Labour MP Tom Harris has become embroiled in an online twitter row after claiming Newsnet Scotland lied in an article based on comments he made that appeared this weekend in the Sunday Times.
Referring to the Newsnet Scotland article, the Glasgow Labour MP tweeted: “According to @newsnetscotland, my comments “come just one day after the election of Johann Lamont”. A lie. What a surprise!”
The Glasgow Labour MP has claimed that he actually made the comments on Wednesday and that any suggestion that his analysis of Scottish Labour’s survival chances were made after Johann Lamont’s election success is false.
Mr Harris was responding to a Newsnet Scotland report based on his claim that Scottish Labour now had “less than a fifty per cent chance” of survival.
In the Newsnet Scotland article it said:
“Speaking in the Sunday Times the Glasgow MP said: “I still think there is a less than a 50% chance that the Scottish Labour Party will survive”
Mr Harris’s comments follow criticisms he made of the party in Scotland last week when he suggested Scottish members were unable to make the necessary changes in order to ensure survival.
They also come just one day after the election of Johann Lamont as the leader of the party in Scotland.”
A spokesman for Newsnet Scotland defended the article by pointing out that the context makes it clear that the comments being referred to were the ones that appeared in the Sunday Times, one day after Ms Lamont’s election victory.
The spokesman said: “The article we published was accurate and we believe reflect Mr Harris’s current views on Scottish Labour. Claims by Mr Harris that he made the comments on the Wednesday are not contained in the Sunday Times article, this information was only revealed by Mr Harris himself after the Newsnet article appeared.
“Even then, by Wednesday everyone knew that Johann Lamont was almost certain to be announced the winner, Mr Harris himself had conceded defeat.
“Therefore in this context it is extremely disingenuous of Mr Harris to suggest that his comments were somehow misrepresented.
The spokesman questioned Mr Harris’s motives in making the comments so close to the announcement of a new leader and added:
“Mr Harris is no media novice and he will have been well aware such critical comments would almost certainly have been published in the aftermath of the election result being announced. One can only speculate as to why he decided to make such comments when he did and whether he knew they would be held back until Sunday.”
The Sunday Times reference to Mr Harris reads:
Harris, who believes he was a victim of that factionalism himself because he is a Westminster Parliamentarian, has given a stark warning that the party must radically change or die.
“I still think there is less than a 50% chance that the Scottish Labour party will survive,” he says. “If it does, it could survive in much the same way that the national football team survives – it’s there, but it’s not making much of an impact. This contest is about change, but the ability to change has never been one of our strong suits. That’s why we’re in this mess now. The fact is that May 2011 was a rejection, not of a manifesto or of a leadership, but of our party. There has to be a degree of pain if Labour in Scotland is to become electable again.”
It’s a bleak analysis but one which is shared by realists in the party.
Newsnet Scotland has contacted the author of the Sunday Times piece seeking clarification on whether Mr Harris was aware that his remarks were intended for publication after the announcement of the leadership result.
Tom Harris is no stranger to online controversy. In October the outspoken MP was embroiled in another spat when he claimed to have seen “anti-English” banners at an SNP demonstration in Glasgow outside the Scottish Labour conference.
Mr Harris tweeted: “The ‘positive’ SNP were demonstrating outside #scotlab11 today, blocking off most of the concert hall steps with anti-English banners”
Challenged by people angered at his claim, Mr Harris replied: “I get accused by Cybernats of lying all the time, comes with the territory”. He went on to elaborate and described a banner reading “End English rule”.
However, when a photograph of the demonstration appeared showing a banner with the slogan ‘End London Rule’ and not ‘English’ as Mr Harris had claimed he eventually conceded he had been wrong but went on to claim that another unseen banner referred to some Scots as ‘quislings’.
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