The Scottish Labour Party is in “meltdown” after “civil war” erupted between the party’s leadership and its councillors, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The SNP leader made the comments after Labour Party chiefs north of the border were forced to suspend nine councillors who struck a deal to form a coalition with the Conservatives in Aberdeen.
Labour’s ruling Scottish Executive Committee had rejected such a deal and when the party’s group on Aberdeen City Council went ahead and formed a joint administration with the Tories, they were all suspended.
Ms Sturgeon taunted Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale over the party’s situation as the pair clashed at First Minister’s Questions.
In noisy exchanges at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said Labour “is in disarray, it is in civil war, it is in meltdown”.
Ms Dugdale used the weekly session to call on Ms Sturgeon to order SNP members to “denounce and shun” the controversial pro-independence website Wings Over Scotland.
The Labour MSP said she had received a lawyer’s letter demanding £10,000 for “damage to reputation” on behalf of the site’s founder, Stuart Campbell, after she accused him of homophobia.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: ” Kezia Dugdale is asking me about this today because she hopes it means I won’t be able to remind her that her colleagues in Aberdeen yesterday voted for a Tory administration there.”
The Labour leader insisted: ” When my colleagues do something I disagree with, I take action. I’m asking the First Minister to do the same.”
Ms Dugdale said elected SNP politicians, including senior members of the Scottish Government, “positively engage” with Wings Over Scotland by retweeting its comments – saying this group included Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and transport minister Humza Yousaf.
Ms Sturgeon responded: ” This is an absolutely ridiculous line of questioning. I unequivocally condemn abuse of any kind.
“I’ve got a list here of abuse that’s been hurled at me by many people who are now Tory councillors in Scotland, I’ve had abuse from people who are members of the Labour Party, I’ve been called a fascist and Nazi or my party has by Ian Smart, who was a senior member of the Labour Party, and I didn’t hold Kezia Dugdale responsible.
“Let’s cut to the chase here, this is a smokescreen being erected by Kezia Dugdale today because her party is in disarray, it is civil war, it is in meltdown.
“She is directing this at me to hide one simple fact – as leader of the Scottish Labour Party she is not in control of her own party because she can’t stop her councillors going into coalition with Tories up and down the country.
“That is why she is asking about this today, as a smokescreen to protect herself against the state of her own party.”
Ms Dugdale told MSPs she had received the financial demand after she “called out” Wings Over Scotland for a comment made earlier this year about Oliver Mundell, a Tory MSP who is the son of Scottish Secretary David Mundell, who came out as gay at the start of 2016.
A tweet said: ” ‘Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner.”
The Scottish Labour leader revealed to MSPs: “Mr Campbell has written to me, via his lawyer, to demand a £10,000 pay for ‘damage to reputation’.
” I stand firmly by my comments, I’ve never cowtowed to a bully and I will not start today.”
Ms Dugdale said: “The comments on Wings Over Scotland was published by an individual who not only distorts the political debate but regularly spouts hatred.
“Yet SNP politicians continue to positively engage with him and alert their followers to his beliefs.
“There are a few SNP politicians who have called him out but 44% of SNP MSPs and 50% of SNP MPs have actively encouraged him along.
“I have the list here and it includes 10 government ministers, the Finance Secretary, the Justice Secretary and the transport minister.
“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 own ministers to denounce and shun Wings Over Scotland once and for all?”
Ms Sturgeon said all politicians should be ” very clear that that kind of language, any form of abuse of any minority, or indeed any politician of that nature, is completely unacceptable”.
She added: “I see abuse on a daily basis being hurled at me, my colleagues, people on my side of the political spectrum and I don’t hold Kezia Dugdale personally responsible for that, so we should all join together and say that that kind of abuse is unacceptable and at least have this as an issue on which we have consensus not division.”
She also pointed out to the Scottish Labour leader: ” I follow thousands of people on Twitter and I am followed by hundreds of thousands of people on Twitter.
“If I was to go through Kezia Dugdale’s tweets, or the tweets of members of her group or members of her party, and I came up with retweets that were somehow unsavoury in some way, is she really saying she would hold herself personally responsible for that?”
Ms Sturgeon was later asked about the coalition in Aberdeen between the rebel Labour councillors and the Conservatives, with SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald suggesting the “clear message to voters is that if you vote Labour you’ll get Tory”.
The First Minister said: “I n large parts of the country, it certainly seems to be the case.
“Labour votes in Aberdeen yesterday were used to put the Tories into administration and I think that should say something to everybody who might be considering voting Labour in the future – that if you vote Labour, you often don’t get Labour, you get the Tories and that is the reality.”
She continued: ” Perhaps Kezia Dugdale will want to take the opportunity of just making it clear that the suspensions of the Aberdeen councillors yesterday won’t miraculously be waved away after June 8.
“Perhaps at the first opportunity Kezia Dugdale could tell us that, because I suspect as soon as the General Election is out the way we’ll see these Labour-Tory coalitions taking effect all over the country and that, I think, says everything we need to know about Labour and the Tories and the alliance between the two of them.”