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Nicola Sturgeon’s reshuffle left in disarray over north-east MSP Gillian Martin’s offensive blog posts

Gillian Martin MSP.
Gillian Martin MSP.

Nicola Sturgeon’s long-awaited reshuffle was left in disarray yesterday after she was forced to a sack a new minister within hours of announcing her appointment.

The ministerial career of Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin was left in tatters before it had even begun when “shocking” excerpts from an online blog resurfaced.

On the final day of parliament before the summer recess, Ms Sturgeon was left in the highly unusual and embarrassing position of having to withdraw Ms Martin’s nomination to become the next higher education minister over derogatory remarks relating to Jewish people, black people, transgender people and other minorities.

Quotes from Gillian Martin.

Opposition politicians, who had been ready to join forces to block the appointment if Ms Martin’s nomination had not been removed, branded it the “most notorious reshuffle in the parliament’s history”.

Ms Martin, who also faced calls to consider her future as an MSP yesterday, said last night that she was “deeply sorry” and that she would “fully accept and understand the decision” taken by Ms Sturgeon.

The posts were made on a public blog in 2007 and several of the comments had emerged two years ago during Ms Martin’s campaign for election in Aberdeenshire East.

The first minister had been aware of many of the posts before she announced that the Aberdeenshire East MSP would be promoted as part of a new team of “fresh talent” on Wednesday.

However, it is understood that the SNP leader had not known about remarks relating to a period Ms Martin had spent working in a bar in the US until yesterday morning.

The MSP had written that she had been told that “American Jews” were known to “tip ok but only if you’ve absolutely busted your hump and everything was faultless in the extreme”, and that they “often complain about the quality of the food, and then the small portions”.

Ms Martin also said “American Blacks” were “to be avoided” by waiters because they do not tip, and that “the waiters (also black, remember) would do anything to avoid serving a table of blacks or be openly disappointed if allocated one”.

The comments are understood to have led to Ms Sturgeon withdrawing the nomination at the last minute.

MSPs were informed of the remarks by Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw as they were due to approve the ministerial appointments yesterday afternoon.

“That is shocking and I cannot make light of that,” he said, before adding: “The proposed appointment prompts a judgment about the first minister.

“A reshuffle that has been a year in the making should not stand as the most notorious reshuffle in the parliament’s history.”

Labour’s Rhoda Grant said the “words and blogs have offended every minority group and indeed all of us”.

She added: “This appointment calls into question the very judgment of the first minister.

“Did she know about those comments before the appointment? If she believes that Gillian Martin is not fit to be a minister, is Gillian Martin really fit to be a member of the Scottish Parliament?”

Other remarks made by Ms Martin in blog posts made reference to “hairy-knuckled, lipstick-wearing transitional laydees”, and said college PR staff “froth at the mouth with excitement if anyone in a wheelchair does anything that can be remotely described as an achievement”.

The Scottish Trans Alliance said “we very much welcome” that all parties “have united today to make a strong statement on the unacceptability of transphobic, ablist, racist, homophobic etc language, by those who hold high office”.

Last night, Ms Martin said: “I fully accept and understand the decision that the first minister has taken.

“In a blog I wrote 11 years ago across a range of issues I used language that was inappropriate and offensive.

“I reported comments from other people which have caused offence, and made statements in a way which does not represent my views then or now.

“I deleted this blog some time ago precisely because I accepted that it contained unacceptable content – but I recognise that these posts should never have been published in the first place.

“That is entirely my responsibility and I am deeply sorry.”

She added: “When parts of this blog were last raised publicly two years ago I apologised – and I unreservedly apologise today.

“Since my election as MSP for Aberdeenshire East in 2016, I have always campaigned hard for equalities and I will continue to do so.”

Nicola Sturgeon vows to reflect on the criticism over Gillian Martin’s appointment

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would take “on the chin” and “reflect” on the widespread criticism of her ill-fated decision to make Gillian Martin a minister.

But as opponents circled to question her judgement, the SNP leader added that the offensive remarks posted in 2007 by the Aberdeenshire East MSP do “not reflect the views of the person that I know”.

After Ms Martin’s nomination to become the new higher education minister was withdrawn at the last minute, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “In the end, this is not just about Gillian Martin’s judgment; this is about the first minister’s judgment, is it not?”

Ms Sturgeon said: “I take the comments that have been made today on the chin. As first minister, that is part of my responsibility and I do not hesitate to do so. I will obviously reflect carefully.”

She added: “Gillian Martin has been a member of this parliament for two years, and members across the chamber have got to know her well.

“I simply ask members to ask themselves whether, in their heart of hearts, they believe that the comments that have been read out—however ill-advised they were; I do not take issue with that—reflect the views of the person they have come to know.

“When I was made aware of the comments this morning, I immediately took action to lodge a new motion without Gillian Martin’s name on it.

“I think that all parties should resolve to act quickly when such issues arise. I do not want to get party political, but there are elected representatives of other parties up and down the country who have made vile, homophobic and racist comments without action being taken, so let this be a moment of reflection for all of us.

“Before we stand in glass houses throwing stones, we should make sure that our houses are all in order.”