Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire after one of the SNP’s leading candidates in next month’s council elections suggested pro-Union parties only call themselves “Scottish” as a branding exercise to win votes.
It came as the First Minister issued an appeal for all sides to show more “courtesy, empathy and respect” in the debate over Scotland’s future as a second independence referendum battle looms.
Frank Ross, the SNP’s group leader in Edinburgh and frontrunner to become next leader of the Scottish capital, says the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats do not exist as stand-alone Scottish parties.
He insisted last night he was “not questioning their Scottishness” and meant no insult. But the claims prompted an angry response from the pro-Union parties and who branded the claims “preposterous and offensive”.
Mr Ross made the claims in the Edinburgh Evening News ahead of next month’s Town Hall vote. He stated: “The Scottish Conservative and Unionist, Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrats all have one thing in common.
“None of these organisations actually exist – are you surprised? These names on leaflets and on the ballot papers you are asked to mark with your democratic preferences, are descriptions which have been registered purely for use at elections. That is, they are brands.”
But the claims prompted a furious response from the pro-union parties.
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The SNP leader in Edinburgh has said that no party other than the SNP is properly Scottish.
“That is an insult to the majority of people in Scotland. This abuse has to stop. And the First Minister needs to get it sorted.”
Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray said: “This is an incredibly insulting article from the man who supposedly aspires to be the next leader of our great capital city. Alongside a bizarre rant about ballot papers, he appears to suggest that parties which oppose the SNP’s plans to inflict economic damage on Scotland and Edinburgh with independence are not really Scottish.”
Tory Lothian MSP Miles Briggs said the SNP’s constitutional arguments have “divided the country”.
He added: “To suggest the parties that aren’t in favour of separation are somehow less Scottish is not only preposterous but offensive. Many passionate Scots feel that we are better off as part of the United Kingdom, and they will rightly be angered at the hostile rhetoric being used by the leader of the SNP in Edinburgh.”
Mr Ross last night insisted he was only posing the question to his pro-Union opponents about the way they present themselves on the ballot paper
“I have found it strange for some time that if you’re looking at the English council elections just now, you wouldn’t see English Conservative and Unionist or Welsh Conservative and Unionists,” he said
“And so because there isn’t a political party such as Scottish Labour or Scottish Liberal Democrats, I was just questioning why they felt the need to do that in Scotland, when they don’t do it anywhere else in the UK. I’m not questioning their Scottishness, I’m not questioning their beliefs because everybody’s entitled to their own beliefs.”
It came as Ms Sturgeon last night called for a respectful tone as she prepares for another independence referendum.
“Fundamentally, all people in Scotland want the best for their own families and communities and for their country,” the First Minister told the Political Studies Association in Glasgow last night.
“So the debate needs to respect that fact. We need to recognise the honesty and validity of people’s anxieties, doubts and differences of opinion.
As First Minister, I promise to lead by example. After all, the Scottish Government has a special responsibility to build consensus where we can.
“So I will ensure that at all times we make our case – not just with passion and conviction – but with courtesy, empathy and respect.”
The First Minister’s plea for respect will be seen as a thinly veiled criticism of the cyberbullying and unpleasantness, which marred the 2014 vote.