SNP activists who made a bid for independence by attempting to set up their own party branch have seen their plans blocked by neighbours in a larger town who insisted they were "better together".

Grassroots SNP members in Shotts, North Lanarkshire, are keen to set up their own official branch claiming their town has little in common with Airdrie, which is part of their single local party organisation. They also argue that poor public transport links and challenging roads mean they struggle to make the nine-mile journey for party meetings, which are held in Airdrie.

However, the move to break up the Airdrie and Shotts branch was blocked after members from the larger town refused to support a motion that would have allowed their neighbours to secede, using their numbers to say no thanks to the proposal.

It is understood that the Airdrie-based member who spoke against the motion told the meeting the Airdrie and Shotts branch would be far stronger and more influential if it remained one entity.

Following the decision, one activist said: "It's ironic that the party is supposed to be all for devolving power and becoming independent from our bigger neighbour, but when Shotts tries to get a bit of independence we're told we're better together. It sounded like last year all over again."

The power struggle has emerged in the backyard of Alex Neil, the influential SNP cabinet secretary, who won the Holyrood Airdrie and Shotts constituency in 2011 after three successive Labour victories. Mr Neil's protégé, Neil Gray, won the Westminster Airdrie and Shotts seat from Labour's Pamela Nash in a landslide in May with a majority of almost 9,000.

Mr Gray, who was chosen to stand for the seat following internal rows over the selection process, recently became the SNP's Westminster spokesman for fair work and employment, after the previous incumbent was promoted to the business portfolio which was vacated when Edinburgh MP Michelle Thomson left the SNP in the wake of a scandal over property deals.

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It is believed that SNP party HQ sent an official to chair the branch meeting, who ordered that the motion was put to a vote immediately after the speakers for and against it made their pitch. There was anger amongst some in attendance when no opportunity was given to open up the meeting for a wider debate.

There are believed to be around 150 members of the SNP in Shotts, which has a population of just under 9,000, with the figure approaching 1,000 in Airdrie where 37,000 people live. There has been a huge rise in membership in both towns since the referendum, in a part of Lanarkshire that was once one of Labour's most secure strongholds but is now firmly in the nationalist camp. North Lanarkshire was one of just four of 32 council areas that voted for independence last year.

The proposal for a separate Shotts branch would have seen the local party move to a constituency association model, which is used widely across Scotland within the SNP, and sees several branches active in one parliamentary seat. While the Airdrie and Shotts seat has just one branch, the party's Clydesdale constituency association, for example, has six active branches operating within the boundaries of a single Holyrood seat.

It is understood that Shotts members will not give up on their push for independence after their motion was blocked, and are expected to push for a second vote at a later date.

A spokesman for the SNP said: "It’s for the constituency branch to determine its own internal structures. Like any democracy, the majority vote wins the day."

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