SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has been forced to apologise after he accused an English photographer of breaking coronavirus travel rules to take photos in the Highlands – even though he lives there.
Ollie Taylor took to Twitter on November 22 to post a stunning photo of the Aurora Borealis at Caitness, in the north of Scotland.
Although the post was widely appreciated, Mr Blackford questioned whether Mr Taylor, an Englishman, had a ‘valid reason’ for posting photos from Scotland.
He wrote: ‘As you live in the south of England and travel to Scotland is only for permitted reasons I am sure there will be a valid reason as to why you are posting a photo from the north of Scotland last night?’
The SNP MP’s comments were a reference to a coronavirus travel ban that came into force last Friday which makes it illegal to cross between the two nations without a valid reason.
However, Mr Blackford’s attempted shaming of the photographer backfired after it emerged that Mr Taylor had moved to Scotland in September – long before the travel ban came in.
The SNP politician deleted the tweet and apologised but was slammed online and labelled a ‘bully’.
He is also facing accusations of fuelling anti-English sentiment.
To make matter worse for Mr Blackford, Campbell Deane, the head of media law at BKF solicitors, Glasgow, said he could still face legal action despite his apology.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford came under fire for trying to shame an English photographer, appearing to accuse him of breaking a ban stopping travel into Scotland
Mr Blackford’s attempt at shaming the photographer (pictured) backfired after he realised Mr Taylor is living in the Highlands
Mr Deane said: ‘He is clearly questioning Mr Taylor’s actions with an innuendo of wrongdoing.
‘One only needs to consider the public opprobrium aimed at Dominic Cummings to see how much the public can be offended by breaching the Covid rules.
‘The tweet would be capable of being defamatory in law notwithstanding Mr Blackford’s entirely appropriate apology.’
Britons who cross the Scottish border face a £60 fine
Are all people banned from leaving or entering Scotland from 6pm on Friday?
Yes, apart from a small number of exemptions. Nicola Sturgeon’s legislation demands that any person living in Scotland must not enter England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland from tonight.
The First Minister has also made it illegal for people living in those countries to enter Scotland.
Anyone breaching the rules will be fined £60, she says.
There are some exemptions including leaving Scotland to take a driving test, feeding an animal, donating blood or for some work, education and health reasons.
Will police be setting up road blocks?
No road blocks will be set up and police say they will not be patrolling the border looking for people breaking the law.
Instead they will enforce the new law if they come across transgressors in the ‘course of duty’.
Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Alan Speirs says they want people to ‘do the right thing’.
He added: ‘We will use enforcement as a last resort where there is a clear breach of the legislation.’
Last night Mr Taylor said he had moved from Dorset to Halkirk, Caithness, on October 23 – before the Scottish tier system was introduced.
Mr Taylor, 40, added: ‘I would expect him to message me first and ask me. Does he think I’ve just driven up?
‘I think that’s unprofessional, that’s damaging.’
Mr Taylor said he is currently working on two books – one of which is a collection of night photography shots in Scotland.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: ‘Ian Blackford’s comments were ill-judged and needlessly inflammatory.
‘I hope he reflects on the potential harm these tweets can cause.’
Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: ‘Ian Blackford has form for his remarks about people from England who happen to be in Scotland.
‘This behaviour could only add to the problems of anti-English sentiment in Scotland. ‘
In his apology, Mr Blackford wrote: ‘It was wrong to query an individual on Twitter and I apologise to @OllieTPhoto for my earlier post, which I have deleted.’
The furore comes after Mr Blackford’s fellow MP Margaret Ferrier was suspended from the SNP after she travelled to London before getting the results of a Covid-19 test and came home on a train after being told she was positive.
Crossing the Scottish border was made illegal from the end of last this week under sweeping new Covid restrictions which critics have described as ‘deeply flawed’.
As of 6pm on Friday, entering or leaving Scotland without a reasonable excuse was banned and anyone caught doing so may now be slapped with a £60 fine.
People living within Level Three or Level Four lockdown areas – which includes vast swathes of central Scotland – are also not permitted to leave their area.
Furthermore, a list of bizarre exceptions have been put in place which would allow the travel rules to be breached.
Scots can leave the country – or their locked down area – to feed an animal, donate blood or take a driving test.
Exemptions to the travel ban also apply for more common essential travel reasons, including for health, work or for school.
It also emerged that people who are banned from travelling to an airport because of the rules are unlikely to receive compensation if their flight goes ahead.