Who is Margaret Ferrier? Covid rule-breaking MP loses seat, sparking by-election

Margaret Ferrier broke Covid rules by travelling while infected (UK Parliament/PA) (PA Media)
Margaret Ferrier broke Covid rules by travelling while infected (UK Parliament/PA) (PA Media)

Margaret Ferrier, the MP who broke Covid rules by travelling after testing positive, has been ousted from her seat in Scotland, prompting what is expected to be a fierce by-election battle.

A petition to recall the MP from her seat of Rutherglen and Hamilton West, near Glasgow passed the required number of signatures on Tuesday, meaning a by-election will take place.

The recall petition was automatically triggered after Ferrier, formerly a Scottish National party member who now sits as an independent, was suspended from the Commons for 30 days after being convicted of breaking travel rules during lockdown.

The by-election will be considered a crucial test for Scottish Labour and the SNP ahead of the general election, which is expected next year.

But who is Margaret Ferrier, how did she breach coronavirus rules, and what has been said about her behaviour?

Here are the key details.

Who is Margaret Ferrier?

Margaret Ferrier is a Scottish politician who has served as the MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West since 2019. Her political career started in 2011 when she was an SNP member but her coronavirus rule-breaking led to her losing the party whip; she has subsequently sat as an independent MP.

The Glasgow native, 62, used to work in commercial sales as a supervisor for a manufacturing construction company before she decided to enter politics.

She joined SNP’s Rutherglen branch in 2011 and became an MP for the area after winning the seat at the 2015 general election. She later lost the seat in 2017 to Ged Killen but took it back in the 2019 election.

Why has she been ousted from her seat?

Ferrier previously lost the SNP whip because she broke coronavirus rules.

On October 1, 2020, the MP made a public statement apologising for her serious breaches of the Covid-19 regulations, revealing that days earlier she had visited a gym, beauty salon and gift shop despite showing symptoms of coronavirus.

She also admitted that she went on to take a train from Scotland to London on September 28 and spoke in a parliamentary debate even though she hadn’t received the results of her Covid-19 test yet.

She received a positive test result that evening but proceeded to take the train to Scotland the next morning, lying to her party whip, saying a member of her family was unwell.

After she made the apology, she lost the party whip and referred herself to both the police and the Parliamentary Standards authorities.

What has been said about her behaviour?

After her apology, the SNP leader and Scottish first minister at the time, Nicola Sturgeon, called Ferrier’s behaviour the “worst breach imaginable”, adding that she had suggested Ferrier to step down as an MP.

That same month, the Rutherglen constituency association also asked her to resign her seat but the MP did not.

On January 4, 2021, Ferrier was arrested and charged by Police Scotland for “culpable and reckless conduct” and was bailed on February 3. She later pleaded guilty to the charge on August 18, 2022 and on September 13, 2022, she was sentenced to 270 hours of community service.

On March 30, 2023, the Commons select committee on standards recommended she receive a 30-day suspension as she was found to have “acted with blatant and deliberate dishonest intent” and “a high degree of recklessness to the public and to colleagues and staff at the House of Commons”.

On June 6, 2023, the committee’s recommendation was voted on and upheld by the House of Commons.

Scottish Labour candidate for Rutherglen and Hamilton West Michael Shanks said: “The people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West deserve so much better than a rule-breaking MP.”

After Ferrier was ousted from her seat, Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and Rutherglen campaign coordinator, said the party believed the by-election should be held as soon as possible. She said the SNP should set the date for October 5, the earliest possible date after the Commons returns from its summer recess.

“The people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West have waited long enough. Give them a say and name the day,” she said. “For far too long the area has been failed – let down by two incompetent governments and left voiceless in parliament by their rule-breaking MP.

“Scottish Labour’s candidate Michael Shanks is ready to hit the ground running and be the local champion his home constituency deserves.”