This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 17/06/2019 [Online], Available: https://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/fp/ewan-gurr-what-natalie-mcgarry-did-was-wrong-but-was-jailing-her-right/ [Accessed: 2019, Jun 18]
“I cannot imagine a more potent form of deterrent here than the personal shame, psychological impact and familial disruption following the prosecution.”
On the 7th June, former SNP MP Natalie McGarry was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in jail for embezzling over £25,000 from two groups prior to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. The long and very public legal process revealed McGarry had sole control of a Women for Independence (WFI) PayPal account which was linked directly to her own bank account. The money was used to pay off personal debt, take an overseas holiday and transfers were also made to her husband.
In some ways, this has been a personal case given that a sum of the money embezzled by McGarry was very specifically intended for a foodbank I had trained and helped set up in Perth and Kinross in 2013. As volunteer-led initiatives, foodbanks rely heavily upon the selfless generosity of the public to support people experiencing poverty and these contributions make a significant difference primarily to those the foodbanks seek to serve.
Given my historic relationship with the foodbank in question, I have chosen not to comment publicly on the case. However, since the outcome, I received a number of calls from various media sources and broke my silence last weekend. In one interview, I stated that while I do not condone McGarry’s behaviour and believe they were an act of injustice perpetrated against people experiencing poverty, I also fear the severity of the outcome may exacerbate the extent of injustice created.
Reports indicate the Sheriff’s judgement was due to McGarry’s reluctance to accept responsibility for wrongdoing. Court reporter James Doleman wrote: “Watching Natalie McGarry leave court today, nobody I saw expressed any righteous anger, just sadness at a life gone so terribly wrong.” A former colleague of McGarry, Kathleen Caskie, said she would like to receive a letter from Natalie apologising and would agree to meet her. She said: “I would love this to become a story of redemption.”
Last Tuesday, McGarry secured an interim liberation pending an appeal against the conviction and, while I think it is unfortunate she has not accepted responsibility, I am inclined to agree with Caskie. I cannot imagine a more potent form of deterrent here than the personal shame, psychological impact and familial disruption following the prosecution. Furthermore, prison serves to confine those who are a threat to public safety but as WFI campaigner, Maggie Lennon wrote: “There are nearly 400 women prisoners in Scotland and only a handful pose a major risk to the public.”
For me, the greatest travesty is the person who will suffer most here is an innocent 19 month old little girl who will be detached from her mother for half of her short life by the time her mum is released and during the most formative stage of her personal development.