SNP MP Lisa Cameron defects to Tories claiming 'toxic and bullying' treatment by party

12 October 2023, 13:45 | Updated: 12 October 2023, 14:01

Dr Lisa Cameron MP has quit the SNP and joined the Tories.
Dr Lisa Cameron MP has quit the SNP and joined the Tories. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

MP Dr Lisa Cameron has quit the SNP and joined the Conservatives in a shock and unprecedented defection just three days out from the SNP's annual conference.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Cameron, a clinical psychologist, announced the bombshell move on the day her constituency party looked like it would de-select her as its candidate for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow.

It is the first time an SNP MP has crossed the floor to join the Conservatives, and the first time East Kilbride has had a Tory MP. The Conservatives now have seven MPs in Scotland.

There had been growing tensions between Cameron and SNP members with speculation she could force a by-election, or quit to sit as an independent, if she lost the selection contest.

SNP members had objected to her pro-life stance on abortion and her lack of support for gender recognition reforms. Her rival to be selected for the seat, Grant Costello, had already received the backing of the areas's MSP Colette Stevenson and of SNP culture minister Christina McKelvie.

However Cameron said her decision to cross the floor was due to the "toxic and bullying" treatment she claims to have experienced within the SNP Westminster group.

She said she had been ostracised since speaking up in defence of a victim of sexual harrassment which had been carried out by SNP MP Patrick Grady. He was suspended from the House of Commons and apologised in Parliament after being found to have acted inappropriately towards a party staffer.

Cameron said that by refusing to back Grady she had been shunned, and as a result, had experienced panic attacks and been prescribed anti-depressants.

The MP said she had received support from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after her mental wellbeing deteriorated in recent weeks, but has had no contact from the SNP leadership.

"I do not feel able to continue in what I have experienced as a toxic and bullying SNP Westminster group, which resulted in my requiring counselling for a period of 12 months in Parliament and caused significant deterioration in my health and wellbeing as assessed by my GP, including the need for antidepressants," she said.

"I will never regret my actions in standing up for a victim of abuse at the hands of an SNP MP last year, but I have no faith remaining in a party whose leadership supported the perpetrator's interests over that of the victim's and who have shown little to no interest in acknowledging or addressing the impact.

"It is also true that I have received no contact from party leadership in the past weeks, despite members of every other main political party contacting me to offer support and compassion during what has been an extremely difficult time."

She praised Mr Sunak's "positive" leadership, saying it contrasted to that of the SNP group.

Dr Cameron also said the SNP's founding cause of Scottish independence had led to "significant division" in families like hers.

Today SNP leader Humza Yousaf said Cameron's decision was "probably the least surprising news frankly that I’ve had as first minister and party leader in the last six months."

He added: “For me, Lisa Cameron by her own admission was facing a very difficult selection contest and now we know why.

“It’s clear that the people of her constituency, they voted for an SNP MP. They did not vote for a Conservative MP. Lisa Cameron should do the honourable thing and step down. It would be the right thing to do.”

Her decision has sparked outrage among SNP members and politicians with some suggesting she had been promised a peerage in order to get her to join the Conservatives.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was "delighted" at her decision describing her as "a brave and committed constituency MP".

He added: "Lisa is right that we should aim to do politics better, with more empathy and less division and a dedication to always be doing what we think is right.

"I look forward to working with her on the disability issues she has championed so passionately in Parliament, and on the issues that really matter to her constituents in East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow.

An SNP spokeswoman said her constituents would be "appalled" that they now had a Conservative MP.

She said: "Lisa Cameron should now do the right thing and step down to allow a by-election.

"Her constituents elected an SNP MP, not a Tory, and they deserve to have the democratic opportunity to elect a hard-working SNP MP who will put the interests of Scotland first.

"On a personal basis, we wish her well."

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said “Like many ex-SNP supporters, she has realised that her former party is hopelessly divided under Humza Yousaf and incapable of focusing on the real priorities of the Scottish people.

“Lisa took a principled stand in supporting the victim in the Patrick Grady case, when her party took the side of the disgraced MP. For doing so, she has been shamefully and inexplicably mistreated by the SNP.

“I look forward to working with Lisa, who recognises the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister are focused on the issues that matter to people in Scotland and across the UK.”

Labour's Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray described her move as "bizarre" and said it "shows that the SNP is falling apart before our eyes.

“The fact is that the SNP and the Tories are two sides of the same coin - putting the cause of division before the needs of the people."