Nicola Sturgeon condemns protesters for yelling at BBC Scotland Editor

Nicola Sturgeon condemns protesters for yelling ‘scum’, ‘traitor’ and ‘liar’ at BBC Scotland Editor James Cook as she claims they weren’t paid-up SNP members

  • Protesters gathered outside the Perth hustings last night with signs and flags
  • A small section of Scottish nationalists began hurling abuse at Mr Cook
  • First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has today condemned the abuse as disgraceful
  • Both candidates have ruled out a second referendum on Scottish independence 

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has condemned the independence backers who hurled abuse at BBC Scotland Editor James Cook.

Angry Scottish nationalists confronted Mr Cook outside a Conservative hustings in Perth last night and called him ‘scum’, a ‘liar’ and a ‘traitor’.

A large crowd of protesters had gathered outside the Tory leadership hustings in Perth which took place last night shouting ‘Tory scum’ and ‘Tories out’.

A small section of these protesters began shouting abuse at Mr Cook, jabbing their fingers at him and telling him he was a ‘scumbag’ and a traitor to Scotland.

One nationalist repeatedly asked him how long he had lived in Scotland, to which the journalist looked visibly surprised and replied he has lived there all of his life. 

Mr Cook attempted to engage with the protesters and answer their questions, but they shouted over him and became increasingly abusive, social media footage shows. 

Addressing the incident today, Ms Sturgeon distanced herself from the comments made and urged other party leaders to do the same.

Speaking to LBC, she said: ‘I will condemn any abusive behaviour. I’m not responsible for it – I wasn’t in Perth last night. It wasn’t being done in my name. As far as I’m aware, it wasn’t SNP members doing that.

‘If SNP members behave in that way appropriate action will be taken.

‘I will always call out that behaviour. I don’t do that in any way grudgingly. I want to live in a democracy where we can have these debates and settle them democratically rather than be denied the opportunity to settle them democratically.’

The Scottish First Minister urged other party leaders to condemn similar behaviour when it was directed at the independence movement. 

She added: ‘It’s very easy to call out behaviour like this when it’s your opponents calling out. It’s harder to do when it’s people professing to be on your own side and that, though, is when it’s more important to do.’

When asked if she would back the suspension of SNP members that were there last night, she added: ‘Nobody has said to me that people who were abusing James Cook were SNP members.

‘I’m not going to get into hypothetical speculation. I’m calling out that behaviour and I will do that unreservedly but let’s remember we should all be uniting to do that

Earlier today, she tweeted: ‘Hurling abuse at journalists is never acceptable,’ the SNP politician tweeted.

‘Their job is vital to our democracy and it is important to report and scrutinise, not support any viewpoint.

‘James Cook is a journalist of the highest quality and a total pro – the behaviour he was subjected to last night was disgraceful.’

Under attack: BBC Scotland Editor James Cook was confronted outside the venue last night (August 16) after a small number of nationalist protesters called him a ‘scumbag’ and a ‘traitor’

Mr Cook attempted to engage with protesters but withdrew after receiving further abuse

Dozens of people gathered to show their anger towards the Conservative government

Protesters held banners which read ‘never ever trust a Tory’ and ‘Tory scum go away’

Police attempted to keep proceedings calm outside the hustings as some protesters carrying Scottish flags broke through barriers and peacefully occupied the entranceway

Multiple groups were represented at the protest, with reports suggesting the majority of protesters were peaceful. These included socialist groups and trade unions (pictured)

During the video, which was filmed by protesters, Mr Cook was asked how long he had been in Scotland.

‘I’ve been in Scotland my whole life,’ he told the woman, who was asking about the Claim of Right, a document which dates back to 1689.

‘I’m not going to be starting asking you how long you’ve been in Scotland, I think it’s a bit of a rude question.’

James Cook: Has lived whole life in Scotland and read news for Dundee station at 15

James Cook is the current Scotland Editor at the BBC, having been appointed to the role in February 2022.

He has lived in Scotland almost his entire life and began his journalism career at just 15, reading the news for his local radio station in Dundee.

He joined BBC Scotland a few years later and held roles including sub-editor, duty editor, reporter, correspondent and presenter.

James joined the network BBC News team as a Scotland Correspondent in 2007 and worked in that role through the independence referendum.

He also spent time in London as a Health Correspondent, and was based in Los Angeles as North America Correspondent for three years.

James has been Chief News Correspondent for The Nine on BBC Scotland since 2019, as well as contributing to other BBC programmes.

Mr Cook later retweeted a comment from his BBC colleague who praised him as a ‘class act’ who was ‘under pressure, provocation, being insulted and trying to engage’. 

After yells continued from the crowd, Mr Cook said: ‘It’s a waste of time. I’m very much trying to have a civilised conversation with you, in our nation, which we share, but I can’t have a civilised conversation because this gentleman calls me ‘traitor’ and ‘scum’ and screams me down.’

SNP Leader in Westminster also condemned the abuse, while Anas Sarwar, leader of Scottish Labour, said Mr Cook showed ‘incredible decency and patience’ but that ‘no one should face this abuse’.

‘Right we condemn it, but we can’t pretend our politics is separate,’ the MSP tweeted.

‘Let’s disagree, but always remember that Scotland belongs to us all.’

The video of the incident has been shared widely on social media and members of the public as well as politicians and fellow journalists have condemned the behaviour of the protesters.

The former BBC’s editor of live political programmes Rob Burley tweeted it was ‘disgraceful, Trumpy behaviour.’

Another viewer said the abuse was ‘a genuine embarrassment to mainstream, cool headed independence supporters.’ 

Conservative leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak travelled to Perth last night for their latest stop on the campaign trail in a bid to win Tory membership votes.

Both candidates were fighting to win over Scottish Conservative members on the latest leg of their campaign. The result of the leadership election will be announced on September 5

Pictured: A woman holds a banner saying Scotland has a ‘right to decide’

Both confirmed they would not allow a second independence referendum as Prime Minister, with Liz Truss arguing the 2014 vote had been a ‘once in a generation’ event. 

People demonstrating outside the city’s Concert Hall were seen pushing through barriers and shouting at the attendees before the event started at 7pm on Tuesday.

Police officers were pictured managing the crowds, with people carrying placards saying ‘Tory scum go away’, ‘refugees welcome’ and ‘No ifs no buts no Tory cuts’.

A large banner covered one of the barriers which read ‘Scottish Not British’, with another next to it saying ‘It’s time for independence’.

Other signs included ‘Defy Tory rule’ and ‘Never ever trust a Tory’. 

In a separate incident Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Andrew Bowie claimed ‘eggs were being thrown’ and that there was ‘spitting at pensioners.’

He tweeted: ‘The good old ‘tory scum’ banner out… Good to see Nicola Sturgeon’s civic and joyous nationalism in action in Perth tonight.’

In response to his tweet, SNP MP for Glasgow East David Linden said: ‘These morons don’t speak for me or my party.

‘We condemn their behaviour utterly and without equivocation. If anyone of them is found to be an SNP member, then they should be chucked out immediately. It’s as simple as that.’

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross tweeted this morning: ‘Nobody should be subjected to the abuse that happened outside @ScotTories hustings last night. 

‘It doesn’t matter if you’re a BBC reporter or a party member – you shouldn’t have to put up with nasty insults and threats. 

‘The disgusting conduct of nationalist supporters must stop.’ 

There were reports of egg throwing and spitting, although most were said to be peaceful

Protesters breached barriers and demanded a second Scottish independence referendum

Scottish Conservative Party chairman Craig Hoy said: ‘The abuse and intimidation directed at both journalists and party members at yesterday’s hustings in Perth was completely unacceptable. 

‘Of course, everyone is entitled to peacefully protest and make their voice heard against politicians they disagree with – that’s the essence of democracy – but, not for the first time, a mob of extremist nationalists crossed a line. 

‘It’s shameful that journalists doing their job and ordinary party members, some of them elderly, had to run a gauntlet of hate just to get into the venue, including having eggs thrown at them and being spat at.’ 

Commenting on reports of egg throwing and spitting, leader of the Scottish LibDems Alex Cole-Hamilton said: ‘This is utterly grim and not the Scotland I recognise at all.

‘Make your point, resist policy with ideas and debate and stand your ground but do it with respect. Not eggs and spit.’

Tory leadership contenders Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak both promised greater scrutiny of the Scottish Government ahead of the hustings.

Some time into the confrontation Mr Cook appeared to begin filming protesters on his phone

Earlier, Mr Sunak was asked if he would ignore the SNP leader, to which he replied: ‘No, I don’t want to ignore Nicola Sturgeon, I want to take her on and beat her.

‘I think we can make a very strong case for what the UK Government does to help people in Scotland and as chancellor I started that.’

His comments come after his rival Ms Truss claimed she would ignore Ms Sturgeon if she wins the Tory leadership contest, and branded the First Minister an ‘attention seeker’.

Police Scotland confirmed it was aware of a demonstration outside an event in Perth on Tuesday.

The force said there were no reports of injuries, and any reports of criminality will be investigated thoroughly.

A spokesperson for the force said: ‘An appropriate policing plan was in place to maintain public safety and minimise disruption.

‘Police Scotland is a rights-based organisation that puts our values of integrity, fairness, respect and a commitment to upholding human rights at the heart of everything we do.

‘We have a duty under the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the rights of people who wish to peacefully protest or counter protest balanced against the rights of the wider community.’

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