By Martin Kelly
Leader of the anti-independence campaign Better Together, Alistair Darling, has come under fire after likening First Minister Alex Salmond to a former North Korean dictator and implying the independence movement was based on ‘blood’.
The Labour MP, who leads the cross party Unionist alliance, said remarks made by Mr Salmond in which the SNP leader criticised UKIP, were “something that Kim Jong-il would say”.
According to reports, the Labour MP told the New Statesman magazine that Mr Salmond had “said on the BBC that people voted UKIP in Scotland because English TV was being beamed in to Scotland” and added: ” This was a North Korean response. This is something that Kim Jong-il would say.”
In a bizarre interview, the Labour MP also described the SNP as “blood and soil nationalism” which had created a “culture of intimidation” and that businesses were frightened to speak out against independence.
Darling added: “I haven’t been threatened – they wouldn’t threaten me – but if you are a member of the public and you are trashed for having your say, what do you do? You stop it. No-one wants to live in a country where this sort of thing goes on. A culture has been allowed to develop here. This is not a modern civic Scotland.”
However in a surprise move following outrage over one of Mr Darling’s reported remarks, the magazine has claimed it made ‘an error’ transcribing the interview and that the inclusion of the phrase ‘blood and soil’ had been a mistake. The claim by the magazine has not prevented the phrase making it into the print version of the latest issue.
The remarks from Mr Darling have provoked a furious reaction from the SNP who have demanded the Labour MP apologise for what they say are “puerile” and “pathetic” comments.
“The debate on Scotland’s future is one that deserves far, far better than boorish and abusive personal insults, as do the people of Scotland.
“Mr Darling has called for a positive debate free from abuse – he should now aim to live up to that pledge, and stop trying to divert attention from the real issues.” said a spokesperson.
A Better Together spokesman said: “What an overblown reaction. Alistair was using humour to poke fun at the First Minister’s disastrous TV interview where he claimed that 150,000 Scottish people voted for UKIP because BBC people in London had beamed that thought into their heads. It was a joke and it should be treated as such.”
The First Minister had criticised the amount of coverage the BBC had given UKIP in Scotland which was estimated to be four times that given to the SNP.
However in what will prove embarrassing to both Better Together and Mr Darling, criticism of the BBC’s coverage of UKIP across its media was also made by senior Labour MP Andy Burnham.
Mr Burnham tweeted: “Oh come on @BBCNews – this pathetic obsession with UKIP is demeaning. Labour won local elections convincingly”
He later added: “Will always be big supporter of BBC. But @BBCNews needs to have long, hard look at balance (or lack of) in its coverage over recent weeks.”
The remarks from Mr Darling are the latest in a series of intemperate comments from Scottish Labour MPs during the referendum campaign.
In January last year, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Anas Sarwar claimed the Scottish Parliament was “not a democratic place”.
Speaking in the chamber, the Glasgow MP attacked the Scottish Parliament saying: “We have a majority SNP Government in the Scottish Parliament, but that is not a democratic place in the conventional sense.
“It is a dictatorship of one man sitting in Bute house, who will do not what is in Scotland’s interests, but what is in his own or his party’s interests.”
That same month, Mr Sarwar’s colleague, Glasgow Labour MP Ian Davidson caused anger when he claimed Scots who celebrate the battle of Bannockburn only did so because hundreds of thousands of English people were murdered.