Calls for inquiry over Uist transport meeting

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A South Uist councillor has called for an inquiry into how the returning officer for the Western Isles constituency came to attend a meeting which he says “which broke every law in the electoral book” .

However Transport Scotland have hit back saying this is a ‘shameful and dishonest smear’ against local council officials.

The meeting, about ferry services, was held at the offices of Storas Uibhist in Daliburgh and attended by the SNP candidate for the Western Isles, Angus Brendan MacNeil, as well as the Scottish Government Transport minister, Derek MacKay and the local MSP, Alasdair Allan. Council representatives, including chief executive Malcolm Burr were also present.

Mr MacKinnon, who has been prominent in the campaign to improve ferry services for South Uist, was not invited. He said: “When I learned of the proposed meeting, I phoned Transport Scotland in Edinburgh to ask why I had not been invited and whether I could attend.

“I was told that the meeting was being organised by Councillor Donald Manford, leader of the SNP Group on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and that I should contact the SNP office in Stornoway for an invitation. I immediately contacted the chief executive of the Comhairle and relayed that conversation to him. At that point, he could have been in no doubt that the meeting was a party political stunt”.

The invitation to the council had come from Transport Scotland, he was told, which is part of the Scottish Government.

Mr MacKinnon said: “This was a party political event in the interests of Mr MacNeil who has hitherto shown extraordinarily little interest in the issue of ferry services from Lochboisdale. It is totally inappropriate for the returning officer, or indeed the council, to participate in a meeting which involves one election candidate but to which others have not been invited.”

Labour candidate Alasdair Morrison has written to both Mr Burr and Mr Francis to express his concerns about their participation in a meeting which involved only one of the candidates and from which the local councillor was not invited.

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Derek Mackay said: “Labour should apologise for their shameful and dishonest smears against local council officials who have no right of reply. The ministerial meeting was not party political, indeed, it was attended by the leader of the council who is not SNP. The Transport Minister’s visit was inclusive and extensive and Cllr Mackinnon himself attended two of these meetings and, incidentally, never made any mention or request to attend the meeting at Storas Uibhist which he was aware of. Had Cllr Mackinnon asked to attend he would have been very welcome. It is regrettable Labour want to create fights instead of working with us to create jobs, secure investment and improve local services.”

A spokesperson for the Comhairle said: “The meeting was not organised by the SNP, but by Scottish Government. The Comhairle was invited to attend this and other meetings in Uist by the civil servant with responsibility for Island issues. Who else was invited was entirely up to Scottish Government and the community groups involved. The Comhairle had no knowledge of other attendees, and who had or had not been invited. The Comhairle was invited by a proper process to attend the meeting. The Comhairle would be happy to assist Councillor Mackinnon in pursuing the advice which he received, which is not consistent with the terms of the invitation to the Comhairle’s Leader and officers. The meeting was also attended by the Comhairle Leader, who is not an SNP Councillor.”