It’s early days yet and perhaps I’m jumping the gun a little, but there is currently no Tory candidate for Airdrie & Shotts. In the 2015 election Neil Gray romped home when the independence vote coalesced around the SNP to kick out Pamela Nash who has since gone one to take over as the Chief Executive of British Nationalist extremist organisation Scotland in Union. Helen McFarlane of Labour almost came close to making Gray a one term wonder reducing his majority from around 10,000 to a mere 196. Or did she?
In the 2017 election the SNP famously campaigned while trying not to say i*******e and shed votes across Scotland. Turnout in Airdrie & Shotts was down by around 7% with many SNP voters simply not turning out. The Labour vote dropped and the Tory vote rose, with many in the area enthused by the Ruth Davidson Party for Ruth Davidson’s North Britain and unwilling to vote for the allegedly “pro-IRA” Jeremy Corbyn.
It would be not only overly simplistic but indeed extremely silly to assume that the voters who failed to turn out for the SNP somehow jumped to the Tories. I think many Scot’s voted for the SNP out of a sense of deep personal shame at their No vote in 2014 and were unlikely to jump ship. The real realignment in the vote was within the British Nationalist bloc. Ruth Davidson at least realised that the Tories, Labour and the Lib-Dems were all fishing in the same pot for a share of the 55% and falling who backed the UK, and this led to many working class people turning a blind eye to their previous behaviour and rallying to the fleg. The Conservatives gain was probably what led to Neil Gray clinging on.
With the Tories and Labour in a loose coalition in North Lanarkshire could it be that they have realised that they will have to work together again to remove the seat from the SNP? With no Lib Dem candidate announced and no Tory candidate either, are they giving Labour a clear run at the seat? Between that and the Greens perhaps siphoning off vital votes there’s every possibility that the seat will go from SNP back to Labour, and the SNP have only themselves to blame. Their failure nationally to campaign on independence cost them dearly, and locally the party shed members hand over fist. They made no attempt to enthuse new members, to train them and to turn them from voters and supporters to activists and agitators. Recently attempts have been made in North Lanarkshire to drain the SNP swamp but it may be too little, too late. The lack of activists will tell dearly and Labour will not struggle on that score, with trade union backing courtesy of Leonard and McFarlane, and more reinforcements in the north of England available a short bus ride away. The clock is ticking, and on current form Neil Gray will not see the inside of Westminster again.
I was taken aback at the Advertiser editorial this week; it was, on so many levels, weapons grade nonsense. In recent years we’ve become more used to minority governments, coalitions and the like; indeed Scotland’s electoral systems are designed to create consensual governments which reflect the broad picture. So to see the Advertiser paint Labour taking control of North Lanarkshire Council as somehow akin to North Korean politics was utterly jaw dropping; indeed it read more like a drunken late night Facebook rant than an actual newspaper editorial which left me wondering how it actually made it in to print.
Some actual analysis wouldn’t go amiss here, and as The Advertiser has singularly failed to do so, let me help. Labour and the SNP were within one seat of each other, with the SNP having the slimmest of margins over their rival, but far short of a majority. To have a workable authority the SNP would have to rely on support from somewhere, and for that they would have to make concessions. SNP group leader David Stocks said that he had written to Jim Logue offering an SNP/Labour coalition. I’m sure that I’m sure if they had been willing to come and go on the names being put forward then that may have been an acceptable compromise. That offer was not accepted and we are left to draw the conclusion that the SNP’s proposals were so poorly thought out that Jim Logue was left either with the option of taking a gamble that the Tories would back Labour to block the SNP out of hand, or with entering a formal coalition with the Tories. Given that there is absolutely no evidence of the latter, except in the fevered mind of Alex Neil, we have to conclude that Labour didn’t form any such coalition. Pointing to the Tories being given the Audit convenorship as proof doesn’t stack up either. The previous Convenor was David Stocks of the SNP, and this was because the post goes to someone from outside the ruling body and as the SNP refused to take any of the posts offered by Labour they had to be filled by Tories! So Megan Gallacher left the council chambers £30K a year better off thanks to the SNP’s petulance and David Stocks left £30K worse off. Is it any wonder he’s bitterly complaining?
Councillor Stocks was quoted as saying “We won the election but people ask why we are not in power.” That’s a very good question and I’m glad he asked it, however I don’t think he’ll like the answer. The SNP were expected to romp the election, but didn’t. The Labour vote collapsed, but not primarily to the SNP. Hard core British Nationalists were seduced by Ruth Davidson’s rhetoric, abandoned any working class principles and sold out to a party ready to stick the knife into pensioners, the poor and the disabled at the earliest opportunity; never mind the policies, smell the flag. They then used their second and third votes to vote for Labour to block the SNP; quite simply Tory voting strategy was well briefed out to their supporters. But these voters were never going to vote SNP in any case, so what about those who were among those who could be persuaded?
Independent Councillor Alan Beveridge hit the nail on the head when he said that the SNP were fighting like rats in a sack, and it is this reason and this reason alone that the SNP did not gain the convincing win they should have done. Councillor Stocks apparently didn’t campaign at all during the election and actually came second to his novice running mate Nancy Pettigrew who preceded him alphabetically on the ballot paper. That shows a clear lack of voter management strategy. Airdrie South was no better where the Team Coyle leaflet campaign undermined actual SNP candidate Paul Di Mascio. Airdrie North was struck by a social media debacle and Coatbridge was racked by internal disputes too. The only part of North Lanarkshire to deploy an effective voter management strategy was in Cumbernauld, where the SNP swept the boards, and it raises the question: why aren’t they in charge of the group? They know what they are doing, are cohesive and work well as a team, everything North Lanarkshire SNP isn’t under David Stocks.
The SNP now have five years to get their party in shape to win convincingly in North Lanarkshire. It will require them to honestly appraise themselves and they must be prepared to clear out the dead wood and hangers-on who cost them victory. The current plan seems however to be not to carry out that self critical analysis but to fashion a narrative of a secret Tory/Labour coalition and to shout it for the next five years. As a plan of action it is unsustainable and is reveals a complete lack of self belief and vision. If I were an SNP member I would be asking these critical questions at every opportunity, as clearly the elected representatives will not. If they don’t, they’ll be asking in five years time, and that’s five years too late.
In his letter in Saturdays Herald, Councillor Tom Johnston, Depute SNP Leader alluded that some kind of back room deal had been done between Labour and the Conservatives to block an SNP administration from taking control in North Lanarkshire. His proof was the voting pattern displayed, whereby the SNP were on the losing side of every vote by a margin of 41 to 33. It’s hardly surprising that the Tories would vote against the SNP, considering that across Scotland they are campaigning on a single policy: Stop the SNP. This is not proof of a deal.
The SNP point to the convenorship of the Audit Committee and it’s £29,000 salary going to the Tories, yet Labour Group Leader Jim Logue twice said during the meeting that he had not only offered the post to SNP group leader David Stocks, who refused to take the position he had held until the elections, but that he was disappointed that he wouldn’t reconsider his decision. It seems to me that the SNP had realised before the meeting that the game was up and that with victory clearly out of their reach they would go down a petulant road of not co-operating, refusing to take places on committees and refusing to even pose for a group photograph, all so they could fashion a narrative of a Tory and Labour stitch-up.
Councillor Johnston noted that there was one independent Councillor who voted against the SNP, Councillor Alan Beveridge. In 2015 Councillor Beveridge resigned from the SNP citing a “climate of fear, bullying and intimidation”. Perhaps if Councillor Johnston’s group had dealt with the issue back in 2015 it would not have snowballed into the Monklands McMafia fiasco, they would have retained the huge number of members who joined in 2014 and would have gone on to hammer a final nail into North Lanarkshire Labour. Instead they gained a pyrrhic victory, gifted the Audit Convenors job to the Tories and have in all likelihood blown their last chance to take control in North Lanarkshire. With such a level of ineptitude it appears the voters of North Lanarkshire may well have dodged a bullet.
I imagine there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth at SNP HQ this morning when the morning papers were delivered. Front page above the fold is usually a sign that the story is one of the most important of the day, and while this was the second of two main stories on the front page of The Herald, it’s still a sign that this isn’t a minor story.
The footage referred to in the article, a video on the Facebook page of Independent candidate Peter Owens has almost 30,000 views at the time of writing and can be found HERE, along with the following Press Statement issued on Sunday 30th April 2017:
Press Statement by Peter Owens, Independent Candidate, Airdrie South
Earlier today I was attending a car boot sale in Lanark, something I do as a regular hobby and it is something which I normally find relaxing and enjoyable. While I was at my stall I was approached by Airdrie North SNP Councillor Sophia Coyle and two other individuals, her husband Robert Clive and a man who I know to be employed as a nightclub bouncer, Gavin Scott.
Both Sophia Coyle and Gavin Scott began to film me while Sophia Coyle began making a series of allegations about me in front of the people present. She publicly stated that I had stolen goods from my employer and from a charity which I volunteer for, and was selling them at the car boot sale.
I was horrified, not only that Sophia Coyle was aware of exactly where I would be of a Sunday morning, but that she would travel over 16 miles accompanied by two burly males and be equipped with video equipment to record what I consider to be a premeditated attack on my character. I was immediately placed in a state of fear and alarm, and I have reported the incident not only to my employer, but to Police Scotland. Given the reported culture of “fear and intimidation” associated with Airdrie SNP I was less than impressed by the response I received from Police Scotland and will be pursuing this matter with them in the forthcoming days; as I and my family are concerned that we may receive further visits in the run up to the local elections. I shall also be seeking legal advice at the first opportunity regarding the defamatory claims made by Sophia Coyle.
I was able to make a video recording of my own and this has been passed to Police Scotland. In the meantime I am making the video footage available online. There have been many allegations made of bullying associated with Airdrie SNP, and I shall not be bullied. I believe the best way to deal with such behaviour is to shine a light on it, and I am calling on the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, to order an immediate investigation into the conduct of SNP Councillor Sophia Coyle.
End of Press Statement
In an expanded online article HERE it says that several other councillors have voiced their concerns. One of those was Councillor Alan Beveridge who also released his own press statement alleging online harassment:
Press Release by Alan Beveridge, Independent Councillor, Airdrie North
I was disturbed to see a statement released last night on social media by the candidate in the Airdrie South ward, Peter Owens, an independent candidate. In it he tells how he was publicly confronted by Sophia Coyle of the SNP, who made a number of serious allegations against him and his character; that he was placed in a state of “fear and alarm”; that he took his concerns to Police Scotland, and that he was “less than impressed” by their response.
Peter’s experience is not unusual in many respects. Only a few weeks ago Councillor Sophia Coyle used social media to make a post where she alleged that a “so-called member of my family” made death threats against her. This allegation was not only false, but it incited concerning responses on social media which were worrying enough for me to take them to Police Scotland. I was taken aback at the poor initial response from Police Scotland, and I have continued to speak with senior officers in relation to this matter. I believe that Councillor Sophia Coyle’s behaviour does not meet the high standards which we as elected representatives are expected to maintain, and as such I have also reported the matter to the Standards Commission and await the outcome of their investigations.
I have highlighted in the past the culture of fear, bullying and intimidation that exists within the SNP in Airdrie and have raised this directly with the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon; and I am renewing my call for a full investigation into the conduct of their representatives in North Lanarkshire. Councillors and prospective councillors must be allowed to freely take part in the democratic process without being placed in a state of fear and alarm simply because they have chosen to take part in that process. I am also calling on Police Scotland to review their procedures in relation to their response to what is perceived by the recipients as politically motivated intimidation in North Lanarkshire and I expect them not to be swayed in that duty.
As if that wasn’t bad enough for the party in Airdrie, the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser had two hard hitting articles in their Wednesday 3rd May issue. Having studiously ignored the subject for long and weary their timing was impeccable, and things lurched from bad to worse as they published Cumbernauld North Councillor Alan O’Briens claims that Airdrie Councillor, SNP Group Leader and possible Head of North Lanarkshire Council was caught lying in court to provide an alibi for fellow SNP Councillor Michael Coyle.
The paper then went on to detail the bizarre situation in Airdrie South, where Councillor Michael Coyle who recently engaged in a political hokey-cokey of being taken out of the running before being put back in, had issued election leaflets asking people to vote for him and his wife Agnes as Team Coyle, despite her having been deselected. This situation was also a feature on the letters page where John Love highlighted what he felt was a deception on the SNP voters in Airdrie South.
It gets even more bizarre when you see that Alex Neil has apparently also endorsed Agnes Coyle. There’s no mention of his actual running “mate” Paul Di Mascio and surely even the most ardent SNP members must now be asking questions. If I were a member I’d be asking if the branch was actually funding this, and if it was I’d be asking for my money back! I’m also hearing that in Airdrie Central there have been NO SNP leaflets issued and if this is true it really is a sign that the 1000 plus membership gained off the back of the 2014 referendum has been totally and utterly squandered.
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?
The relatively tame article in today’s Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser regarding the deselection of the husband and wife team of Councillors Michael and Agnes Coyle is enough to make you despair of proper journalism. This being the first Advertiser article on their deselection, one might have expected a mention of why this situation came about. From reading this one may have got the impression that this came out of the blue. Some time back I contacted the Advertiser to ask why it appeared to be difficult, if not impossible to find any mention of what I felt was the biggest political story in Monklands since the original Monklands Mafia story many years ago, and the response was not promising. In November 2015 Councillor Sophia Coyle was in the news over an interview in which she vociferously opposed gay marriage. Ms Coyle refused to respond to The Advertiser, yet only a few weeks later was again appearing in the newspaper promoting some local initiative she was involved in. You might think that the paper might have asked her views when they finally did contact her, but that wasn’t the case. So to see around two years of political infighting summarised in 29 words was no surprise.
One glaring point (and there are so many) which has been missed is this: how can a branch with a claimed membership of almost 1100 people only muster around 60 people to attend an emergency meeting? I’d imagine that I could get more disaffected members to sign a petition SUPPORTING headquarters decision than actually attended the branch meeting!
The big question is how long can Michael Coyle hang on to his jobs with Alex Neil and Neil Gray? Again, no mention of this in the “in-depth” analysis.
Over the weekend I saw that Labour candidates were out canvassing around Airdrie. Bless them, they are poor deluded fools, but I’ll say this for them: they are organised. With only around 10 weeks to the 2017 Council elections the SNP don’t even have candidates.
This appears set to run and run, just don’t expect the details in the local press…
On Saturday The Herald and The National both printed articles, (the Herald also printed an editorial by senior political editor Tom Gordon) regarding the deselection of four SNP councillors, including two in the Airdrie branch; Michael and Agnes Coyle. The release of this news came a week later than I expected, however the timing was exactly as I anticipated. A late Friday release for such news means it will escape the attention of most of the papers, Reporting Scotland and Newsdrive, so there’s no embarrassing TV or radio coverage to contend with.
On reading the Herald article I was struck by the following passage:
The ‘McMafia’ councillors who failed vetting were husband and wife Michael and Agnes Coyle and Dr Imtiaz Majid, while the councillor close to Mr Boswell was David Baird.
Nicknamed “Don Coyleone”, Mr Coyle last year denied being linked to organised crime after a former SNP member’s car was destroyed in a fire, and claimed the police had exonerated him.
He said: “I’ve been accused of gangsterism and having links to organised crime. It’s outrageous. The police conducted a thorough investigation then sent me a letter saying the allegations are not true.”
I’m concerned that this is being presented as one of the major reasons for the decision which has been made to deselect these councillors, and it could be seen to overshadow the many allegations made to HQ of bullying, cronyism and nepotism across Airdrie, Coatbridge and Bellshill. The article makes no mention of the numerous complaints made about the Westminster selection process which saw Neil Gray installed as candidate for MP and saw Councillor Alan Beveridge resign in disgust. 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 I am not privy to.
In regards to the attack on my car, I have nothing to add to this letter which I wrote last year, and as I said to in response to a post I made on Facebook, the only person to link the damage to my car with Councillor Michael Coyle was Councillor Coyle himself in an article in the Scottish Sun.
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 removal 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 balls to step up to the mark, 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 such as Councillor David Stocks to do so. They can still salvage something from the wreckage if they have the will to.
Letter to The Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, 24th April 2016
I was priveleged to receive an election mailshot from Alex Neil this week which stated that there would definitely be a new Monklands Hospital built. May I suggest building it next to Plains Railway Station? Whoops, silly me. There isn’t one. Only a few weeks ago, on the 23rd March in fact, it was reported that the options being looked at included a redevelopment of the existing site or a brand new hospital on another site, possibly near the “proposed” A73 bypass which would move it out of Airdrie and more likely nearer Cumbernauld! It was also claimed that this project would cost around five hundred million pounds, yet there is no mention of this on the NHS Lanarkshire website either, and as parliament closed shortly after this was released it has to be asked where are these figures from and where will the hospital be located? We are being waved the vague enticement of a shiny new hospital to vote for Mr Neil and his list colleague Sophia Coyle only a few weeks prior to an election. In the run up to the last election Alex Neil promised to deliver a new railway station at Plains, a development which was outwith his remit to promise and which remains unfunded and undelivered. I suspect that with the amount of money which has already been invested in the existing Monklands Hospital including the newly built Beatson Centre, that the new development will be pared down to a renovation and paint job on the existing hospital and an improvement on parking facilities. That’s hardly an election winner though, is it, and I’d rather vote for someone on what they have actually delivered, rather than what they have promised.
In the article in Satuday’s National Silent protest to make point about the Monklands McMafia it quotes the Airdrie and Shotts SNP blog which said that “People generally join an organisation because they identify with it, and not to radically change it”. I think this speaks volumes about just how unprepared Airdrie and Shotts SNP were in taking on the surge of new members who joined post referendum and how unwilling they were to adapt to a massive influx of people who joined, not because they slavishly supported SNP policy, but because they believed in independence. This smacks of an “eat your cereal” attitude where new ideas are unwelcome, and where the positive changes which could have seen the party grow locally were abandoned to maintain tight control. More ‘No You Can’t’ than ‘Yes We Can’…
I’ve spoken to a few people over the last couple of weeks about their experiences of what is now referred to in the mainstream press as the Monklands McMafia scandal and there are striking similarities between what has went on locally and the Jimmy Saville scandal which has engulfed the BBC and forever tainted its reputation.
Saville’s behaviour was an open secret at the BBC and he was actively protected, with the reputation of the company on the the line complaints were ignored or swept under the carpet. The report into Saville states that “The review found that senior managers were not told of complaints about Saville because of an “atmosphere of fear” which still exists in the BBC.” For those who did complain they would have felt intimidated, likely to be ridiculed or disbelieved, and that what happened to them was an isolated incident, making it less likely they would be given a fair hearing. It was only afterwards, when the trickle of stories became a flood that the full picture became clear, and that picture is a distressing and disturbing one.
Here in North Lanarkshire I’m seeing the same patterns of behaviour exhibited by the BBC adopted by the SNP. They attempt to ignore the issue. They attempt to rubbish the concerns raised. Like the BBC they are failing. Voices are being heard, and it’s time that those out there with ANY knowledge of the dirty goings on in North Lanarkshire spoke out as one. Single voices can be drowned out. But as a chorus of voices WE are louder, we can make ourselves known and ensure that people see that big picture. Yes, they might try to rubbish you. To paint you as cranks or left wing infiltrators. To say that it’s just sour grapes, or that you are just jealous of their brilliance. But I’d urge anyone out there with experiences of the smear tactics, the dirty tricks, the legal tricks employed by the SNP to silence members, to come forward and speak out.
BE the media and tell your own story. Because to remain silent is to let the situation continue.