NICOLA Sturgeon has praised the “grace and dignity” of Ian Blackford after he was accused of bullying and acting like a “vigilante”.

The First Minister defended the SNP’s Westminster leader after he was forced to apologise for wrongly accusing a photographer of breaking Covid lockdown rules.

Mr Blackford had to delete a tweet in which he demanded a “valid reason” for Ollie Taylor posting images of the Northern Lights taken in Caithness given travel restrictions.

The Skye MP wrote: “As you live in the south of England and travel to Scotland is only for permitted reasons I am sure there will be a valid reason as to why you are posting a photo from the north of Scotland last night?"

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Although Mr Taylor had previously lived and worked in England, he moved to the Highlands earlier this year, and the images were taken five minutes from his house. 

He accused Mr Blackford of “trying to stir up public hatred” against him.

At Holyrood, Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton asked Ms Sturgeon about the incident.

He said: “The balanced and proportionate enforcement of travel restrictions by Police Scotland is vital to ensuring compliance with them. That duty is theirs and theirs alone. 

“But the First Minister will have seen the disgraceful tweet from Ian Blackford to his 100,000 followers last night singling out and bullying a private citizen who had relocated here from England.

“Does she support vigilante action from her MPs like this, and what steps is she taking to address Mr Blackford’s behaviour?”

Ms Sturgeon said people watching on TV would not have had that at the top of the list of things they wanted discussed in parliament.

She went on: “I also saw Ian Blackford apologise for doing something he recognised he shouldn’t have done on Twitter, and I think that’s the right thing, when people get something wrong to readily apologise for it.

“That’s the grace and dignity that I associate with Ian Blackford every single day of the week.”

In his apology to Mr Taylor, Mr Blackford said: “As the local MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber I know my constituents feel very strongly about the breaking of travel restrictions that we see across the Highlands and islands, which puts people's lives and our public services at risk.

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"I will continue to stand up for my constituents who frequently raise these concerns with me but I recognise that it was wrong to query an individual on Twitter and I apologise to @OllieTPhoto for my earlier post, which I have deleted."

Mr Taylor does not live in Mr Blackford’s constituency.

Tory MSP Annie Wells said: "It was pretty cowardly that the First Minister didn’t do the right thing this afternoon and call out the SNP’s Westminster Leader for harassing a private citizen.

"Ian Blackford should be ashamed of himself. He purposely went after an individual who simply wanted to share a lovely photo on Twitter for people to enjoy.

"I’m afraid it is the same old story with the SNP – stoke up division, and when challenged, simply hold up their hands feigning innocence. It is pathetic."

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie added: "Ian Blackford has form for his remarks about people from England who happen to be in Scotland.

"This behaviour could only add to the problems of anti-English sentiment in Scotland."