Category Archives: Local Politics

Monklands Hospital Closure: Time For Our Politicians To Earn Their Keep

At his first candidacy hustings back in 2015 when Neil Gray promised to deliver a new hospital to replace Monklands Hospital we all laughed. We’re not laughing now. The news which broke over the weekend that Gartcosh was the preferred site for a replacement hospital has gone down like a cup of cold sick and no wonder. Looking about the town, seeing one closed shop after another, and then seeing another major employer about to leave could prove to be the death knell for Airdrie.

Glenmavis as an alternative is not ideal, but at least it retains the Health Service footprint in roughly the same area, primarily serving Airdrie, Coatbridge and Cumbernauld, even if the public transport links are pitiful. Can anyone explain to us the logic in moving the hospital from the centre of North Lanarkshire to the western border, where in all likelihood it will become the A&E hospital of choice for the residents of the east of Glasgow? The current site is centrally located, has a rail link, bus links and is within walking distance for many people from Airdrie and Coatbridge. Moving it to Gartcosh will put it in walking distance for people from Gartcosh, and that’s about it. At a time when we are trying to reduce reliance on cars and move people to public transport this makes absolutely no sense! I checked the Traveline Scotland website journey planner and a trip to Gartcosh from Airdrie either involves an expensive series of bus journeys using multiple companies with incompatible ticketing systems or getting a train to Bellgrove in Glasgow then another back to Gartcosh! How does that help the poorest in our society who are less likely to own a car? There is a direct rail line which runs from Coatbridge to Gartcosh with a mere 5 minute journey time, but there are no passenger trains running on it, so either way our local hospital will now be over an hour away by public transport and this is simply unacceptable. Unfortunately it seems it is now health board policy to build new facilities where they aren’t within walking distance to deter use.

Having lived in Edinburgh for a time I know that there is nothing unusual with a health board spreading its services across multiple locations. The difference is that they have a cheap and integrated transport infrastructure to support that. North Lanarkshire’s shambolic, haphazard system doesn’t, and it’s one of the prime reasons why Monklands Hospital must stay in it’s present location or at worst Glenmavis.

Our town is on life support, and this would finally pull the plug. Our elected representatives, Neil Gray MP in particular, who opened this can of worms, must now stand up for Airdrie not only to retain our hospital, but to give us a joined up local transport system so it accessible by all the residents of Lanarkshire who rely on it, not just car owners.

Advertisements

The Power of Advertising

FB_IMG_1510336684297.jpgI went to see a gig by Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble a few weeks ago in Airdrie Town Hall. Idlwild have a fairly decent following, in fact they have sold out two nights in Glasgow next month, but the crowd was disappointingly small. The sparse crowd was emphasised by the size of the hall, and having seen Midge Ure at the Lesser Town Hall I’d have thought that might have been a more appropriate stage. The small crowd was not only disappointing, it was unsurprising. Looking at that weeks Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser there was absolutely no mention of the gig at all. They don’t have to, but as the local community’s only print media I would say they really should be rooting out what’s going on and highlighting it to make it a success.

Having said that North Lanarkshire Council can’t escape criticism. No local advertising (unless you count a pile of leaflets which are still on display in Airdrie Library) and a solitary tweet is about the extent NLC was willing to go to on this. While Motherwell Concert Hall attracts the bigger acts and the full attention of NLC’s advertising, towns like Airdrie are left to wither on the vine. It’s often argued that smaller community councils are needed to regenerate and improve Scottish society and I have to say in this case that’s bang on. A small community council, having took on an event would work to make it work. It’s success or failure would after all directly reflect on them.

Airdrie Supporters Trust held an evening with Frank Bruno and they noticed similar difficulties in advertising their event. Small groups on low or no budget really struggle to get events advertised. Yet there are groups out there struggling against the tide who are trying to put on events in their community and who could do with the support of the council in doing so. Community billboards and noticeboards are commonplace in many towns. They deliver events to the community, free of charge. You don’t have to buy an ailing and unsupportive local newspaper to find out about what’s happening. You don’t have to go into a small corner of a local shop or go into the library. You should be able to find out what’s happening not only on social media but on the high street of the town. North Lanarkshire Council have the ability to help our community groups grow. So why don’t they? Ask your local councillor…

For the want of a nail…

 

 

 

 

 

 

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The revelation in last weeks Advertiser that Labour outspent all the other candidates combined for the recent Westminster elections in both Airdrie and Coatbridge raises an interesting question about the funding of political parties. In Airdrie and Coatbridge both Labour candidates represent trade unions, and it’s likely that those unions gave considerable financial backing to them. The same can’t be said for the SNP, the Conservatives or the Lib-Dems. The latter are treated as a major party and they are given airtime on political debates on equal footing with the three other parties, but their combined spend in Airdrie and Coatbridge amounted to an insulting £88! That speaks volumes and tells us that they have a greater desire to appear on the ballot paper than to win, and that in future elections there is little or no point in voting for them.

If I were an SNP member I would be extremely concerned at the paltry £2980 spent by Neil Gray as he saw his majority drop from almost 10,000 to under 200 votes. The last I recall, membership of the Airdrie and Shotts SNP was over 1100, but it appears that between them they were unable to rustle up the equivalent of £3 per member! As the saying goes, for want of a nail the kingdom was lost; Neil Gray’s lack of investment in his re-election very nearly cost him his seat, and as we see, Jeremy Corbyn now has him in his sights as a target for the next election, whenever that may be. It is ironic that had it not been for Ruth Davidson and the Tories using Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent support for the IRA to recruit hard core British Nationalist voters from their Unionist Labour rivals, then Labour would actually have taken Airdrie from the SNP! It will be interesting to see how this affects a future vote.

So far there appears to be no effort at all from Neil Gray to fire up the SNP in Airdrie and Shotts, while Labour already have Jeremy Corbyn lined up to visit Airdrie later this month. The strange thing is that both the Scottish Labour leadership and many of the local Labour party have publicly slated Corbyn and are only supporting him through gritted teeth. It will be worth watching to see which local Labour councillors don’t attend Mr Corbyn’s visit: their absence will speak volumes about just how dedicated they actually are to the policies spouted by their present leader. My guess is, not much.

 

 

2 Weekly Bin Collection: Another North Lanarkshire Labour Promise Broken

Before the council elections in May, Jim Logue, the Labour leader of North Lanarkshire Council, took to social media to state categorically that media reports of plans to reduce waste collection from a two weekly cycle to a three weekly one were categorically untrue, and that if re-elected this would not happen. Full stop.

In fact they said no such proposals had ever been made by THIS Labour administration which is kind of true. It didn’t take them long to dust off those old plans though…

Fast forward two months (and barely a month since the election) and Labour have carried out a u-turn which makes you doubt the honesty of their pre-election promise. Once again there’s the fall back of trying in some way to rope in the Scottish Government, but that’s getting a little tired and it’s time Logue’s labour man up and accept the fact they have made a decision which people are finding extremely unpopular, and which on the face of it is a gross betrayal of the people who recently elected them as the second largest party in North Lanarkshire.

For years Labour made the case that the Council Tax freeze had to end. Then when given the chance, just before the election they decided not to do the very thing which they said was necessary to save jobs and services. It seems to me that North Lanarkshire Labour were willing to make any promise to the electorate to push themselves over the finish line to win the election. In effect they promised anything to protect THEIR seats and are now paying for that by cutting other peoples jobs and public services. I’m sure that Keir Hardie would be proud.

That Tory Resurgence…

Before last weeks council elections I made a prediction about the Airdrie North seat. I said that there would be one SNP, one Labour, one Independent and one Conservative and I was bang on. The so called “Conservative Resurgence” is being painted as an end to any hopes that Scotland will become independent, and I’m sure that over the coming month in the run up to the General Election this will be repeated ad nauseum.

To those who are open minded this came as no surprise. I read many social media comments before the local elections which were not only gloating at the imminent demise of British Labour in Scotland, but scathingly dismissive of the Conservatives hopes of returning any councillors. The media seemed shocked too, with the Sunday Herald aghast that the Tories and Labour (though mainly the Tories) had been infiltrated by the Orange Order.
Those who are able to step back and see the big picture were less than surprised. The signs had been there for some time, and Ruth Davidson had been banging the drum (if you’ll pardon the pun) for so long that she was referred to as the Ruth Davidson Loyal Party for Ruth Davidson. So why didn’t everyone see it coming?

Everyone had seen for some time Ruth Davidson being the public face of attracting hard core British Nationalists to vote Tory. Davidson carried on with normal Tory policies and made no attempt to soften the image or play down what was once unpalatable to the majority of Scottish citizens. Instead she’s gone with a policy of ‘Never mind the policies, smell the flag’ and it has been devoured by the British Nationalists. In doing so she has attracted a new generation to the Tories and while she has been distracting us with her public sleight of hand, the real trick has been taking place just at the edge of your vision.

Something I had noticed with some of the Tory candidates was their surprisingly clean social media profiles. In this day and age when confronted with an unknown we find we can learn about most candidates from social media; in fact when I voted in the local elections I specifically ranked candidates with no social media presence lower. So to find numerous candidates with bare profiles sparked my interest. By chance I happened across one candidate entirely by chance, given that his social media profile was under a variant of his own name. While his profile appeared to be private he had liked some online content, so although what he had posted couldn’t be seen, his likes could:Loyalist flute bands. Follow the bands, follow the likes. Time consuming, but revealing. It shows a network of locked profiles and invitation only groups, mostly Loyalist in nature. This is the beating heart of the Conservative revival; hidden and protected. To get in you have to be known. There are no intruders, no lurkers. Those inside are often rabidly pro-Brexit, anti-immigrant, British Nationalists. The Tories didn’t have to build a network up, they simply leeched on to an existing network, and it’s huge. Unlike the Yes movement, it isn’t confined to Scotland and draws support from across the UK. Compare the likes /shares on a post on Bella Caledonia with a post on one of the more extreme British Nationalist sites and you can see the weight of numbers being utilised to spread pro-British/Anti-Scottish content. That pro-British content is by and large aggressive and negative, seldom positive, and is often accompanied by racist and sectarian imagery or comment. It’s a cesspit, and the Tories haven’t just dipped a toe in, they are now in up to their neck. The danger for them is that having targeted an organisation for support in the form of volunteers and votes, those people become members and inevitably stand for the party. Which is precisely what has been seen across Scotland as there’s a drip, drip, drip of new councillors and candidates exposed who have either expressed questionable views or shared unsavoury images. There’s only so many times you can share a Britain First image while feigning ignorance of who Britain First actually are.

So in light of the above Ruth Davidson’s miraculous Tory revival is anything but; it’s merely a repositioning of the less principled and more unsavoury element of the unionist support from Labour to the Conservatives. The Tories aren’t reducing the SNP’s support, they are reducing Labours, and so long as the combined British Nationist vote is smaller than the combined Scottish Nationalist vote then there are no grounds for claims that Scots have rejected another referendum. In fact, on looking at how the vote played out cross North Lanarkshire the unionist parties created a symbiotic relationship where by and large British Nationalist votes cascaded downwards, and where the candidate failed to win on FPTP was elected at a later stage- by Labour 2nd preference votes!

June’s election, like the local elections, will be played by the Tories as a defacto vote on the constitution, and if the SNP want to mobilise their voters in June then they have to respond in kind. They failed to do so in the local elections and failed to make the big gains that some predicted. It was the constitutional question which returned 56 MP’s in 2015, and will be in June if they want to come anywhere near that result again.

Playing With Words

In the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser last week it was reported that then Cumbernauld Councillor Alan O’Brien had published an election leaflet in which he claimed that the North Lanarkshire SNP group leader David Stocks had provided “dishonest testimony” in support of charges brought by fellow SNP Councillor Michael Coyle.

The claim was rebuffed in the article by Councillor Michael Coyle who said that:

“We have reported this leaflet to the police and the relevant authorities as it is full of lies and smears. These actions bring politics into disrepute.

It was the view of the the court that the incident was an argument between two councillors which, unfortunately, was established before any of the other witnesses had the opportunity to give their testimony.

However, the police found there was enough evidence to arrest and charge Mr O’Brien and the procurator fiscal felt it appropriate to progress the case to a Crown court hearing.

These are both facts and the case was dismissed. It was a not guilty verdict, but Mr O’Brien would no doubt have everyone believe his version of events.”

So, what evidence would be required for the police to charge Mr O’Brien and for it to be progressed to court? Given that there appears to be no physical evidence and no CCTV evidence then I would have to draw from that that the evidence in the case was all in the form of witness statements. In Scotland if someone makes a statement to the police that you committed an offence, all that is required for charges to be pressed is another statement which corroborates the first statement. So two allegations is enough “evidence” to allow a charge to be made. That is a fact. So the procurator fiscal is passed a charge which all things being in order will then be assigned a court date for the Sheriff to sort out. That’s also a fact.

Those “facts” however are not an indication of guilt. That is to be established in court and the court found that Mr O’Brien was not guilty, after hearing the testimony of Councillor Stocks and Councillor Coyle. Yet Councillor Coyle somehow expects us to take the allegation of guilt over the findings of the court? Generally if someone is found not guilty then their version of events is the one which has been believed. If Councillor O’Brien’s testimony wasn’t even heard it would suggest that the evidence put before the court did not support the charges when placed under scrutiny.

The article concludes with a quote from Inspector Steven Miller who states that they are reviewing its content and looking into it. That bland quote looks serious and you would expect it to have been fully investigated by now. I contacted Alan O’Brien prior to the publication of this article and he stated that as of this date he has not been approached by the police in relation to this matter. Nor does he expect to be.

The Worst Delusion? Self Delusion…


​Yesterday Airdrie MP Neil Gray took to social media to say that he was delighted to chair the latest meeting of the North Lanarkshire SNP group and that re-elected group leader David Stocks would also be leading the council soon.
Yes, that’s right. David Stocks. Only last week in the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser it was reported that he was accused of dishonesty in a campaign leaflet released by Independent Candidate Alan O’Brien, in which he claimed David Stocks provided dishonest testimony to back up fellow Airdrie Councillor Michael Coyle. Mr O’Brien was found not guilty.
This is the same David Stocks who couldn’t even manage his voter strategy in his own ward and came second to his colleague who, if he had bothered to put out any election leaflets, would have been listed as the No2 choice! In a ward which polled at way below the national average at only 39%, where he failed to be beat the first past the post threshold of 978 votes and where he simply failed to get the SNP vote mobilised, somehow Neil Gray thinks this is the man to lead not only North Lanarkshire SNP but North Lanarkshire Council!
There’s no delusion worse than self delusion and Neil Gray would be minded to remember that. Mr Stocks presides over an SNP group so divided that when David Baird won in Bellshill, and incidentally won convincingly, not one SNP ‘colleague’ cheered. An SNP group so divided that the Coatbridge Branch remains suspended. An SNP group so divided that one of it’s brightest stars was hived off miles from his home where he would struggle to pick up votes. An SNP group so divided that while across the country it is running on an SNP 1&2 policy (and in Cumbernauld an amazingly successful SNP 1,2,3 policy), in North Lanarkshire it shows some SNP candidates being elected with over 1000 more FPTP votes than their running mates, and those running mates then failing to gain from second preference votes. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of Ardrie South where Councillor Michael Coyle ran his “Team Coyle’ leaflet strategy where his SNP ‘team mate’ wasn’t even mentioned.
This is the man and this is the team that Neil Gray must now rely upon to get himself re-elected. With the SNP in Airdrie reduced to barely two men and a dug, Neil Gray must be wondering where is the campaign team he sorely needs to retain Airdrie? As MP for a branch which squandered a membership of over 1000 he will need to do what the branch appears to have been doing since time immemorial: relying on the national vote to carry them across the finishing line. Michal Coyle’s recent comments about Scotland having rejected independence and Alex Neil’s huffy pro-Brexit stance mean it looks like they will be missing from the frontline campaign, and it will be up to Neil Gray alone to rally the troops. When I saw him at a party hustings in 2015 I found him to be an unconvincing public speaker, unable to go off script. In the two years since, he’ll need to have improved considerably to inspire what remains of the local party. I can see him retaining the seat purely on the national vote, though it will be touch and go, and it will not be unexpected if he loses.