Nicola Sturgeon has urged SNP members not to campaign for a candidate who was suspended for allegedly sharing anti-Semitic social media posts. 

The First Minister said activists should “campaign in neighbouring constituencies” instead of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, which was previously a key SNP target seat due to its slim Labour majority. 

Neale Hanvey was dropped by the party last week while an investigation takes place. However he will remain on the ballot paper as an SNP candidate as nominations are now closed. 

He previously said he was “genuinely and deeply sorry” about the posts, which included linking to an article containing an image considered to be an anti-Semitic trope and drawing parallels between the treatment of Palestinians and the treatment of Jews in Europe during the Second World War.

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Speaking for the first time about the suspension while on a campaign visit to Lockerbie, Ms Sturgeon called for local SNP supporters to campaign in neighbouring seats, stressing her party “unfortunately” no longer has a candidate contesting the seat.

She said: “My message to SNP members and activists would be to campaign in neighbouring constituencies. They’re not too far away from Stephen Gethins in North East Fife, for example, so there’s plenty of good candidates out there to get out and campaign for.”

Asked what would happen if Mr Hanvey won the seat, Ms Sturgeon said: “He’s suspended at the moment, there’s disciplinary action that will flow from that and it would not be appropriate for me to comment while that’s ongoing.”

Ms Sturgeon also addressed speculation Mr Hanvey may have been axed because of his views on transgender rights.

She said: “He was suspended because of the anti-Semitic comments he made and that is the long and short of it. My position on anti-Semitism is clear, I’ve been very vocal about my views on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s lack of leadership on this.

“We take a zero-tolerance approach and I think we’ve demonstrated that and my message to anybody the SNP was thinking about working with – or the people who wanted to work with the SNP – is that a very firm approach to anti-Semitism, to Islamophobia, to racism, to discrimination in all of its forms, is absolutely essential.”

Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath was won by Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird in 2017, and the SNP had hoped to overturn her 259 majority. 

Mr Hanvey previously confirmed he will fight for election as an independent. He smashed a £2,000 crowdfunding target launched over the weekend, and has received support from local activists. 

In a statement after he was suspended, he said: “Although I do not in any way consider myself anti-Semitic, on reflection the language I used was, and this is clearly unacceptable.”

Elsewhere, Ms Sturgeon suggested Scotland should have a seat at the table in any future Brexit negotiations as she refused to rule out legal action if Downing Street blocks a second independence referendum. 

She said Scotland should not be “shut out by Westminster” if Jeremy Corbyn wins the election and seeks to renegotiate with Brussels. 

It came as shadow chancellor John McDonnell insisted Scotland “doesn’t need independence, it needs a Labour government” in a campaign video directly addressing the Scottish electorate.

Meanwhile, Scottish Tory stand-in leader Jackson Carlaw revealed he would now campaign to leave the EU if there is a second Brexit referendum. He backed Remain in 2016.

Ms Sturgeon was asked if she wanted to have SNP input into any Brexit deal struck by Mr Corbyn.

She told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I think Scotland should be at the table at any of these discussions all of the time, rather than being shut out by Westminster.”

There has been widespread speculation the SNP would prop up a minority Labour government in return for a list of demands – chief among them a second independence referendum.

However, Labour’s leadership has repeatedly ruled out any deals with the Nationalists.

Mr Corbyn wants to renegotiate a Brexit deal before putting this back to the country in another vote, against an option to Remain.


READ MORE: BBC had ‘institutional issue’ during referendum Nicola Sturgeon claims

Earlier, appearing on BBC Breakfast, the First Minister ruled out a Catalan-style unauthorised ballot on leaving the UK, but stressed whoever ends up in Number 10 must “respect the will of the Scottish people”.

She has repeatedly called for another referendum next year. However, Mr Corbyn has ruled this out in the “early years” of a Labour government, while Mr Johnson has rejected it entirely. 

Pressed on whether the Scottish Government would mount a legal challenge if Westminster continued to refuse to allow a referendum, or would stage an unofficial ballot, Ms Sturgeon said the vote would have to be “legitimate”.

She said: “I’ve made my view quite clear on an unofficial referendum. I think a referendum has to be legal and accepted because I’m not in the business of just having a referendum, I want Scotland to become independent so you have to have a process of doing that that is going to be recognised as legitimate.

“Beyond that though I will consider all options. But the first option is making sure we don’t get into this scenario because Scotland is playing its part in making sure Boris Johnson is not in this position of being able to lay down the law to Scotland or anybody else.”

She later told BBC Radio 5 Live that Mr Johnson does not have the right to block another referendum.

She said: “I’ve accepted the need to have that proper legal process, but actually, on point of fact, it’s never been tested in court exactly what the position would be.”

Elsewhere, she said there was an “institutional issue” with the BBC in its coverage of the 2014 independence referendum, and that it “felt sometimes as if the BBC were on one side of the debate”. 

In a video clip released by Labour yesterday, Mr McDonnell said neither the SNP nor the Tories want change.

He said: “Scotland cannot afford another day of the Tories, let alone another five years. Scotland does not need independence either. It needs a Labour Government.”

He added: “This election is crucial and you hold the balance of what country we wake up to on December 13. Boris Johnson can’t be trusted to fix our country and a vote for any other party will just let him back in.”

He accused the Tories of planning to sell off the NHS, while insisting the SNP had “mismanaged” it.

He added: “The SNP and the Tories don’t want change. They don’t want to talk about their record of failure at Holyrood and Westminster.

“They would prefer to argue over another independence referendum.”

The video made clear the party would “not enter into any pacts, coalitions or agreements with anyone”.

Meanwhile, Mr Carlaw told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that he would now campaign to leave the EU if there is a second referendum.

He said: “I would campaign to leave. Since 2016, the EU itself has changed. It’s now seeking to create a united army of the European Union by 2025. I can’t support that.

“I believe in other ways, too, the European Union has changed.”

He added: “I believe, having gone through this whole process, what people need is clarity, I don’t believe we can go through another referendum on this or independence without the atmosphere being corrosive and brutal.”

Every Scottish Tory candidate will today sign a pledge underlining their “steadfast opposition to a second divisive independence referendum”.

Mr Carlaw also said his party needed to be “less draconian” when it comes to welfare assessment but argued a decade of austerity was necessary to save people’s jobs.