Scottish independence: Labour MP threatened
The threats to the MP and his office staff came as Better Together chairman Alistair Darling warned nationalist campaigners over the way in which they “monster” supporters of the UK.
The row also erupted as the SNP said over the weekend it will have to heal divisions in Scotland if it achieves a Yes vote.
Last night, the SNP condemned the threats to the Labour MP but pointed out that senior Nationalists have also been subject to abuse and even death threats.
The Labour MP, who The Scotsman has agreed not to name to protect his office staff, has said he is forced to pull up the hood on his jacket when he ventures out, even on a brief visit to the shops. He said pro-independence campaigners have actively targeted his office. The MP claimed he has been subjected to a number of aggressive and threatening emails and messages on social media sites that have left him fearing for his safety.
The politician said he is only maintaining his anonymity because of concerns for the safety of staff in the constituency office, who have also been the focus of abuse in recent days.
Police Scotland confirmed officers are being sent to patrol the area where the MP’s constituency office is located, following the threats.
A police chief has written to the MP asking if he would like to carry out a crime survey on the issue.
The officer told the pro-Union politician that police would be keeping an eye on the situation with “priority patrols” in the area where his office is located.
The MP has also been offered a meeting with the chief inspector of his local force area to discuss the problems he and his staff are having with the offensive comments.
Speaking to The Scotsman, the MP said: “The sort of things we have been receiving and experiencing are truly vile and really quite frightening. We have people walking off the street into the constituency office shouting appalling abuse.
“My office manager has not been able to sleep all week because of the threats and abuse he has been receiving, and I fear another member of my staff will quit because it is upsetting her so much.”
The MP went on: “When I walked down the street to the shops on Friday, I actually pulled up my hood because I was so worried about being recognised and attacked on the street.
“The experience has been terrifying. I can take personal abuse but it’s getting out of control.”
The MP said he would welcome a crime prevention survey to ensure his staff are protected, saying: “I’m getting increasingly concerned at poisonous nature of debate and I know my staff would also appreciate it.”
One email, which has been discussed with Police Scotland, told the MP: “Watch how you go … I remember you.”
Another abusive message said the MP will be “hung, drawn and quartered at dawn”.
And an abuser wrote to him: “Just another thieving liar.”
A police spokesman said: “The MP has informed the area chief inspector and has been offered a meeting.”
It was confirmed that two police officers have already visited the constituency office.
Police have also said that officers had been informed “to make sure they give your constituency office attention – we’ve got pro-active patrols in that area”.
The incident is the latest to raise concerns that so-called cybernats and rogue supporters of independence are overstepping the bounds of robust political debate.
First Minister Alex Salmond has always said he deplores abuse but insists it is caused by supporters of both sides, not just his own.
Last year, Lord Alan West, former First Sea Lord, told a Commons committee that businesses in Scotland were keeping quiet on independence out of “fear”.
Last month, an internet campaign was started by supporters of independence for a boycott of Barrhead Travel after one of the company’s non-executive directors sent staff an email explaining why he opposed independence.
The issue was raised again as a concern yesterday by Mr Darling. In a broadcast interview, he claimed: “The negativity is largely coming from the nationalists. In the last week alone, when anyone speaks out against them, they monster them.
“We had a businessman earlier in the week who said he thought staying in the UK was good for his business – the behaviour towards him was disgraceful. It brought shame on Scotland.
“Equally, the CBI was monstered when they appeared before a committee in the Scottish Parliament.
“We are the ones who are being positive about the case for the UK. The nationalists are consistently negative and will consistently do anything to shout down anyone who speaks out against them.”
His remarks about a businessman criticised by nationalists referred to Weir Group boss Keith Cochrane who warned of an increase in business costs if Scotland becomes independent.
The issue also came up in Scottish questions in February when Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael was asked if he thought businesses were being scared into silence by the nationalists. Mr Carmichael repled: “I do, absolutely.”
Last night, an SNP spokesperson said: “Abuse of people has absolutely no part to play in the referendum debate – it doesn’t matter whether those doing it support Yes or No.
“It’s a matter of public record that Nicola Sturgeon has been sent death threats on Twitter, a posting on the No campaign’s Facebook page talked about firing bullets into SNP leaders, appalling remarks about Alex Salmond’s dad were made on a Labour Party website, and in February a man was charged after making a comment in which he threatened to assassinate the First Minister.
“All of it must stop. The referendum debate needs to be a positive one, and people are entitled to express their opinion.
“Before devolution in the 1990s, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary George Robertson said that business people who opposed the creation of a Scottish Parliament were ‘betraying their country’ – that was also wrong, and we trust Alistair Darling agrees.”
Talking about the need to heal divisions, Andrew Wilson, a former SNP front-bencher who writes a weekly column for Scotland on Sunday, said: “People who are influential in the party have been thinking about that [what to do if there is a No vote].
“The party view is you have to behave like you are winning. But no matter the outcome, the country needs to step forward together. We can do that – no question.
“Whatever the outcome, we have to unify Scotland behind progress. The referendum remains a massive opportunity for people, but the SNP has to be leading in whatever happens after September.”