Borders council leader denies claims of inciting sectarianism in bid to be MP

Borders council boss Shona Haslam has hit back at allegations of promoting sectarianism during her failed bid to swap Newtown for Westminster.

Tuesday, 17th December 2019, 2:32 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th December 2019, 2:38 pm
Shona Haslam launching her election campaign in Lanark and Hamilton East.

The Scottish Borders Council leader has admitted speaking out of turn during her campaign to win the Lanark and Hamilton East seat in South Lanarkshire for the Conservatives and apologised for any offence caused, but she denies inciting sectarianism for electoral gain.

That accusation was sparked by comments she made to a journalist while campaigning in Larkhall in South Lanarkshire last week in the hope of ousting sitting Scottish National Party MP Angela Crawley.

The 44-year-old was quoted in the Times newspaper by reporter Mike Wade as describing the town as a “solid unionist, royalist, Rangers-supporting heartland”.

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Shona Haslam on the election trail in South Lanarkshire with Hexham MP Guy Opperman and former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.

The Tweeddale East councillor insists that comment was taken out of context, but political rivals have accused her of playing the sectarian card in a bid to garner votes.

Scottish Government deputy first minister John Swinney tweeted: “The Scottish Tories should be ashamed of their campaign in Lanark and Hamilton East, simply ashamed. I am delighted Angela Crawley has won with grace and dignity.”

Larkhall SNP convener Yvonne Russell concurred, adding: “I absolutely agree with you. As a Larkhall resident, I was dismayed that such comments were made by the Tory candidate against our town, where the Machan Trust have done such wonderful work with schoolkids on sectarianism.”

Closer to home, Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson also expressed outrage, saying: “People from that area were obviously extremely angry that a politician should make such overtly sectarian comments just to get votes.

“Saying sorry is not enough. Comments like that could cause a lot of needless trouble. I would hope that in future she will put her brain into gear before spouting rubbish like this.”

Explaining her comments, Mrs Haslam said: “I met with a journalist from the Times to discuss the election campaign.

“From my recollection, the journalist put it to me that there was part of the community that was unionist, loyalist and Rangers-supporting. I replied that there was a unionist, royalist, Rangers-supporting element within the community.

“I fully accept that this was a mistake and that I should not have answered in this way, but in no way was it a sectarian comment.

“I absolutely abhor any form of discrimination of any kind and have apologised for any offence that has been caused by this out-of-context quote.”

Mrs Haslam lost out to Ms Crawley by 5,187 votes in the three-way marginal seat, polling 17,056 votes to her rival’s 22,243, with Labour’s Andrew Hilland in third place on 10,736.