A few days ago, a constituency poll by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft found that the SNP were leading narrowly in Edinburgh South – a seat in which they secured a paltry 7.7% of the vote in the 2010 general election. Keep that fact in mind, readers.
Today the Edinburgh Evening News (EEN) published an article by David Maddox, a senior political journalist on the Scotsman, alleging that the SNP candidate for the seat, Neil Hay, had “liken[ed] anti-independence campaigners to Nazi collaborators” in a tweet over two and a half years ago (from a pseudonymous account under the name “Paco McSheepie”), and had also tweeted a series of attacks on pensioners.
Scottish Labour immediately leapt on the article and demanded Mr Hay be sacked as the candidate, less than two weeks before the election. It’s not possible to replace a candidate at such a late stage – some voters may already have voted by post – and such a move would thereby effectively have handed the seat to the Labour candidate and previous MP Ian Murray by default.
The story turned out to be an absurd, massive exaggeration and misrepresentation of the reality. But it also exposed a level of naked, shameless dishonesty and hypocrisy in Scottish Labour, and in particular its deputy leader Kezia Dugdale, that even this site hadn’t previously dared to imagine.
Above is an extract from today’s First Minister’s Questions in which the issue was discussed. In it we hear Ms Dugdale repeat the accusations from the EEN and assert that Mr Hay had “described the majority of Scots as traitors”.
But that allegation is a total falsehood. The Scottish Sun tracked down the offending tweet from Mr Hay’s pseudonymous (now deleted) account and it says no such thing.
That’s a reference to this article on the satirical website BBC Scotlandshire:
It’s absurdly plainly not meant to be serious, and even if one were to have mistaken a site headlined “OCH AYE THE NEWS” as a real one (something that’s certainly not beyond Scotsman journalists) it makes no suggestion that “the majority of Scots” are being described, but instead a small handful of named Scottish politicians.
As for the comments on pensioners, which Maddox described as Hay’s “strongest attacks”, they too were in reality somewhat less than incendiary.
Now, that might not be a particularly nice or tactful thing to say, but it’s also not actually untrue. Many old folk are somewhat confused, yet are legally able to vote. “Umpteen” doesn’t suggest that it’s all or even most of the elderly, but an unspecified number which most Scots would interpret as a couple of dozen at the most.
The third supposedly offensive tweet is this one:
It’s a link to this blog article, which makes a bewildering and incomprehensible connection between calls for a public inquiry over historic child abuse cases and the Parliamentary expenses of former Labour MP Eric Joyce. Again it’s not very nice, but “Westminster is venal and corrupt” isn’t exactly a startling new idea.
(Incidentally, so far as we’ve seen nobody seems to have explained how Neil Hay was “outed” as having been the author of the “Paco McSheepie” account in the first place. It seems to be undisputed but we’re curious as to why there’s been no explanation for the revelation, or why it’s only come to light now, when he can’t be replaced.)
Those appear to be all of Neil Hay’s crimes. (A hard-to-read text archive of some of the other account’s tweets can be found here, but as yet we’ve encountered nothing awful in it.) Two links to other people’s website articles and a statement of fact. They seem incredibly slight grounds for a sacking, let alone in these circumstances.
But then we get to the skeletons in Kezia Dugdale’s closet.
The Scottish Labour branch office deputy manager appeared startled when Nicola Sturgeon went on the counter-attack in the chamber, citing comments by Labour blogger, activist and BBC pundit Ian Smart. Dugdale feigns ignorance of Smart’s recent attack on the SNP as “fascist scum”, claiming not to know who the FM was referring to, yet this website has established that she follows Smart on Twitter, where the comments were made.
Dugdale has personally conversed with Smart on a number of occasions:
So it’s something of a stretch to imagine that she wouldn’t have been aware of his long string of extremely offensive comments over that period. Even if she’d missed the “fascist scum” one in all the excitement of the election, over 50 other Scottish Labour MPs and MSPs follow Smart on Twitter, including branch leader Jim Murphy, so readers might be forgiven for thinking that if Dugdale was so committed to cracking down on online abuse, someone would have alerted her.
Dugdale goes on to make wildly untrue claims about Neil Hay’s tweets:
“This is a man who is categorically challenging the right of pensioners to vote. [commotion from SNP benches] I’m afraid he is – when you look at the detail of his tweets, I would encourage the SNP backbenches just to take a minute and look at what he said. He is challenging the right of pensioners to vote in the general election.”
But as we’ve seen, that’s utter nonsense. Hay made a comment to the effect that some old people suffer from dementia, which in itself is perfectly true. Such people are entitled to vote even if they don’t know what day of the week it is or which end of the pencil to hold, as this blog post from 2012 – coincidentally (we assume) just a few weeks before Hay’s comment – notes:
Whether one agrees or not, it is surely at least a legitimately contestable opinion that that should not be the case. But in any event Hay was making no suggestion that such a rule should apply to all pensioners, merely making an observation.
(Dugdale then also claims that Sturgeon had made “apologies” to a number of people in recent weeks about abusive comments, including the BBC’s James Cook and Channel 4’s Faisal Islam, implying some degree of responsibility. To the best of our knowledge that’s also untrue – the FM expressed regret that they’d been subjected to attacks, but not any kind of culpability.)
Readers of this site already know, of course, that Kezia Dugdale has a habit of making “categorical” assertions which turn out to be untrue if one actually follows her invitation to check the facts. We had an example just a few days ago:
Scottish Labour are in such a panic that they’ll stop at nothing to try to save even one seat in Scotland. But Kezia Dugdale stood up in the Holyrood chamber today and utterly misrepresented some ancient Twitter comments, then made some deeply unconvincing attempts to pretend she didn’t know who Ian Smart was or what he’d said, when Smart’s tweets were infinitely worse than anything Neil Hay has ever been shown to have said.
In a decent world she’d be issuing a grovelling apology to both the First Minister and Mr Hay today – as would David Maddox – and Ian Smart would be finding himself ejected from the Labour Party. We suspect that none of those things will happen, and that absence will be only the latest in a very long list of reasons for Scottish Labour to be ashamed of itself.