Nicola Sturgeon has condemned the abuse of journalists by pro-independence supporters outside Tuesday’s Tory leadership hustings in Perth as “disgraceful”, as other Scottish Nationalist politicians called for any members involved to be thrown out of the party immediately.
But Scottish Tories she accused the first minister of being “selective” in who supported, amid reports of demonstrators spitting and screaming at older party members as they walked into Tuesday evening’s event.
Politicians, journalists and members of the public who attended the hustings at Perth Concert Hall reported that demonstrators threw eggs, spat at Tory members and barged past the outer security barriers before being pushed back by police.
A number of different groups had congregated outside the building, including those standing behind “Yes” banners and others reading “Tory scum out” and “Liz Truss is a fanny”, as well as other carrying Socialist Workers branded placards and some representatives of the Waspi women’s campaign. The “Tory Scum Out” banner was badged as the ultra-nationalist group Siol nan Gaidheal.
Andrew Bowie, the Scottish Conservative vice-chair and MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, tweeted: “Eggs being thrown, spitting at pensioners. The good old ‘Tory scum’ banner out … Good to see Nicola Sturgeon’s civic and joyous nationalism in action in Perth tonight.”
In a widely shared video clip, protesters can be heard screaming abuse including “traitor” and “scum” at the BBC’s Scotland editor, James Cook, as he attempts to speak to them.
Earlier this year, the corporation’s previous Scotland editor Sarah Smith said she had felt relieved to have left the country after enduring years of misogynistic “bile and hatred” while covering Scottish politics.
On Wednesday morning, Sturgeon posted on Twitter: “Hurling abuse at journalists is never acceptable. Their job is vital to our democracy & it is to report & scrutinise, not support any viewpoint. James Cook is a journalist of the highest quality and a total pro – the behavior he was subjected to last night was disgraceful.”
But Scottish Conservatives who faced the demonstrators questioned why she did not condemn them more broadly.
Rachael Hamilton, a Scottish Conservative MSP who said she was called “Tory scum” as she walked into the concert hall with her 15-year-old daughter, responded: “Agreed, but why not call out the abuse to ordinary citizens and elected members ? You are being selective about whom you choose to keep safe.”
The party’s Holyrood whip, Stephen Kerr, replied: “A large group of people under your party’s ‘YES’ flags were spitting, screaming insults and abuse at pensioners, we need to hear the condemnation of that.”
Other SNP politicians distanced themselves from the demonstrations.
David Linden, the SNP MP for Glasgow East, tweeted: “These morons don’t speak for me or my party. We condemn their behavior utterly and without equivocation. If anyone of them is found to be an SNP member, then they should be chucked out immediately”.
Neil Gray, the Holyrood culture minister, described their behavior as “disgusting”, tweeting: “Nobody deserves to abuse like this, and definitely not journalists doing their jobs. It doesn’t help anybody and in a political context actually harms the case you are trying to make.”