough leadership on a policy that was widely hated and was introduced in Scotland before it hit the other parts of the UK.

The most celebrated defections in Scottish politics were probably that of the Labour MPs Jim Sillars (South Ayrshire) and John Robertson (Paisley) in 1976.

Former deputy leader of the SNP Jim Sillars.Alba Party

They quit the Parliamentary Labour Party over the timid form of devolution on offer from the government at that time.

Both founded the short-lived Scottish Labour Party before Sillars went on to become a senior figure in the Scottish National Party, eventually being elected as deputy leader of the SNP. He also won a famous by election for the Nationalists against his former party when he captured Govan in 1988.

The defection of Sillars was played out in the public eye and came with a palpable sense of emotional torture such was the depth of his roots, both political and emotional in the Labour movement.

The largest schism which led to multiple defections came with the creation of the SDP (Social Democratic Party) in 1981.

Alarmed by the leftward drift of the Labour Party, more than twenty MPs quit Labour for the new party including Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) and Dr J Dickson Mabon (Greenock and Port Glasgow).

Mabon was a senior figure in post-war Scottish politics, being deputy to the Scottish secretary Willie Ross and minister of state to Tony Benn at the Department of Energy in the late 1970s.

His views within Labour were well known and his defection came as little surprise, but it was certainly not motivated by careerism for his political career effectively ended.

The unease with which social democrats within Labour viewed the leftward drift led to Dick Taverne (Lincoln) quitting the party in 1972, forcing a by-election which he won.

The most high-profile defection of the 1970s was that of Reg Prentice (Newham North East) who crossed the floor of the House and joined the Tories.

The one-time Labour minister would go on to be a member of the Thatcher Government after the iron lady won the 1979 General Election.

In all of these cases the defections have come with a significant backstory, and it has been possible to ascribe a political motivation to the change of party, more often than not rooted in some principle.

What makes the Cameron defection odd is that the backstory relates to the conduct of colleagues not their politics. There is nothing that she has said publicly that gave any indication that she was having second thoughts about independence.

I am genuinely struggling to see how such a fundamental shift in political allegiance can be brought about because you think your former colleagues are appallingly behaved.

It was also well known that she was being challenged for the SNP nomination in the constituency ahead of next year’s election.

It is for Lisa Cameron to explain to the people who elected her on an SNP ticket why the Conservative and Unionist Party is best placed to serve her constituents’ interests.

Sometimes defecting MPs decide to do the honourable thing and force a by-election to get elected under their new colours.

Dick Taverne successfully took that course of action in 1972 although the decision backfired on Bruce Douglas-Mann. He resigned his Mitcham and Morden seat in 1982 after defecting to the SDP. The Conservative Angela Rumbold won the by-election.

I have no idea if Dr Cameron is a diligent MP as I don’t live in the constituency.

What needs no powers of foresight however is to predict many who voted for her will be incandescent that she plans to sit on the Conservative benches. Such voters I am sure would welcome a by-election.

The history books tell us that most MPs who defect to another party or who sit as independents, effectively end their careers. Most indeed know that but overriding career concerns tend to a matter of principle that drives their conscience.

After the general election I am sure that Dr Cameron’s career will be spoken about in the past tense.

It is clear that her time as an MP has been deeply unhappy and it is equally clear that she blames the conduct of colleagues for much of the private hurt she has experienced which she has now made public.

For all that, I am genuinely struggling to understand this defection in political terms and that is why I rank it as the oddest I have come across.

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