A COUNCILLOR has been accused of letting down his constituents over offensive comments made about his opponents – including branding them an “inoperable ulcer”.

Gordon Murray, the leader of the SNP group on the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said he was “hurt and disappointed” by a column penned by the “influential” independent councillor Norman “Norrie” MacDonald.

The National: Independent councillor Norman MacDonaldIndependent councillor Norman MacDonald

MacDonald made the remarks in a column for the West Highland Free Press in which he criticised SNP councillors for taking the administration to task for the controversial sale of Lews Castle.

A lawsuit over the sale of the tourist attraction overlooking Stornoway was settled out of court for £450,000 in 2020.

The SNP opposition continue to raise questions about the process which resulted in MacDonald saying they “want blood”.

He wrote: “They want to ask ‘more questions’.

“To what end, if not to hunt for scapegoats?

“Led by Cllr Gordon Murray, the local SNP group within the Comhairle have consistently tried to undermine from within.”

The National: Councillor Gordon Murray (right) with SNP colleage Rae MacKenzieCouncillor Gordon Murray (right) with SNP colleage Rae MacKenzie

He accused Murray and his colleagues of “opposing for the sake of opposing”, compared the members to Guy Fawkes and said they were the Comhairle’s “inoperable ulcer”.

Murray said the councillor – who also works as a taxi driver – should “apologise to the electorate” and accused him of falling short of the standards expected of members outlined in the code of conduct.

He told The National: “Any difference of opinion is attacked in this way, he doesn’t recognise that we are a democracy.

“I don’t mind robust comment but he has taken it to a personal level.

“It’s because we’ve questioned things and we’ve scrutinised. They want nodding donkeys.

“I was pretty hurt and disappointed especially with the connotations of health problems.

“We have a councillor code of conduct and we should respect each and every councillor and respect the differences of opinion that are going to happen. It’s the lowest common denominator.

The National: Lews Castle was sold and transformed into a museum - but it cost the Comhairle £450,000 in an out of court settlement in 2020Lews Castle was sold and transformed into a museum - but it cost the Comhairle £450,000 in an out of court settlement in 2020

“It’s going to dissuade people from standing [for election]. We live in a goldfish bowl on the islands and we see each other in Tesco and the Co-op so when people throw mud, it causes real issues.”

Kenman Holdings sued the Comhairle in 2017, arguing the tendering process for Lews Castle was unfair and initially sought more than £23 million.

The firm was the only bidder when the council first tendered the property in 2011. The process was subsequently restarted with different terms introduced for the sale.

The case was settled out of court for nearly half a million pounds – including interest and legal fees - and the council secured a “no admission of guilt” clause in the agreement, according to MacDonald’s column last week.

It was refurbished at the cost of £20m to become a hotel and museum and was opened by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2017. 

Keith MacKenzie, the editor of the West Highland Free Press, said: “Norrie T MacDonald is a much-valued columnist who has been writing for the WHFP for around 15 years.

“He offers forthright and entertaining opinions on a range of topics each week – and as a columnist that is all that we ask of him.”

MacDonald was approached for comment.

In a statement published on Wednesday, February 2, Murray said MacDonald had called to apologise for his remarks. 

Murray wrote: "I received a phone call this evening from Cllr Norrie Macdonald offering an apology for his ill-choice of words in his article in the West Highland Free Press last week.

"I accepted his apology on behalf of the group and forgave him immediately."