A Highland councillor is demanding a retraction and apology from senior SNP colleagues after receiving a “written warning” alleging complaints of racism had been made against him.
Niall McLean, who represents the Fort William and Ardnamurchan ward, vehemently denies the claims and is threatening legal action after the email was sent by his SNP group co-leaders.
The email, dated April 3 from SNP co-leaders Maxine Smith and Ian Cockburn, depute group leader Raymond Bremner and whip Karl Rosie, expressed concern about Mr McLean’s “recent conduct”.
The message, which was leaked to the Press and Journal from a third party, said “various complaints” had been made from within and outside the SNP.
The signatories said they needed “to act as the incidences (sic) are building up. Given the current circumstances we deemed it necessary to go to a written warning”.
The email claimed Mr McLean had criticised the SNP Group leadership and had been “interfering” with Scottish Government and Highland Council attempts to deal with PPE during the coronavirus crisis.
But it also claimed there were “complaints that you were responsible for displaying ‘racist’ posters telling tourists to go home in and around Fort William”.
Through his lawyer, Mr McLean asked to see the photos upon which the complaints were based. Eventually he was sent three photographs, which had been drawn to the attention of the SNP group’s leadership. One was on the A82 at Ballachulish and was of a sign stating: “This is our community, not a campsite.” Another was a “No camping” sign in Glencoe and the third was a picture of a car and trailer bearing the message “Covid – Go Home” taken in Wales.
Mr McLean said he had nothing to do with any of them. The Press and Journal understands the SNP group has withdrawn the complaint of “racist” posters.
But when approached by the Press and Journal, Mr McLean said he was still waiting for proper acknowledgement from the SNP group leaders that there was no substance to the allegations.
I want a retraction saying this is not true. I am examining legal action and I will keep going with that until I get an apology and a retraction, because it is the only route I have got now.”
“They have never sent me a retraction,” Mr McLean said. “I have never had the apology I have requested and I have never had the retraction I have requested. I requested it through a lawyer. And we are still waiting on that retraction to come.
“I want a retraction saying this is not true. I am examining legal action and I will keep going with that until I get an apology and a retraction, because it is the only route I have got now.”
Also drawn to the SNP group leaders’ attention by a member of the public was a Facebook video posted by Mr McLean on March 21. Mr McLean was in the Glencoe Ski Centre car park expressing concern about people coming to the Highlands during the outbreak and saying there had been reports of cars with Italian registration plates there.
Mr McLean said he had raised this because the virus had taken hold in Italian ski centres.
The SNP group leaders also highlighted one of Mr McLean’s Facebook posts, in which he revealed he was sourcing PPE and suggested politicians were “in denial” about concerns about equipment shortages.
The row is the latest controversy to engulf Highland Council’s SNP group. Ness-side councillor Ron MacWilliam, who has a reputation for being outspoken on the council and government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, has been suspended.
North, West and Central Sutherland SNP member Kirsteen Currie has also been suspended from the Nationalist opposition group.
SNP Group co-leader Councillor Smith refused to comment on the email received by Mr McLean, saying it was an internal matter.