Race row threatens to overshadow Jeremy Corbyn visit to Scotland

Scottish Labour has come under renewed pressure over its response to racist and homophobic comments by one of its MPs, with an SNP minister claiming it was 'a slap in the face for every single ethnic minority [person] in the country'.
Jeremy Corbyn will join Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard on a short tour of the country this week. Picture: John DevlinJeremy Corbyn will join Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard on a short tour of the country this week. Picture: John Devlin
Jeremy Corbyn will join Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard on a short tour of the country this week. Picture: John Devlin

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said Hugh Gaffney, the Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill MP who described a “chinky” takeaway meal and used the term “bent” during a Burns Night address, should “seriously consider his position”.

Mr Gaffney has apologised for his comments. However, it emerged that his local party considered a motion condemning MSP Anas Sarwar after he went public with racist language allegedly used against him by a Labour councillor.

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The news threatens to overshadow a visit to Scotland this week by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who will appear at events in Selkirk, Midlothian and North Ayrshire alongside Scottish leader Richard Leonard.

Mr Corbyn is likely to face awkward questions over the party’s response to Mr Gaffney’s language and its stance on Brexit.

After the allegations against Mr Gaffney were made, the Uddingston and Bellshill Constituency Labour Party (CLP) reportedly put forward a motion on Thursday censuring Mr Sarwar for revealing that South 
Lanarkshire Council group leader Davie McLachlan had told him Labour members would not vote for a “brown, Muslim Paki” as leader. Mr McLachlan, who denies the allegation, has been suspended from the Labour Party.

Uddingston and Bellshill CLP were “talked down” from voting through what would have been an embarrassing censure by MSP Mark Griffin, it is claimed. The motion was blamed on “ideologically obsessed” supporters of Mr Leonard and Mr Corbyn.

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “Labour has a zero tolerance approach to racism. We want to tackle all forms of discrimination. No one should be criticised for speaking against intolerance.”

However, Mr Yousaf said Labour parliamentarians had approached him to voice their disquiet at Mr Leonard’s response to allegations of racism.

He said he was “frustrated” that neither the Scottish Labour leader nor Mr Gaffney had responded to a letter sent last week calling for action, and said a requirement for the MP to undergo diversity training was “barely a tickle on the wrist”. He told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme: “There are a number of questions that clearly have to be answered.

“Has Hugh ever received equalities and diversity training before, as many, many of his former colleagues have contacted me privately to say he would have done?

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“If that is the case, does this not just make a further mockery of Richard Leonard’s weak action that he has taken in regards to these racial slurs that Hugh Gaffney has made?”

Mr Yousaf added: “There are many people that have contacted me, whether they are from ethnic minority [backgrounds] or not, who have been utterly dismayed.

“Labour members themselves, MSPs are coming up to me in the chamber at parliament to say they are utterly appalled at their party’s stance on this.

“The Labour Party have traditionally been a party that has taken a very strong stance against racism [but] has shown itself to be weak in the face of racial slurs – a week after one of their own colleagues, Anas Sarwar, came forward to tackle racism within his own party in a very brave manner indeed.”

Mr Yousaf called on Mr Gaffney to “seriously consider his position”, saying: “If an MP used any other racial slur, I don’t think we would say that person would be fit to hold office.”

Meanwhile, it emerged that Mr Gaffney went on a taxpayer-funded fact-finding trip to China two months before his comments.

As part of the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on China, Mr Gaffney visited Guangdong and Guangxi in November.

The latest damaging revelations come on the day Mr Leonard unveiled a series of measures to tackle intolerance and inequality in Labour, with Mr Sarwar’s support.

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The equalities and diversity subcommittee of Labour’s Scottish executive has been asked to develop a comprehensive anti-discrimination and harassment policy, based on recommendations from Mr Sarwar as well as recent party reports on tackling sexual harassment and breaking down barriers for disabled people.

Interim proposals will be presented at Scottish Labour’s spring conference in March.

The Labour spokesman added: “Hugh Gaffney MP has been reprimanded for using inappropriate and offensive language. He has apologised unreservedly and referred himself for equality and diversity training. The Labour Party is clear that this language is unacceptable.”

On his Scottish visit, Mr Corbyn will pledge to invest in every community and accuse the Scottish Government of being “too timid” against the powerful.

Mr Corbyn said: “Our economy is broken. It is failing people right across Scotland, forcing 260,000 children into poverty, while more and more people in work are unable to make ends meet.

“These problems blight every community in Scotland: from Saltcoats to Selkirk and Stornoway. We urgently need to transform a rigged system.”

He added that Conservative policies were helping the richest few and said Scotland needs his party in government in Westminster and Holyrood.

Mr Leonard said “something needs to change” and claimed too much wealth is owned by the “1 per cent”.

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He added: “Poverty doesn’t respect borders. The impact of austerity isn’t confined to the Central Belt of Scotland and neither will Labour’s response to it be.

“Labour’s plan to protect public services, boost wages and tackle inequality will benefit everyone.

“Communities are being left behind. Only Labour has the plan and the political will to deliver the real change Scotland needs.”