THE self-righteous fury directed at Tory MP Douglas Ross last week was — even by the standards of the sanctimonious Left — something to behold.
One commentator drew parallels with the Nazis after Mr Ross raised concern about gipsy travellers’ unauthorised camps.
Asked what he would do if he were Prime Minister, Moray MP Mr Ross said ‘tougher enforcement against gipsy travellers’ would be his priority — and sparked a huge backlash.
He later issued a qualified apology but insisted that communities suffered when camps sprang up without permission.
In a surreal twist, it then emerged that his comments had been reported to the Scottish Football Association’s ‘compliance officer’, as Mr Ross is also an assistant referee — meaning he could face a disciplinary panel.
What most of his detractors have in common is that they don’t live anywhere near an unauthorised gipsy traveller camp.
True, Mr Ross could have chosen a different priority, which he later acknowledged in his apology, and could have selected his words more carefully.
But would there have been such a negative reaction if — for example — he had voiced support for transgender rights?
In fact, many of the MP’s constituents will have been saddened that he felt he had to apologise, as the area has been blighted for many years by gipsy traveller camps that do not have official permission.
The response across Scotland to this problem has been woeful, with police and councils told to take a ‘softly softly’ approach, while there is also a presumption against prosecution of those who set up the unauthorised camps.
Council representatives are told to visit the sites and make arrangements for rubbish uplift, and there are reams of guidelines aimed mainly at ensuring the travellers are safe and comfortable.
The Scottish Government has given up on counting unauthorised camps, leaving it to local authorities.
This is no surprise from an administration that shows such a tin ear for rural problems — witness its shambolic handling of EU payments to farmers.
Gipsy travellers tend to settle in more rural areas, or the outskirts of towns and cities, faraway from civil servants in the sanctuary of St Andrew’s House, their Edinburgh HQ.
As far back as 2008, Scottish Government guidelines claimed unauthorised gipsy traveller camps were ‘an expression of their cultural identity’ which require ‘sensitive handling’.
The consequences were predictable: ministers now admit that larger camps ‘with many caravans and industrial equipment’ are becoming more common, despite millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being ploughed into council-sanctioned sites.
In 2014, businesses in Fife had to draft in a private security firm after police failed to stop gipsy travellers setting up a camp. Businessman Andrew Davie said they broke through a security fence and set up an encampment of more than 30 caravans at the site of a former factory in Glenrothes.
Landowners are invariably left to pick up the tab for costly eviction proceedings in the courts — despite paying taxes to local authorities which, it often seems, couldn’t care less about their predicament.
Current guidance in place for prosecutors shows that there is a presumption against prosecuting gipsy travellers for trespass ‘where the sole issue in relation to an unauthorised site is unlawful encampment’.
Last year an illegal gipsy village that had seen roads built and street lighting installed was given the green light to continue, despite a three-year planning battle.
Horrified locals had watched the transformation of an empty field in a Kincardineshire beauty spot into a sprawling camp with 20–30 caravans, three residential homes, power and water supplies — all put in place without permission.
Kath and Garry Smith had worked hard to build up nearby Eskview Farm, into an award-winning B&B business, while their seven acres of gardens and fields offered a haven for their own horses and dogs.
Then, one morning in September 2013, they were woken by the deafening sound of industrial earth-moving equipment. Bulldozers and tractors had moved in under cover of darkness and were now busily transforming the field next door into a building site.
It was only later that the identity of their uninvited neighbours became clear — gipsies acting without planning consent were intent on turning a strip of newly acquired land into a permanent halting site.
Retrospective planning permission was granted last year by Aberdeenshire Council — a decision now under review by the Scottish Government.
Such camps can be appalling eyesores, leading to misery for their neighbours.
But those who voice legitimate concerns about them are pariahs in the eyes of official Scotland, or the trendy commentariat that is permanently in thrall to its politically correct edicts.
In fact Mr Ross’s ordeal is part of a wider malaise across the UK — the creation of a climate where personal opinions which go against the grain of the liberal Left-wing consensus are shouted down as extremism.
Look at the case of Labour MP Sarah Champion, who was forced to resign as Labour’s equalities spokesman for saying the UK had a ‘problem’ with British Pakistanis abusing white girls.
A 2014 report by Professor Alexis Jay, chairman of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, concluded that failures of political and police leadership had contributed to the sexual exploitation of 1,400 children by Asian men in Rotherham.
It criticised council staff who were afraid to raise ‘ethnic issues … for fear of being thought racist’.
But despite this, Miss Champion — whose views were of course provocative but surely deserved to be heard — was vilified.
Fellow Labour MP Jess Phillips has suggested that had Miss Champion written for The Guardian, she would still be in her job.
Of course, if she had written for The Guardian her views would have reached a much smaller readership.
But this is an irrelevance for those who demonise any newspaper that disagrees with their own political beliefs.
The implication — and indeed the openly stated view — of some of Miss Champion’s detractors was that her dismissal was merited merely because she wrote for a Right-wing newspaper.
Some of those critics are also the ‘democrats’ who say the Brexit result should be overturned, ostensibly because they don’t want the UK to leave the EU — and conveniently forget that more half the electorate did not share their views.
The intimidation of those who dare to voice their legitimate concerns (and, in the case of Mr Ross, those of their constituents) is a disturbing feature of modern public debate.
It is designed to crush dissent against the agreed line of the liberal establishment, and to protect their interests, regardless of wider public opinion — a form of tyranny that all true democrats should deplore.