LABOUR has won a high-profile council by-election in North Lanarkshire, after the SNP candidate was embroiled in an internal party feud.

Labour’s Geraldine Woods was elected in the Coatbridge South ward on Thursday after defeating the SNP’s Lesley Mitchell.

Labour led on first preferences, and stretched their lead after five rounds of transfers, ending on 47.5% to the SNP’s 43%, with 9.5% of votes not transferred. Turnout was 25.9%.

Labour's final share of the vote was up nine percentage points, the SNP's down two.

The by-election was caused by death of Labour councillor Gordon Encinias in August, and both Labour and the SNP launched huge campaigns to win the seat.

However Ms Mitchell proved a controversial choice among local SNP members, with claims she was parachuted in from Airdrie because of links to a local political clan.

Ms Mitchell works for Coatbridge MSP Fulton MacGregor, is the ex-partner of his brother, SNP councillor Fergus MacGregor, and had a third brother, Findlay, as her election agent.

All the brothers are linked to a Lanarkshire SNP faction dubbed the McMafia, a group of local power brokers that includes MSPs Richard Lyle and Alex Neil.

The candidates of all the other main parties were selected by local members.

However, although Ms Mitchell was nominated by 20 branch members, it is understood her nomination was not checked or signed off by the Coatbridge SNP.

She was also the only person considered by SNP HQ for the candidacy.

AN SNP source said HQ were partly to blame for the ensuing cronyism row and the defeat on Thursday: “Once again, headquarters couldn’t read the mood on the ground. The lack of a local candidate hurt them.”

There was also controversy when the two existing SNP councillors in the ward, Fergus MacGregor and Tracy Carragher, left the campaign trail to attend the two-day Cosla conference at a five-star hotel in St Andrews earlier this month.

Ms Woods said she was delighted to be elected as a “local champion” for Coatbridge South.

She said: “Throughout this campaign, I have made it clear that I will always stand up for local interests and I'm thrilled to be given this opportunity by our community to represent them.

“I will continue to work for the new Monklands hospital to stay in Monklands, oppose the SNP’s plans for an incinerator in Carnbroe and prevent the EuroPark development which would have a devastating impact on our greenbelt."

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: "The dividing line in Scottish politics is now between investment and growth with Labour, or cuts and division with the Tories and the SNP.

“This result shows how more and more people across Scotland are listening to Labour’s message of hope and real change.

"People saw in this by election a party that stands up for local services such as the Monklands Hospital, defends local democracy and a Labour Party offering the vision of a better Scotland.” 

Jim Logue, Labour leader of North Lanarkshire, said: "This by-election was a real Team Labour effort.

“To win by such a margin, with our share of the vote up 12% on the local elections last year and with a swing of 7% from SNP to Labour is testament to our administration’s work in our mission to make North Lanarkshire a terrific place to live, learn, work, invest and visit. I look forward to working with Cllr Woods as she joins the largest Labour council in Scotland.”

Ms Mitchell said: “It really was a close one, but Labour held on.”

In a tweet, Fulton MacGregor said: “Unfortunately we were not successful in the Coatbridge South by-election. Commiserations to our wonderful candidate Lesley Mitchell - what a fantastic campaign and only losing by the narrowest of margins.

“Thanks to everyone who helped. Congratulations to Geraldine Woods from team SNP.”