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Civil war erupts in the SNP group in Highland Council as tensions over the coronavirus response divide members

By Scott Maclennan

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Councillor Kirsteen Currie.
Councillor Kirsteen Currie.

A formal inquiry into the suspension of a second councillor from Highland Council's SNP group has been promised – but not until after the coronavirus pandemic.

It has emerged Councillor Kirsteen Currie (North, West and Central Sutherland) was stood down by party leaders about two weeks ago after allegedly addressing senior councillors inappropriately.

An anonymous witness claimed that she swore at a party leader.

It comes after Inverness Ness-side councillor Ron MacWilliam was suspended last month after becoming angered about the Covid-19 response. He is alleged to have sent strongly worded emails criticising the council’s lack of leadership and also to have addressed senior councillors inappropriately.

Meanwhile, Councillor Niall McLean (Fort William and Ardnamurchan) is seeking legal advice on his position in the SNP group – but he has not been suspended.

SNP group co-leader councillor Ian Cockburn said: “Councillor Currie was suspended from the SNP Highland group approximately two week ago.

“There will be a formal inquiry after the Covid-19 outbreak has been brought under control – because you can’t hold an inquiry now."

Cllr Currie said: “In my lifetime’s membership of the SNP I have never experienced such punitive action taking place for an allegation such as the ‘anonymous source’ has described.

“The rules and standing orders of my party are there to ensure fairness and I look forward to such times when due process can be followed without a needless sideshow being created through the media.

“It is disappointing, especially at such a time of crisis, that the leadership of the Highland SNP group have focused so much energy in to attempting to harm the good reputation of their own colleagues.

"There is no doubt that the party’s rules have not been followed by group leaders but once due process kicks in I am confident this mess will be cleared up and those responsible held to account.”

Inverness Ness-side Cllr MacWilliam, who was suspended in April, said he did not want to revisit the allegations made against him publicly but sought to defend Cllr Currie.

“It seems the people behind these attacks have little better to do and when business returns to normal there will be a lot of questions for them to answer," he said.

"In the meantime, I know Kirsteen will continue her excellent work undaunted and with the overwhelming support of her constituents and local party members.”

The developments have raised eyebrows across the chamber with Conservative group leader Andrew Jarvie saying it raises issues about how open the party was to criticism from its own members.

“I would not wish to get involved in the nitty gritty of internal SNP party politics,” he said. “But the headline issue is slightly concerning.

“Some would question the methods they used in going about their business but the main issue is that they were very, very unhappy at some of the decisions, and reasonably so, that were being taken in government and council.

“And they rightfully used their position in their communities to seek a better outcome.

“Material points should still be listened to and concerns resolved as best they can.”

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