A FURORE has erupted around Cunninghame North’s MSP, Kenneth Gibson, after two party officials resigned in protest at his alleged behaviour, followed by a rival candidate suspending his campaign.

They are among 21 councillors, activists and members who signed a letter of complaint to the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – Nicola Sturgeon’s husband – in June 2019 detailing Mr Gibson’s ‘aggressive and abrasive’ bullying, ‘especially of women’.

The letter claims that Mr Gibson is only on speaking terms with two of the seven North Ayrshire SNP councillors in the constituency.

But the MSP, who has held his seat since 2007, has hit back at the ‘vicious and mendacious smear campaign’.

He said: “I’m no angel but any actions that may have offended are done in the passion of the moment and not calculated, whereas the actions by this group are deliberate, vicious and spiteful.

“Any accusations against a member should first be raised with the individual concerned, his/her branch, the Constituency Association and only then HQ.

"In the 16 months that have transpired, that did not happen. They chose to go to a unionist paper instead.

"Sadly, I anticipate that other underhand and sneaky tactics will be used during the selection process.”

Osama Bhutta, who was in the running to become the SNP’s candidate for the constituency has since suspended his campaign citing rule-breaking.

Mr Bhutta said: “Office bearers in one of our largest branches last week circulated a motion to all their members in support of the incumbent MSP.

“This contravenes rules 8.5, 9.2 and 9.3 about using member data, using party meetings, and the role of office bearers.

“I lodged a complaint with SNP headquarters about this exactly one week ago. My message and followups have not been acknowledged.”

Cunninghame North constituency organiser Dr Malcolm Kerr said the allegations against Mr Gibson include bullying, harassment and abuses of parliamentary expenses rules.

He said: “There is widespread disbelief across the Cunninghame North SNP branches that Mr Gibson has been passed as fit to stand for election.”

Councillor Ellen McMaster and Mr Gibson’s former election agent Linda Nicholson have resigned their party roles

Cllr McMaster said: “Members increasingly won’t work for the party, have left the party and, in some instances, have also left the independence movement.

“HQ is aware of this problem and you would think it would set alarm bells ringing.”

Cunninghame North SNP councillors said they are aware that the allegations are being investigated by the party’s national secretary.

A spokesperson for the SNP national secretary said: “Any concerns raised are passed to, and considered by, the national secretary, who treats any such matters seriously.

“Some evidence of the claims being made is, however, required and that’s been made clear to those raising concerns here.”

Mr Gibson still faces a challenge from Corri Wilson for the SNP's nomination.

Ms Wilson said: "I am very sorry to learn that my colleague, Osama Bhutta, has felt it necessary to suspend his nomination campaign.

"I was approached to stand in the Cunninghame North constituency by a large number of SNP Party members who wished a positive nomination contest to take place.

"I have no doubt that the SNP will address the issues of conduct that have been identified and will ensure that a fair and friendly contest now takes place, with breaches of party selection rules by the incumbent candidate being appropriately addressed."

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: