By a Newsnet reporter
A former Labour First Minister has been caught up in a twitter row after claiming that the SNP’s civic nationalism was a sham and that scratching beneath the surface exposed a “nasty underbelly”.
Jack McConnell made the claim in a series of tweets in which he appeared to imply that “too many” independence supporters were racist Nazis.
The former Motherwell MSP who once described his constituency as a "pigsty", and is now a member of the House of Lords, posted the tweets after being challenged to back up earlier claims that his twitter in-box was full of “bile” from independence supporters.
Responding to messages challenging some very serious allegations made by the Labour peer, McConnell tweeted to pro-Labour blogger Ian Smart: “I have had a quiet time from the cybernats recently - then I comment on your tweet today and they go ballistic! Or colonistic?”
He added: “My twitter in-box full of bile tonight. Do you get this reaction every time?”
The row started after an attack by Mr Smart on Rory Scothorne who is a student and the co-founder of independence supporting arts site, National Collective, after the latter had written an article on reaction to the debate over why so few indigenous Scots are to be found at the top of many Scottish organisations, especially arts bodies.
Mr Scothorne’s article followed controversial pieces from Scottish authors Alasdair Gray and James Kelman which dealt with a similar theme. Mr Gray’s use of terms such as “colonists” and “settlers” to distinguish ‘transient’ career-driven heads from those who are willing to make a more long term investment in Scotland, has led to an outcry with many commentators denouncing the use of the terms.
However the heated debate has also led to Scottish Unionists accusing Mr Gray and other commentators of displaying an anti-English sentiment they claim is inherent in Scottish nationalism.
Responding to Mr Scothorne’s article, Ian Smart described it as “Truly bizarre and ignorant analogy even from the SNP”.
The tweet led to an exchange between Mr Smart and Mr Scothorne that eventually saw former Labour MSP Jack McConnell wade in by ridiculing the education of Mr Scothorne.
Responding to Mr Smart’s attack on Mr Scothorne, the unelected Labour peer tweeted “and he says he is a student of history and politics.....“
Ignoring a request for an apology from the student, McConnell followed the personal attack by accusing Mr Scothorne of excusing anti-English sentiment in his article and tweeted: “Poorly disguised anti-English sentiment is not 'civic nationalism' it is crude, divisive, inaccurate and wrong in principle.”
When pressed by both Newsnet Scotland and SNP MP Pete Wishart to provide examples of the “bile” he claimed had filled up his twitter in-box, Mr McConnell refused, claiming that he did not want to offend his “decent followers”.
However Mr McConnell then went further by suggesting that some independence supporters were racist Nazis.
“Sadly there are many who hide behind a guise of 'civic nationalism' but if you scratch beneath the surface... “ he tweeted.
Asked to clarify his innuendo by another tweeter, Mr McConnell then replied: "No innuendo Edward, I think what I said was quite clear. And true. Depressingly."
Then, in an extraordinary reference to a ‘racist nazis’ tweet by Mr Smart, Mr McConnell said: “… "many" is NOT 'all', but there are far too many I'm afraid.”
This was a reference to an earlier message from Labour blogger Ian Smart who, in a reply to an angry independence supporter, tweeted: “Keep calm. Nobody said you were all racist nazis. Patently many of you aren't. “
In a statement to Newsnet Scotland, Mr Scothorne said: "Mr McConnell has clearly misunderstood my article. In it, I condemn both anti-Englishness and Alasdair Gray's use of the terms "settler" and "colonist", calling for the debate to move back to the far more important and relevant critiques of privilege, elitism and inequality that inform Gray and Kelman's essays.
"Sadly, he chose to throw around unfounded accusations of racism instead of looking for something constructive to take our of a rather uninspiring debate. He need only take a quick glance at National Collective's website to see that supporters of independence are passionate about breaking down barriers between people, not building them."
It isn’t the first time Jack McConnell has been embroiled in an ‘anti-English’ row. In June 2006, prior to the World Cup, the former Labour First Minister was at the centre of a row after claims he had fuelled anti-English racism by snubbing the England football team.
Asked prior to the tournament kicking off whether he would be supporting England, Mr McConnell said: “No, I will not. Scotland is not there and that’s disappointing. And there are people who think that as First Minister I should automatically support England instead. But football is not about politics, so I will not be.”
Scottish tourism chiefs were reported to have been concerned that the then First Minister’s remarks would hit the industry amid reports that trips from England had been cancelled as a result.
Anti-English – Anti-Scottish
The twitter comments from Mr McConnell are similar in tone to many attacks by Unionist politicians and commentators in recent months. In a recent speech on Scottish education Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont claimed the SNP’s policy on free education was “anti-Scottish”.
The claims that free University education is anti-Scottish followed accusations made last year by Senior Scottish Labour MP Jim McGovern who said the Scottish government’s decision to offer free education to students domiciled in Scotland was in fact anti-English.
He said: "I've got serious concerns about the Scottish Executive [sic] saying that we will not charge Scottish students to go to university, but we will charge English students,'' he said. ''You know, for me, that does not smack of patriotism — that smacks of racism."
When later challenged to explain his remarks, the Labour MP suggested that the SNP based their policies on a “hatred” of the English.
Earlier this month despite anti-English racist attacks falling by 17% over the last twelve months, some Scottish newspapers claimed that there was a rise in anti-English sentiment. The headlines led to a recent BBC Scotland programme ‘Call Kaye’ broadcasting a live Radio discussion on the apparent increase that witnessed many people phone in to attack the SNP accusing the party of causing the ‘rise’.
In February 2010 Scottish Labour MSP Cathie Jamieson accused the Conservatives of having an “anti-Scottish agenda”.
Ms Jamieson, who left Holyrood for Westminster that same year said: “The Tories’ mask has slipped. They have an anti-Scottish agenda and they simply can’t be trusted to treat Scotland fairly. A Conservative Government would turn back the clock to the 1980s and be a disaster for Scotland.”