The Labour party have been pressed to reveal what they knew about Steven Purcell’s drug use after newspaper reports claimed that senior officials from the party interviewed the disgraced former Glasgow Council Leader in July 2008.
The News of the World alleges that senior officials from the Labour party were sent to speak to Mr Purcell after drug rumours reached the party headquarters in July 2008, this was around the time of the Glasgow East by-election. Purcell was considered as a candidate for the Glasgow East by-election after the party's first choice, fellow councillor George Ryan, dropped out of the race.
"At that point, rumours about Steven had reached the party headquarters.
"So a discussion was had with him - and he was asked outright about the drug rumours. And after that, any idea of him being the candidate was abandoned immediately."
However the suggestion that Purcell was dropped as a possible candidate seems to be at odds with media reports at the time claiming that Gordon Brown had called Mr. Purcell FOUR TIMES in an attempt at persuading the Glasgow Council leader to stand.
The seat had been vacated by Labour MP David Marshall who had resigned amid controversy over expenses claims totalling £500,000. Labour in Scotland had also just been rocked by the resignation of their Holyrood leader Wendy Alexander after her own donations scandal whilst Brown himself was under enormous pressure as his leadership was being questioned by Labour insiders. Any suggestions that someone as senior a politician as Steven Purcell may have been taking cocaine would have had a devastating effect on both Labour and Brown.
Later statements from another Labour spokesman challenged the NOTW version: "The allegations concerning Mr Purcell were unknown until the events of this week unfolded."
Labour insiders have also tried to play down the importance of Steven Purcell by saying that he was no more than a "brand" who "did not actually take decisions" adding : "He did not run the council single-handedly. That was a media myth - one we played up to because he was a good brand for us."
This attempt at playing down Purcell's importance to Labour and his status within the party especially in Scotland is at odds with actual events; far from being a myth, Labour appear to have been keen to promote him as an asset and the future of the party. Indeed such has been the trust placed in Purcell by Labour that he was allowed a very high profile role in the recent Glasgow North East by election, effectively kicking off Labour’s campaign with an attack on the SNP over plans to shelve the GARL project and claiming SNP bias against Glasgow. He also appeared live on the BBC in order to debate with the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the GARL issue and Glasgow local authority recently refused to accept the arguments behind the Scottish government policy on reducing class sizes.
The Labour decision to endorse the promotion of Purcell is all the more perplexing given that we now know that he had already been interviewed in the city chambers by Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency officers on May 12 2009. The SCDEA had insisted on a meeting with the council leader after he was identified during surveillance of a Glasgow gangster.
Leaving aside questions of what the Labour party/Glasgow City Council officials knew about Purcell’s problems and when they knew, there is also the mystery of what happened in the hours immediately after Thursday’s fundraising event of Feb 25th an event that was attended by Gordon Brown. Steven Purcell is described by other guests at the event as being in good spirits at least until midnight.
Some time afterwards though an unnamed Labour councillor claims that Purcell became agitated and was then taken home in a cab. Friday morning has Purcell distressed in his chambers office but managing to compose himself for an 11:00 AM meeting before his condition deteriorates again – his resignation as council leader followed on Tuesday March 2nd.
What was it that caused Steven Purcell’s demeanor to change so rapidly in the early hours of Friday morning?
Purcell, through his media team, cited the SPT expenses scandal as having contributed to his breakdown; this scandal had already saw the resignations of several Labour councillors. Was this simply a panicked attempt by a desperate man to divert from his then unreported drug problems or was it true and the SPT scandal was indeed a significant piece in this ever curious story?
These drug and expenses revelations have very serious implications for Labour not just in Glasgow but in the whole of Scotland. It is often said that if the SNP are to persuade Scots of the merits of independence then they will first have to weaken the Labour stranglehold on Glasgow.
Drugs, gangsters, expenses and a former council leader who is reported to have fled the country rather than face questions is not the best way to enter a general election campaign and may well lead to that grip lessening significantly.