By Bill Heaney
As if politicians and their parties haven’t enough on their plate with corruption and cash for honours at Westminster and the constant drip, drip of sleaze from the SNP in Edinburgh and even here in West Dunbartonshire, three MPs have been accused of “undermining respect for Parliament” after they allegedly got drunk on a flight to visit UK forces in Gibraltar.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the SNP’s Drew Hendry and David Linden and Labour’s Charlotte Nichols, whom they are alleged to have “led astray”, had put their hosts “in a difficult position”.
The SNP called the claims “a Tory smear” and Labour has yet to comment, but it’s been all over the media since midnight
The three were in a group of 15 MPs on the trip to Gibraltar, timed to coincide with Armistice Day which falls today (Thursday).
The visit was organised as part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, which aims to give politicians an insight into military life so they can “make a more informed and useful contribution to defence debates”.
A witness told the BBC the three MPs in question had been drinking in the airport lounge before departure and had then drunk heavily on the flight and were “sozzled” when their plane touched down on the Rock.
The BBC understands other MPs on the trip had also been drinking. The story was first reported by the Times, the Daily Telegraph and Sun newspapers.
Mr Hendry and Mr Linden, who are still in Gibraltar, are said to have become argumentative when officials queried their Covid documents, including their “vaccine passports” about which there has been so much controversy in the Scottish Parliament.
Their boss, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, is said to be “furious beyond measure” and is certain to carpet them on their return to the UK.
Ms Nichols has already returned to the UK after what has been described as a “mental health episode”.
There are reports that she had to be assisted off the plane and then wheeled across the tarmac to the terminal.
It is understood the MP for Warrington North – home to Smirnoff vodka – who is also a shadow equalities minister, has post-traumatic stress disorder and is on medication.
The SNP rejected the claims against Mr Hendry and Mr Linden, saying they had been “honoured to be invited” on the trip.
Mr Linden, MP for Glasgow East, said he was “incredibly disappointed” by the “bizarre Tory smear campaign”.
The MP tweeted a picture of the group, in combat fatigues, saying: “Honoured to be visiting service personnel in Gibraltar as part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme.
“Appreciating the opportunity to meet with and thank service personnel for everything they do.”
Mr Hendry, MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, which is famed for its production of Scotch whisky, accused Conservatives of making “false claims”, saying: “That is a matter for their conscience. I’ll focus on doing my job and respecting our troops as we mark Armistice Day.”
He described attending a remembrance service as “very poignant”, adding: “The roll call of lost colleagues was especially moving. We shall remember them.”
The correct wording for that final sentence is “We will remember them.”
Mr Wallace said the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme was “an opportunity for both parliamentarians and the military to understand each other.
“This behaviour puts military personnel in a difficult position and risks undermining respect for Parliament,” he added.
The Army has had a presence in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory with a population of 30,000, for more than 300 years.
That’s a right fine mess they have got us into now, says Prime Minister Boris Johnston to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace as they leave a nuclear submarine during a pre-election visit to Faslane.