Scottish Election 2021: Parties urged to sign 'Kennedy commitment' to end abuse

The former brother-in-law of Charles Kennedy has called for political parties to sign up to a commitment to denounce abuse of candidates as the Holyrood election campaign enters the last 10 days.

Charles Kennedy is the inspiration behind a commitment to end political abuse.
Charles Kennedy is the inspiration behind a commitment to end political abuse.

James Gurling has written a joint letter with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie and urged politicians to commit to "open, honest and respectful debate".

Former Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy was bombarded with a deluge of "abhorrent" personal abuse during the 2015 general election campaign when he lost his Ross, Cromarty and Skye seat.

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He died less than a month after the election from a haemorrhage linked to his battle with alcoholism. It was later revealed an SNP official, Brian Smith, who was convener of the party’s Skye and Lochalsh branch at the time, had resigned after making abusive Twitter comments. He was reported to have sent more than 130 abusive messages to Mr Kennedy before and immediately after the election.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have now called for a "Kennedy Commitment" where Scotland's political parties would agree to "challenge and denounce" abuse of candidates and "treat political opponents, journalists and the public with respect".

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Referencing a recent BBC Alba documentary on the life of Mr Kennedy, Mr Gurling said the reaction to the programme reminded how missed the MP is, but “also how abhorrent people of all political persuasions thought the online abuse was.”

He added: "We must never go back to those old divisions. With social media playing an increasingly prominent role in elections, politicians can show they have learned the lessons of the past and send a clear message of the value we hold in open, honest and respectful debate."

The intervention follows incidents during the campaign, including a brick thrown through the Lib Dems' Edinburgh office, a man being charged following an incident with SNP candidate Fergus Mutch and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar being racially abused. Violent threats have also been received by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross and All4Unity candidate George Galloway.

Mr Rennie said he was grateful for the solidarity shown by the other party leaders following the incident at the Lib Dems' headquarters, and added: "The public deserve politicians who are able to turn a page in Scottish politics. I am therefore urging all the parties to show the best of Scotland, come together and unite against any and all abuse.

"Charles Kennedy was well known for disagreeing well with political opponents. I hope every candidate can sign up to this commitment in his name and live by it."

Mr Sarwar said he would sign the Commitment and added: "Our politics should be about what unites us, not what divides us. Scottish Labour is leading a positive and respectful campaign, and will continue to do so."

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: "I have no hesitation in pledging my full backing to this Commitment. There is no place in Scottish politics for lies and abuse and we must always treat others with respect."

And Kirsten Oswald, the SNP's deputy Westminster leader, said: "We will work with any and all parties to challenge hate and abuse wherever it rears its ugly head."

A spokesperson for Scottish Greens said: "The Scottish Greens are committed to a respectful campaign in the face of torrid abuse and smears, largely from anonymous keyboard warriors."

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