By Hamish Mackay
A Scottish weekly newspaper has taken the unprecedented step of reporting a Liberal Democrat election agent to the Electoral Commission in an increasingly bitter Scottish Parliament by-election campaign.
The Elgin-based Northern Scot claimed electors in Moray were being hoodwinked by "a dirty tricks campaign" into believing that the newspaper is endorsing Lib Dem candidate Linda Gorn.
The weekly, which is considering taking legal action, told its readers in a leader article: "The Lib Dems took their own quotes from a report in the newspaper, subtly altered them, and reproduced them in campaigning literature as The Northern Scot delivering glowing views about Gorn.
Editor Pauline Taylor asked: "Did they really think that readers and the people of Moray would be stupid enough to believe that this newspaper would prejudice its reputation for impartial political reporting?
"We take this opportunity to state unequivocally that we did not endorse Linda Gorn; do not endorse Linda Gorn; and will not endorse Linda Gorn — or any other candidate in this by-election.
"However, we have, and will, endeavour to expose any dishonesty or attempt to mislead the Moray public, whatever political party is involved."
Taylor told Press Gazette: "It’s as though a wagon-load of snake-oil salesmen has trundled into town, determined to sell their wares, by whatever means come to hand.
"And when those means are suspect and the dubiety exposed, the reaction is not to apologise to the people of Moray and to hang their heads in shame, but to accuse this newspaper of biased reporting."
The fall-out follows the publication of election literature on behalf of Gorn by her agent Alison Smith, which, the paper claimed, attempts to mislead people into believing it considers Gorn would make a "formidable MSP".
Taylor said when she contacted Alison Smith’s office to complain, her response was: "It is done now. I am sorry you are upset about it. I would not really say we are deceiving anybody."
Smith later phoned the paper to say that, although they denied any wrongdoing, they were willing to withdraw 25,000 copies of the Lib Dem’s Moray Times still waiting to be delivered.
But she refused to give a public apology, or acknowledge that the quotes had been misused.