Nicola Sturgeon has hit out at the “appalling” and “Dickensian” comments made by the Scottish Tory welfare spokeswoman Michelle Ballantyne, who sparked an outcry at Holyrood after she said it was “fair” that people receiving benefits could not have “as many children as they like”.
The First Minister branded Ms Ballantyne’s remarks on welfare reforms as being “both appalling and also ignorant of the reality facing many families”.
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, and her deputy Jackson Carlaw who is standing in for her during her maternity leave, are now facing calls to dump Ms Ballantyne from the party’s front bench.
SNP MSP Tom Arthur added that if that did not happen the South of Scotland MSP should quit her role as welfare spokeswoman – insisting it was “completely untenable” for her to continue.
During a debate in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Ms Ballantyne had stated: “The two-child limit is about fairness.
“It is fair that people on benefit cannot have as many children as they like while people who work and pay their way and don’t claim benefits have to make decisions about the number of children they can have.”
Ms Sturgeon condemned those remarks at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament, telling MSPs there: “I think the comments that were made by Michelle Ballantyne in the chamber yesterday were both appalling and also ignorant of the reality facing many families.
“Appalling because the idea that being poor should be a barrier to having a family is Dickensian and I think shows the Scottish Conservatives in their true colours.
“But the comments were also ignorant because the rape clause won’t just apply when children are first born – from next year it will apply to children of any age should their family circumstances change so that they need to claim benefits.”
The SNP leader continued: “Any of us can have our circumstances change at any time and what Michelle Ballantyne seems to be suggesting is that if that happens to a family who perhaps had three children while they were all in work, suddenly fall into different circumstances, those children should be penalised as a result.
“It is absolutely shameful. The social security safety net is there for all of us should we need it in times of distress or changed circumstances and shame on the Conservatives that they are dismantling that social security safety net.”
Mr Arthur, who had asked the First Minister for her view on the remarks, said afterwards: “Michelle Ballantyne’s comments were vile and ignorant – and should have no place in Scottish political life.”
He added: “That Ruth Davidson thought someone with Ms Ballantyne’s views would be acceptable in this role is all we need to know about the Scottish Tories.
“If Ms Davidson and her Deputy won’t remove Ms Ballantyne she should resign as Tory welfare spokesperson – otherwise it will be clear that the Tories are prepared to drag the debate into the gutter as their welfare cuts drive more and more children into poverty.”
Meanwhile, SNP MP Pete Wishart told the Commons that Ms Ballantyne had “appalled and shocked” mainstream opinion in Scotland.
Mr Wishart insisted: “We don’t want these 19th century, Tory, Victorian values in Scotland.”