MORAY’S MP has been condemned for his comments regarding travellers.
Alves resident and former Forres Academy student, Douglas Ross, caused national outrage last week when an interview filmed by magazine by Core Politics was broadcast in which he was asked what his first priority would be if he became Prime Minister.
He replied: “Tougher enforcement against gypsies and travellers.”
“It was a quick-fire question and answer session lasting about eight minutes but cut down to three in the edit,” explained the Scottish Conservative.
“It was designed to show some of the varied interests of new MPs and, apart from the question about being Prime Minister for the day, all the other questions were very light-hearted.”
Mr Ross admitted that, in hindsight, he was disappointed that he chose the subject but was commenting on a local issue that he had been dealing with at the time.
He said: “The issue is: the number of illegal and unauthorised traveller encampments; the difficulties in getting these removed; and the mess left by some of the travelling community when they do move on.
“We have to take a tougher line to stop these sites establishing and do more to prevent the mess that is left for the authorities to clean up.”
Travellers frequently camp in and around Forres, more often than not causing no damage.
However, there have been occasions when sites have been left in a mess, including in 2013 when a group caused damage to a wall feature and left piles of builder’s rubbish at the Enterprise Park which cost Highlands and Islands Enterprise £10,000 to clear-up.
“People say the answer is to have official halting sites,” said Mr Ross. “We have been there before in Moray - the site was abused and had to be raided by the police and closed down. After experiences like that, I can understand why there is a reluctance to establish more official halting sites.”
He added: “It is a problem. Not every travelling family leave the area in a mess but those who do portray a very poor image. If we can improve the enforcement of illegal activities and prevent the damage done and mess made in many of the illegal sites, we can improve the image of the travelling community as a whole and relations between them and the settled community can improve.”
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead was shocked by the comments.
He said: “The fact that picking on a minority was the first thing that came to mind when he was asked the question speaks volumes about his politics and personal beliefs. Even his half-hearted apology did not adequately address the divisive impact of his remarks or show humility.
“The comments, especially by someone in a privileged and prominent position, are unacceptable and have attracted widespread condemnation from across Moray and the UK.”
Mr Lochhead suggested dialogue with, rather than condemnation of, the travelling community to promote tolerance and understanding of its needs.
He added: “It’s the easiest thing in life to simplify complex issues and play to the gallery to seek popularity, but often the result is more ill feeling, divided communities, and families feeling persecuted.
"I do hope that Douglas Ross can show some humility, learn from this and go out of his way to educate himself on the need for tolerance and to reach out to everyone in our society and everyone that he represents.”