By Martin Kelly
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont is facing calls to apologise after a Scottish businessman claimed he was the victim of defamatory remarks uttered by the MSP.
John McGlynn said he was “astonished” after the Scottish Labour leader tried to link the businessman’s political views to a land deal that saw him make a profit of almost £800,000.
The comments were made during exchanges at First Minister’s Questions and saw the Scottish Labour leader also accuse First Minister Alex Salmond of having been involved in the deal.
Her accusations centre around land previously earmarked for the construction of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link which had been bought from the businessman for £840,000. However after the project was scrapped, a public auction failed to find any other buyer for the land and it was subsequently bought back by Mr McGlynn for £50,000.
Speaking in the Holyrood Chamber, Ms Lamont tried to link the land deal to Mr McGlynn’s personal politics and also accused First Minister Alex Salmond of wasting public funds.
The Scottish Labour leader claimed Mr McGlynn, a former Tory party donor, had “been on something of a political journey” adding – “Now he supports the Yes campaign.”
She added: “Since then he’s been appointed to the Scottish government national economic forum. And since then, he has bought back the land from the Scottish government for just £50,000 and made a profit of £790,000.”
Ms Lamont asked: “Is there some connection here, or has Mr McGlynn just benefitted from the First Minister’s gross incompetence with public funds?”
The attack on his integrity brought a stinging rebuke from the businessman who said he found the suggestion of impropriety “offensive”.
He added: “If these remarks had been made outside the Scottish Parliament they would be highly defamatory.”
The businessman said that Ms Lamont had never contacted his office and had never got in touch with him with any concerns.
“She’s never asked any of these questions properly or appropriately but she’s chosen to – if it was outside the Scottish Parliament – defame me in a very public way and I think it is very disappointing”
Mr McGlynn also refuted claims from the Scottish Labour leader that he supported Yes Scotland.
“I have actually gone out of my way, as you know from previous interviews, I have not supported Yes Scotland or Better Together.”
He described Ms Lamont’s attempt to link his political views to commercial dealings as “nonsense” and “ridiculous” and has now called for an apology from the Scottish Labour leader as well as a face-to-face meeting.
In an embarrassing development for Ms Lamont, it has now emerged that the original deal to buy the land for the construction of GARL was struck by Strathclyde Passenger Transport – a body chaired by a Labour councillor.
Compounding what is turning out to be a hugely damaging episode for Scottish Labour it has also been revealed that the SPT connection to the deal was revealed to Labour’s Transport spokesperson Mark Griffin in response to a Parliamentary Question from the Labour MSP last week.
In an official response to questions about the land deal, Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown told Mr Griffin: “The land that was purchased that he mentioned was initially purchased by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, not by the Government, although the Government subsequently bought it from SPT. He might wish to address some questions to SPT about that.”
Mr Brown added: “Of course there has been a cost, because land was purchased at the height of the market and then sold during a recession – there is no question about that.”
The SNP has criticised what it described as attempts by Ms Lamont to insinuate Mr McGlynn was the beneficiary of preferential treatment when buying land, with “not a shred of evidence” to back up her stance.
Commenting, SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell who called for an apology in parliament today said:
“Political knockabout is all very well, but for the leader of the opposition to come to the chamber and simply smear a prominent business figure because she does not like his political stance is simply unacceptable.
“With no proof of any impropriety, Johann Lamont is simply engaging in smears and innuendo – something that she should be utterly ashamed of.
“As if that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that it was actually Labour-chaired and controlled SPT that brokered the deal to buy the land in question back in 2008. To make matters worse this was pointed out to Labour just last week and they still chose to make these utterly baseless attacks.
“Anyone who heard the exchanges at FMQs will know that Johann Lamont was engaging in a deliberate and calculated attack on John McGlynn’s character that simply cannot be justified when she has no facts to back up what she was saying.
“Johann Lamont must realise that she has gone beyond the bounds of what is acceptable and offer a public apology to Mr McGlynn at the earliest opportunity.”