Democracy at risk from hate-filled Holyrood exchanges, warns Henry McLeish

Former First Minister Henry McLeish. Picture: Robert Perry
Former First Minister Henry McLeish. Picture: Robert Perry
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FORMER Labour First Minister Henry McLeish has warned the “intrinsic hatred” between the warring parties at Holyrood is threatening to undermine democracy in Scotland.

Mr McLeish has urged his old party to stop “hating” the SNP and focus on policies. Exchanges have become increasingly ill-tempered in the Scottish Parliament in ­recent weeks, with an MSP suspended and ministers forced into making apologies.

One of the main aims of ­Holy­rood was to move away from the “ya-boo politics” of Westminster, Mr McLeish said on Friday. “Name-calling, cheap jibes and intemperate language really don’t help, “ he said.

“The public are sick and tired of this kind of politics and we did promise them something different in Scotland.

“It’s up to the politicians to concentrate on issues, on ­ambitions and aspirations and on sheer politics – not on ­personalities.

“Quite frankly, if we carry on like this what we’ll do is we’ll undermine our democracy, undermine our politics and we’ll cheapen the debate.”

Holyrood’s SNP presiding

officer, Tricia Marwick, this week suspended Labour MSP Michael ­McMahon who shouted “out of order” during heated exchanges, while party leader Johann Lamont was pulled up for calling Alex Salmond “Pinocchio”.

On the Nationalist side, both the First Minister and education secretary Mike Russell have been forced to apologise for misleading MSPs over levels of college funding in Scotland.

This has prompted opposition calls for Mr Russell to

resign, but he has insisted he is going nowhere.

“There is really an intrinsic hatred evident, palpable, ­between the SNP and Labour,” Mr McLeish added.

“As far as ­Labour is concerned, it’s a wasteful emotion, anger, and what they should be concentrating on is not criticising in personality terms, but looking at policies. My view quite simply is that Labour should stop hating the SNP and start to defeat them.

“The government is now five years into the job and they can appear arrogant, they can appear complacent, but, at the end of the day, people may laugh at some of the things taking place, but politics is a serious business.

“There’s social mobility issues, inequality issues, cuts in college education and various things at stake. This is not the time for words like ‘liar’ and ‘Pinocchio’. We have to have a serious focus on some of the big issues.”

Opposition parties say that the SNP has undermined the “integrity” of parliament and point to another mistake by Mr Salmond when he inflated the number of green jobs in Scotland by 7,000 in a debate last month as he faced criticism over wind farms. He then had Holyrood’s official record changed without telling MSPs, contrary to parliamentary protocol.

But Nationalists insist opposition parties are on very “dangerous ground” with their accusations, after Ms Lamont and Tory leader Ruth Davidson both failed to correct their own errors in the Official Report.

SNP backbencher Dennis Robertson insisted Ms Lamont had made “demonstrably inaccurate” claims about steel contracts for the new Forth bridge and Ms Davidson has done the same over college course cuts.

“Both Alex Salmond and Mike Russell have corrected their mistakes and apologised to members,” he said.