Row over 'threat to shoot reporters'

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THE SNP demanded an inquiry yesterday into comments made by a Labour press officer earlier this week when he warned members of the media they might be "shot" if they got in the way of the Prime Minister's wife.

The incident happened on Wednesday when the press were being prevented from getting close to Sarah Brown as she campaigned in Glenrothes.

Rami Okasha, Labour's head of communications in Scotland, was in charge of keeping the press corralled on to a piece of ground away from Mrs Brown when he referred to the Special Branch officers protecting her and said: "There will be six or seven guys with guns who will keep you away from her. You may be shot and then it won't be my problem."

After reading the report of the incident in The Scotsman, Joe Fitzpatrick, the SNP MSP for Dundee West, demanded an internal Labour Party inquiry and disciplinary action against the press officer concerned.

He said: "It is Labour control freakery gone mad. On what possible basis do Labour Party apparatchiks discuss security issues – which they have no business interfering in.

"We have excellent democratic standards in Scotland of campaigning in by-elections, which Labour must not be allowed to undermine in this extraordinary bullying manner."

And he added: "I am calling on the Labour Party to resolve this worrying matter by holding an inquiry in order to establish which party official made these reported remarks, on whose authority they were acting, and any disciplinary action that may be required."

A Labour spokesman replied: "The bizarre and inaccurate claim by the SNP that any member of Labour Party staff would seriously threaten anyone is simply spin and merely a distraction by their spin-doctors from the real issues in the campaign."

Meanwhile, David Cameron derided Alex Salmond yesterday for being too parochial in the face of the economic crisis and for not acting like a "statesman".

The Conservative leader, campaigning in Glenrothes ahead of next month's by-election, also attacked Labour for trying to "frighten" Scots away from independence. Mr Cameron said the case for the Union had to be a positive one and he would put that case now and all the time if he became prime minister.

Mr Cameron came to Scotland aware that his party is battling for third or fourth place in the race for Glenrothes and is unlikely to do any better, despite his campaign appearance.

He refused to be drawn on whether an SNP victory in Glenrothes would damage the Union, nor on whether the case for independence had been undermined by the global banking crisis.

But he did criticise the First Minister for being too partisan and "national" at a time of great global uncertainty.

Mr Cameron said: "In some ways, this has revealed that Alex Salmond has been acting as a national politician rather than as a uniting statesman. That is what we need right now."

The Conservative leader said that Scotland could "stand alone", but his preference was for the Union.

He said: "Of course it is possible that Scotland can stand alone – that is true. I just think it would be better off in the United Kingdom. Better off for all of us."

And in a dig at Labour, which has used the banking crisis to undermine the case for independence, Mr Cameron said: "I don't think we'd ever succeed in saving the Union by frightening Scots to say you couldn't possibly make it on your own.

"That's not the way I approach it. The Union to me is about generosity – we're stronger together because we share so much. We'll win the case for the Union through taking a generous attitude, not a small-minded one."

He also vowed to work with the First Minister if the Tories win power at Westminster.