a LONG-serving councillor quit the Labour Party this week after claiming that he was made a scapegoat for poor election results.
Kevin McKeown was told he would not be allowed to stand for the party in next year’s North Lanarkshire Council elections because of his poor record of attending meetings.
However, the Mossend and Holytown councillor branded his treatment ‘grossly unfair’ and said a selection panel had failed to take into account difficult family circumstances which he had flagged up.
Councillor McKeown (45) said he will continue to serve constituents as an independent councillor and wouldn’t rule out standing against Labour candidates at the elections in May.
Such a scenario could be embarrassing for local Labour MSP Michael McMahon - Councillor McKeown’s brother-in-law.
Councillor McKeown, who joined the Labour Party 30 years ago, has had a seat on North Lanarkshire Council since it was formed in 1995.
However, the party’s local government committtee refused to put him on a list of approved candidates for next year’s elections after branding his committee attendance record ‘unacceptable’.
The committee was also unhappy that there was no report on his performance from his Labour branch secretary.
Councillor McKeown’s appeal against the decision was rejected by Labour’s Scottish executive committee, despite a plea on his behalf by Mr McMahon.
Councillor McKeown believes he is a victim of the party’s attempts to revive its fortunes after the Scottish Parliament elections six months ago when it was crushed by the SNP.
Around 20 Glasgow councillors have been de-selected and Councillor McKeown said: “They’ve made an example of me to show that North Lanarkshire is taking action too. I’ve been made a scapegoat.
“The party is looking to re-launch and I’m in favour of that, but it’s not gone about it in the proper manner.”
Councillor McKeown accepted his council committee attendance rate had fallen to 43 per cent, but said: “I had an unblemished record until circumstances changed in 2009 when both of my sons were diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders.
“I notified the Labour whips’ office immediately of the medical problems which required me to spend more time with my family and seek full-time employment in order to provide for their additional financial needs.
“The whips’ office were appraised fully of the reasons for my attendance being impacted adversely and were supportive of me during this difficult time.
“My constituents and community groups were never affected. I always made sure their needs and aspirations were represented at all times.”
Councillor McKeown said he was unable to produce a report from his branch secretary because the Mossend and Holytown branch is ‘inactive’, but insisted that situation is not unusual and other councillors have been approved for the candidates’ list even though they can’t produce a branch secretary’s report.
He added: “It’s grossly unfair that some councillors and candidates had local party inactivity overlooked while that issue was a criterion in my case.”
Councillor McKeown, a former deputy convener of the council’s education committee, said he has no axe to grind with colleagues in the council’s ruling Labour group and has quit the party only after ‘deep soul searching and pain’.
He went on: “Since 1995 I have contributed greatly to the transformation of my ward including standing up to anti-social behaviour which resulted in an attack on my house, making roads around schools safer and the transformation of Mossend Main Street, with more developments to come.
“I’m seen as outspoken and have disagreed with Labour colleagues on many things over the years, but they all have my respect.”
Standing as independent in the elections would see him campaigning against his brother-in-law Mr McMahon.
He said: “I haven’t made up my mind about standing as my family are quite upset by what has happened.
“However, Michael and I have always kept politics aside from family life and we have the utmost respect for each other.”