One of the most controversial figures in Aberdeen’s recent political history is thinking of making a shock political comeback in May.
Willie Young has confirmed he is weighing up whether to run in this year’s council elections, and is understood to be eyeing up standing in Torry and Ferryhill.
The former council finance convener told The P&J: “I am considering my options with friends and colleagues and taking soundings, however, I firmly believe that thanks to Labour, Aberdeen has moved forward at pace.
“Whilst some people do not like change, history has proved that cities that stand still and rest on their laurels wither and die whilst cities that invest in themselves have a brighter future.”
- Messages from Labour colleagues show Willie Young thinks he suspension over offensive tweet was “unjust”
- The 60-year-old claims to hold little influence these days – but boasted of his financial influence over the Scottish Labour leadership in leaked Whatsapp messages
- If he stands, what are the chances of him making a Town House return?
Why is former Aberdeen council finance convener Willie Young such a controversial figure?
Mr Young’s potential candidacy will prove surprising to many outside Labour circles, who could be forgiven for believing he remained suspended for tweeting an offensive and “clearly racist” cartoon linking China and coronavirus in October 2020.
Watch: Why is it newsworthy that Willie Young is thinking about a return to council politics?
But the former Town House finance convener – who lost his seat in 2017 after a storm over the use of public funds to pay for repairs to a wall on his family’s land – has been welcomed back into the Scottish Labour fold.
His readmission is understood to have been quietly rubberstamped by party chiefs last summer – though it is something they still will not confirm.
Asked for comment a spokeswoman only said: “Scottish Labour is committed to delivering for the people of Aberdeen by fielding a dedicated and committed array of local candidates at the upcoming council elections.”
He also remains a royal representative in his role as deputy lord lieutenant of Aberdeen.
Party colleague speaks out: Willie Young’s potential return to council ballot worsens Aberdeen Labour split
Mr Young’s potential return to elected office is thought to have worsened a pre-existing split within the Aberdeen Central constituency Labour party (CLP).
Tensions have been mounting since September when senior party figures – including Scottish leader Anas Sarwar – voted to allow the so-called Aberdeen Nine to stand for re-election if local members select them.
They were previously banned until after polling day in May for defying an order from then-leader Kezia Dugdale and forming a coalition with the Conservatives in 2016.
Now, one member has given us sight of internal discussions among north-east party members on messaging service Whatsapp.
Last August, a message sent from Mr Young’s number described his suspension over the Chinese cartoon “unjust”.
Our source asked to remain anonymous, fearing reprimand from Labour bosses for speaking out.
They also alleged Mr Young and his allies – many current serving councillors – were driving people out of the CLP in an effort to secure themselves spots on the ballot paper.
“I do not want it on my conscience that I did not do everything I could to stop Willie Young getting back to a position of power, considering what I know,” our source said.
“He and his faction are a malign influence on the local party that has caused a massive amount of destruction.
“They use unscrupulous tactics to control the local party and, although it still has many members who are great people who’d be excellent elected representatives, a lot of people have left because they can’t stand Willie Young or what he represents.”
Willie Young claims he was suspended to ‘settle political scores’
The Aberdeen CLPs are expected to begin selecting candidates at the end of next week.
Mr Young criticised our source for remaining anonymous, and said it was “unfortunate” they chose infighting over challenging the SNP.
And he doubled down on his suspension – for a social media post he apologised for – being “unjust”.
“I was suspended because I was a critic of Richard Leonard and then-general secretary Michael Sharpe,” Mr Young added.
“It had nothing to do with my tweet it was all about settling political scores.
“The truth is my influence within the party is negligible as I no longer hold any positions of office.”
However, the influence of the long-serving Labour member over his party arguably varies depending on the audience.
Very little appears to happen within the group of nine Labour councillors without Willie Young, who acts as a contact for the press.
And another message from the Whatsapp chat appears to show Mr Young bragging about his financial sway over Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and deputy Jackie Baillie.
Publicly, he is also quick to name-drop, telling us: “I have had breakfast with Gordon Brown, lunch with Jeremy Corbyn, afternoon tea with Neil Kinnock and dinner with Sir Tony Blair.
“As well as that, I have held every position within my CLP while representing the north-east on Labour’s Scottish Executive, so I am positive I know what and whom I represent.”
What are the chances of Willie Young being voted back onto Aberdeen City Council?
The Press And Journal understands Mr Young is likely looking to stand in his home turf of Torry and Ferryhill.
Electing four councillors, it will be viewed as an easier target than many of the three-seat wards in the single transferable voting (STV) system.
But Mr Young tasted defeat in a by-election in the southern Aberdeen ward in 2019.
Outgoing SNP councillor Catriona Mackenzie was replaced by party colleague Audrey Nicoll, while the Labour share of first preference votes fell 15 percentage points.
There was some suggestion Kincorth, Nigg and Cove would prove a fruitful endeavour, but the party has committed to having a female candidate there.
With scandal surrounding Mr Young as the city went to the ballot box in 2017, he was among a number of senior Labour councillors to fail to be re-elected.
The then-finance convener lost his Bridge Of Don seat as his first round votes fell by 7.7 percentage points.
With or without Mr Young, many will keep an eye on Torry and Ferryhill with convicted sex offender Alan Donnelly now wavering over whether he will look to defend his seat there, as we revealed earlier this week.