A journalist who later became a government minister under Tony Blair has been sacked as a columnist from a weekly newspaper he helped found in a row over free speech.
Brian Wilson, who was the first editor of the West Highland Free Press in 1972 before serving as Energy Minister in the 1990s, was dismissed after coming to the defence of fellow columnist Donald Macleod, who had written a piece referencing the rise of Islam in the UK.
Donald, a Free Church professor of theology, will no longer contribute to the newspaper after writing a piece in May about the growth of Islamic influence in Britain which also drew parallels with the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s.
Last week Brian, pictured above, wrote a piece in support of Donald, who had written for the Free Press for the past 24 years.
Donald wrote: “All minorities prefer to keep a low profile and avoid trouble. Generations of British Muslims have done exactly that, many have made an invaluable contribution to British society, and many are perfectly prepared to listen quietly while Christians ‘witness’ to them.
“But when minorities become majorities, things change … in the event of Islamic dominance in Britain our friendly Muslim shopkeepers will have little option but to march behind the radicals.”
Brian, who has written for the title for much of its 43 year history, said that Donald’s piece had taken a “long view of history” and led on to wider questions about Islamic influence within Europe, including implications for democracy and freedom.
He said that not everyone could have been expected to agree with Donald, but the established way of expressing dissent was to publish letters, and three had appeared in the Free Press.
Brian wrote: “Unfortunately, it did not end there and as a result of whatever else transpired, Donald concluded he should no longer contribute his column.”
Brian has now been sacked while another columnist, Maggie Cunningham, has since said she will no longer write for the Free Press.
After it emerged that Brian had been told his contributions were no longer required, Donald said: “I don’t really have anything to say apart from that I am upset for Brian, he has paid this price for supporting me.”
Mr Macleod’s son John, who is also a newspaper journalist, wrote on Facebook: “As if effectively firing my father from his weekly West Highland Free Press column wasn’t enough, the paper has today fired founder Brian Wilson for HIS column last week defending him!!!”
In a statement, the Free Press said: “We note there has been some speculation around Professor Donald Macleod and founding editor Brian Wilson no longer writing columns for the West Highland Free Press and confirm they will both be no longer writing for us.
“We thank both Brian Wilson and Professor Macleod for their immense contribution to the paper over many years.
“They have rightly earned their reputation as erudite, passionate and respected writers and their regular offerings in the West Highland Free Press will be missed by some readers. Further than this, we have no comment to make.”
In 2009, the newspaper became the first in the country to be owned by its employees.