A senior government spin doctor is at the centre of a row over emails he sent in which he described Scotland as "narrow, Presbyterian and racist."

John McTernan, a special adviser at the Scotland Office, made the remarks when he was a consultant at the Scottish Arts Council in 2002.

He has slammed the arts quango for releasing the correspondence without his knowledge, describing it as a breach of privacy.

The row came after files were released under freedom of information (FOI) legislation on McTernan's brief spell as an SAC consultant around six years ago.

He took up the post in 2002 after a stint as special adviser to Henry McLeish, who had resigned the previous year.

McTernan was hired by the then SAC boss James Boyle for the purposes of "policy advice", a short-term post that ended after three months.

However, an email from McTernan's time as an arts consultant to Labour MSP Karen Gillon on the unlikely subject of Sweden has caused belated problems for the spin doctor.

The exchange sees McTernan, a Scot, compare his home country unfavourably to Sweden: "If you've not been to Sweden before, I think you'll really like it it's the country Scotland would be if it wasn't narrow, Presbyterian, racist etc. etc. Social democracy in action."

It is unclear from the exchange whether the remarks were a serious commentary on Scotland, or whether they were tongue in cheek.

The email release has triggered a row between the SAC and McTernan, who has accused his former employer of breaching his privacy by releasing private correspondence.

The spin doctor, who worked for former Prime Minister Tony Blair after he left the SAC, is furious that the quango published the emails without informing him first.

In turn, the public body believed it had no choice but to release the information under its statutory obligations.

McTernan is a well-known Labour partisan who has vigorously promoted his party's manifesto commitments whenever he has been in government.

As a policy chief to Blair, he got caught up in the "cash for honours" affair that bogged down the former's prime minister's last year in office.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Arts Council said: "The information held by the Scottish Arts Council is subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. None of the exemptions applied in this case. Mr McTernan used a Scottish Arts Council email account and is bound by the Act, as is every other employee."

McTernan said: "It is absurd to take out of context some words that were sent in a private email five years ago, in order to manufacture an attack on what I am doing now. These emails were released without my knowledge and I will be contacting the Arts Council about this breach of privacy."

SNP Business Manager Angus Robertson said: "Given the fact John McTernan was in charge of Labour's campaign for the Scottish elections and clearly has such a bad view of the country he is meant to represent, it is no wonder Labour lost the election.

"This also a blow to Des Browne since John McTernan is his special advisor and further compounds the impression that he is an accident prone Minister."