Scotland: where the First Minister’s Special Adviser tells lies about political opponent – and gets away with it

st Andrews flag saltire scotland Some rights reserved by Fulla TOn Monday, there were various events to mark 100 days to go to the referendum on Scottish independence. At the main Better Together event in Glasgow, Clare Lally, a Scottish Mum of the Year winner and advocate for carers who also happens to be a member of the Labour Party, spoke about why she wanted Scotland to stay in the UK. Clare has met politicians from all parties in the last few years and, in fact, Willie Rennie has been a friend of hers since he stayed at her house and mentioned her in his first Conference speech:

But the experience that will stay with me is my 24 hours with Clare Lally and her wonderful family in Duntocher.

Clare and Derek have two very bright and charming four year old twin daughters Holly and Katie. Katie was starved of oxygen at birth and as a result cannot walk, talk or swallow. Through tenacity and strong human spirit she has survived numerous life threatening episodes.That is remarkable. But what is even more remarkable is the sheer intensity of the care provided by Derek and Clare.“24-7” is insufficient – it does not do justice to their focus over years.

To me this is a real test for all liberals.Clare and Derek, their family and friends do it themselves. They do not want the state to take over their lives.They do want a little bit of flexible help to make life possible.They want an enabling state. But we seem incapable of providing it. They wanted to stay in their own, private home; But the council refused to make alterations to their house unless they moved into a council house.They reluctantly made the move. Not unreasonably, they asked the council for a ramp to push Katie’s buggy down to the car“Oh no”, said the council. “That house isn’t suitable for a ramp”.

This kind of bureaucracy and blinkered thinking must change. Clare is prepared to be awkward because she’s standing up for her family. Now I’m working with Clare to take the lessons of my experience directly to councils and government.

Predictably, the cybernats turned out in force to do her over on social media after her speech telling her story of why she wants to stay in the UK. That’s not news. sadly. It happens all the time.

What’s different, though, is that one of Alex Salmond’s Special Advisers, Campbell Gunn, a former political editor of the Sunday Post, emailed the press a whopping great lie about her, as the Telegraph reports today:

Mr Gunn sent an email to this newspaper yesterday morning that stated: “You are no doubt aware that the “mother-of-two”, who described herself as ‘just a normal person’ in the Telegraph today is actually a member of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet and daughter-in-law of former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow Pat Lally …”

The email was signed off with his signature, “Campbell Gunn – Senior Special Adviser and Political Spokesperson”, and the address of his office in the Scottish Government’s St Andrew’s House headquarters in Edinburgh.

The only consequence faced by Gunn is that he has been ordered to apologise to Clare, as the BBC reports. I’m not sure how that fits in with the Government’s Code for Special Advisers which states at Point 6:

Any special adviser ever found to be disseminating inappropriate material will automatically be dismissed by their appointing Minister.

Note the lack of wiggle room here by use of words “ever” and “will.” When someone in the office of the First Minister of Scotland deems it necessary to spread lies to the press about a remarkable woman who had the temerity to express her opinion, there is something very, very wrong with the culture of the Government.

Yes, this is another process story but we should be very worried about the way in which a taxpayer funded government official is spending his time trying to personally undermine a political opponent. There’s no question in my mind. He should go to set an example that this sort of misbehaviour will not be tolerated. People might think twice about speaking out if they fear that the powerful elite is standing by to do the dirty on them.

Since I wrote this, I see that Willie Rennie agrees with me:

Although the First Minister has instructed his adviser to apologise, his casual dismissal of the issue reveals that neither he, nor his adviser, understand the severity of the matter. This was no misunderstanding, it was a crude and unwarranted attempt to silence those who disagree. Since he clearly does not understand what he has done Campbell Gunn should resign or be dismissed.

The unwarranted actions of his advisor have inflicted unnecessary distress upon a family in a very public way.  Seeking to shout down or silence those who disagree with the nationalists is not only tolerated by the SNP leadership but is now encouraged. This must end.

I couldn’t get to the event in Glasgow on Monday where Clare spoke as I was on my way to London for the Federal Executive meeting. However, it would have been nice to have been able to find details of what she actually said. Jackie Baillie, her MSP, described her words as moving and emotional. It would be good to see them on Better Together’s website.





* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • I have read this and am thinking the lie that was published is that the lady in question, Clare Lally, was ‘outed’ as the daughter-in-law of Pat Lally in an attempt by the ‘Yes’ campaign to somehow invalidate what she says because of this. Several things emerge from this cation.
    Firstly, even if she were, so what?! (I am Glaswegian who grew up there through the 60’s and 70’s)
    Secondly, that a government employee is able attempt to smear a member of the public who has the temerity to speak up for the ‘No’ campaign.
    Why does he feel able to do this? Clearly because he exists in a culture where the intimidation and demonising of a tax paying citizen in a democratic country for holding certain opinions and, even worse, airing those opinions is seen as acceptable behaviour. Loathsome if she was Pat Lally’s daughter-in-law because at a stretch you could just about say she comes from a family used to a public profile and getting the occasional hard time in the press. But beyond anything acceptable if she is in fact just an ordinary member of the public.
    This is the behaviour of intimidation, bullying and lack of free speech we must stand against and as loudly as possible. This Campbell Gunn must be fired for using government emails for such a purpose. The sheer arrogance of his actions are stupifying.
    Finally this tells us just what kind of country the SDP want Scotand to be under their rule, as the campaign rumbles on it becomes more and more evident that high profile Scots prefer to say nothing rather then face the barrage of aggression from the ‘Yes’ campaign released upon anyone who doesn’t agree with them.
    I agree with Willie Rennie’s statement and would hope to see a lot more fuss being made of this.

  • I would advise caution any Liberal Democrat not to speak too loudly on this suject.

    Don’t forget we have a leader living in a Glass House full of Westminster SpAds.

    They cost the tax payers more than one million pounds every year.
    That is the annual sum for the twenty or so SpAds working exclusively to Nick Clegg, the most unpopular political leader of any UK party since polling began.
    Nobody knows what they do, but whatever it is it just seems to make Nick Clegg even more unpopular.

  • paul barker 11th Jun '14 - 5:52pm

    On John Tilleys comment, can I refer readers to my 307 previous complaints about The Anti-Clegg faction clogging up every comment thread with nasty & irrelevant piffle ?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 11th Jun '14 - 7:00pm

    Ok, John, find me an example of a Lib Dem Special Adviser doing anything remotely like what Campbell Gunn did.

  • The entire Westminster-led no campaign is based on lies. One of which is to airbrush out the fact that NHS Scotland is already independent and that reciprocal agreements already exist between it and what is left of the NHS in rUK.

    There have been repeated attacks by the no campaign against ordinary people who support independence such as Chris and Colin Weir plastered all over the mainstream media. Two wrongs don’t make a right but no apologies have been ever been forthcoming from the no side. Many ordinary people using online media to campaign for their country’s freedom are branded “vile cybernats” by the tory-funded no campaign’s pliant mainstream media in an attempt to silence anyone who disagrees with them and prevent the Scottish people hearing the truth about how they, the people who live here instead of people in the swing seats of middle England are best placed to choose a government that has Scotland’s interests at heart.

    Have we ever heard an apology from prominent no campaigner Johann Lamont who insulted every citizen in this nation, ordinary or otherwise by branding Scots as “not genetically programmed to make political decisions”?

    Has Willie Rennie apologised to the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations for accusing them of being a front organisation for the SNP simply for discussing the independence referendum yet?

    The truth here is that this faux outrage is just another attempt to deflect attention from debate on the real issues facing Scotland because the no campaign know full well that whenever their case is challenged it falls apart.

  • Charles Rothwell 12th Jun '14 - 7:35am

    I am with Paul Barker’s comment. If a Liberal Democrat blog site cannot be one for valid free comment and discussion, there where on earth can one be found? On the other hand, like Paul, I sometimes think the purely spiteful and provocative comments which some people feel free to post on this site (and obviously gain some kind of perverse pleasure in so doing) are an unnecessary waste of space. The site moderators do perhaps need to exercise a somewhat firmer approach on occasion to ensure that such “irrelevant piffle” is excluded.

  • Toby Fenwick 12th Jun '14 - 8:38am


    I’m London based so don’t get a vote. My friends who do (some yes, more no) have two things in common. First, a profound attachment to making Scotland better and fairer, and second, a profound sadness with the manner in which the extremes on both sides are behaving, but with the cybernats being singled out for especial opprobrium.

    The insidious notion that is seen too frequently BTL in the normally sane Guardian that No voters are insufficiently Scottish and that a No vote is treachery is especially unhelpful.

  • Whenever I read one of these ‘Yah boo, the ‘Yes/No camp are nasty’ threads I despair…..

    If the verdict is ‘No’ I envisage English voters becoming more and more disenchanted with the ‘status quo’…..and why not?

    They will look back on the ‘better together’ campaign and see a Scotland with lower personal taxes than the rest of the UK (Cameron’s promise),no tuition fees, bedroom tax, prescription charges, etc., and wonder,”Just WHO is better together?”…

  • Caron Lindsay 11th Jun ’14 – 7:00pm
    Ok, John, find me an example of a Lib Dem Special Adviser doing anything remotely like what Campbell Gunn did.

    Caron, I have sent you an e-mail. Some things are best left out of an open discussion thread.

  • paul barker 11th Jun ’14 – 5:52pm
    ………. nasty & irrelevant piffle ?

    I always look forward to a reasonable and rational discussion of the facts with paul barker.
    In this case he seems to think that my comment about SpAds in a thread which has the word Special Advisor in the headline is “irrelevant”. He perhaps has a new understanding of the word “irrelevant”.

    I am at a loss to trace anything in what I have said as “nasty”.
    I often think I am being rather kind and polite to the most unpopular leader of any political party since polling began.
    I am not talking about Alex Salmond here, who actually seems rather popular in comparison and has an enviable record of winning elections, rather than coming sixth and losing deposits.
    Most ordinary people seem much ruder and much nastier about Clegg than I am.
    I have never threatened anyone with castration as Mr Clegg’s most prominent supporter has. Which was a bit of a surprise live on the Marr Programme, not the sort of Sunday breakfast television that our dear Queen is used to.

    By all means, paul barker, call my comments “piffle” , you are entitled to your opinion. But you have to have some reason for calling it “nasty” or people will think you are being over the top, or that you have “lost it”. Isn’t that what Caron was saying the so-called cybernats were guilty of. ??

  • Denis Mollison 12th Jun '14 - 3:18pm

    Dear Caron

    This is a very one-sided piece. Accusing someone of being the daughter-in-law of a former Lord provost is hardly abuse, and Mr Gunn has apologised for his mistake.

    But his main accusation was that it was disingenuous, to put it mildly, to pass off someone who has a significant role in the Labour Party as “just an ordinary mum”.

  • Tony Dawson 12th Jun '14 - 8:43pm

    @paul barker

    “can I refer readers to my 307 previous complaints about The Anti-Clegg faction”

    I am sure you could. I have always considered the effect of your comments on this site to make you an honorary colonel of that campaign.

    Returning to the subject, the only real issue is whether or not is appropriate for SPAds to get directly involved in politics in this manner. I feel they should not. If the penalty for such inappropriate involvement is what it is quoted to be then it should be implemented. Possibly a subject for a judicial review?

    In defamation terms, while the Lally family relationship quoted by this chap was clearly wrong, it was simply an over-egging of the pudding. If Ms Lally is, indeed, as heavily politically-involved as it would appear she is, then it would not pay off to criticise someone for drawing attention to her attempts to pass herself off as just a ”woman in the street” in a letter to the press when she is clearly a senior representative of a political party with a fixed view on the Scottish independence issue. Just like they had on the…er…AV vote, did they not? 🙁

  • Tony Dawson 12th Jun '14 - 8:48pm

    I actually think that Campbell Gunn’s ‘apology’ (sic) is potentially a worse sin than his tweet, since it is meaningless twaddle which contains no sincerity at all. In fact, it is a parody of an apology.

  • Derrick Patterson 20th Jul '14 - 6:13am

    This madness must stop. The Better Together campaign and Westminster needs to stop bullying Scotland. Ireland was never treated in such a manner when they voted for independence. Two words sum up why Scotland is receiving hostilities and given an ultimatum – Trident and Oil. The UK wants to be able to continue to dance around the world with America and pick whatever fight they want. The North Sea held 20 billion barrels of oil when Westminster was going to profit. Now all of a sudden they talk like it’s going to dry up tomorrow. They squandered nearly £300 billion worth of this black gold on wars and the rich. Westminster has taken the same road as the US; and has walked so far down it there’s no way of getting back. Yes Scotland needs to be more honest about their plan B for Scotland if Osborne gets his way and keeps Scotland away from the pound and the EU denies Scotland membership. These two scenarios are highly unlikely, but the people of Scotland need more assurances, and if Salmond and Sturgeon would give them answers “yes” voters would be ahead. That’s all the other 20-odd percent need to take that step to independence. I hope when Salmond debates Darling on 5 August the people will get their answers and the “yes” vote swells. Scotland needs independence, and the last thing it needs is the pound.

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