Salmond sparks political storm over 'unhelpful' riots comments

Burnt-out bus, Croydon <em>Picture: GeorgeRex</em>
Burnt-out bus, Croydon Picture: GeorgeRex
Alex Salmond was today described as “unhelpful” and “small-minded” after he tried to distance Scotland from the “English” riots.

The first minister told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that he was frustrated that the four days of unrest were been characterised as UK riots when they had nothing to do with Scotland.

“We have an obligation to help if we can and that is what is being done,” Mr Salmond said. “We are not complacent. We have already had resilience meetings of the government over the last few days.

“We know we have a different society in Scotland. One of my frustrations yesterday was to see the events being described as riots in the UK.

“Until such time we do have a riot in Scotland, what we are seeing are riots in London and across English cities.”

The first minister’s comments were derided by both the Conservatives and Labour, with David Mundell, the Scottish Office minister, warning Mr Salmond not to make “political capital” from the riots.

“I welcome the fact Scottish police forces will be deployed to help assist other UK forces,” Mr Mundell said. “We need to band together in times of adversity and many Scottish families will be worried about the safety of relatives and friends living in London and other English cities.

“It is a good example of the UK banding together and putting resources where they are needed and times like this show the values we share across the UK rather than the differences between us.”

And he added: “That is the positive side of the first minister’s comments this morning. What is unhelpful is the tone he has adopted in trying to make political capital out of a terrible situation. It is a parochial and petty view to say he was frustrated by media descriptions of ‘riots in the UK’ as if that was the most pressing issue we currently face. I think most Scots would prefer to see the Scottish government concentrate on providing practical assistance as part of the UK rather than scoring cheap points.”

Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour leader, also intervened to express his “disappointment and embarrassment” at what he described as the first minister’s “small-minded” reaction to the riots.

“The first minister’s reaction to the riots is small-minded and embarrassing,” Mr Gray said, “if he really thought the most important thing was that they should be called ‘English riots’ on TV. Surely he could have seen his way to expressing solidarity with the communities devastated by this criminal violence first and foremost?

“My daughter marries a young man from Manchester this week and I spent the afternoon showing his family round the Scottish parliament. These visitors to Edinburgh are worried about events in their city. I was proud to show them the Scottish parliament but embarrassed by the Scottish first minister’s keenness to distance himself from their concerns and portray the riots as an English problem.”

Mr Gray added: “Alex Salmond does not seem to recognise that there are many parts of England that are luckily untouched by riots like Scotland and that an argument about their geography helps no one.

“He has let himself and Scotland down badly trying to push his narrow party political point at a time of crisis.”

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