THE First Minister has today launched the SNPs Bellshill by-election campaign amid tension following the expulsions and resignations of seven SNP councillors.

On Saturday, Humza Yousaf joined Bellshill council candidate Joe Budd to speak to local people and businesses ahead of the by-election on June 15.

Yousaf described the reception after chapping doors as “extremely positive” and said the party is going into Budd’s campaign with “confidence, notwithstanding the local issues that exist”.

Budd previously quit the SNP and stood against it as an independent candidate in the Thorniewood by-election in North Lanarkshire in March 2021.The civil engineer will now stand for the SNP in the Bellshill seat, after the by-election was triggered by the resignation of former council leader Jordan Linden over allegations of sexual misconduct. Linden has denied the allegations against him.

The campaign launch comes after SNP members in North Lanarkshire called on Yousaf to launch an investigation into the "toxic" culture of the council group

When asked today whether he had replied to the letter sent by the branch, Yousaf said: “I’ll make sure I look at the letter and reply obviously in due course. I have been speaking to local members, MSPs, local councillors, in fact the leader of the SNP group as well.

“We’re absolutely holding our hands up – I as First Minister and leader of the party say that things of course could have been handled better. That’s why we’ll do the investigation.

“The party will investigate some of the allegations that have been made about the party and about the party’s handing of the complaints.”

After Yousaf spoke to press, branch convenor Alison Cameron said she spoke to him and gave a physical copy of the letter she had sent on May 5.

The National: Yousaf speaking to Branch Convenor Alison CameronYousaf speaking to Branch Convenor Alison Cameron (Image: Laura Pollock)

Another activist called the branch atmosphere “tense”. They added: “Some members are disheartened, some are shocked, some are angry, they feel let down.”

READ MORE: North Lanarkshire SNP Group: 'Beyond toxic' say seven councillors

However, the First Minister called on branch members to “club together” in campaigning.

He said: “It’s really important that the branch, the branch members, the councillors, the MSPs, the MPs, clubs together to make sure that we’ve got as much SNP representation in North Lanarkshire because that serves the people of North Lanarkshire well.

"What we’ve got here now in North Lanarkshire is a Labour council propped up by, frankly, the Conservatives and that’s not serving the people of this area well at all.”

Yousaf and Budd visited local businesses on Bellshill high street including the butchers which recently won the first ever world haggis championship, Coopers of Bellshill.

The National:

The First Minister served customers in Café Hepburn and visited florists Flowers by Greer before speaking to the owners on a range of issues including the challenges of keeping small and local businesses going during the cost-of-living crisis.

SNP, Alba, and Freedom Alliance activists were also their speaking to the public and highlightineg the upcoming by-election.

READ MORE: SNP announce date for special independence convention in Dundee

There are 10 candidates standing in the Bellshill by-election including Budd.The other candidates include Colin Cameron (Tory), John Cole (LibDem), Leo Lanahan (Scottish Family Party), John Marshall (Alba), Anne McCrory (Labour), Rosemary McGowan (Greens), Simona Panaitescu (Freedom Alliance), Billy Ross (British Unionists), and Neil Wilson (Ukip).

We previously told how Labour won power on North Lanarkshire council following Linden’s resignation thanks to a vote from the only British Unionist Party (BUP) councillor.

The SNP had only been in power for three months, but after a defection by Michael Coyle, councillor for Airdrie South, from the SNP to Labour, the party were able to take control of the authority.

The SNP group proposed a motion to have new group leader Tracy Carragher elected in post at the head of the council, but Scottish Labour put in their own bid for their group leader Jim Logue to be installed.

The Labour amendment passed with 38 votes, compared to the SNP’s 37, with one abstention.