• McAnulty says allegations are stitch-up by the ‘Monklands McMafia’ cabal of politicians
  • Accusation may be connected to probe into council’s £30m-a-year deal with housing firm
  • Third passenger in car at time of alleged slur made did not hear her make the comment

AN SNP councillor at the centre of a racism row believes she is being stitched up because of her inquiries into a company with a £30-million-a-year contract with North Lanarkshire Council and its links to local politicians.

A source close to Julie McAnulty has told The National the councillor denies the charges of racism and says she is convinced the allegation is supported by a group of influential local politicians, the so-called “Monklands McMafia”, after she raised queries over their relationship with housing contractors Mears Scotland and the £25m decision to rewrite rather than retender the council’s contract with the company.

Our source said: “This is absolutely about Mears. We’ve been expecting something for a while.”

Last week McAnulty was suspended by the SNP after a complaint was received from party activist Sheena McCulloch, who claimed the councillor had said she wanted to “get the pakis out of the party” while the two were in a car during a by-election campaign nine months ago.

McCulloch’s complaint, which was filed last week, was then almost immediately leaked to the Daily Record.

There has been a groundswell of support from local activists who believe McAnulty is the latest victim a turf war involving the Monklands McMafia.

The National can reveal another person was in the car with McAnulty and McCulloch when McAnulty was supposed to have made the racial slur. That person is expected to tell SNP investigators they did not hear McAnulty make the comment attributed to her in the press. However, he is also expected to say he did leave the car for around five minutes, but that there was no change in atmosphere when he returned.

North Lanarkshire Council controversially agreed to rewrite rather than retender a contract with housing contractor Mears Scotland after they said the original deal was losing them money.

The decision is reported to have cost the public purse around £25m. Council auditors Scott-Moncrieff raised concerns over the deal, saying it was not ”possible to conclude with full certainty” that amending the contract rather than retendering was, “the optimal solution.”

The decision caused a civil war in the council’s ruling Labour group. Jim McCabe, the outgoing leader of the group, was forced to deny that his close links with Mears executive Steve Kelly and director Willie Docherty– husband of Glasgow’s Lord Provost Sadie Docherty – had any impact on his decision. One Labour councillor, Tommy Morgan, was removed from his position as the convenor of the authority’s audit and governance committee after months of asking questions about the Mears deal. Labour members, who voted 16-14 to sack him, say it was because of an unrelated disciplinary matter. Morgan threatened the Labour party with legal action over the decision.

SNP councillors have told The National they wanted to attack the “open goal of Labour cronyism” at the time but were told not to by senior figures in the local party.

McAnulty, however, reported McCabe and his relationship with Willie Docherty to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

The commissioner said that it “did not amount to a contravention of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.”

Alan Beveridge, another councillor, was quoted in the press as querying the deal. He told The National that an attempt was made to intimidate him when four SNP councillors and a group of people who said they were employees of Mears attempted to disrupt a meeting he had organised for Rise. The Mears staff said they were worried they would lose their jobs if the deal was investigated.

The split in the North Lanarkshire party is seemingly between the old guard in the Monklands McMafia and the newer members who joined after the referendum.

Many of those newer members and others who dislike how the old guard operates have gathered around Phil Boswell, the local MP. Boswell is seen as an outsider in North Lanarkshire. He was drafted in from Aberdeenshire when favourite to win selection Dr Imtiaz “Jimmy” Majid failed the party’s vetting after tabloid revelations about his messy divorce and allegations that he had attempted to hide more than a million pounds from his ex-wife.

Boswell recently found himself at the centre of an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards after the press was told he had failed to properly record his directorship of Boswell and Johnston Ltd. His supporters say this is no coincidence as he had stood up to members of the Monklands McMafia when they attempted introduce new local party branches.

Neither Sheena McCulloch or Julie McAnulty responded to requests for a comment. Mears Scotland and North Lanarkshire Council both declined to comment.

A spokesman for the SNP said: “Councillor Julie McAnulty has been placed under administrative suspension while the allegations are looked into. We will be making no further comment until these investigations are concluded.”