A FORMER Labour minister who was the founding editor of an award-winning weekly newspaper has been sacked as a columnist in a row over freedom of speech.

Brian Wilson, who served in the energy brief under Tony Blair and has written for the Skye-based West Highland Free Press for most of its 43-year history, was dismissed after coming to the defence of fellow columnist Donald Macleod, a Free Church professor of theology.

Mr Macleod's last column, which referenced North Africa migrants and the spread of the Islamic faith in the UK, appeared in West Highland Free Press on May 22.

In one section he made reference to the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany and the treatment of the Jews.

He wrote: "All minorities prefer to keep a low profile and avoid trouble. Generations of British Muslims have done exactly that, many have made an invaluable contribution to British society, and many are perfectly prepared to listen quietly while Christians 'witness' to them.

"But when minorities become majorities, things change ... in the event of Islamic dominance in Britain our friendly Muslim shopkeepers will have little option but to march behind the radicals."

Mr Wilson, in his column last week, went on to make clear his support for Mr Macleod, the former principal of the Free Church College in Edinburgh who has been writing for the Wee Highland Free Press for 24 years.

However, Mr Wilson, who is chairman of Harris Tweed Hebrides, has now confirmed he has been told his contributions will no longer be required, "as retribution for the column that I had written in defence of Donald Macleod".

In his column last week Mr Wilson wrote that Mr Macleod's piece was on migrants "leading on to wider questions about Islamic influence within Europe, including implications for democracy and freedom".

"The precedent he quoted was what happened in Algeria between the fourth and seventh centuries, from Augustine to Mohammed, so in raising current issues, he was - as ever - taking the long view of history."

Mr Wilson said that not everyone could have been expected to agree with Mr Macleod, but the established way of expressing dissent was to publish letters, and three had appeared.

He wrote: "Unfortunately, it did not end there and as a result of whatever else transpired, Donald concluded that that his freedom of expression was, he should no longer contribute his column."

After it emerged that Mr Wilson had been told his contributions were no longer required, Mr Macleod said: "I don't really have anything to say apart from that I am upset for Brian, he has paid this price for supporting me."

Mr Macleod's son John, who is also a newspaper journalist, wrote on Facebook: "As if effectively firing my father from his weekly West Highland Free Press column wasn't enough, the paper has today fired founder Brian Wilson for HIS column last week defending him!!!"

He questioned the "ethics of dismissing journalists for copy submitted in good faith and printed after due editorial process".

Ian McCormack, editor of the West Highland Free Press for nearly 40 years and a close associate of Mr Wilson's, said that he could make no comment.

The Free Press became first employee-owned newspaper in the UK in October 2009.

Its founding principles are still summarised in Gaelic on its masthead: "An Tir, an Canan 'sna Daoine - The Land, the Language, the People."