By a Newsnet reporter
SNP MSPs have demanded that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg apologise for comments he made during a recent visit to Scotland when he characterised supporters of independence as “extremists”.
In an interview with the Scotsman newspaper, Mr Clegg was asked whether he described himself as a “Unionist”, Mr Clegg rejected the label, claiming that retaining the Union was the mainstream opinion and asserted that he and his party “are very much situated in the centre ground of Scottish public opinion”.
Mr Clegg added: “All the evidence suggests that [retaining the Union] is the mainstream of opinion and the extremists are those who either think that we need to yank Scotland out of the United Kingdom tomorrow, or those who say there should be no further change at all.”
Mr Clegg’s comments sparked off fury amongst SNP MSPs, who regarded Mr Clegg’s remarks an insult to the Scottish electorate. Recent opinion polls suggest that independence is the preferred option of 40% and rising amongst Scots voters, a proportion which makes the desire for independence very much a part of mainstream Scottish political discourse.
The comments have also left him open to the charges of ignorance and insult. SNP MSP for the South of Scotland, Chic Brodie, formerly a member of the Lib Dems, challenged Scottish Lib Dems to apologise for their leader’s recent remarks and said that Mr Clegg’s apparent inability to understand the Scottish political landscape would only result in yet more defections from the ailing Lib Dems and encourage more Scottish voters to abandon the party.
Mr Brodie said: “Nick Clegg demonstrates his ignorance of Scotland every time he visits.
“Clegg’s comments are further evidence of disarray among the anti-independence parties. As the handmaiden of Tory-rule, how dare Nick Clegg insult the voters who backed the SNP as the majority party in Scotland.
“For anyone in league with the right-wing Tory policies the Liberal are now supporting – including savage spending cuts – to talk of extremism is utterly ridiculous.
“What happened to the respect agenda? Clegg should apologise for his comments and make clear if he supports Tory and House of Lords attempts to dictate the terms of the referendum from London over the wishes of the people of Scotland.
“While the Lib Dems go around insulting voters and desperately trying to distance themselves from their coalition partners the SNP will continue to focus on jobs, growing our economy and supporting Scottish households as voters prepare to support Scotland’s future in a referendum.”
The use of pejorative language to describe the SNP those who voted for the party in May 2010 is commonplace amongst Unionist politicians. In the aftermath of Labour’s defeat in last year’s Holyrood election, Labour MP Iain Davidson caused widespread outrage after he accused the SNP and its supporters of “narrow neo-fascism”.
The same Labour MP was then embroiled in controversy after he allegedly threatened a female SNP MP with “a doing” if she spoke to the press about meetings held in the Scottish Affairs Committee.