A South Uist councillor has called for an inquiry into how the returning officer for the Western Isles constituency came to attend a meeting he claims “broke every law in the electoral book” and from which he was excluded.
The meeting about ferry services, held at the office of Storas Uibhist and attended by the SNP candidate for the Western Isles, Angus Brendan MacNeil, as well as the Scottish Goverment Transport Minister, Derek MacKay MSP, and Alasdair Allan MSP. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar representatives, including Chief Executive Malcolm Burr, were also present.
Cllr Ronnie 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 Cllr 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 Comhairle nan Eilean Siar 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, which is part of the Scottish Government. Mr MacKinnon says that the Chief Executive – who is also the Returning Officer for the constituency – told him he was “surprised” to learn of Cllr Manford’s role as organiser.
Cllr MacKinnon continued: “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.”
He added: “This was a clumsy stitch-up which deserves to backfire. The people of South Uist know very well who has been working for their interests and who has been working against them. A love-in during the election campaign, organised by Cllr Manford and excluding people who are not SNP supporters, tells us a lot about how their network operates.
Cllr MacKinnon said that Storas Uibhist should also examine the role of its own Chief Executive, Huw Francis, who he says was a prominent supporter of independence during the referendum campaign and liaised with Cllr Manford to organise the meeting.
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 to which the local councillor was not invited.