It is time to change the culture
As followers of local politics know, Lanarkshire Labour takes a ‘robust’ approach to politics. No one more so than Michael McCann, the outgoing MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow. Perhaps, finally, some members of East Kilbride Labour may be sensing that, by tolerating the intolerable, the party is doing the town a disservice.
The effect of Mr McCann’s style became clear on Sunday 22nd February, when we learned that many of the town’s Labour Councillors would not be campaigning for his re-election. The article revealed that a complaint about the state of the local party made to Scottish Labour in 2013 has yet to be resolved.
With Michael McCann’s ally Jim Murphy forced to try clearing up the mess he helped to create, it is unlikely disaffected Labour members will get satisfaction any time soon.
Before Mr McCann’s election, East Kilbride Labour was rocked by a controversy over the forging of letters backing his then employer and political mentor, Adam Ingram. Whatever the truth of the goings on at that time, the wall of silence thrown round the issue did not bode well for any hopes of openness and transparency.
For many years, East Kilbride Labour Councillors have refused to declare interests many others would expect to see on the public record. In 2010, SNP Candidate, John McKenna, challenged Mr McCann on this issue. His concerns about the lack of openness were fully justified. Senior figures in the company that wined and dined Lanarkshire councillors at a Labour Party fund-raiser then emerged as leading players in a contractor holding lucrative contracts from North Lanarkshire Council.
Concern at the behaviour of leading figures in East Kilbride Labour came to national attention when the BBC revealed the close links between prominent figures in East Kilbride Labour and local developers. When Mr McCann complained about this programme, Donations, Dinners and Deals, his complaints received a humiliating line by line rejection from the broadcasting regulator. The detailed findings cast light on a murky world in which private entitlement always seems to trump the public interest.
One of the issues covered in Donations, Dinners and Deals was a battle started by Adam Ingram while he was an MP and continued by Michael McCann, fighting hard to prevent a new supermarket development competing with the interest of their preferred developer. After his election in 2010, Mr McCann took the fight all the way to the chamber of the House of Commons. The ensuing ‘supermarket war’ almost certainly contributed to neither scheme going ahead and resulted in East Kilbride losing hundreds of jobs and further damage done to its reputation as a place to do business.
Respected academic, Professor Richard Kerley, was quoted in Donations, Dinners and Deals, commenting on a letter Mr McCann sent to Scottish Enterprise. In most circumstances, Professor Kerley’s comments would be damning, but in the topsy-turvy world of Lanarkshire Labour, seem to be worn as a badge of honour. He said that the letter, Unfortunately, this ferocity in pursuit of private interests is not matched when the interests of the majority of the town’s residents are threatened. Indeed, as Professor Kerley suggests, the damage done to relationships between elected members and organisations working on behalf of the town is unhelpful.
When Rolls Royce announced the move of most of its operations out of the town, the combined weight of the town’s elected representatives should have swung into action.
As voters would expect, Linda Fabiani got straight on with her job – recruiting support from the Scottish Government and calling on South Lanarkshire Council to lead the town in a united fightback.
We in the SNP expected a repeat of the decisive action taken by the SNP-led East Ayrshire Council, which formed an all-party campaign over Diageo’s closure of the Johnnie Walker plant in Kilmarnock, highlighting the need for action to deal with the effect of the plant’s closure.
Privately, Labour members opted for inaction. The Council formed a Task Force that excluded all SNP members while finding a place for Graham Simpson, East Kilbride’s sole Tory councillor. The Task Force has had such a low profile, it is doing the political equivalent of limbo dancing.
Michael McCann let 18 months lapse before issuing a press statement demanding that the company gift the site to the town. Not surprisingly, the company dismissed this out of hand. From just these examples, and there are many more, it is clear East Kilbride Labour has questions to answer about whose interests are given priority in its decision-making processes. It is certainly not the interests of East Kilbride, a town which was once the envy of Scotland in its ability to attract top flight employers, but which is now in serious decline under Labour control.
The SNP now has over 1,400 members in the town, an excellent MSP in Linda Fabiani, and the largest group of councillors.
The election of Dr Lisa Cameron for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow would not only strengthen Scotland’s voice at Westminster, it would mark a rejection of the kind of politics that have led to East Kilbride’s decline.
Perhaps even these disaffected Labour members will see the benefit of putting aside party interests to back the change East Kilbride so desperately needs.