By Martin Kelly
A member of the Labour for Independence group has challenged claims contained in a Sunday newspaper that she admitted joining the Labour party in order to “agitate from within against Labour’s support for the union”.
According to Herald journalist Tom Gordon, Celia Fitzgerald “admitted being a long-term SNP activist who switched to Labour just a few months ago with the aim of undermining the party over the referendum”.
The Herald journalist also claimed Ms Fitzgerald had describing her decision to leave Labour to join the SNP, but then to re-join Labour, as “curious”.
However, Ms Fitzgerald has flatly denied admitting she joined Labour to ‘agitate’ or to undermine the party and also challenged the articles claim she herself described her move from the SNP to Labour as “curious”.
Speaking to Newsnet Scotland, the Labour for Independence Treasurer said she had been contacted out of the blue by several reporters including Mr Gordon and had tried to answer their questions honestly.
“I most certainly did not say I joined to agitate or anything like that nor did I agree that it was curious thing to do.” she said, adding “I said we hoped to restore Labour to its real values.”
Ms Fitzgerald also corrected the Sunday Herald article which said she had joined the SNP in 2004 after leaving Labour, saying she had in fact joined in 2007. The LFI member also insisted she had not been a member of Labour for the full 30 years before joining the SNP as her membership had lapsed before 2007.
She added: “I joined the SNP in 2007, not 2004, but I let my Labour membership lapse a long time before that […] I was a member of the SNP for about 5 years.”
Another who spoke to Labour for Independence member is Scotland on Sunday writer Tom Peterkin who wrote: “Amid a growing row over claims the small group is a ‘front’ for the SNP, Scotland on Sunday has learnt that Celia Fitzgerald only joined Labour in November last year having previously been a SNP figure who knew First Minister Alex Salmond.”
However Ms Fitzgerald has flatly denied being an acquaintance of the First Minister and explained she was photographed with him at last year’s Independence Rally in Edinburgh along with many other people.
“I do not know Alex Salmond. That photo was taken at the 2012 independence march and rally, the same occasion I heard Allan Grogan speak and decided to join LFI. Alex Salmond was walking around … letting people pose with him.
“I do not dislike Alex Salmond but I’m not a fan either.”
The attacks on Labour for Independence (LFI) follow accusations from the Labour party and members of the anti-independence group Better Together who claim that Labour for Independence is a front organisation for the SNP.
Responding to the claims in the newspaper articles about Ms Fitzgerald, Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall said they pointed to “deliberate attempts by the SNP to infiltrate the Labour Party”.
He added: “There are serious questions to answer for the SNP, Yes Scotland and ‘Labour’ for Independence. How far up the nationalist chain of command did this deception go?
“We know Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have shared platforms with this group. Why did they work so closely with this organisation when it was clear ‘Labour for Independence’ was nothing more than a sham?”
McDougall’s comments follow similar accusations from Scottish Labour Deputy leader Anas Sarwar who has described Labour for Independence as “a sham and an SNP front”.
However claims that Ms Fitzgerald had attempted to hide her five years with the SNP in order to ‘infiltrate’ the Labour party have been denied by the Labour for Independence member who says she has spoken publicly about her political background many times since joining LFI.
Speaking to Newsnet Scotland LFI founder Allan Grogan confirmed Ms Fitzgerald had made no secret of her political past, either in private or in public, and said: “Celia made it clear to us that she had been an SNP member, before that she had spent 20 years as a Labour Party supporter.
“She joined LFI and rejoined the Labour Party when she found out about us, wanting to see a return of a real Labour Party, the one which is why she joined Labour the first time. Celia realised the best way to do this was to work within the Labour Party to try to implement change.”
Newsnet Scotland has also obtained video footage of the Labour party member speaking in front of hundreds of people at a Yes Scotland meeting in May where she makes clear her former political past and why she left the SNP to join re-join Labour.
Celia Fitzgerald speaking in May 2013
Newsnet Scotland has also obtained the original photos which prove that the images distributed by Better Together – and published by the BBC – were cropped to remove other individuals who were holding a Yes Scotland banner.
The image sequence below show the original two pictures taken at the Yes Scotland event which cleary shows both groups of activists holding each others banners side by side.
Proof that the image was cropped by Better Together will cause concern given BBC Scotland reproduced the image in their online news and TV broadcasts. It featured in several BBC Scotland news items and was cited as ‘evidence’ backing Labour’s claims in a Radio Scotland interview Allan Grogan gave last week.
Allan Grogan being questioned by Gary Robertson
It is the second image found to have been altered by Better Together after another was found to have had a caption removed that identified the people in the picture. The caption also made clear they were attending a Yes Scotland event.
Both Better Together and the Scottish Labour party claimed the people had been masqerading as members of Labour for Independence.
Asked whether he has been contacted by anyone from the Scottish Labour party to address their claims that his group is an SNP front, Allan Grogan said there had been “No attempt by the leadership to engage with us.”
Contacted by phone and email by Newsnet Scotland, the Scottish Labour party has thus far refused to confirm whether it has any plans to contact Mr Grogan to discuss its claims he is heading an SNP led sham, nor why, given the seriousness of their accusations, they have yet to contact him.