Salmond faces Benn family fury over ‘offensive’ remarks

Hilary Benn has argued for air strikes in Syria. Picture: Getty
Hilary Benn has argued for air strikes in Syria. Picture: Getty
Have your say

Alex Salmond was last night embroiled in a furious row over Syrian airstrikes after he made “deeply offensive” remarks about Labour’s shadow ­foreign secretary.

As RAF jets began bombing Islamic State (IS), Mr Salmond launched his own attack on Hilary Benn for supporting military action.

The SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman said Mr Benn’s late father Tony would be “birling in his grave” following the Labour frontbencher’s impassioned speech in support of using force against the terrorist organisation.

Mr Salmond’s comments enraged Mr Benn’s family, who urged him to retract them.

As details emerged of strikes carried out by RAF Tornados on six IS-controlled oil fields and David Cameron warned that the battle against IS required patience and persistence, the political fallout from Wednesday night’s vote to take action found SNP and Labour politicians caught up in bitter rows.

Mr Salmond came under fire following a radio interview in which he was asked about Mr Benn’s powerful speech at the end of Wednesday’s debate which many believe played a critical role in persuading Labour MPs to defy Jeremy Corbyn and support Mr Cameron’s motion.

Mr Benn received loud cheers and applause following his speech, which described IS as “fascists” and invoked the spirit of internationalism which had fought against Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. But the former SNP leader compared Mr Benn unfavourably with his father Tony Benn, the champion of the left who died last year and had opposed the Iraq war. Mr Salmond said: “His father, whose speech I heard in the Iraq debate all these years ago, and I was sitting in virtually the same place, would be birling in his grave hearing a speech in favour of a Tory Prime Minister wanting to take the country to war.

Mr Salmond was asked by LBC Radio host James O’Brien whether he was “abusing” the shadow foreign Secretary. But the Gordon MP defended his remarks, arguing they were “fair comment” about the contrast between the two Benns. But Tony Benn’s granddaughter and Hilary Benn’s niece Emily Benn disagreed.

“Mr Salmond, Your comments are both deeply offensive and simply untrue. I hope you reflect and retract them,” Ms Benn tweeted.

Mr Salmond’s remarks echoed a tweet sent by the SNP MP George Kerevan during Wednesday’s debate when the Nationalist member for East Lothian said: “Benn summing up for Labour but voting with Tories. Benn’s father must be turning in his grave.”

In a rare move for a political party remarkable for its internal discipline, one of Mr Kerevan’s colleagues appeared to take umbrage at the tweet.

The SNP MP for Glasgow South Stewart McDonald posted on Twitter: “I voted differently to Hilary Benn. Using his father’s death to make a political point – ‘spinning in his grave’ – is repulsive.”

The approach taken by Mr Salmond and Mr Kerevan contrasted with the more conciliatory tone struck by Nicola ­Sturgeon earlier this week when she described the difference between the SNP’s position and that of the UK government as a “honest difference of ­opinion”.

Last night shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: “This is too important an issue to play petty politics with, but that is exactly what some SNP MPs have done.

“To use a dead parent to score cheap points is utterly repulsive. This is dreadful behaviour coming from the very top of the SNP and it must stop.”

Mr Murray also criticised a tweet posted by the SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson which saw him try and recruit members to the SNP “to join opposition to Labour/Tory ‘better together’ majority”.

Meanwhile a row was raging within Labour when senior party figures branded Ken Livingstone “disgraceful” for suggesting he would back efforts to deselect some of the 66 MPs who backed airstrikes.

The shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith, who opposed airstrikes, said: “I think that’s a disgraceful thing to say, and I certainly wouldn’t support that in any way, shape or form.”