Ian Blackford, speaking to the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists’ Association, also defended his party’s record on campaigning for independence, disputing accusations the SNP has not done enough to build a convincing case for an independent Scotland.
The SNP has been dogged by accusations that is has mishandled alleged bullying towards high-profile MP, Joanna Cherry.
Ms Cherry, pictured right, whose gender critical opinions have brought her into conflict with the party leadership and fellow members, was sacked from Mr Blackford’s front bench earlier this year.
The Edinburgh South West MP has spoken openly about the threats of violence, sometimes of a sexual nature against her, and has criticised the SNP’s leadership’s response to members allegedly amplifying and encouraging the bullying.
Writing this week, Ms Cherry said she had contemplated leaving elected politics due to the abuse and blamed some institutions for being “guilty of reinforcing and amplifying disturbing levels of intolerance”.
However, when asked if there has been a failure of leadership within the SNP to deal with the abuse faced by Ms Cherry and other members, Mr Blackford was emphatic in his response, stating “no.”
Asked if had offered personal support to Ms Cherry, he added that a lot of MPs had been “traumatised” by “unacceptable behaviour” over the last few years, and argued it is “fair to say this has got worse”.
Mr Blackford added: “”I am concerned that there is a toxicity in our politics. All of us and this is true for politicians and the media as well, we are all participants in this, and we’ve all got a responsibility to make sure we can get to a better place because, to be blunt, I am not sure as things today I would encourage any young person to think about standing for public office because there are genuine fears that people have.”
Pressed on his support for Ms Cherry, the senior SNP figure said every colleague within the party is offered support.
He said: “It is really important we do offer that to people and I can absolutely assure you that that is done and it is done in all cases.
“I will always make sure that every colleague, whether that’s a member of parliament or whether it’s a member of staff, will be offered support.”
Mr Blackford also defended his decision to fire Ms Cherry from the SNP front bench, stating it was the job of every party leader to “pick the people I think are best suited” to the roles.
Independence and the campaign for a referendum is still front and centre of the SNP’s plans, with Mr Blackford stating that he was due to sit down with Westminster colleagues to discuss how the party will ramp up their campaign for a referendum.
SNP figures have come under significant pressure from aspects of the pro-independence movement to do more campaigning on the issue, with the caution around independence one factor which led to the establishment of the Alba Party, led by Alex Salmond, pictured left.
Mr Blackford said he was not relying solely on a potential winter of discontent or the unpopularity of Boris Johnson to sell independence to the Scottish people, but was short on detail about what exactly the party will do, claiming independence would be won because people want to vote for a vision of Scotland “they can believe in”.
Rejecting this approach was merely empty words and no policy, Mr Blackford claimed the issue of currency in an independence Scotland was “settled”, arguing the SNP’s conference motion recommending the use of Sterling initially before developing a Scottish currency would be used if the country voted Yes.
The MP also highlighted that work on the case for independence had been restarted by the Scottish Government for the first time in five years, but refused to put a date on any future White Paper.
He said: “The Scottish Government will have a responsibility of delivering the roadmap and the vision and of course the party and others in the wider movement will participate in that process.
“You know that the Scottish Government has said it is beginning or has begun the work on the planning for an independence referendum, so the government rightly will make announcements about that over the course of the coming period.”
Challenged on whether there was enough on offer to voters to win the hearts and minds the SNP is pitching for, Mr Blackford said the polls painted a promising picture for the party.
He said: “When you look at our record over the course of the last few years, the people have put their trust in us and we’ve signalled to the people let’s manage to Covid crisis we are in and let’s have that conversation as we will do with the people of Scotland on their future.
“But before we have begun that campaign independence is sitting at plus or minus 50 per cent in the polls, that is not a bad starting place to be at.”
Following the Scottish Government’s defeat in the Supreme Court around a key children’s rights bill which some experts have claimed shows a legal challenge to the legality of a referendum bill passed by Holyrood would succeed, Mr Blackford said he would prefer a political solution to a legal one.
He said: “At the end of the day, let’s go back again, we won the election in May of this year, there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament.
“I would suggest that there is far better that there is a political solution to these issues rather than a legal solution to them and its far better that the two governments come together.
“This is a question for Boris Johnson as to whether or not he respects democracy, it’s what he should be doing, it’s what Alister Jack should be doing.
“What we’ll do in the interim, what I can do working with other colleagues is make sure we prosecute the case why Scotland should be an independent country, these are not empty words.”