The remark by Labour’s Deputy UK Leader, who is famous for her politically correct speech, led to her becoming embroiled in a bizarre row.
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Harman’s comment to delegates at Labour’s conference in Oban led to accusations of her being anti-Scottish. Around 8% of Scotland’s population has red hair, against 2% in the rest of Europe.
Marian Purdy, of RedheadandProud.com, which calls itself “the number one website for Redheads and Ginger Nuts”, said Harman’s comment was unenlightened and sad.
Purdy said: “I know politics can get a bit personal, but that’s below the belt. That is a very inappropriate thing to say these days and it is sad people still do it. I must say I am disappointed and surprised.”
Labour initially tried to downplay the remark as being more about “the rodent than the ginger”, but after the row exploded across the internet Harman recanted. A statement issued by Labour said: “Harriet Harman has today apologised for her comment about Danny Alexander and says it was wrong.”
The remark came as she attacked Alexander, the Liberal Democrat MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, for spearheading the UK Government’s cuts programme.
“Now, many of us in the Labour Party are conservationists -- and we all love the red squirrel. But there’s one ginger rodent which we never want to see again in the Highlands -- Danny Alexander.”
The line produced loud laughter from several hundred delegates at the Corran Halls. Outside the conference, however, the reaction was less forgiving.
Shirley-Anne Somerville, redhead SNP MSP for Lothians, said Harman had exposed Labour’s ignorance of Scotland.
“Labour don’t have a Scottish heart any more, and clearly they don’t have a Scottish head either. Her silly remark isn’t anti-Danny or anti-LibDem, it’s anti-Scottish. It’s a gaffe that has overshadowed what Iain Gray [Scottish Labour leader] thinks should be his big day.
“Coming from the doyenne of po-faced political correctness these remarks show she and Labour have lost the plot since losing the election.
“There is a mountain of issues people can criticise Danny Alexander for, but childish abuse about his appearance reveals Labour have little to say about the real issues of Westminster cuts.”
MEP George Lyon, the Scottish LibDems’ election chairman, also criticised the “highly personal attack”.
He said: “There are no depths to which the Labour party will not stoop. They aren’t fit to be in opposition, let alone in Government.
“Labour’s legacy to Scotland is debt interest payments to bankers and bond-holders of £12 million a day -- enough to build a primary school a day. Instead of throwing personal abuse at the Liberal Democrats, Harriet Harman should be apologising for the shocking financial mess her government created.”
Harman’s speech quickly became the most-read story on the BBC website, and inspired an outpouring of comments on networking site Twitter.
One post on Twitter quoted Alexander as saying: “I am proud to be ginger and rodents do valuable work cleaning up mess others leave behind. Red squirrel deserves to survive, unlike Labour.”