By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
World War I commemorations were marred on Monday after a spat between the UK’s three main political parties which left Labour leader Ed Miliband branded “pathetic”.
A row erupted on the 100th anniversary of the start of the war after Miliband and Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg laid wreaths at George Square in Glasgow with generic messages written on them.
The message card on Miliband’s wreath read “From the leader of the opposition” while Clegg’s said “From the deputy prime minister”. Both were written in the same handwriting.
In contrast, Prime Minister David Cameron’s card left a more personal message – reading: “Your most enduring legacy is our liberty. We must never forget” – leading to speculation that the commemorations had been politicised by a “stitch up”.
A spokesman for Labour insisted that Miliband had not been given adequate time to write a personal message on his wreath, although critics said the party’s London headquarters should have taken steps to ensure such a mix up did not happen. Angry Twitter users branded the Labour leader “pathetic” for his failure to mark the remembrance ceremony more personally.
The incident evoked memories of the infamous ‘Donkey Jacket’ incident involving former Labour leader Michael Foot, when he attracted controversy for wearing a distinctly different short jacket to a commemoration while other national leaders donned long black overcoats.
According to the BBC, a Lib Dem source claimed Clegg had been given only a 10-second timeframe between being handed his wreath and laying it.
However, contrary to Labour and Lib Dem claims, a spokeswoman for Poppy Scotland said the blank cards had been sent to London to be filled out ahead of the Glasgow ceremony.
“Our normal procedure is that we would just send the cards directly with the wreaths,” the spokeswoman said. “We were asked to send [the cards] to the DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) and the wreaths were sent through to Glasgow in advance, but the blank cards to London.”
The incident cast a shadow over the World War I commemorations, and much of that country’s national media coverage and social media commentary was dominated by criticism over the Westminster parties.
Meanwhile, speaking ahead of the event in Glasgow, SNP leader Alex Salmond paid tribute to those who lost their lives in the war.
“No home, no school and no community in Scotland was left untouched by the devastating impact of the Great War, which remains one of the most brutal conflicts the world has ever seen,” he said.
“Scotland’s losses were, per capita, among the highest of any combatant nation, and that war’s effects on our nation were profound and long-lasting.”
He added: “Between 1914 and 1918, the First World War claimed the lives of around 145,000 Scots, leaving many more thousands injured or disabled, and forcing friends and loved ones across the country to come to terms with the terrible consequences.”
The event in Glasgow was attended by Prince Charles, politicians from the UK and Ireland and the Commonwealth heads of government following the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games in Scotland on Sunday night.
In a sombre tribute, the rev Dr Laurence Whitley said: “We meet because of a summer’s day like this one, one hundred years ago, the world changed.”
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