Joanna Cherry


Joanna Catherine Cherry QC (born 18 March 1966) is a Scottish politician and lawyer serving as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Edinburgh South West since 2015. A member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), she was the party's Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice in the House of Commons from 2015 to 2021.

Joanna Cherry

Cherry in 2019
SNP Spokesperson for Home Affairs
In office
20 May 2015  1 February 2021
LeaderAngus Robertson
Ian Blackford
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byStuart McDonald
SNP Spokesperson for Justice
In office
20 May 2015  1 February 2021
LeaderAngus Robertson
Ian Blackford
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byAnne McLaughlin
Member of Parliament
for Edinburgh South West
Assumed office
7 May 2015
Preceded byAlistair Darling
Majority11,982 (23.0%)
Personal details
Born
Joanna Catherine Cherry

(1966-03-18) 18 March 1966 (age 55)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Political partyScottish National Party
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh

Education and early career


Cherry was born on 18 March 1966 to Mary Margaret (née Haslette) and Thomas Alastair Cherry.[1] She was educated at Holy Cross primary school, then at St Margaret's Convent School in Edinburgh[2] and the University of Edinburgh.[3]

Following her graduation, Cherry worked as a research assistant with the Scottish Law Commission (1990) before practising as a solicitor with the Edinburgh legal firm Brodies WS until 1995. She also worked as a part-time tutor in constitutional law, family law and civil court practice at the University of Edinburgh from 1990 to 1996.[4]

Cherry was admitted as an advocate in 1995, with a particular interest in employment and industrial relations, health and safety, mental health, personal injury and professional negligence.[1][4]

She served as a Standing Junior Counsel to the Scottish Government from 2003 to 2008, and as an Advocate Depute and Senior Advocate Depute from 2008 until 2011. She was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 2009[5] and was an advocate with the Arnot Manderson stable within the Faculty of Advocates [6] until her election to parliament.[7]

Political career


2014 independence referendum

Cherry set up the "Lawyers for Yes" group, which campaigned for a "Yes" (pro-independence) vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.[8]

2015 election to Westminster

In February 2015, she was adopted as the Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate for Edinburgh South West in the May 2015 United Kingdom general election.[9] She won the seat,[10] which she then held in the subsequent June 2017 general election[11][12] although with a reduced majority of just over 1,000 votes, making her seat the most marginal in Edinburgh at the time.[13] Following her election, Cherry was appointed as the SNP spokesperson for Justice and Home Affairs at Westminster.[14]

In September 2016, she issued an apology after defending a comedy rap group Witsherface performance at an pro-independence event that had been criticised as homophobic.[15] The performance had called Conservative leader Ruth Davidson "Dykey' D" and had portrayed her making her inappropriate comments towards SNP MP Mhairi Black.[16]

In May 2017, Cherry apologised for telling journalists that a nurse, who had told a TV debate audience she had been unable to survive on her salary and had to use food banks, was suspected to be the wife of a Conservative councillor. False claims about Claire Austin were retweeted by other SNP politicians and the nurse experienced online and offline harassment.[17]

In October 2017, she was an observer at the 2017 Catalan independence referendum.[18]

In May 2019, executives from Facebook and Twitter appeared before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which Cherry was a member,[19] and faced accusations over the way they handled abuse and harassment of parliamentarians on social media. Cherry cited several abusive tweets, that were not removed swiftly by Twitter, something the company's head of UK government, public policy and philanthropy, Katy Minshall, described as "absolutely an undesirable situation".[20] Following the meeting, Cherry received police protection whilst attending her constituency surgery, having received a death threat sent via social media.[21]

Following a High Court ruling in May 2019, in favour of The Daily Telegraph, The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority released figures confirming that 377 MPs had had their parliamentary credit cards suspended for "for late, incomplete or incorrect expenses claims since 2015".[22] Cherry was included on that list, with the paper reporting that she had had her official credit card repeatedly suspended for failing to repay money on time.[23]

On 11 May 2019 The Times reported that Cherry was being investigated by the House of Commons over bullying complaints from four former employees.[24] Cherry rejected the allegations, and alleged that they were part of a politically motivated 'smear' campaign, from those within the SNP ranks who opposed her and her views.[25][26] One former staff member took the complaint forward, alleging that Cherry both condoned bullying by her office manager and partook in bullying behaviour herself. Cherry was exonerated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and given leave to issue a statement to that effect – "I'm pleased to be able to advise that I have been exonerated after an independent investigation into complaints that I had either condoned or been engaged in bullying within my constituency office. As I predicted, the allegations have not been upheld."[27]

Cherry was the leading litigant in the Scottish court case challenging the five-week prorogation of Parliament by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Her case Cherry v Advocate General for Scotland, together with a case brought in England and Wales by Gina Miller, was ultimately successful in the Supreme Court, resulting in the quashing of the prorogation on 24 September 2019.[28]

Cherry debating the renegotiated Brexit withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons in October 2019.

2019 election-onwards

Cherry was re-elected as MP for Edinburgh South West in the 2019 general election, with an increased majority of nearly 12,000.[29]

In February 2020, Cherry announced that she was seeking nomination from the SNP Edinburgh Central constituency branch to run as the candidate for Edinburgh Central in the Scottish Parliament and would stand down as an MP in the House of Commons if elected.[30] Angus Robertson also announced his intention to seek nomination for the Edinburgh Central constituency. In July 2020, Cherry announced she was ruling out a bid for Holyrood, stating that the conditions for standing as an MSP were unreasonable and made a fair contest impossible.[31]

Cherry was sacked from the SNP's front bench on 1 February 2021 by the party leadership. Cherry tweeted: "Despite hard work, results and a strong reputation I've been sacked today from the SNP front bench."[32] The party's Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: "Team working and cooperation are key to ensure results and this reshuffle will give us a strong team to take us forward. We have an incredibly hard-working group of MPs – I thank them all for their commitment and congratulate those in new positions."[33] An SNP spokesman said in a statement: "Joanna Cherry was removed from the front bench because of unacceptable behaviour, which did not meet the standards expected of a front bench spokesperson – not because of the views she holds."[34] A Savanta ComRes poll released on 11 February 2021 found that while 57% of SNP members had no opinion on her sacking, of those who did 31% supported it and 13% opposed it.[35]

On 21 February she was criticised by the Scottish branch of PEN International for her attempts to silence those criticised or questioned her by threats of defamation action.[36] After Cherry disputed she had taken legal action, letters from her solicitors on her behalf were published. Jo Maugham, with whom she had worked on the legal challenge over Boris Johnson's prorogation of Parliament, said "Because defending defamation proceedings is so expensive, a well-funded claimant can bully critics into silence and, by marking the threats 'confidential', suppress transparency over the fact they are doing so. This feels profoundly wrong to me."[37]

On 26 March 2021, Cherry announced that she would step back from her public duties for health reasons.[38]

On 31 May 2021, she resigned from the SNP national executive committee.[39]

Electoral history

Election Votes % VoteElected candidate % Majority
2015 general election Edinburgh South- West 22,16843.0Joanna Cherry (SNP)15.8
2017 general election Edinburgh South-West 17,57535.6Joanna Cherry (SNP)2.2
2019 general election Edinburgh South-West24,83047.6Joanna Cherry (SNP)23

Political positions


Scottish independence

Cherry supports both Scottish independence and a proposed second Scottish independence referendum.[40][41] She has been described as a more hardline supporter of independence, advocating a less cautious approach towards holding a second referendum than Nicola Sturgeon, including the holding a referendum even if the Scottish government could not come to an agreement with the British government over such a referendum.[42][43][44][45] She has stated that she believes emulating the Irish First Dáil could be an path forward for the Scottish independence movement, stating that "One hundred years ago, Irish independence came about not as a result of a referendum but as a result of a treaty negotiated between Irish parliamentarians and the British Government after nationalist MPs had won the majority of Irish seats in the 1918 general election and withdrawn to form a provisional government in Dublin."[46] She has addtionally denied that she advocates for illegally holding a referendum.[47]

Alex Salmond

During the Alex Salmond scandal concerning accusations of sexual harassment against former SNP leader and First Minister Alex Salmond, Cherry was described as one of his allies in the party and a critic of current SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.[48][49][50] In March 2020, after Salmond was acquitted in court, she called for a public inquiry into the SNP's handling of the accusations against him.[51] She later called for him to be reinstated to the party.[52] In February 2021, she called for the government to release documents that Salmond claimed proved that Nicola Sturgeon and her allies had conspired against him.[53]

In March 2021, when Salmond formed the Alba Party, she denied speculation that she would be defecting along with him.[54]

European Union

Cherry supported Remain during the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum and has supported an independence Scotland joining the European Union.[55][56] In March 2019, she announced she would be proposing a motion to force the government to revoke Article 50 if the UK was due to leave in a No Deal Brexit on 10 April that year.[57]

In July 2020, she called for the SNP to stop fighting against Brexit, stating that "we lost the battle and Brexit is now an irreversible reality."[58]

Position on transgender rights

Cherry has opposed proposed reforms of the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland which would allow transgender people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate on the basis of a statutory declaration, replacing the current system that requires interview by a bureaucratic panel and medical reports.[59][60][61] She signed the SNP Women's Pledge, which originated amongst members of the SNP but is not affiliated with it and which opposes the reforms.[59][62]

Cherry has denied accusations of transphobia, stating that she approaches the issue "as a feminist" and that there was a "big dose of misogyny" in debates over Gender Recognition Act reform. She said that the statement "women don't have penises" is an "undeniable biological fact".[63] She has stated that she has faced abuse over her position and that sections of the SNP with opposing views have "engaged in performative histrionics redolent of the Salem witch trials".[64]

In January 2021, she supported an amendment to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 that would have exempted "criticism of matters relating to transgender identity" from violating provisions relating to protected characteristics in the bill.[65] Later that month, she was criticised by SNP colleague Kirsty Blackman after she defended Sarah Phillimore, who had been banned from Twitter for allegedly making transphobic and antisemitic statements.[66][67] In June, she signalled her support for 'For Women Scotland' campaigner Marion Miller, who was charged under the Malicious Communications Act, with a hate-crime aggravator, for allegedly transphobic and homophobic social media posts.[68]

Writing in the National in June 2021, Cherry stated that some veteran members of the LGBT+ community no longer felt welcome at Pride events due to their views on transgender rights, claimed that LGBT+ rights charity Stonewall’s workplace inclusion schemes misrepresent the law, and stated her belief that "many same-sex attracted women and those who hold gender-critical beliefs have found themselves in a relationship of coercive control with employers, service providers and membership organisations".[69] In response a letter to the editor was published in the National, from the Director of LGBT charity Equality Network, Tim Hopkins, disputing Cherry's position.[70]

Personal life


Her personal interests are travel, reading and swimming.[1] Cherry is openly a lesbian.[71]

References


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