A Dundee MP has provoked fury by branding the Scottish Government’s university tuition fee policy ”racist”.
Labour’s Jim McGovern made the claim during a public meeting at Abertay University to discuss the future of post-16 education in Tayside.
The SNP Government is to allow universities to charge fees of up to £9,000 a year for students coming to Scotland from the rest of the UK.
Both Dundee and Abertay universities are planning to charge fees to English, Welsh and Northern Irish students from next year.
Education Secretary Mike Russell insists the move is required to secure the financial future of the university sector and maintain free education for Scots. But Mr McGovern, MP for Dundee West, told the meeting he fears the policy is inspired by a Scottish nationalist ”hatred” of England.
”I’ve got serious concerns about the Scottish Executive saying that we will not charge Scottish students to go to university, but we will charge English students,” he said. ”You know, for me, that does not smack of patriotism that smacks of racism.”
He later clarified that he was not branding individual SNP politicians racist, adding: ”What came to mind was that Charles de Gaulle once said that while patriotism is a love for one’s own country, nationalism, generally, is hatred of other countries.
”And unfortunately, this is what the SNP confirm by their policies that that’s what they see.”
The remarks were condemned as ”disgraceful slurs” by the SNP’s Dundee City West MSP Joe FitzPatrick, who was also on the panel at the public meeting on Friday night.
”It is deeply, deeply disappointing that a senior Labour politician should resort to such disgraceful slurs,” he said. ”The SNP’s commitment to keep university education free for Scottish domiciled students was a key part of our manifesto which was overwhelmingly backed by the people of Scotland.
”To describe it as racist is insulting to every person in Dundee and across Scotland who gave their support to the SNP in May. Robust political debate is one thing but making unfounded claims of this magnitude is quite another.”
Mr FitzPatrick also called on Labour leader Ed Miliband to take action over Mr McGovern’s remarks.
”This disgraceful slur raises further questions about the conduct of Labour MPs, coming so soon after his colleague (Glasgow South West MP) Ian Davidson called SNP MPs ‘neo-fascists’,” added Mr FitzPatrick.
Mr Russell also demanded that Mr McGovern withdraw the ”offensive” comment.
”The Scottish Government would much rather not charge anyone fees. However, this has been forced upon us because of the actions of successive UK Governments,” he told The Courier.
”Scottish students and their parents have long had the reassurance of knowing that undergraduate education in Scotland will remain free.
”To maintain opportunities for our students, and to protect our world-leading universities’ reputation and competitiveness, we had no choice but to respond to the increase in tuition fees to £9,000 south of the border.”
He added that it is thought the average fee will only be £6,841, reduced to around £6,375 by packages of bursaries and fee waivers.
But Mr McGovern is standing by his remarks, insisting the SNP is an ”anti-England” organisation.
He told The Courier on Sunday: ”The latest strategy by the separatists would seem to be to pick up on a word or expression from a Labour politician then throw their hands up in horror and say that they feel threatened, intimidated or offended.
”If some members of the SNP cannot live with the robust nature of the rough and tumble of everyday Scottish politics then perhaps they should consider whether or not they are in the right job.”