For much of the past week, the British Unionist media in Scotland – including the taxpayer-funded BBC – and the three main British political parties all attempted to have a decent man sacked from his job.
The man condemned by newspapers, broadcasters and British Unionist politicians is Campbell Gunn, a special adviser to Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond. Mr Gunn’s ‘crime’ is to have sent an e-mail to a journalist at the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph, in which he tried to correct a misrepresentation made at an event held by the anti-independence Better Together campaign in Glasgow.
At the Better Together meeting, a woman called Clare Lally (pictured above) told the audience and assembled media, “I’m just an ordinary mum from Clydebank who is campaigning for Scotland to stay in the UK.” The Daily Telegraph gave prominence to the story of the “ordinary mum” being inspired to get up on stage and take part in the campaign to keep Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, which is what prompted Campbell Gunn to contact the journalist who wrote the story. In an e-mail, Campbell Gunn said, “You are no doubt aware that the 'mother-of-two', who described herself as 'just a normal person' in the Telegraph today is actually a member of Labour's Shadow Cabinet and daughter-in-law of former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow Pat Lally.....”
That is the full text of the e-mail sent by Campbell Gunn to the Daily Telegraph. No content has been omitted.
It subsequently transpired that the Clare Lally who addressed the Better Together meeting is, in fact, not related to Pat Lally, the former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow. Wherever Campbell Gunn got his information from, it was inaccurate in that respect. For the error and any offence caused, Campbell Gunn made a comprehensive apology. Mr Gunn offered to apologise personally to Clare Lally, but she declined the approach and subsequently refused to accept his apology.
The ‘offence’ associated with being described as a relative of a former Lord Provost of Glasgow has not been explained.
The other point made by Campbell Gunn in his e-mail to a Daily Telegraph journalist is factually correct. The woman presented to the media by Better Together as “an ordinary mum from Clydebank who is campaigning for Scotland to stay in the UK” is, in fact, a member of ‘Scottish’ Labour’s Shadow Cabinet, helping the party to formulate policy on the role of Carers.
In August 2012, the Labour-supporting Daily Record carried a story headlined “Mum joins political elite to fight for carer’s rights”. The story began, “Clare Lally is to join Labour’s shadow cabinet as their first ‘Carers Champion’, “ adding that Ms Lally would “advise Johann Lamont’s party on the challenges facing Scotland’s 660,000 carers”.
In the article, Clare Lally told the Record, “I have always been a Labour supporter. But to actually be able to contribute and help make a difference is a better opportunity than I could have asked for.”
So, despite Ms Lally’s claim to be “just an ordinary mum”, apparently inspired into action by a desire to campaign for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom, it turns out she has “always been a Labour supporter” and for the past two years has been part of what the Daily Record described as the “political elite” by being a member of ‘Scottish’ Labour’s Shadow Cabinet.
At the very least, Better Together allowed Clare Lally to be presented as a non-politically-active member of the public who had simply been motivated by family interests to speak-up in favour of Scotland remaining within the British Union. When it was revealed that, in fact, Ms Lally was an avowed supporter of the Labour Party and a member of its Scottish Shadow Cabinet, it has been alleged she was subjected to vile abuse on the internet.
No-one should be subjected to vile abuse on the internet or, for that matter, in real-life situations simply for holding and articulating political views. If Clare Lally received abuse, every one of us should join in condemnation of those responsible. Ms Lally should also report the perpetrators to the police, if their names are known.
It should also be noted that neither side in the Independence/British Union debate has a monopoly on internet idiots. Pro-British Union newspapers and broadcasters like to trot-out the ‘cybernats’ name to describe alleged posters of internet abuse, but some of the most horrible and offensive comments have come from supporters of the Union and have been directed particularly at Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.
Following the revelations behind the Clare Lally story and Campbell Gunn’s e-mail to a Daily Telegraph journalist, the leaders of British Unionist parties in Scotland banded together in calling for the First Minister to sack his Special Adviser. Lib Dem UK Treasury Minister Danny Alexander, one of Westminster’s most prominent anti-independence campaigners, went even further, referring to “vile outpourings from the first minister's office". To save you scrolling back up the page, here, again, is the full content of the e-mail sent by Campbell Gunn: “You are no doubt aware that the 'mother-of-two', who described herself as 'just a normal person' in the Telegraph today is actually a member of Labour's Shadow Cabinet and daughter-in-law of former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow Pat Lally.....” This, to a UK Government Minister, apparently constitutes “vile outpourings”.
At First Minister’s Questions in Scotland’s Parliament last Thursday (June 12), all three leaders of the British Unionist parties – Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrats – went on the subject of Campbell Gunn’s e-mail and the alleged vile abuse received by Clare Lally on the internet.
Labour’s Johann Lamont - the same person who has “ordinary mum” Clare Lally in her Shadow Cabinet – referred to a “personal attack” by Campbell Gunn on Ms Lally. She then said to Alex Salmond, “Does the First Minister not realise if he doesn't sack Campbell Gunn we can only conclude all the bullying that goes on, wherever it comes, is done by order, by design, by him?”
The whole ‘Lallygate’ issue emerged because Better Together tried to pass-off as an unaligned “ordinary mum” someone who is actually a self-proclaimed Labour supporter and member of the party’s Shadow Cabinet: but what the British Unionist media reported was fabricated outrage over an e-mail containing one error from a Special Adviser in the First Minister’s Office, for which an apology was issued. To go from that position to the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland accusing First Minister Alex Salmond of not only condoning but ordering cyber-bullying was plumbing new depths for the anti-independence campaign.
I should note that I got to know Campbell Gunn when I served as a Member of the Scottish Parliament. He was then the Political Editor of the Sunday Post. In total, he served the paper and its readers for 43 years, including covering wars in Bosnia and Kosovo.
From my personal experience, Campbell Gunn was an ‘old school’ journalist: you knew where you stood with him, you knew you could trust him to report you fairly and accurately. When he retired from journalism in March 2013, he received a lifetime achievement award.
At the time of his retiral, Labour leader Johann Lamont said, “Campbell has proven himself to be a tough but fair journalist, a thoughtful and wise observer of politics and thoroughly good company, whose interests and views beyond politics are just as interesting. Few political reporters can claim to have covered our game for such a long period while still remaining on good terms with all of those he writes about, and this is a testament to his professionalism and his good nature.”
It was the same Johann Lamont who last week used First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament to accuse Campbell Gunn of launching a “personal attack” on “an ordinary mum” and of being part of bullying apparently ordered by the democratically-elected leader of Scotland. Ms Lamont, of course, also demanded that Campbell Gunn be sacked from his job.
It would appear there is no depth to which the British Unionist campaign will not sink.