I was disappointed that SNP candidate Neil Gray signalled his disrespect for the good people of Airdrie by failing to turn up for the General Election hustings in Airdrie but unsurprised. His claim that independent councillor Alan Beveridge was not an impartial person to organise it was weak, as it was made apparent to all candidates that other than organising the event he would be taking no part in the hustings itself. He advertised the openly in the Advertiser, had the event filmed for public record and even invited the local press to ensure that things were impartially recorded. In the partial world of politics this was as balanced as it could get, and it seems to me that the SNP group were simply intent on Neil Gray not being held up to public scrutiny. It’s a pretty bizarre fact but Mr Gray is in a position where he is the incumbent standing for re-election and has never taken part in an open hustings in the town! I noticed that the letters page contained a tag-team attack on Councillor Beveridge from Councillor Stocks and Alex Neil, clearly designed to discredit the hustings before it commenced and lay the groundwork for Neil Gray’s feeble last minute call-off. Councillor Stocks showed again how out of touch he is by failing to grasp that Councillor Beveridge wasn’t even chairing the hustings, while I laughed out loud at Alex Neil’s charge of betrayal of the SNP; this from the man who is now the Unionist media’s go-to guy for an anti-SNP quote whenever Brexit is mentioned! I’m fairly certain that Neil Gray will be re-elected, but this will not be an endorsement of him, but a by-product of the Unionist vote splitting along sectarian lines. Overall the candidates themselves were not impressive and I’m fairly certain that whichever candidate wins, the people of Airdrie will be the losers.
Letter to The National, 23/05/17
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.
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.
Letter to the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, dated 29/02/16. UNPUBLISHED.
I would have thought that as a former Monklands Labour member, SNP Councillor Michael Coyle would need no lessons in how the term ‘Monklands Mafia’ originated. In case he has forgotten it would be worth reminding ourselves of how the term came into use. It was to do with the Labour run Monklands District Council having adopted, or being perceived to have adopted practices where jobs and funding were allocated based on your membership of the Labour party, your support for elected Labour councillors, your family relationship to councillors or friends and colleagues of councillors. Encapsulated as “Jobs For The Boys” this was a morally bankrupt system of supporting a power base by giving favours and expecting votes in return. The term “Monklands McMafia” now being used in the mainstream media is simply a reflection that the SNP are indulging in these and other distasteful practices also and was never an allegation of criminal activity. One only has to look at Alex Neil MSP and Neil Gray MP to see the practice of employing friends and family has been embraced by the SNP, indeed it is a matter of public record that Councillor Coyle works for both, in addition to them having employed their wife and brother-in-law respectively.
I’m sure that until Councillor Coyle drew the media’s attention to them, most people would have been unaware of the allegations Councillor Coyle claims were made against him in regards to organised crime and also to the arson attack on my car which he raised prominently in another newspaper. I would like to state that having only seen the very brief extract carried in the Advertiser I cannot comment on the scope of the thorough and extensive enquiry into Councillor Coyle, but I am concerned at two things. There is an element of the letter which reads more like a friendly character reference than a summary of the facts. Secondly it is not normal practice for Police Scotland to issue letters of this sort. I contacted the investigating team and a senior officer regarding the arson attack on my car and was told that “no suspects were ever identified” in relation to this. When I asked if I could have that confirmed in writing I was told that Police Scotland aren’t in the habit of providing such letters. Perhaps I would have had more luck if I was employed by a cabinet minister and an MP!