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 Herald, 22/05/17
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 press have dubbed the current scandal with North Lanarkshire SNP the “Monklands McMafia” crisis, and it appears that what I have been saying for over a year about the SNP in North Lanarkshire is finally getting coverage in some of the mainstream press, and is surprisingly even being covered in The National. Last year when I wrote my Open Letter To Nicola Sturgeon I was contacted by National reporter Andrew Learmonth, whom I was happy to speak to. He asked if he could call back, but never did. I contacted him again in the light of his article on this very issue, as I felt I could offer some insight into this. He again failed to call back. I hope he does, as his article does not go far enough in my opinion.
In the Herald: SNP urged to release secret Monklands McMafia report I made the following comment, which I am posting here as the Herald webpage is renowned for removing comment. I have provided links where possible, something frowned upon by the Herald.
This is a joke right? The investigation and subsequent report both pre-date the 2014 Referendum and the current round of complaints for goodness sake!
Nicola Sturgeon has been made aware of the concerns about this branch on numerous occasions, all of which happened post September 2014.
Councillor John Taggart: Resigned, cites lack of democracy
Councillor Alan Beveridge: Resigned, cites bullying and a climate of fear and intimidation
Tom Montgomery: Resigned, after suffering series of malicious allegations made by a branch member to HQ. Allegations proven false after Police and North Lanarkshire Council independently investigated.
Councillor David Baird: Still in party, reported to HQ for alleged financial impropriety, details leaked to media.
Councillor Julie McNulty, Accused of racism by Sheena McCulloch. Reported to HQ, details leaked to Daily Record.
At the same time we see allegations of homophobia by Airdrie Councillor Sophia Coyle quietly allowed to slip away, shielded by the party, no suspension, no comment. What I find utterly amazing is that having been unable to get any comment from Councillor Coyle on the issue, the local press then carry comments from her on a wide range of other issues, a local quarry issue being one. Were I journalist who had attempted to gain a comment on this I’d be failing in my duty if, when speaking to her I failed to raise the issue. Yet this is what happens. It is no wonder that many people in Airdrie say they distrust the local press.
Nicola Sturgeon has turned a blind eye to this issue. This cannot be covered up by people indulging in whitabootery, as some have tried on here already. Nicola Sturgeon MUST now acknowledge that there is a problem with a Monklands McMafia and act accordingly.
We deserve better.
I have tried to raise the issue of irregularities in the Westminster selection process with the SNP at every level. Not only do they refuse to act, but they refuse to even acknowledge concerns. My complaints have led to the circumstances detailed below, and as no one within the SNP will even acknowledge letters I feel I have no option but to issue a public open letter to the leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon. A copy of this has been emailed directly to her and various other members of the SNP executive.
I voted in my first election in 1988, I voted SNP in that election and have voted SNP in every election until 2015. Based on what I have seen over the last 11 months or so I seriously doubt that I ever will again.
In September 2014 following the Yes campaign, in which I played an active part, like many others I joined the SNP. I began attending branch meetings in Airdrie. Late in 2014 it was announced that the selection process would be opening to select candidates for the Westminster elections. I had heard that Neil Gray, the assistant to Alex Neil was to be nominated which I thought to be a poor choice, considering that for the previous four years I had heavily criticised the Labour Party for choosing Pamela Nash, the former assistant to John Reid, as their candidate. The referendum had thrown up many fantastically motivated individuals, and I hoped to support fresh talent with real life experience, not someone who came from within the political bubble.
Initially there were four potential candidates and these were soon whittled down to two. One candidate, Craig Murray, failed vetting in a manner which I’m sure you are aware of, given its media coverage. My friend Steve Bell’s application on the other hand was refused due to two names on his nomination form who apparently had failed to renew their membership. Despite me personally submitting his nomination form to the branch secretary eleven days prior to the closing date, he wasn’t informed of the error (which was clearly not his fault) until a few weeks later, on the actual night of the first hustings. This was the first in a series of shameful acts carried out by the party.
Two candidates remained: Neil Gray and Tommy Montgomery. As I had nominated Tommy Montgomery and was part of his team of supporters I paid close scrutiny to the electoral rules, as having seen another two candidates scrapped we did not want to give any cause for complaint. I noticed that there had been breaches of these rules in regards to electoral material issued on behalf on Neil Gray which in my opinion warranted severe action, and I raised this at the first hustings. Neil Gray dismissed this as “tittle-tattle”.
Within days of that event, Tommy Montgomery had been called to SNP HQ in Edinburgh to answer a string of false and malicious allegations.
These complaints had been made maliciously and the identity of the people who sent them to headquarters were confirmed by SNP’s solicitor to then SNP Councillor Alan Beveridge as being members of the Airdrie branch. Independent investigations by North Lanarkshire Council and Police Scotland cleared Tommy of all of the trumped up charges put against him. Following this I had a one to one meeting at SNP HQ with Scott Martin, to whom I relayed all my concerns. This meeting occurred only after repeated phone-calls which went unanswered and emails which were never replied to. I had to resort to going to SNP HQ in Edinburgh and waiting until someone would see me. Despite pointing out that making malicious allegations against another member breached the SNP code of conduct, no disciplinary action was taken against any individual.
Around two weeks after the first hustings, at 0230hrs on 22nd January 2015 my wife and I were woken by banging on our door. I went downstairs to find my car ablaze and had to evacuate the family from the house due to the closeness of the car to the house. Police and Fire crew attended. My car, only a few months old, was completely written off. Had it been a only a few feet closer to our house it is probable that our house would have been destroyed with it, with us asleep inside.
In February 2015 I attended a branch meeting of the Airdrie SNP at Airdrie Football ground which could only be described as a ‘kangaroo court’ where it was made clear to Councillor Alan Beveridge that he would be found guilty of all the ills which the branch found itself facing and that any members who challenged the existing branch regime were ‘a party within a party’ who would be facing expulsion from the SNP. I left the SNP immediately after that meeting, sickened by what had gone on. Subsequently letters were sent to virtually everyone who had supported and campaigned for Tommy Montgomery barring them from future membership, apart from myself which I found unusual.
In June I sent a letter which was critical of the SNP to the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser and it was published in the paper on Wednesday. On the Friday of that week my wife and daughter noticed someone dressed in black hanging around outside and peering in the windows. When they were noticed they ran off, and this was reported to the police. Two nights later while getting ready for bed there was a knock at the door, and my 11 year old daughter said that there were two guys with hoods up and that she was frightened. We shouted down asking who was there and one of the guys opened the door and shouted “Is that James? Is that James?” I told him that I thought that he had the wrong house and he said “Take this as a warning, stop slandering XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. They then ran off. I got dressed and ran out to give chase but they had gone, we called the police and gave them all the details. In the following few days I received nuisance calls, all from withheld numbers, asking the same thing as the man who had entered our house: “Is that James? Is that James?” before hanging up.
A few days later Councillor Beveridge arranged a meeting with someone from Police Scotland. I detailed my concerns and stated that it was our belief that these attacks were in relation to comments made about the SNP locally. He suggested that if I stopped writing about such matters and the attacks stopped this would perhaps indicate that our suspicions were correct. Following this the calls stopped and there were no further attacks on myself, my family or my house.
On 19th August 2015 my step daughter Maxine and my wife had a discussion with an SNP Councillor where they spoke of their concerns about the attacks on our car and the threats made against us. A few days later the Police visited our home to speak to my step-daughter in regard to an allegation of using threatening behaviour to the SNP councillor. After speaking to my wife and step-daughter the police stated that there was no evidence of any such behaviour. I am disgusted that the already overstretched resources of the police are now being used against us, and yet no action can be taken regarding these false claims.
On 24th August, I submitted a request to the SNP Data Protection Officer to carry out an investigation into how my address was passed to the Police. This was personally delivered to SNP HQ in Edinburgh, along with a copy addressed to you, and these were signed for by Beverley Murray. As of this date I have received no acknowledgement. Par for the course as I have come to learn.
I believe that no organisation is perfect, and every organisation has its share of bad apples. I also believe that an acknowledgement of what has been done wrong must be carried out if you are to correct an error and find the right path. But in North Lanarkshire SNP this is simply impossible. Open discussion is labelled as dissent, subversion or infiltration by supporters of Tommy Sheridan. People are threatened with secret files and photographs, and legitimate complaints are ignored at every level. I know this, as I have copied every possible senior SNP member into my emails and seen no action taken.
On a personal level every time I have publicly criticised the goings on within the SNP in North Lanarkshire my property has been attacked or I have been threatened, and these past months to stop any further attacks I have remained silent, but I cannot remain silent any longer. My family and I have been living in fear for the last 9 months and it is our opinion that there are individuals within the SNP who are misguided in their attempts to silence opposition. I do not know who these individuals are. I doubt you know either, but I am asking that you please issue a statement condemning any such action and asking these misguided people that we be left in peace without the constant fear of attack hanging over us.