What are the three words likely to turn any SNP press officer's blood cold? James Dornan MSP. The gaffe-prone Glaswegian has found himself in more scandals than the Salmond Inquiry in recent months, culminating in last week's social media rant at Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg after the latter tweeted his support of the Borders Bill. Dornan told the well-known Roman Catholic:
“Hope you remember this the next time you go to confession. You and your cronies are already responsible for the deaths of thousands and you're now happy to see the most desperate people in the world suffer and drown. If your god exists you will undoubtedly rot in hell.
None of Dornan's embarrassed colleagues in either Holyrood or Westminster would defend the man – though few appeared willing to publicly criticise him either. Hardly surprising perhaps given their 'Stalinist' move in 2015 to pass rules blocking new MPs from speaking out against party policy. When Mr S went to SNP HQ for comment on Friday, the only response he received back ten hours later was the following quote, attributed to a party spokesperson:
“The Scottish Tories’ desperation to pass judgment on a tweet while utterly failing to condemn the immigration regime of their bosses in the Westminster Government speaks volumes. While some people appear determined to be offended regardless of what SNP politicians say, there are fewer things more offensive than a policy which threatens to jail desperate refugees for the crime of trying to save their own lives - and the lives of their infant children - and it is essential such callous policies are called out.'
Punchy stuff, effectively doubling down on the attack line and of course, a conspicuous failure to apologise for Donan's 'rot in hell' jibe. However it now appears that despite their public bravado, the Nats behave very differently in private. On his podcast today, Jacob Rees-Mogg revealed: 'I've had a very nice apology from the SNP for it which was most gracious' which Steerpike understands came with the blessing of the party's own Westminster leadership.
So while Edinburgh's wing of the party bemoans how 'some people appear determined to be offended' in London those people include, err, the humble crofter Ian Blackford MP himself. Rees-Mogg meanwhile displayed a certain admirable coolness about the whole melodrama, saying:
“I think this SNP MSP is entitled to discuss the likely prospects of my immortal soul. It's quite interesting that you're getting a discussion of hell in public life, I think a theologically interesting concept and I’m glad he takes such an orthodox Catholic view of the reality of hell, that is encouraging. But I think of course he is entitled to say that. That is perfectly fair. I am a public figure. I’ve gone into this business – nobody forced me to become a Member of Parliament. I did it of my own volition and people are free to say things about the prospects of my soul, are they not? I think that's completely reasonable.
After dealing with yet another Dornan diatribe, Steerpike suspects the SNP press office will share Rees-Mogg's views on the reality of hell too.