THE Labour Party group in a by-election battleground has been blasted as “poisonous” by one of its own councillors.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has been alerted to a culture of “secrecy, fear and intimidation” within the South Lanarkshire branch of his party, which controls the local authority, the Daily Record reports.

It is the setting of the upcoming Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, which will test the extent of Labour’s resurgence in Scotland.

East Kilbride South councillor Mathew Buchanan, in a letter seen by the Daily Record, wrote to Sarwar (below) to complain about the local group’s leadership and said he had considered quitting his role over the allegedly toxic culture.

The National: Anas Sarwar

Buchanan wrote: “If we are to recruit and retain the best activists and candidates, then we cannot bring them into a situation where our local government groups are ran by secrecy, fear and intimidation. I nearly chucked it myself a couple of times.

“There will be disagreements and clashes of personality in all walks of life, but what is happening in [South Lanarkshire Council] is poisonous. I don’t expect any action to be taken. I simply want it on record that there is a problem with Labour in South Lanarkshire.”

He went on to sketch a picture of the local group, which he portrayed as being ruled with an iron fist by Joe Fagan, who was suspended for two months in June from his position as council leader.

Fagan was found to have leaked confidential material to the media.

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Buchanan wrote: “The group is kept in the dark about many big decisions until they are already made, we are instructed on how to vote on motions that we cannot even see the wording of.

“Committee chairs have been pulled up for disagreeing with Joe in the privacy of Labour group meetings, allegedly receiving a slap on the wrist for ‘questioning Joe’s authority in public’.”

His complaints were seized upon by the SNP, whose candidate Katy Loudon (below) is fighting to take the seat previously held by Margaret Ferrier.

The National: Katy Loudon has challenged Labour candidate Michael Shanks to speak up for a detained Stirling

She said: “Labour [councillor] Buchanan hit the nail on the head – there is a problem with Labour in South Lanarkshire. They have a suspended leader, a twice-censured depute, and this leaked letter shows that, just like Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leaders in South Lanarkshire have completely ditched their principles.

"Labour have nothing positive to offer voters – and that has been made crystal clear by their refusal to commit to scrapping the two-child cap and rape clause.

"The 'fresh start' they claim they can offer comes straight from the Tory handbook, complete with divisions, infighting and prioritising the rich."

The National has approached South Lanarkshire Labour for comment.

A spokesperson for the group said they “simply do not recognise” Buchanan’s description of the local branch, adding: “All of our decision-making arrangements have been democratically approved and are consistent with our standing orders and the Labour Party rule book.”