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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 18:25 GMT
Minister quits over fire 'fascists' row
Richard Simpson and Jack McConnell
Dr Simpson (l) told Jack McConnell he was resigning
The minister responsible for the fire service in Scotland has resigned after claims he described striking firefighters as "fascist bastards".

Deputy Justice Minister Richard Simpson was summoned to talks with First Minister Jack McConnell after which it was announced that he had quit.

Dr Simpson had admitted using the words when discussing the dispute but insisted he was only repeating what was being said by the public.

The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) leader, Tommy Sheridan, and the Scottish National Party had called on Mr McConnell to sack Dr Simpson.

Firefighters at demo in Glasgow
The strike provoked the minister's ire
In a letter to the first minster, Dr Simpson said they were not his views but that as the row was making the resolution of the fire dispute more difficult he was standing down.

Mr McConnell agreed to the resignation, saying he was not prepared to accept the doubt which surrounded the reporting of the conversation.

His letter to Dr Simpson said: "I accept your resignation and I am clear that you do not hold the views about the firefighters that have been reported in the press."

Deputy Social Justice Minister Hugh Henry replaces Dr Simpson.

Dr Simpson's words came to light when they were reported in The Scotland on Sunday newspaper.

'Supported Mussolini'

The minister was overheard using the words at a dinner party at the Glasgow Hilton last Thursday.

It was reported that he said: "We must not give into the bastards. These people aren't socialists, they're protectionists, they're fascists - the kind of people who supported Mussolini."

Dr Simpson told BBC Scotland he may have quoted the words during the dinner party where the type of language used by hoax fire callers was being discussed.


On no occasion did he attribute these [comments] to other constituents or other members of the public

Jason Allardyce
Scotland on Sunday

But he denied personally making the remark and dissociated himself from the opinion that striking firefighters were "fascist bastards".

Dr Simpson said: "It was not me that made the original remark.

"I was quoting somebody else. It was a member of the public who made that remark and I was saying that this sort of remark had occurred."

'He was angry'

He continued: "I really would like the opportunity to say that is absolutely not my view.

"I think the firefighters, in terms of coming off that picket line as they have done on a number of occasions in Scotland, are behaving totally responsibly."

Jason Allardyce, political editor of Scotland On Sunday, said: "On no occasion did he attribute these [comments] to other constituents or other members of the public.

Tommy Sheridan
Tommy Sheridan: "Unfit for office"

"He was being quite clear this was his view. He was upset. He was angry."

Tommy Sheridan, the SSP's sole MSP, said: "Anyone who refers to these men and women who daily save lives as fascists and bastards simply isn't fit to hold office."

The Scottish Conservatives welcomed Dr Simpson's resignation.

Their leader David McLetchie said the comments had been "crass and insensitive".

Scottish National Party leader John Swinney accused the first minister of attempting to "cover-up" Dr Simpson's remarks.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Brian Taylor
"Labour wants to douse this dispute, he had to go"
Journalist Jason Allardyce who reported comments
"A rant about how the firefighting strikers were fascists"

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26 Nov 02 | Scotland
27 Nov 02 | Scotland
26 Nov 02 | Scotland
26 Nov 02 | Scotland
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