A Sunday Herald investigation uncovered footage of Ross McFarlane, who was also the MSP’s election agent, setting fire to the EU standard while dressed in the robes of Glasgow University.
Davidson axed him yesterday after being told of the incident by this newspaper.
She acted after the SNP described the footage as “Bullingdon Club behaviour”, a reference to the upper-class society which David Cameron and George Osborne were members of while at Oxford University. The club is notorious for its yobbishness and snobbery. A Labour MSP had also demanded his resignation.
The Conservative Party leadership election is a three-way battle between West of Scotland MSP Jackson Carlaw, deputy leader Murdo Fraser, and Davidson.
Senior party figures expect the contest to be a straight fight between Fraser, who wants to replace the Scottish Conservatives with a new party, and his female colleague.
Davidson, first elected to Holyrood in May, is said to be an ally of Prime Minister David Cameron and has made an explicit pitch as a moderate Conservative.
However, critics believe the posts Davidson has given to McFarlane undermine her image as a mainstream Tory.
Apart from working for Davidson at Holyrood, and being her election agent during the last Scottish Parliament poll, McFarlane is also supporting her leadership bid – he sent a text to supporters on Friday, drumming up support.
But his hard-core views were revealed last year when, as president of the Glasgow University Conservative Association (GUCA), right-wing Tory MEP Roger Helmer was the guest of honour at a St Andrews Day dinner on November 26.
Helmer wants to pull out of the EU, downplays the threat of global warming and once described the Catholic Church as “systematically paedophile”. This year he has likened homosexuality to a mental health problem and called for the looters who capitalised on the recent riots in England to be shot.
Helmer and McFarlane sat at the top table for the four-course meal, while Davidson and others listened to the speeches at a special candidates’ table.
In a blog entry, Helmer claimed his audience lapped up his speech: “I have rarely met a more enthusiastic audience… I commended the Daily Express ‘Get Britain Out of the EU’ campaign, and they cheered to the echo. I spoke dismissively about climate hysteria, and they roared approval.”
He also referred to protesters outside the event as the “unwashed proletariat”.
However, it was the post-dinner events that were going to prove hugely embarrassing for Davidson.
Video footage obtained by the Sunday Herald reveals McFarlane and a small number of friends ended up in Hyndland in Glasgow’s west end, at 2am after the dinner.
The footage shows three people, including McFarlane dressed in a Glasgow University gown and another individual draped in a Union Flag, conspiring to burn the EU flag on the pavement.
Struggling to set the cloth on fire, McFarlane says “F**k sake”, before adding: “Get a lighter.”
An off-camera voice is heard to say: “Douse it.”
At this point it becomes clear the group is planning to burn the flag using alcohol and a lighter.
McFarlane is then seen to pour liquid onto the flag, prompting an associate to say: “What a waste of vodka, by the way.”
A frustrated McFarlane exclaims: “Somebody get a lighter.” An unnamed individual is heard saying: “Some c**t has it.”
McFarlane repeats his demand: “Pass down the lighter.”
The failure to destroy the flag then becomes a source of merriment for a member of the group off-camera.
He can be heard saying: “There’s more chance of f**king seeing the Pope confess to paedophilia.”
The group laughs. The same person then says: “There’s more chance of Hugh Dallas [ex-football referee] telling us he’s a f**king tarrier.”
“Tarrier” is a derogatory term for an Irish Catholic; the jibe prompts more laughter.
McFarlane finally sets the flag on fire. The small group expresses its approval before one individual starts to sing God Save The Queen.
The fire peters out and McFarlane says: “Shit disnae burn lads.”
McFarlane was quoted last year saying his family background made it difficult being a Conservative. He said: “My dad’s a trade unionist, my mum’s old Labour. It was definitely interesting when I told them. Apparently they can’t talk about it to the family.”
He describes himself on his recently-created Twitter feed as a “Conservative activist, rangers support [sic] with a taste for cider”.
McFarlane and Davidson
have both previously spoken out against yobbishness.
As an MSP, Davidson asked the Scottish Government about antisocial behaviour in Strathclyde and signed a motion on “fighting sectarianism and anti-Irish racism”.
As GUCA president, McFarlane complained about protests outside a Tory event. “We did have a lot of elderly people who attended the event in their late 70s. I mean, one woman was on her own, turned up in a taxi … and she’s having profanities and abuse screamed in her face by these animals.”
Labour MSP Duncan McNeil said of the flag-burning: “These are shocking scenes … People in positions of responsibility need to take a strong lead against sectarianism. This exposes a nasty streak in the Tory party.”
An SNP spokesperson said: “This is Bullingdon Club behaviour which has no place in Scottish politics. Ms Davidson may style herself as a compassionate Conservative but her senior aide behaves no better than one of the so-called ‘hoodies’ David Cameron wants to hug.”
When told the Sunday Herald had video footage of him setting fire to an EU flag, McFarlane said: “Oh right… I don’t really have anything to say about that.” Asked if he thought it was wise behaviour, the phone line went dead.
Davidson said: “Mr McFarlane has worked for me on a part-time basis since May. This incident happened before he was in my employment and I had no knowledge of it. It is reprehensible behaviour and I have terminated his contract.”