SNP MSP Kate Forbes has said that the director of a Labour think tank spoke with “metropolitan arrogance” when he said people smugglers should be sent to Scotland on a barge.

Josh Simons, director of the influential Labour Together think tank, has been forced to apologise for his comments after telling LBC people smugglers could be put on a barge and sent “up to the north of Scotland”.

“Why don’t you send the smuggler gangs and put them on the barge that you know has been set aside for the asylum seekers and then, you know, ship the barge up to the north of Scotland, who cares?,” he said.

The comments attracted fierce criticism, while we also told how a member of Scottish Labour’s NEC rubbished the party’s response.

Reacting to the comments, the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP told The National: “Given that these comments were knowingly made a few days ahead of the Scottish Labour conference starting, they show the utter contempt that the UK Labour Party has for Scotland.”

She added that it showed "metropolitan arrogance oozing out of one of Keir Starmer's closest allies" and accused Labour of treating Scotland as a “dumping ground”.

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“Labour want to treat Scotland like some sort of colony where they dump things they don’t want in England – whether that’s nuclear weapons, fracking or violent criminals.

“The case for independence is getting stronger by the day.”

Simons also attracted backlash for saying that his “main concern with Rwanda is not actually the human rights implications of it” but rather the economic impact.

Forbes wasn't the only Scottish politician to hit out at the comments, with Ian Blackford, the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, telling The National: “I mean it’s an absolutely shocking comment from anyone in political life.

“The idea that you would dump people in the north of Scotland quite frankly is just insane, it’s thoroughly unacceptable and Labour should be taking action against him.”

He continued: “I mean the Highlands traditionally is a place where people are made to feel welcome and we welcome people into our communities but the idea we can be looked upon as some kind of dumping ground quite simply is just unacceptable.”

Simons has since apologised for his comments, taking to Twitter/X to admit his words were “poorly-judged”.

He said he apologised for any “negative insinuation about Scotland” and that he “loves the country”.

“I’m half Scottish, I love the country and it is where much of my family comes from. It was a poorly judged comment made in jest and doesn’t reflect my views, or the views of the Labour Party.

“I was seeking to draw attention to the immorality of housing asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution on a barge while smuggler gangs get off free under the Conservatives.”

Responding directly to the apology, Forbes said on Twitter/X: "Accepting the below, my issue is always the assumption that the Highlands is so uninhabited or irrelevant that nobody cares about what goes on or what's done here. 

"It's been a fairly typical Westminster-based political attitude through the ages."

Meanwhile, Scottish Greens councillor in Shetland Alex Armitage (below) said Labour are “completely out of touch with rural areas”.

The National:

“It’s laughable the way Labour are treating the north of Scotland like some kind of dustbin for people,” he told The National.

“We are real people. We have real caring communities across the north of Scotland in the very many different, wonderfully diverse communities.

“If he wants to come up and visit Shetland and get a taste of that then I’m sure we’d show him a good time. We’re very forgiving and always willing to help people change their mind.”

Scottish Labour have also responded to the comments, with a spokesperson for the party saying: “Every party has elements on the fringes that give them moments of cringe.

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“This is a ludicrous comment and we couldn’t be clearer Josh Simon’s views do not represent the Labour Party.

“People making stupid comments like this are best ignored. Labour will scrap the Tories’ immoral and unworkable Rwanda plan and tackle criminal gangs.”