Adviser Made Mistake, Salmond Says

The First Minister has admitted one of his special advisers made a "mistake and a misjudgement'' when he contacted a newspaper about the mother of a disabled girl who is campaigning to keep Scotland in the UK.

But Alex Salmond resisted calls from Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to sack senior special adviser and political spokesman Campbell Gunn.

Mr Salmond said Mr Gunn had not been "responsible for a torrent of abuse across the internet'' that Clare Lally, 33, had been subjected to.

The mother-of-two was the target of online abuse after she told a Better Together campaign rally she was ''just an ordinary mum from Clydebank campaigning for Scotland to stay in the UK''.

Mr Gunn yesterday apologised ''unreservedly'' to her after it emerged he had emailed a journalist to highlight her links to the Labour Party.

Mr Salmond's aide told the Daily Telegraph that Ms Lally - who spoke alongside Alistair Darling at a Better Together rally this week - was a member of Labour's shadow cabinet and then incorrectly stated she was related to former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow Pat Lally.

Labour leader Johann Lamont said Mr Gunn had made a "personal attack'' on Ms Lally, who is Labour's carers' champion and a "champion of everyone who believes in free speech''.

Ms Lamont highlighted the abuse supporters of the UK have suffered in the run-up to September's independence referendum from so-called "cybernats'', saying "From Clare Lally to JK Rowling, from Barack Obama to David Bowie, there is no target too ordinary or too powerful not to be attacked.''

She told Mr Salmond: "Does the First Minister not realise if he doesn't sack Campbell Gunn we can only conclude that all the bullying that goes on, wherever it comes, it is done by order, by design, by him.''

The First Minister called on his Labour rival to "reflect on these last remarks and if she has evidence bring it forward, if not she should desist from making such remarks''.

While he said the code of conduct for special advisers states that "disseminating inappropriate material will lead to automatic dismissal'', Mr Salmond added: "The email Campbell Gunn sent to the Daily Telegraph in no way could be construed as vile and evil.

"It was an email that pointed out Clare Lally was in the Labour Party's shadow cabinet and wrongly the daughter-in-law of former Labour lord provost of Glasgow Pat Lally.

"To conflate what Campbell Gunn did - and the mistake and misjudgement he made - with abuse on the internet does not serve this argument at all.''

He then went on to condemn those responsible for such online abuse,

The First Minister told MSPs: "All of us, every single one of us, should condemn abuse on the internet.

"Every single one of us should condemn that handful of mindless idiots who engage in such things in the early hours of the morning.

"But nothing in Campbell Gunn's email could be construed in terms of vitriolic, mindless abuse. It was a mistake and a misjudgement.

"Johann Lamont does herself no credit and no service in trying to conflate the issues, rather we should as a Parliament and as a society stand up against that handful of people who are attempting to pollute this independence debate.''