A few weeks ago I wrote about the lack of any in depth analysis of the Monklands McMafia affair in the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser. I was expecting a flood of letters of support from tame party hacks, along with an update on the protest which had been cobbled together. I thought it may be nice if the Advertiser had a letter with a differing viewpoint to balance things up. I was mystified to find no mention of it at all, anywhere in the pages of the paper, not even in their summary of social media comments. My letter is reproduced below.
With nominations closing on 29th March 2017 at 4pm, I’m fairly sure that this will drag on for a few weeks yet. By that time we’ll know if SNP HQ has stuck to their guns or have capitulated. If the former, it’ll be interesting to see if the deselected councillors stand as independents against the SNP, or swing behind the new candidates. were I at SNP HQ I’d certainly be looking to bring in candidates from outside the branch as it may be difficult to gain volunteers from a branch which has saw kind of treatment which lead to the resignation of Councillor Alan Beveridge and candidate Tommy Montgomery.
With rumours of more scandal to come involving the branch, an impending court case with Councillor Alan O’Brien, senior SNP figures trying to bring former SNP Councillors back into the fold and the little matter of an election for which the local party has no candidates, no strategy and increasingly no chance of winning, things are looking more interesting by the minute. Will the Advertiser cover it though? There’s the $50,000 question!
The article in last week’s Advertiser regarding the deselection of the husband and wife team of Councillors Michael and Agnes Coyle made no mention of why this situation came about, and from reading it one may have got the impression that this came out of the blue, which clearly isn’t the case. Two years of political infighting, with many allegations made to SNP HQ of bullying, cronyism and nepotism across Airdrie, Coatbridge and Bellshill were summed up in a mere 29 words. The article made no mention of the numerous complaints made about the Westminster selection process which saw Neil Gray installed as SNP candidate for MP and saw Councillor Alan Beveridge resign in disgust. I am aware that there have been other complaints from many other now ex-members and the vetting process which led to the deselection of these councillors no doubt considered all these factors plus much more which obviously I am not privy to.
It was interesting to note that it was left to Graham Russell, the president of the constituency group, to speak on their behalf and that their council group leader David Stocks was silent on the matter. Another point which perhaps went unnoticed was that the emergency meeting of the branch mustered a mere 60 members out of a claimed membership of over 1100 people. That’s only around 5% of their members. I’d imagine that I could probably get more disaffected members to sign a petition supporting headquarters decision than actually attended the branch meeting itself!
I’m glad that SNP HQ has finally addressed the issues raised by myself and others. It’s unfortunate that to have action taken many members had to resign, and they had to take their grievances to the press rather than have the SNP deal with them fairly and honestly. For my part, I have to say that I am utterly disappointed in Nicola Sturgeon as a leader. I contacted many people at SNP HQ regularly during and after the Westminster selection process debacle, and Nicola Sturgeon was copied into emails where possible and mailed by hand, directly to SNP HQ. My attempts to have this issue acknowledged on Twitter saw me blocked by her and for me this action in deselecting a few councillors is in some ways too little, too late, and she must share a huge portion of the blame for the shambles in North Lanarkshire. If she is to go any way towards redeeming herself she must take a far quicker, fairer and firmer grip on rogue branches. The demotion of Alex Neil, Michael Coyle and Agnes Coyle is a positive step in the right direction. I now hope that those decent members remaining in the Airdrie branch have the spirit to seize the day and show everyone that they want a fresh start, though they will need to rid themselves of the remnants of the old guard to do so. They can still salvage something from the wreckage if they have the will to, although this may be difficult as there is always the possibility that these deselected councillors will stand against the SNP themselves, as many Labour councillors are now doing against their own party in retribution for being deselected.
This begs the question: if councillors are deselected by their party and immediately stand against that party, where was their loyalty all along; to themselves or to their constituents?