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Scottish Green Minister Brands Lee Anderson and Conservative Right ‘School Bullies Who Love Punching Down’

The Scottish Green Party Co-Leader and Government minister says Islamophobia has been treated as less important than antisemitism, as he calls for media reform

Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens Co-Leader and MSP for Glasgow, pictured in Queens Park, Glasgow last year. Photo: Ian Rutherford/Alamy

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A Co-Leader of the Scottish Green Party, serving in the Scottish Government, has hit out at Conservative “school bullies” who “can’t see a marginalised, vulnerable minority without instinctively wanting to punch down”.

Patrick Harvie MSP – the first openly bisexual leader of a UK political party – made the comments to Byline Times in a meeting of UK Green Party leaders in London on Monday. 

It came after Lee Anderson lost the Conservative whip over the weekend for his claims that Islamists had “got control” of London through its Muslim Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Responding, Harvie said: “Clearly for some on the right, it feels as though they haven’t emotionally moved on from being school bullies, and they can’t see a marginalised, vulnerable minority without instinctively wanting to punch down. 

“There are others who simply see this as an opportunistic agenda: to try and divide people against one another and as a way to court controversy [or] shallow popularity.” 

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Harvie alleged that there is a double standard about how politicians and the press treat antisemitism and Islamophobia. 

“It doesn’t take a genius to imagine how they would respond if somebody on another part of the political spectrum had talked about Jewish people as having some sort of conspiratorial influence,” he told Byline Times.

“That would be immediately condemned as antisemitism, and rightly so… Islamophobia needs to be acknowledged and then condemned in the same way,.”

He named individuals like Anderson and former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, alongside ex-Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick and quickly ousted Prime Minister Liz Truss as showing “ just how extreme they’re willing to go”. 

All of them have courted the hard-right over the past year, some with an eye to securing the leadership of the party. Liz Truss spoke at a pro-Trump conference in the US last week, staying silent while former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon praised English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson as a hero. 

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Braverman has made similar comments to Anderson in claiming that Islamists now run the country, though she did not name an individual as being responsible as Anderson did with Sadiq Khan.

Jenrick has been accused of deliberately inflaming tensions after claiming immigration threatens to “cannibalise” the compassion of the British public. 

Harvie told Byline Times that “we’ve got a much bigger problem than just political parties” and that there also needs to be a “proper discussion in the UK about media regulation”.

Asked what that might look like, the Glasgow MSP said it could involve a “fit and proper person test” to ensure that those who owned UK media outlets were responsible individuals. 

“We’ve seen pretty blatant examples of explicit, far-right rhetoric from the likes of GB News for example. [Take] the fact that Ofcom are failing to regulate the promotion of outright conspiracy theories, and lies… as though freedom of speech is about the freedom to tell lies.

“Freedom of speech is precious and that’s why we can’t allow it to be subverted and to suddenly have the freedom to denigrate minorities of vulnerable people. So, we’ve got a much bigger problem than just political parties.”

The same applies to social media firms, which he said had been “taken over by toxic forces” – referring to Elon Musk’s takeover of X (formerly Twitter). 

Last August, a man was arrested and charged after using homophobic rhetoric when challenging him. Harvie told Byline Times: “[Social media hate is] not just something about people’s worries, it spills over into real life. 

“We’ve seen the case of Brianna Ghey for example – a court judgement found transphobia was one of the motivating factors… Trolling people on social media [is not] just a laugh. It [creates] real world harm, and that’s going to continue to get worse if we don’t get to grips with the problem.”

Asked if he feels safe as a politician in Scotland, amid mounting fears over the attacks on political representatives, he added: “Relatively. I question that more than I used to.”

Harvie spoke at the event to promote the Greens ahead of this year’s general election, in which his colleagues in England are hoping to increase their number of seats, from one to three or four.

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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