Councillor suspended over Islamaphobic slur about Humza Yousaf

image captionMr Dempster represents Mid and Upper Nithsdale on Dumfries and Galloway Council

A Labour councillor who admitted making an Islamophobic comment about Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has been suspended by his party.

Jim Dempster told transport officials at a meeting that "no-one would have seen [Mr Yousaf] under his burka".

The Dumfries and Galloway councillor has apologised to Mr Yousaf, saying he was ashamed and embarrassed and could offer no defence or explanation.

Mr Yousaf said the "Islamophobic outburst" was "utterly outrageous".

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said he had also "unreservedly apologised" to Mr Yousaf for the "hurt and offence caused".

He added: "James Dempster has been suspended. There will now be an inquiry and a due process will be followed."

Mr Leonard is due to address a March Against Racism rally in Glasgow on Saturday.

Mr Dempster was not at home when BBC Scotland attempted to speak to him on Friday morning, and has not accepted requests to be interviewed.

Mr Yousaf told BBC Scotland he did not accept Mr Dempster's apology, and called for him to resign as a councillor.

He also urged the Scottish Labour leader to expel Mr Dempster from the party.

image captionMr Yousaf has called for the councillor to be expelled from Scottish Labour

What did Mr Dempster say?

Mr Dempster made the remark during a meeting in Ayrshire on Tuesday.

It was reported to Mr Yousaf by a senior Transport Scotland official, who said two other people in attendance confirmed they had also heard it.

The official raised a formal complaint with Dumfries and Galloway Council, asking the local authority to "investigate and respond with your intended course of action".

In his report, the official said Mr Dempster had been "stating his opinion" that Mr Yousaf "did not give much regard to road transport issues in the south west" and had been "largely anonymous in his presence".

The official said he had told Mr Dempster that Mr Yousaf attended the South West Transport Conference and had met residents in the village of Springholm.

He said Mr Dempster responded by saying: "He may have been at Springholm but no-one would have seen him under his burka."

How has Mr Yousaf responded?

Mr Yousaf told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme that he had been "insulted and deeply shocked" when he heard about Mr Dempster's remark.

The SNP politician added: "I have to say I have not felt that level of anger before.

"I get keyboard warriors who under the cloak of anonymity will write all sorts of Islamaphobic and racist rubbish to me on a weekly basis.

"But this kind of slur, which is so brazen, from a senior elected councillor in front of my transport officials - knowing it would easily come to me - and in front of members of the public, just goes to show how far we've got to go, and just how emboldened some feel about making Islamaphobic remarks."

What did Mr Dempster say in his apology?

In his written apology to Mr Yousaf, Mr Dempster said he could "offer no explanation to defend my comments", and was "thoroughly ashamed and embarrassed by them".

He added: "I am fully aware of the hurt and offence that my words will have caused you. My ignorance is totally inexcusable.

"I do take full responsibility for my actions, and offer you a full and humble apology. I know how offensive and terrible what I said will sound, but this stupid and ill-judged remark is not representative of who I am.

"Please accept my sincere apology, as I reflect on the impact of my conduct, and what I need to personally address."

He said he had referred himself for diversity training, and intended to apologise in person to the officials who had been at the meeting.

image copyrightPA
image captionScottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said there would be an inquiry and "a due process" would be followed

What does Mr Yousaf want to happen now?

Mr Yousaf said he did not accept Mr Dempster's apology, and said the councillor had no option to resign.

He added: "He has asked for diversity training - I'm sorry but you don't need diversity training to know not to say to a Muslim 'you're hiding under a burka'.

"This diversity training is becoming a joke, frankly."

Mr Yousaf said the Labour investigation would presumably be a very short one, given that Mr Dempster had already admitted making the remarks.

And he said the "only logical conclusion now for Richard Leonard would be expel Councillor Dempster, and for Councillor Dempster to do the honourable thing and just resign."

image copyrightPA
image captionScottish Labour MP Hugh Gaffney recently apologised for making offensive remarks at a Burns Supper

What other Scottish Labour politicians have faced similar complaints?

Mr Dempster is not the first Scottish Labour politicians to find himself at the centre of a row over offensive and racist remarks in recent weeks.

Last month, Scottish Labour MP Hugh Gaffney apologised after making "deeply offensive and unacceptable" remarks at a Burns Supper in Edinburgh.

The MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said he would undergo equality and diversity training following the comments about the LGBT community and Chinese people, and was reprimanded by the party.

Labour also recently suspended the leader of its South Lanarkshire Council group, Davie McLachlan, after the party's MSP Anas Sarwar claimed racist comments were made about him.

Mr McLachlan denies the allegation.

Mr Sarwar has drawn up an eight-point plan on how the party can tackle racism and Islamophobia after speaking out on the abuse he received when standing as a candidate for the Scottish Labour leadership.