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.
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 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.
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.
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.