Des Browne aide: Scotland is narrow, Presbyterian and racist

THE chief aide to Scottish Secretary Des Browne described Scotland as "narrow, Presbyterian and racist" in a private e-mail.

John McTernan, Browne's special adviser at the Scotland Office, and a former aide to Tony Blair, made the comment in a private message to Labour MSP Karen Gillon five years ago.

In the message, obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, McTernan is recorded remarking on a holiday Gillon was about to take in Sweden.

"If you've not been to Sweden before I think you'll really like it," he wrote. "It's the country Scotland would be if it was not narrow, Presbyterian, racist, etc, etc. Social democracy in action."

McTernan wrote the e-mail while he worked at the Scottish Arts Council in 2002. He had previously been chief adviser to the disgraced First Minister Henry McLeish but had left the Scottish Executive when Jack McConnell came to power.

More recently, McTernan was a key member of Scottish Labour's election team last May. He was also questioned by police in the cash for honours affair.

McTernan, 48, was born in London but grew up in Edinburgh. Last night he told Scotland on Sunday: "This whole thing is absurd. Words have been taken out of context from a private correspondence that is five years old. Everybody who knows me knows that I have always worked hard for Scotland's interests and continue to do so at the Scotland Office."

But First Minister Alex Salmond last night claimed the e-mailed remarks showed Labour's true "contempt" for the Scottish people, and he questioned whether McTernan, should keep his job.

"It's a remarkable insight into the attitudes of the special adviser that London put in charge of Labour's election campaign last year, " he said. "It shows why Labour lost the election, they seem to have developed a unique contempt for the Scottish people."

McTernan is likely to make a complaint to the Scottish Arts Council, which released the documents, claiming that in doing so the organisation breached data protection laws.

Labour figures were slow to come to McTernan's assistance last night. McLeish declined to comment. But one party source said: "John has a brilliant strategic mind and has a passionate commitment to centre left politics. He hates narrow nationalism and these comments have to be seen in that context."

McTernan, who also worked as a columnist for Scotland on Sunday after leaving the Scottish government, found a new role in Downing Street under Tony Blair, eventually rising to the role of political secretary to the then Prime Minister.