Scottish Conservative Douglas Ross fuelled accusations of racism within the party.
A Tory politican has said if he were Prime Minister for a day he would introduce “tougher enforcement against gypsy travellers.”
The comment – made by Moray MP Douglas Ross in an online interview – has been condemned by traveller organisations and by the Scottish Greens, who described it as an attack on an “already beleaguered minority”.
John Finnie MSP, Justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said:
“Douglas Ross was given an open goal, be PM and sort anything you want.
“He didn’t choose improving health, education or housing, he didn’t seek to eradicate poverty, work for a better planet or peace.
“Rather he chose to attack an already beleaguered minority, our Gypsy Travellers.”
News site Traveller Times, which exists to highlight issues within gypsy and traveller communities, also condemned the comments.
A spokesperson said:
“Blatant displays of anti-gypsyism by those meant to protect our rights only serves to contribute to the high levels of intolerance and racism directed towards Gypsies and Travellers in society.
“This is a shame as the Scottish government, led by MSPs in the Scottish National Party, is starting to make inroads into the institutional racism and lack of places to stop faced by many Scottish Travellers in Mr Ross’ own back yard.
“Scottish Travellers now know who not to vote for.“
Ross did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Left Foot Forward, but he addressed the criticism in a statement sent to some media outlets, including the Scotsman.
He said the issue had been on his mind at the time of the interview, adding:
“Illegal and unauthorised gypsy traveller encampments are a significant problem in Moray with the settled community continually complaining that gypsy travellers receive preferential treatment whether it is with regard to planning decisions or just the way they take over a piece of land or lay by and then often leave it in a significant mess which has to be cleaned up at a cost to the local tax payer.”
But Finnie said Ross should have known better. The comment is inexcusable, the spokesman said:
“Douglas Ross is a former Justice Spokesperson for his Party and should know full well the discrimination faced by the Gypsy/Traveller community.
“Of course rather than defend that community Ross joins in the ignorant attacks they face on a daily basis.
“Douglas Ross should remember that he represents all of Moray’s constituents not simply those who share his depressingly narrow outlook on the world.”
In the interview, posted to Youtube, Ross also said he would like to Prime Minister one day, because he thinks “everyone that comes into politics should have aspirations to reach the very top.”
His gypsy traveller comments follow condemnation of the Tories by the Greens earlier this week after two Conservative councillors suspended for online abuse and racist comments were readmitted to Ruth Davidson’s party.
Finnie suggested the party were headed down a dark path. He said:
“Much like Donald Trump seemed emboldened the more outrageous he became, so Scotland’s Conservatives, whose ranks boast racists and sectarian bigots, keep up the nastiness.”
Ross’ comment was particularly striking because it came amidst otherwise lighthearted chat. He admitted to liking Theresa May more than David Cameron in the quickfire questioning, and emphasised what a fan he is of noughties girl band Atomic Kitten, before suddenly dropping the comment about travellers without explanation.
Charlotte England is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.