AN SNP councillor in Stirling has quit the party amid claims of “toxic abuse” and bullying.

Bannockburn representative Maureen Bennison resigned suddenly last night, alleging that problems have "come to the fore" since Alyn Smith was named as the SNP’s Westminster candidate in the region.

Party officials have condemned the “untrue assertions” and urged the councillor to step down to trigger a by-election.

In a letter sent to council leader Scott Farmer and seen by the Stirling Observer, Bennison writes: "This has been an extremely difficult decision, but it is the only principled course of action left to me in regrettable circumstances.

"Since being elected in May 2017, I have championed women's rights and, through the public safety committee I chair, a huge amount of work has been done to advance better outcomes for women facing a range of difficult issues, from poverty to domestic abuse.

"However, during this same period, women have been attacked by elements within my own party due to concerns made over the Scottish Government's proposed changes to gender recognition and the danger these may erode hard-won women's rights. Reasonable debate has proved impossible, and instead, toxic abuse and threats have been heaped out on any woman prepared to speak out on the issue."

The councillor, who is the partner of former Stirling MP Steven Paterson, adds that the situation has "come to the fore" since Smith became the local candidate, alleging that Paterson was blocked from being selected. Stirling SNP strongly denies this claim.

Bennison also says Smith "consistently refused to condemn the frequent vile abuse spouted on social media by his partner and other such adherents" and claims the same people tried to deselect her at the council elections in 2022 because she refused to campaign for the MP.

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In the letter to Farmer she continues: "I have made repeated complaints to our council group regarding this matter, and sought their assistance against this abuse, but although several colleagues have been extremely supportive, others have certainly not been. Indeed, I have felt bullied to sit down and shut up by one particular colleague. I will not sit down and shut up for anyone.

"It is depressing that toxic gender politics seems to be the prime issue vexing some in prominent positions in our local party.

"I will continue to vote and work in the best interests of my constituents. I sincerely hope that certain people in the party reflect on their behaviour, the damage it is doing to the SNP, and to the cause of Scottish independence - a cause to which I remain absolutely and totally committed."

Stirling SNP strongly rejected the allegations and urged Bennison to stand down as a councillor.

A spokesperson told the Stirling Observer: "Maureen Bennison has sadly not conducted herself as an SNP representative for some time now, and her behaviour in recent months has been bitter to say the least. This is a sad end to her time as an SNP member, casting untrue assertions about Stirling SNP members and the party generally.

"In 2017, Bannockburn and the Eastern Villages elected two SNP councillors. With Maureen Bennison today resigning from the SNP, she should now also step down from Stirling Council and trigger a by-election in the ward, so that the good people of the area can elect an SNP councillor who will play a full and constructive part in the council administration delivering for local people."

Council leader Scott Farmer added: "Late last night I was saddened to receive a letter from Councillor Bennison resigning from the SNP with immediate effect. I do not comment on internal matters relating to the SNP and will be consulting with colleagues on this matter in due course."