Labour leader Kezia Dugdale is being sued for £10,000 by a pro-independence blogger after she accused him of “homophobic” abuse.
Ms Dugdale told MSPs at First Ministers Questions on Thursday that she had “called out” Stuart Campbell of the Wings Over Scotland website in a newspaper column she writes because of “homophobic comments” he had made about the Tory MSP Oliver Mundell.
The claims of homophobia have been rejected by the blogger who says he will now seek to increase his financial demands on the Labour leader over her comments at Holyrood.
“Mr Campbell has written to me, via his lawyers, to demand a £10,000 payment for, and I quote ‘damage to reputation’,” Ms Dugdale revealed at First Ministers Questions yesterday.
The Labour leader continued: “I stand firmly by my comments. I’ve never kowtowed to a bully and I will not start today.
“There is a catalogue of evidence that demonstrates the bile that Stuart Campbell appears to believe is acceptable.”
The row stems from a tweet by Mr Campbell during the Tory conference in March. Mr Mundell’s father David, the Scottish Secretary, became the first serving Conservative cabinet minister to ever publicly state he was gay last year.
Mr Campbell tweeted: “Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner.”
The blogger yesterday rejected claims of homophobia and warned that he will now take the matter to court.
He added: “The tweet Kezia Dugdale read out at FMQs is – obviously – not homophobic in any way.
“It’s a criticism of Oliver Mundell’s terrible public-speaking skills, and to the best of my knowledge Oliver Mundell isn’t gay. I absolutely and categorically reject any accusations that I’m a homophobe – it’s an outrageous and completely false allegation and we’ll be pursuing the case in court.
“It’s correct that we initially offered to accept £10,000 for a quick settlement, but received no reply, and on the advice of counsel it’s likely that we’ll seek a higher figure, particularly now that Ms Dugdale has compounded the offence by repeating the defamatory statements on national television and involving the First Minister.”
However, the prospect of upping the payout based on Ms Dugdale’s comments yesterday is unlikely as they are covered by “Parliamentary privilege” in relation to potential defamation actions.
Many senior SNP figures have “actively encouraged” the blogger, Ms Dugdale told MSPs yesterday, as she called on the SNP leader to bring this to an end.
“When my colleagues do something that I disagree with, I take action,” she told Ms Sturgeon.
“I am asking the First Minister to do the same.”
Ms Dugdale added: “There are a few SNP politicians who have called him out, but 44 per cent of SNP MSPs and 50 per cent of SNP MPs have actively encouraged him along.”
She said this included ten government ministers, among them the finance secretary Derek MacKay, justice secretary Michael Matheson and transport minister Humza Yousaf.
Ms Dugdale said: “Social media can be a force for good, but as leaders we have a duty to stand up when it becomes an outlet for aggression, intolerance and hatred, so I want to ask the First Minister a clear yes or no question.
“Will she today order her politicians and her ministers to denounce and shun ‘Wings Over Scotland’ once and for all?”
But Ms Sturgeon claimed the Labour leader had only raised the issue at First Ministers Questions to divert attention from her own internal party problems, branding it an “absolutely ridiculous” line of questioning.
“I’m not responsible for Stuart Campbell any more than Kezia Dugdale is responsible for people who hurl abuse at me in the name of being a supporter of the Labour party,” Ms Sturgeon said
The First Minister pointed to the rebellion Ms Dugdale faces in Aberdeen where nine councillors have been suspended from the party after forming a coalition with the Conservatives.
“What we’re seeing here today is a bit of a political smokescreen,” the First Minister added.
“Her party is in disarray – it is in civil war and it is in meltdown.”