A Question Time-style political debate on Scottish independence was almost pulled by Fife college bosses at the eleventh hour amid allegations a Labour Party MP “bullied” the acting principal into changing the panel line-up, The Courier has learned.
Glenrothes MP Lindsay Roy confirmed he had been in touch with the acting principal of Adam Smith College to express concern about the political make-up and organisation of an event at the St Brycedale Campus in Kirkcaldy last Friday.
But he told The Courier that any suggestion he had bullied the principal was “quite ridiculous” and said his accusers lived in a “fantasy world”.
He said the credibility of the college had been at stake and accused independence “Yes” campaigners of running a debate under the auspices of the college.
The event, organised by the college’s department of creative technologies and chaired by journalism lecturer Marie Penman, comprised a panel of Willie Rennie MSP, leader of the Lib Dems in Scotland; Murdo Fraser MSP, Conservative; Alyn Smith MEP, SNP; Lesley Riddoch, journalist and broadcaster; Allan Grogan, Labour for Independence; and Claire Baker MSP, Labour.
It has been claimed by organisers, however, that Mrs Baker was only added at short notice after pressure was put on acting principal Martin McGuire.
It’s understood that four senior Labour politicians — Gordon Brown, Mr Roy, Labour Party deputy Scottish leader Aras Sarwar and Alastair Darling — had all turned down invitations to sit on the panel.
It is understood organisers pushed on regardless and sought to balance the panel by inviting Willie Rennie and Murdo Fraser to represent the Better Together stance, with Alyn Smith and Allan Grogan representing the Yes to Independence campaign.
Mr Roy, who could not attend due to a family engagement, was concerned on realising Labour Party for Independence member Allan Grogan was on the panel without a mainstream Labour Party presence.
He also expressed fears about organiser Marie Penman’s role as a senior figure in the Kirkcaldy Yes campaign and also questioned the event’s impartiality with another college employee, Glenrothes SNP councillor Bill Brown, doing the introductions.
It is understood Ms Penman and other event organisers remain angry that undue pressure was put on Mr McGuire and he “caved in” just hours ahead of the new Fife College principal taking up the reins.
A spokesman for Adam Smith College said: “The college went to great efforts to ensure a lively debate was created for the event on Friday evening with widespread representation across the political parties.