Nicola Sturgeon has accused the leader of the Scottish Conservatives of undermining attempts to clamp down on hate crimes in the wake of the Brexit vote by refusing to apologise for allegedly xenophobic comments made by one of her party’s press officers.
In a letter to Ruth Davidson, the SNP leader said the remarks attributed to an unnamed member of the Tory communications team were “completely unacceptable” and called on her to publicly withdraw them on behalf of her party.
Political leaders, such as ourselves, have a responsibility to set the tone for political debate – and never more so than in the current climate.Nicola Sturgeon
The row began earlier this month after Christian Allard, the French-born former SNP MSP, reported Tory MSP Alexander Burnett to the Standards Commissioner for failing to disclose his business interests when raising objections against a rival property developer in the Scottish Parliament.
The Tory press office issued a statement in response to Mr Allard’s claims which said: “Some people may find it bizarre that an EU citizen has an interest in a planning application in Banchory [in Mr Burnett’s constituency].
“However, it is easily explained when people understand that the planning consultant in question is an SNP appointee to the Scottish Government housing committee and Christian Allard was a former SNP MSP.”
The comments immediately provoked claims of “casual racism” and calls for the party to apologise.
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Ms Sturgeon described it as a “serious issue” and called for Ms Davidson to apologise during First Minister’s Questions last week, but the Tory leader has yet to respond.
Now, in an escalation of the row, the SNP leader has written to her political rival suggesting that a failure to apologise would set a bad example following a reported rise in xenophobic hate crimes in the wake of the EU referendum. “Political leaders, such as ourselves, have a responsibility to set the tone for political debate – and never more so than in the current climate, when the post-Brexit landscape has witnessed some deeply troubling episodes in other parts of the UK, and which all of us have a serious responsibility to try and avoid occurring in Scotland,” Ms Sturgeon writes.
“The Prime Minister has had to assure the Polish Government that the UK Government are taking seriously the concerns about hate crimes committed towards Polish citizens living in the UK.
“But those reassurances risk being undermined when you, as Scottish Conservative leader, fail to retract or apologise for the offensive remarks issued by your office.”
As well as calling on Ms Davidson to condemn, retract and apologise for the remarks, the First Minister asks her to make clear that EU citizens living in Scotland “have a right to involve themselves in the affairs of their communities and in public life in general”.
A spokesman for the Scottish Tories declined to comment on the letter.
Last week the party’s head of communications said the original statement was not intended to be offensive, but conceded that it was open to misinterpretation. He also denied that anyone in the party was xenophobic.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, iNews.