The Airdrie councillor whose defection from the SNP handed control of North Lanarkshire to Labour insists his seismic decision “wasn’t made lightly” and with the aim of doing what he considered “best for the residents of North Lanarkshire”.
Michael Coyle voted against his own party in last Thursday’s vital choice of a new leader of the authority, resulting in a knife-edge 38-37 win for Labour which ousted the SNP from power after only three months.
Speaking exclusively to the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, he told how he made the decision for the dual reasons of his growing dissatisfaction with the party nationally plus his feeling that future budget cuts expected by the authority will require an “experienced administration” – and that he only fully finalised his vote in the last hour before the meeting.
Councillor Coyle told Lanarkshire Live : “I’ve got to decide what’s best for the residents of North Lanarkshire – I had to look at everything and weigh it up, and I thought that was what I had to do.
“I’d been feeling this way for the past few weeks with the way events in the SNP had been handled over a period of time; there’s been in-fighting and different things were happening within headquarters, and I just think a catalogue of events made me decide.
“There will also be tremendous pressure on North Lanarkshire, losing up to £100 million over three years, and I felt as if this administration wasn’t experienced enough to handle the deficit that’s going to happen.
"That’s no reflection on anyone as there are lots of good people in the SNP group, but this is hanging over and we have to address this.”
He continued: “It’s preyed on my mind and this been done with a heavy heart, but I feel I’ve made the right decision and I just hope people will realise I’ve done this for all the best reasons.
“People will judge me and have their different views, but I’ve got to look at whatever is best for the council and residents, and I hope constituents and residents would understand that my decision wasn’t made lightly.”
He emphasised that his decision is “not for any monetary reasons”, and has resigned from his job as caseworker for Airdrie & Shotts MSP Neil Gray, saying: “I’ve been very privileged to work for him for many years and I don’t want to embarrass him in any way.”
Councillor Coyle’s daughter Sophia is also an elected SNP member for the neighbouring Airdrie North ward, and he stressed: “I just hope people realise it’s my choice and nothing to do with her.
“It was a sole judgment; I’ve never had any conversations about it and I had to go where my heart told me to.”
He said of the dramatic moment in the nine-minute hybrid meeting when he registered his surprise vote for the Labour amendment: “I think everybody was in shock and don’t think anybody took it in.
"I then got a phone call from Jim Logue who was genuinely surprised.
“It was right up into the final minutes when I made my mind up.
"I knew it was going to be close and that there might have been one or two votes in it; I had to make that decision, and I just hope the administration will take things forward and get back on an even keel.”
Councillor Coyle now plans to sit as a Labour group member, just three months after being elected on an SNP ticket for his fourth term representing Airdrie South, with his decision shifting the political composition of the council to 35 members for the SNP and 33 for the second-placed minority administration party.
He said: “I know people will say I’ve betrayed the SNP and I understand people those who’ll say ‘we voted for you as an SNP councillor’ – but a lot of people voted for me because of my name and my work in the ward since 2007, so it balances itself out.
“I can see both sides of the coin but I’ve got to do things for the best reasons.”
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