Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has demanded a “complete apology at the earliest possible opportunity” from the Labour party after an MSP implied that the brother of Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill had benefited from ‘favouritism’.
Mr Salmond was discussing the Scottish government’s trade mission to China on BBC Radio Scotland when presenter Gary Robertson confronted him with claims from Labour party MSP Paul Martin.
Quoted in the Scotsman newspaper, Mr Martin had questioned the attendance of Alan MacAskill in a recent trade delegation to the oil rich gulf region. The Labour MSP had suggested that Mr MacAskill’s attendance was due to family connections.
Responding, the First Minister described the claims as “absolute and comprehensive rubbish” and “turgid nonsense” and explained that Mr MacAskill had attended due to his “world renowned” experience in the renewables industry.
He said: “It’s absolute and comprehensive rubbish … what total and utter nonsense from the Labour party“
Mr Salmond explained that the Chinese Energy Minister had recently visited Scotland and had expressed interest in investing in Scotland’s offshore wind projects after seeing the Beatrice Offshore wind farm project, which is the deepest in the world.
The First Minister added: “The first Director of the Beatrice Wind project was Alan MacAskill.
“So are we meant to say that someone of expertise and world renown in the wind industry should be disqualified from Scottish Trade missions because they happen to be the brother of a Justice Secretary?
Mr Salmond added: “What absolute turgid nonsense, I’ll expect the Labour party’s complete apology at the earliest possible opportunity”
However the First Minister appeared momentarily stunned when BBC Scotland’s Gary Robertson then attempted to link last month’s trade visit to the Gulf with the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi over two years ago.
Claiming that Labour were merely looking for ‘full transparency’, Robertson said: “…this visit was to Qatar and Qatar of course pressed the Justice Secretary for the release the Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds.”
The First Minister treated the BBC presenter’s suggestion with disdain and pointed out that Mr MacAskill had been included in the trade delegation because of his renewable expertise.
Mr Salmond explained that Mr MacAskill’s name had been listed in a press release issued prior to the trip and that Labour perhaps should have read it.
The First Minister added: “The Labour party probably could go round every single country in the world and imagine some reason why someone of firm expertise shouldn’t go there.
“… anybody whose semi-sensible, rational and with half a brain will realise that we should proceed as we’re doing on the basis of Team Scotland not asking any member of the trade delegation what their politics are, but by working out whether they can benefit Scotland in terms of attracting jobs and investment to our country.”
The business side of the trip, which has been partially overshadowed by BBC Scotland who have instead focussed on aspects of human rights and Labour party claims, has already led to speculation of direct flights between Scotland and China.
The First Minister also revealed that Chinese tourists were the number one customer in purchasing golf products from St Andrews.
Describing business opportunities between China and Scotland as proceeding “apace” Mr Salmond highlighted the success of last year’s visit that has seen the Scottish Salmon industry now enjoying £20 million worth of exports to China where previously there had been nothing.
Last year’s trip also witnessed an agreement that will help protect the iconic Scotch Whisky brand from fakes. China is now an emerging market for the Scottish drink that this week saw a 23% increase in exports from the first nine months of the year, providing a £3 billion boost to the UK Treasury.