A LEADING Yes campaigner has urged the SNP and Labour to work together to keep Monklands Hospital in Airdrie.

Jim Cassidy, founder of Airdrie for Independence (AfI), revealed how the group has played its own role in the controversy over where the new Monklands Hospital is to be built to replace the existing outmoded 1970s building.

Initially reluctant to get involved because it seemed to be a local party political issue which the avowedly non-partisan cross-party group tends to eschew, AfI started a petition on the issue.

Cassidy said: “We did a petition to keep the Monklands Hospital in our local area which is also what both Labour and the SNP want, but they will not work together on the issue which is very disappointing.”

Since the summer, NHS Lanarkshire has been canvassing opinion about refurbishment of the current hospital in Airdrie, a new-build on the existing site or a new-build in either Gartcosh Business Interchange or Drumshangie Moss near Glenmavis.

A panel made up of patient and public representatives, NHS Lanarkshire staff and key partners such as the Scottish Ambulance Service plumped for a new-build at Gartcosh, more than five miles north-west of Airdrie.

NHS Lanarkshire stated: “A subsequent financial analysis of all the proposals, which took into account the appraisal results, has confirmed a new hospital at Gartcosh as the highest scoring option.”

The decision on the chosen option will be taken next month, but there is no chance of work starting on either the refurbishment or new build until 2020 at least, no matter where it happens.

Cassidy says that if the SNP and Labour work together they could get what both local parties want – that Monklands Hospital, new or refurbished, stays in Airdrie.

Cassidy, who is not a member of any party, explained: “While we have members who are in the SNP, we also have members who are in the Green Party, the Labour Party and unaligned. We fully realise that to gain independence we must appeal to people of all parties, and to convince them that the best environment to do that is in a Scotland where we control all the levers of power, not just a few. For that reason we try to stay out of local party politics.”

The issue was just too big to ignore, however. Cassidy explained: “We went to one of the presentations and public meetings which were very well attended in Airdrie at least.

“As a group we are very much of the same mind as both the parties that the local hospital should remain in Airdrie.

“We started a petition for that option and got a few hundred signatures.

“We found that just about everybody in Airdrie wants the hospital to stay somewhere local.

“To see the local hospital moved to Gartcosh would cause real transport problems for a lot of people – it could take more than an hour on public transport to get there, and there’s no direct train service. It’s only a few minutes by car, but this is a very deprived area but a lot of people around here don’t have cars.

“The hospital is also one of the biggest employers locally, and jobs would be lost locally if it goes to Gartcosh.

“When political parties get involved, things get complicated.

“What was most disappointing for me personally was that during the recent by-election campaigning Labour leader Richard Leonard was campaigning specifically to keep the Monklands Hospital on its present site, while the Labour Party were campaigning to keep it ‘in Monklands’, which is what the SNP are also campaigning for. It’s a sign of the bitterness and animosity that exists locally, that on an issue where both of the main parties by and large agree, they will not work with each other for the community.”

The issue serves a warning to Yes groups, says Cassidy: “Anything that involves party politics is going to be tricky, but there are some issues you can’t ignore.”

There is one more local issue which Airdrie for Independence has successfully highlighted and that is the amount of empty property in the town caused by the general collapse of retailing.

“Shopwise when businesses close down they are not getting replaced,” said Cassidy, “and I have to say that this is not the town it used to be. We have also looked into Brexit and can see that it will not bring any benefits to Airdrie. We can be pretty sure of that, no matter if there’s a deal or no deal at all... What we are trying to show people here that only independence will give us options that we do not have at the moment, and which we will never get until we are independent.”