Nicola Sturgeon says Ian Blackford acted with “grace and dignity” after the SNP Westminster leader was accused of “vigilante” and bullying behaviour.
Mr Blackford was forced to say sorry after posting a tweet that inaccurately accused a photographer, who had moved to Caithness from England, of breaking Covid rules.
Ms Sturgeon said Mr Blackford had been right to apologise for the tweet, which led to claims the SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber was guilty of stirring up hatred.
And she suggested his apology was typical of the “grace and dignity” she associated with Mr Blackford “every single day of the week”.
But the first minister was criticised for failing to “call out” Mr Blackford for “harassing” a private citizen.
The row erupted on Monday night when Mr Blackford reacted on twitter to a photograph of a spectacular lightshow in the north.
Asked if she supported Ian Blackford taking “vigilante action” over travel restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon praises his “grace and dignity” for apologising “for doing something he recognised he should not have done” pic.twitter.com/uKQ01rPbdj
— Philip Sim (@BBCPhilipSim) November 24, 2020
MP ‘trying to stir up public hatred’
The picture was tweeted by Ollie Taylor, a photographer who moved to the far north from south of the border in September to work on a book.
The picture was retweeted by Mr Blackford with a comment suggesting the photographer had breached coronavirus restrictions.
In his tweet, Mr Blackford said: “As you live in the south of England and travel to Scotland is only for permitted reasons I am sure there will be a valid reason as to why you are posting a photo from the north of Scotland last night?”
Mr Blackford’s online remark caused anger with his political opponents accusing him of bullying.
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie claimed Mr Blackford had “bullied” Mr Taylor because he thought he was English and suggested the SNP politician’s behaviour “could only add to the problems of anti English sentiment in Scotland”.
After the outcry, Mr Blackford apologised on twitter admitting he was “wrong” to query the photographer. He also deleted his original tweet.
I will continue to stand up for my constituents who frequently raise these concerns with me but I recognise that it was wrong to query an individual on Twitter and I apologise to @OllieTPhoto for my earlier post, which I have deleted.
— Ian Blackford (@Ianblackford_MP) November 23, 2020
Ms Sturgeon was challenged over Mr Blackford’s behaviour in the Scottish Parliament by the Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “The first minister will have seen the disgraceful tweet from Ian Blackford to his 100,000 followers last night singling out and bullying a private citizen who’s relocated here from England. Does she support vigilante actions from her MPs like this? And what steps has she taken to address Mr Blackford’s behaviour?”
On Mr Cole-Hamilton’s point about Mr Blackford, Ms Sturgeon said: “I suspect people watching have a myriad of things they want to hear addressed in this parliament and hopefully will do during the course of this session. I’m not sure that would have been at the top of the list.
“But I also saw Ian Blackford apologise for doing something he recognises he shouldn’t have done on twitter and I think that’s the right thing when people get something wrong, is to readily apologise for it. I think that’s the grace and dignity that I associate with Ian Blackford every single day of the week.”
Ian Blackford should be ashamed of himself. He purposely went after an individual who simply wanted to share a lovely photo on Twitter for people to enjoy. I’m afraid it is the same old story with the SNP – stoke up division, and when challenged, simply hold up their hands, feigning innocence. It is pathetic.”
Conservative MSP Annie Wells
Scottish Conservative MSP Annie Wells said: “It was pretty cowardly that the first minister didn’t do the right thing this afternoon and call out the SNP’s Westminster leader for harassing a private citizen.
“Ian Blackford should be ashamed of himself. He purposely went after an individual who simply wanted to share a lovely photo on Twitter for people to enjoy.
“I’m afraid it is the same old story with the SNP – stoke up division, and when challenged, simply hold up their hands feigning innocence. It is pathetic.”