The case of the 'smoking Gunn'

As a political journalist and sometime folk singer, Campbell Gunn was universally liked and admired.

Alex Salmond reminded Holyrood of this today, citing praise from opposition leaders for his fairness and perspicacity.

However, Mr Gunn - although still a talented folk singer - is no longer a political journalist.

He is a special adviser (spad) to the first minister. He has gone over to the "dark side" - the satirical term routinely used by the wicked media to describe those who become doctors of spin, of whatever hue.

That makes him a potential target for political opponents - as was evident at Holyrood today. All three main opposition leaders demanded his dismissal.

For what? For writing an email to The Telegraph briefing against Clare Lally.

Ms Lally had described herself at a Better Together event as an "ordinary mum".

Mr Gunn noted that she was a member of Labour's shadow cabinet and the daughter in law of Pat Lally, the former Labour lord provost of Glasgow.

Image caption Mr Gunn - a keen folk singer - retired from journalism before going to work for Alex Salmond

Point one was accurate. Point two was wrong. Neither point should have been made, according to Mr Salmond.

At this point we enter the realm of interpretation. Mr Salmond sees this as a blunder by his spad.

Not wise, generally, to be seen briefing against the mother of a child with brain damage who has battled hard to improve the lot of carers in Scotland.

Opponents see it as much more than that. They argue firstly that the wrong information about Pat Lally was apparently derived from websites which routinely attack supporters of the Union.

They note further that the briefing by Mr Gunn was concomitant with online abuse aimed at Ms Lally.

They draw the two together, accusing the first minister's office of orchestrating said abuse.

'Free speech'

Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats accused the Nationalists of seeking to suppress free speech.

Ruth Davidson, of the Tories, said that Mr Salmond had been assiduous 15 years ago in seeking the dismissal of one of Donald Dewar's special advisers. What was so different now?

Labour's Johann Lamont said that Mr Gunn must be sacked: otherwise, it would be inferred that the "internet bullying" was done "by order, by design", by the first minister.

As SNP members looked shocked, Mr Salmond rose slowly. His demeanour throughout had been contrite. Now he added weary dismay to the armoury.

Anyone who knew Campbell Gunn would be aware that suggestions he had orchestrated online abuse were absurd, he said.

Similarly, he rejected claims that there was central control. Rather, politicians of all colours should condemn such "vile abuse", regardless of its origin or target.

Image caption Clare Lally described herself at a Better Together event as an "ordinary mum".

Mr Salmond further noted that the code of conduct for advisers had been redrafted to cover the doings of Damien McBride, a Labour Spad at Westminster, who had made up smears about opponents.

At which point, the scene shifts to the post FMQ briefing.

The first minister's spokesman, a special adviser, restated the FM's points.

After lengthy exchanges, he was asked if Mr Gunn's email was appropriate. He replied: "Clearly not".

Snag here is that the code of conduct for special advisers forbids the preparation and dissemination of inappropriate material. The penalty is dismissal.

Mr Salmond's office then issued a further clarification.

The FM stated: "As I made clear in the chamber, Campbell Gunn was guilty of a mistake and a misjudgement and has comprehensively apologised for that.

"He was not guilty of disseminating inappropriate material in terms of the special adviser code.

"I have made clear that I expect all special advisers to act appropriately and strictly within the rules of the code at all times."

Cue further criticism from the opposition leaders.

They claim that there is uncertainty and chaos at the core of government over this controversy.

Mr Salmond believes it was a blunder which has led to a manufactured spat.

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