SNP couple rock their party

Shock just days after election

One week after claiming the SNP were on the way up in North Lanarkshire, the party has been rocked by a bombshell with two of its most vocal councillors quitting the party group.

Former Cumbernauld provost Gordon Murray and his wife Margaret have cited two factors affecting their decision.

One is the party's treatment of former MSP Andrew Wilson. He was pushed so far down the Central Scotland List by the votes of SNP members in certain branches that he was bombed out of Holyrood when he failed to defeat Labour's Cathie Craigie in the contest to become MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsth. The second factor is the couple's views on the SNP group on North Lanarkshire Council.

Gordon, who represents Westerwood, Carrickstone and Dullatur, and Margaret, who represents Kildrum and Park, are not quitting the SNP. They say they will now be sitting in North Lanarkshire Council as independent SNP councillors.

Gordon explained: "There are now eight SNP councillors in Cumbernauld and only five in the rest of North Lanarkshire. When North Lanarkshire Council was set up eight years ago there were five in Cumbernauld and five elsewhere, meaning while we have steadily increased in numbers in Cumbernauld, elsewhere no progress has been made.

"I have been unhappy for some time that Cumbernauld is not being pushed enough, as relating to its particular problems of housing, roads and indeed the whole layout of the town.

"However, this reached a crisis point in May/June of last year when the parliamentary lists were being were being drawn up. I strongly impressed that the top three should be Alex Neil, Andrew Wilson and Linda Fabiani — not that Linda is in the same calibre, but we needed a female candidate.

"The fact that the rest of North Lanarkshire and the other delegates conspired against Wilson caused me great concern — not particularly because we felt that the person we were supporting in Cumbernauld should be chosen but that a highly thought of SNP MSP was being pushed down."

Gordon also feels that his fellow SNP councillors have not been vocal enough and have given Labour an easy ride.

He said: "The attendance of some councillors at meetings and committees is appalling.

"For instance at the full council meeting tomorrow (Thursday), planning minutes which contain the details of development of Cumbernauld Town Centre and Ravenscraig will be passed but (SNP leader) Richard Lyle wasn't at any meeting to discuss these proposals — and it is for reasons like this that the SNP has made little progress outwith Cumbernauld.

"Now, three of the four (SNP) executive members (on North Lanarkshire Council) are from outwith Cumbernauld with Richard Lyle (leader), David Stocks (secretary) and Alan Valentine (whip), with only William Homer (vice-leader) being from Cumbernauld. I am not prepared to spend another eight years making little difference to Cumbernauld."

Gordon says he and Margaret will still be SNP councillors and rejects any suggestion that they have just hoodwinked the people who voted for them.

He said: "We will be Independent Scottish Nationalists on the council, with responsibility to the electorate and not to a political party.

"I will be representing exactly what I said in my electoral address and will be fighting for the policies that the other SNP councillors are too weak to do so, and I will put forward issues they are forbade from doing so.

"People in Cumbernauld voted SNP because they are disgusted with the lack of progress under Labour and my key aim is still to get Cumbernauld out of North Lanarkshire.

"Our area is nearly the size of Clackmannanshire and we should see smaller councils springing up to take on local issues as, with devolution, the unitary authorities are unnecessary. Wholesale changes cannot be made but there should be a trial by public demand and I would like Cumbernauld to be the guinea pig.

"I have been a Cumbernauld councillor for 34 years, an SNP activist since I was 15 — my loyalty is to independence and the people of Cumbernauld.

"The SNP group at North Lanarkshire Council has been a shambles for eight years. The members have been prepared to lose themselves in the machinations of North Lanarkshire Council and I just hope the constituency and the branches will bring them to heel, otherwise they will continue to have an ineffective leadership who are only in it for themselves."

Margaret Murray says she is not simply going along with her husband's line for the sake of family unity and has argued that as an SNP councillor in her own right she also feels her former colleagues have been ineffectual.

She said: "I am not just following Gordon's coat-tails. It just so happens he is my husband, but I am equally unhappy.

"In fact I have been most unhappy for nearly two years. Then we had the machinations against Andrew (Wilson) and I was forced to put my tongue behind my teeth, in case I was accused of wrecking the campaign. But now it is over, I am free to speak my mind.

"I have been a nationalist for over 30 years and this is not something I did lightly. I am here to represent the people of Kildrum and Park and to a wider extend Cumbernauld, which is what I continue to do.

"Before I married Gordon, I was part of a small group in Uddingston who got Richard Lyle elected. After getting 2500 votes myself in Bellshill in the regional election of 1982, it seemed the area was primed for an upsurge of SNP support.

"Now Richard just seems to be content to keep his own majority up. Some councillors are creating little empires for themselves and I can't stand that.

"Cumbernauld has lost most of its amenities since North Lanarkshire Council came in and as such we in the SNP needed to stick together for the town. I am not the greatest orator in the world but I ask questions which need to be asked. The other SNP members stay silent at committee and just let things get through, saying "let someone else do something", a camp I am not part of."

SNP group leader Richard Lyle was shocked to learn of the Murrays' decision.

He said: "We regret that councillors Gordon and Margaret Murray have felt it necessary to resign from the SNP group. We are shocked at the decision as in our opinion there was no fundamental disagreement.

"They also gave no indication that they had been unhappy for two years and I had discussed the future of the group, particularly with Gordon, many times.

"We had an excellent working relationship and I respected them as people. However, now I have to question their integrity and feel they shouldn't have stood as SNP candidates.

"No-one is any more committed to Cumbernauld than the members of this group, and myself as group leader was never against any proposal they wished to make about its future.

"Whether or not they are allowed to stand again is up to the party and we will be sending a full report (to party HQ) of the situation later this week.

"We thank them for their outstanding work for Cumbernauld and the SNP."

Former MSP Andrew Wilson refused to be drawn on the Murrays' view that the way he has been treated by some SNP elements was a big factor in their decision.

He said: "I greatly regret that they have chosen to take this decision as they did a great deal of good work in Cumbernauld and for the SNP. I wish them well for the future."

Reporting: BRIAN YULE