NICOLA Sturgeon has been urged to suspend all SNP branches in North Lanarkshire amid claims that a party councillor who is facing racism allegations is the victim of a "smear campaign".

Alan Beveridge, an ex-police officer and SNP councillor who quit the party last year claiming there was a "climate of fear, intimidation and false allegations" locally, called for the First Minister to launch a widespread enquiry saying the current situation in the area is damaging the entire independence movement.

It follows Julie McAnulty, a Coatbridge councillor and SNP candidate at the Holyrood elections, being suspended from the party over claims that she told another activist, Sheena McCulloch, that she wanted to "get the Pakis out of the party" during a car journey last summer.

Ms McCulloch is a staff member for Richard Lyle, the Central Scotland MSP who has been at the centre of a series of internal SNP controversies in the Lanarkshire region. In August, a string of party members complained to party HQ about his behaviour at a branch meeting, while Ms McAnulty stood against the MSP in a selection battle for the Uddingston and Bellshill seat. Although Mr Lyle won the constituency race, he was ranked ninth on the Central Scotland party list, three places below Ms McAnulty.

Sources who know the councillor, a parliamentary assistant to MP Phil Boswell, said she had been left devastated by the claims against her and that they were confident that she would not have used racist language. It is understood that her supporters in the area within the SNP are planning to launch a 'justice for Julie' campaign.

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Those who are supporting Ms McAnulty point to the fact that the allegation was made to the party nine months after it allegedly happened, and have questioned why Ms McCulloch would wait so long during a period when the councillor was campaigning to become an MSP, to lodge her complaint. It was leaked to the press almost immediately. In her complaint, reported in the Daily Record, Ms McCulloch said she had decided to speak out after other racism allegations came to light and that she had feared reprisals if she raised the issue.

The SNP this week banned meetings of the Coatbridge and Chryston branch until May, however Mr Beveridge called on the SNP leadership to go further, saying the party was haemorrhaging members as a result of its unwillingness to step in and take meaningful action.

He added: "The situation within the SNP in North Lanarkshire has been in chaos for over a year and is in grave danger of bringing the entire political system within the area into disrepute.

"Various activists across North Lanarkshire over the past year have directly contacted both SNP Headquarters and the First Minister begging for assistance and asking her to intervene locally in an effort to salvage the reputation of the party and hold those who have brought it into disrepute to account.

He said the only way for the party and the independence movement to move forward is for a fully independent public inquiry to be held into what he claimed amounted to “intimidation, smear campaigns and victimisation”.

"The First Minister would do well to remember that in the eyes of many, the failure of the Labour Party to deal effectively with allegations about the actions of a small cabal in Monklands Lanarkshire was the first chapter of its downfall in Scotland. She owes it to everyone within the independence movement not to allow history to repeat itself."

A spokesman for the SNP said: "Cllr McAnulty has been placed under administrative suspension from the SNP.  There’ll be no decision on possible disciplinary action until investigations are completed."