Ian Blackford confronted over ‘black hole’ in referendum argument
Mr Kennedy, who was an MP for 32 years, is the subject of a BBC Alba documentary tonight, which will explore the legacy of the Scotsman in Parliament, as well as the community he represented. During Charles Kennedy: A Good Man Speaking, the film touches on Mr Kennedy’s battle with alcoholism, and his death at the age of 55, which came after the 2015 general election. The fight for the Ross, Skye & Lochaber seat in Scotland, pitted Mr Kennedy against now-Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the House of Commons, Ian Blackford.
The campaign would allegedly take on a brutal tone, with friends of Mr Kennedy, including James Gurling, claiming the politician was stunned by the race’s rhetoric.
Speaking in tonight’s documentary, Mr Gurling detailed how Mr Kennedy would be left vicious notes, recalling: “The level of anger and vociferous nature of the campaign surprised and really worried him.”
He added “you begin to wonder what’s in those people’s minds that they think that is an appropriate way of doing things”.
Brian Wilson, a journalist and former Labour Cabinet Minister, also explored how Mr Kennedy was grieving over the loss of his parents during the race, while facing social media abuse.
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Charles Kennedy campaigning in 2005 for the Lib Dems
At the time, Mr Blackford’s team launched a #Where’sCharlie? campaign on social media.
Mr Wilson said in a 2018 Times piece: “Anyone paying attention knew exactly where Charlie was. He was battling alcoholism.
“He was mourning the death of his parents. He was grieving the early demise of his closest friend. He was desperate to spend time with his young son. And he still had a better Commons voting record than any SNP MP.”
The social media campaign was backed by other nationalist members, Mr Wilson said, including Brian Smith – chairman of the Skye SNP branch, who tweeted a question about whether Charles “has a ‘problem’ that stops you going to Westminster”.
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Charles Kennedy delivers a speech while leader in 2001
Such was the level of abuse Mr Kennedy received, he was forced to install a social media representative to delete the brutal posts.
In the aftermath of Mr Blackford’s victory, in which he secured 20,119 votes against Mr Kennedy’s 14,995, the SNP MP was forced to deny he had not been invited to the Lib Dem politician’s funeral.
Mr Kennedy died on June 1, 2015, in Fort William, of a major haemorrhage linked to his alcoholism, weeks after the results of the May 7 election.
The Scottish Daily Mail reported that it was claimed Mr Blackford’s behaviour during the campaign had “hurt Mr Kennedy’s family so deeply” they did not want him to attend the funeral.
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Ian Blackford was elected as an MP in 2015
But Mr Blackford told the Scottish Sun on Sunday in 2017: “I wasn’t banned. Well, I went to the memorial in Glasgow.
“That campaign was brutal.
“A lot of it was about demonising me as an SNP candidate.”
Here, Mr Blackford is referring to leaflets the Lib Dems released, in which he was described as a “well-funded banker from Edinburgh”, something the SNP politician – a former senior executive at Deutsche Bank – disputed.
Charles Kennedy was popular after appearances on shows like Have I Got News For You
Along with four other members of the campaign group, Mr Blackford appeared at the Lib Dem HQ, sparking activists in calling the police, the Scottish Daily Mail said.
But he played down any form of a dispute with Mr Kennedy, adding: “I was in Charlie’s office regularly.
“Once we took cake and I said, ‘Can we cool it in terms of being a banker?’ I can hold my head up.”
Ian Blackford alongside SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon
In a Times article in 2018, Mr Blackford defended the actions of the SNP six years ago, adding: “With the benefit of hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, perhaps it would have been better not to do that, but that’s what happened and the Liberals have sought to characterise it in another way.”
Tonight, Mr Wilson describes how the campaign had “no respect for Charles’ personal circumstance”, arguing it was “naked abuse and denigration of the worst kind”.
He added: “What was done to him was cruel beyond words.”
Charles Kennedy: A Good Man Speaking airs tonight on BBC Alba from 9pm in Scotland, and is available to users in England on BBC iPlayer shortly after its broadcast.