Labour leader Johann Lamont is facing demands to apologise this evening after attempting to smear prominent Scottish businessman John McGlynn and getting basic facts wrong at First Minister’s Questions today (Thursday).
Johann Lamont attacked the First Minister over land required for the construction of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link being bought for £840,000 and subsequently sold for £50,000 when the project was scrapped, after a public auction failed to find any other buyer.
Embarrassingly, it has since emerged that the original deal to buy the land for the construction of GARL was struck by Strathclyde Passenger Transport – a body chaired by a Labour councillor – despite her demand that the First Minister explain to taxpayers ‘how he managed to buy a piece of land with their money for £840,000’.
To make matters worse, that very information was revealed to Labour’s Transport spokesperson Mark Griffin in response to a Parliamentary Question last week.
Johann Lamont tried to insinuate that Mr McGlynn was the beneficiary of preferential treatment when buying land that was no longer required for GARL, despite the Labour leader failing to offer a shred of evidence to back up her stance.
Commenting, SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell who called for an apology in parliament today said:
“Political knockabout is all very well, but for the leader of the opposition to come to the chamber and simply smear a prominent business figure because she does not like his political stance is simply unacceptable.
“With no proof of any impropriety, Johann Lamont is simply engaging in smears and innuendo – something that she should be utterly ashamed of.
“As if that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that it was actually Labour-chaired and controlled SPT that brokered the deal to buy the land in question back in 2008. To make matters worse this was pointed out to Labour just last week and they still chose to make these utterly baseless attacks.
“Anyone who heard the exchanges at FMQs will know that Johann Lamont was engaging in a deliberate and calculated attack on John McGlynn’s character that simply cannot be justified when she has no facts to back up what she was saying.
“Johann Lamont must realise that she has gone beyond the bounds of what is acceptable and offer a public apology to Mr McGlynn at the earliest opportunity.”
John McGlynn’s response to Johann Lamont’s behaviour can be heard at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-24067145
Details of SPT’s involvement in the land deal can be viewed at http://www.spt.co.uk/documents/rtp150208_minute.pdf (page 3)
Last week, Labour’s Mark Griffin received the following answer to a supplementary question during General Questions:
Mark Griffin: Regarding the delay in publishing that report, it was reported that initial findings were given to Transport Scotland as early as April. That came alongside news that the last plot of Glasgow airport rail link land was sold back to the original owner for £50,000, which, at almost £800,000 less than they were originally paid, highlights the folly of the Government’s scorched-earth policy on GARL. What cumulative loss was made by the Government in disposing of land that had been purchased for the GARL project?
Keith Brown: First, I welcome Mark Griffin to his new position. I also congratulate him on his engagement over the summer.
Mark Griffin’s question has a fundamental flaw. The land that was purchased that he mentioned was initially purchased by Strathclyde partnership for transport, not by the Government, although the Government subsequently bought it from SPT. He might wish to address some questions to SPT about that.
We have just had the initial appraisal report. There is no question that the Government is delaying. The first time that it came to the notice of the client partners—the lead partner is Glasgow airport, not the Scottish Government, and the other two partners are Glasgow City Council and Renfrewshire Council—it was the two councils that asked for substantial changes to the initial recommendations, which had to be worked through. There is no question of any delay. There have been substantial benefits in the Paisley corridor and improvements in the area, paid for by the Government. The cancellation of the GARL project saved £176 million.
Of course there has been a cost, because land was purchased at the height of the market and then sold during a recession—there is no question about that. However, let us compare that with reports that Mark Griffin talks about. Those reports refer to the £2 billion of additional costs for the aircraft carriers that the Labour Party signed up to, and the point that he raises today seems a much smaller matter.
We took the right decision on GARL at the time, and our position remains the same. The Government will not be funding a heavy-rail link to Glasgow airport, albeit that the report recommends that such a link may be investigated if a private sector bid comes forward; the Government would of course consider that.