SCOTTISH Labour has denied courting support from an ultra-unionist councillor to stop the SNP taking control of one of Scotland’s largest councils.
A former Scottish Labour MSP is claimed to have contacted the British Unionist party (BUP) in a bid to deprive the SNP of power in North Lanarkshire.
The party has strenuously denied the claims, despite the BUP councillor confirming to this newspaper his party had been contacted by Labour.
In 2017 when Labour won 32 seats to the SNP’s 33, the party managed to retain control of the Motherwell civic centre with the support of eight Tories and Airdrie north independent councillor Alan Beveridge.
In order to retain control this time, Labour would need the support of the five North Lanarkshire Tories alongside the BUP councillor and at least one of the two independents, to go against the SNP’s 36 and the Greens’ one councillor.
A Labour source told The Herald that the same tactics from 2017 were being used again in an attempt to keep the SNP out.
The added that Karen Whitefield, former MSP and a member of Scottish Labour’s ruling body the Scottish Executive Committee, had contacted the BUP “very quickly” after one of their candidates was elected on Friday, to try and discuss if he would support Labour’s bid to lead the council.
John Jo Leckie succeeded in the Fortissat ward, becoming the first BUP councillor in Scotland. He took the seat from the Tories, with 859 first preference votes their 512.
The British Unionist party was formed in 2015 by Better Together activists before changing its name in 2019.
Scottish Labour has denied any such contact took place but confirmed Ms Whitefield had been involved in the local campaign as she had been the MSP for the area previously.
Speaking to the Herald, a Scottish Labour source said: “Within 10 minutes, Karen was on the phone to this unionist guy. I’m sure they will deny it, but it happened.
“It blows the whole ‘no coalitions’ stance out the water really.”
Asked by the Herald, Mr Leckie confirmed he had been asked to contact Ms Whitefield by his party leader, but is yet to do so as he was “enjoying the weekend” after the elections.
He said the former MSP contacted John Mortimer, leader of the BUP, yesterday and asked if he would call her.
Mr Leckie said: “She contacted John on Friday when the results came out, asking if I can ring her but I’ve no phoned her back yet. I’m just enjoying my weekend.
“I think they’re phoning round everybody at the minute to try and get things settled, to see about who will be running the place.”
Scottish Labour has maintained that they will not be forming any official coalitions with any parties, however will agree to work with like-minded politicians for the good of their constituents.
The SNP has criticised Anas Sarwar’s party for what it called a “desperate attempt” to shut their councillors out of power.
A spokesman said: “Labour party opportunism appears to be on full display with these desperate attempts to lock the SNP, the largest party in North Lanarkshire, out of power.
“We have made clear we are open to exploring working with progressive parties locally where there are shared interests and commitments that will deliver the best outcomes for people and communities.
“It’s a shame the Labour party appear to be putting their party before the voters and the wishes they expressed at the ballot box.”
A Scottish Labour spokeswoman said: “Any power sharing agreements will have to be approved by the Scottish Executive Committee.
“There will not be any formal coalitions with any party.
“Scottish Labour Councillors will work with others based on the interest of local people – not party political stitch-ups.”