No agreement on Yes victory

Councillor Harry McGuigan
Councillor Harry McGuigan

Political foes have clashed over the reasons for North Lanarkshire’s Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum.

The area was one of only four in the country to plump in favour of independence as Scotland decided to stay in the United Kingdom.

Polling station at Victoria Hall in Selkirk for the referendum on Scottish independence.

Polling station at Victoria Hall in Selkirk for the referendum on Scottish independence.

North Lanarkshire has been a Labour stronghold since its formation in 1995, but last week 51 per cent of voters rejected the party’s unionist stance, with 49 per cent voting No.

The Yes campaign amassed 115,783 votes to the No’s 110,922. The turnout was an impressive 84.4 per cent, easily the highest for any vote in the local authority’s history.

However, former council leader Harry McGuigan dismissed the idea that Labour voters in Motherwell and Bellshill had embraced the flagship SNP policy of independence. He claimed votes in traditionally strong Nationalist areas such as Cumbernauld had proven crucial.

Councillor McGuigan, who still represents Bellshill on the council, doesn’t share the view of some commentators that Labour voters turned their back on the party.

He said: “I don’t think the result in North Lanarkshire was a surprise as there is a lot of support for independence in the Cumbernauld area.

“I got good feedback from those watching the ballot boxes at the count and the message I got, certainly for Bellshill, was people voted strongly for No.

“But this wasn’t about North Lanarkshire voting for independence - it was about Scotland, and the message from right across the country is that people want to see a strong Scotland within the UK.”

The former council leader is a veteran of the cut and thrust of political combat at local level, but he added: “I hope after this result we shall start to see less political posturing and more collaboration as we deal with issues such as social inequality and job creation.”

In contrast with the North’s Yes vote, neighbouring South Lanarkshire mirrored the national figure with 55 per cent voting No and 45 per cent Yes.

Central Scotland MSP Richard Lyle, a former Bellshill councillor, was delighted North Lanarkshire bucked the national trend. Glasgow, Dundee and West Dunbartonshire were the only other areas to vote Yes, with the margin of the final No victory wider than most polls predicted.

Mr Lyle said: “The North Lanarkshire vote was down to hard campaigning in all constituencies in the local authority area - Coatbridge and Chryston, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, Motherwell and Wishaw, Uddingston and Bellshill, and Airdrie and Shotts.

“For Labour to claim its vote held up in these parts - well that’s not what I saw at the Ravenscraig count. I think there was a severe effect and Yes won in Viewpark, Holytown and the Orbiston area of Bellshill.

“I have seen e-mails from lifelong Labour voters saying they’ll never vote for the party again whereas thousands of people are now joining the SNP.

“The referendum campaign enthused a lot of people who were not politically-minded and I hope that will translate to more people voting in future elections and taking part in the political process.”

Central Scotland Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell said the vote in North Lanarkshire reflected voters’ disillusionment with Labour. She added: “The problem for Labour is the SNP and the Greens are occupying the far left and seem to be connecting more with people. Their message resonates more.”