Labour’s leader in the Scottish parliament Iain Gray has come under increasing pressure to apologise for the “ethnic cleansing” remark he made that has caused a diplomatic row with Montenegro.
The SNP’s Angus Robertson has called on the Labour leader to apologise to the peoples of Montenegro and Scotland for what he claimed was an example of Mr Gray’s “international ignorance”. Labour’s East Lothian MSP linked the gaining of independence for Montenegro with ethnic cleansing, war crimes and world wars.
The Labour leader was attacking the SNP’s desire for independence during the last session of First Ministers Questions when he claimed that Montenegro had only achieved independence after “two world wars, the Balkan conflict, ethnic cleansing, a war crimes tribunal and a United Nations peace-keeping mission”.
His remarks caused outrage and resulted in a furious Montenegrin diplomat sending letters to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Labour’s UK leader Ed Miliband as well as to Mr Gray himself. The letter stated: “I cannot help but feel deep regret about the way you chose to depict [us] in your public statement.
“Your statement that Montenegro was involved in ‘ethnic cleansing’, including your references to a ‘war crimes tribunal’ and a ‘peacekeeping mission’, is simply incorrect.”
Letters were also sent to at least one Scottish national newspaper.
SNP MP and foreign affairs spokesman Angus Robertson called on Mr Gray to apologise for the comments and claimed that the Scottish Labour leader had ‘embarrassed Scotland’.
He said: “We are used to Mr Gray not letting the facts get in the way of his rhetoric but he has now managed to let his international ignorance embarrass Scotland. That is not good enough.
“He needs to do the decent thing and apologise to the people of Montenegro. And, he also needs to apologise to the people of Scotland for the embarrassment his gaffes have caused.”
The gaffe is a serious setback to Iain Gray who is fighting an image problem in Scotland as he tries to replace Alex Salmond as Scotland’s First Minister. It is also an unwelcome distraction to the Scottish branch of the Labour party whose new UK leader Ed Miliband is also struggling as questions are asked over his leadership style.
The story was covered prominently by several Scottish national newspapers as well as STV. However BBC Scotland, as yet, seems unwilling to give prominence to the gaffe.