Cllr Jonathan McColl (left) and Nicola Sturgeon with Martin Docherty-Hughes and Brendan O’Hara, the recently re-elected MPs for West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute. Who did he tell about his illness and were his election and appointment to the Health Board appropriate in the circumstances?


Councillor Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP ruling group on West Dunbartonshire Council, is suffering from mental illness, it was revealed this week.

Cllr McColl told Dumbarton-based journalist Jenny Foulds that he has bipolar disorder, which involves dramatic mood swings from deep depression to elation.  And that he has twice tried to take his own life.

The illness was formerly known as manic depression and he is receiving ongoing treatment for it, but it is a life-long disorder for which there is no known cure and has the potential to become chronic.

It won’t go away – although it can be controlled to some extent with drugs.

In addition to his council duties, Cllr McColl is also a member of the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board.

However, he has given no indication that he will resign his membership of the Health Board or the leadership of the Council.

He has not said either whether he declared his illness to the Health Board or the Government election authorities prior to taking up these roles.

Or that he will be going through a specialist medical examination to establish whether he is fit to continue in that role.

Bipolar disorder is described by psychiatrists in the following terms:

  • Bipolar disorder can cause one’s mood to swing from an extreme high to an extreme low.
  • Depressive symptoms can include lack of energy, feeling worthless, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.
  • Manic symptoms can include increased energy, excitement, impulsive behaviour and agitation.
  • Psychotic symptoms can mean that a person sees and hears things that feel real but they don’t exist.

One medical expert says: “Sufferers can experience episodes of mania and depression. Symptoms can be severe and affect areas of a person’s life, such as work, school and relationships.”

There are different types of bipolar disorder, some of which can make it difficult to deal with day-to-day life, and it can have a bad effect on relationships and work.

Symptoms of mania can include:

  • thinking you can do much more than you actually can,
  • make unusual, or big decisions without thinking them through, and
  • doing things, you normally wouldn’t, which can cause problems.
  •  Such as:
    • spending a lot of money,
    • using drugs or alcohol and gambling
    • making unwise business decisions.

Symptoms of depression can include feeling hopeless or negative; feeling guilty, worthless or helpless; being less interested in things you normally like doing or enjoying them less.

Also a person may have difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions, and thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts.

Some patients have psychotic symptoms during a severe episode of mania or depression. Symptoms of psychosis can be:

  • hallucinations. This means that you may hear, see, or feel things that are not there, and
  • delusions. This means you may believe things that are not true. Other people will usually find your beliefs unusual.

Stressful life events can trigger symptoms of bipolar disorder.

The seriousness of Cllr McColl’s illness has not been disclosed although he says it has been diagnosed as Bi-polar II.

In the past two years during which he has been leader, West Dunbartonshire Council has been frequently at the centre of controversy and criticism.

Since he is ill, Cllr McColl is more to be pitied than pilloried, although our coverage would indicate that much that happened at the council was unusual and remarkable.

And that it should be investigated.

The Dumbarton Democrat, has been banned and boycotted by the SNP – at local, Holyrood and Westminster level – for asking questions which is normally accepted as our legitimate role as journalists.

Who ever heard of it being “inappropriate” for reporters to ask questions of councillors during a break in a meeting?

We are now being told that Cllr McColl, who is the elected member for the Lomond Ward in Balloch, has concealed his bi-polar disorder for years.

Maybe if his SNP colleagues had told us sooner about this then we might have taken a different approach to the way we reported these matters.

Remarkable episodes include the fiasco of leaving large swathes of uncut grass in parks, cemeteries and other public spaces, which caused widespread public dismay and disbelief.

Only last week, Cllr McColl approved a suggestion that officials should inquire into the possibility of robots being brought in to cut the grass.

And then there was the U-turn he made over the planning application from Flamingo Land to create a holiday centre in on Loch Lomondside at Balloch.

He supported that plan initially but finally came out against this £35 million development.

We dubbed him Councillor U-turn.

There is also the £5 million projected overspend in the Clydebank heating contract and the £6 million “gamble” on reclamation of the Esso Bowling  tank farm without any guarantees that the land will revert to the council.

Meanwhile, we are told his disorder continues to be something Cllr McColl deals with on a daily basis.

He told journalist Jenny Foulds he is also no longer afraid to talk about it, and will openly chat to colleagues and constituents about his experience.

“I still feel it all the time and I think it’s something I’ll always have,” he added.

“I’ll feel ‘normal’ for a week or so and then my mood will shift to one way or the other. The majority of the time I am in a depressed state, as I am now.

“If I feel like that when I get up, I take 20 minutes to half an hour to talk myself through it and rationalise in my head why I’m feeling that way.”

So, what is to happen now?

We would never have criticised Cllr McColl in the manner we did had we known he was unwell, but he would not speak to us or let us speak to him.

We would have spoken to others in the SNP, but they too would not comment on anything, despite the fact he says they knew he was mentally ill.

In light of Cllr McColl’s statement to the Lennox Herald/Daily Record, we think it only reasonable that there should be an independent inquiry into this matter.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon should be asked if she and her Cabinet believe it is acceptable for someone with such a potentially serious illness, which has already manifested itself in such alarming ways, to hold such a responsible position in local government.  We think this community deserves be told.


  1. very sad to see a person with mental illness being attacked by the Editor of the democrat.This is the reason there are so many homeless people .People with mental illness can function very well under medication and self awareness and can contribute to society. I can only say that your comments are discriminating and you should be ashamed of yourself for creating a situation that could led to someone being shunned by society .I think you owe these people the suffer from this illness a written reply

  2. I am worried about Cllr McColl and his disregard for democracy and the fact that he took to smearing my good name as a journalist. Not so much that as the fact that he is in charge of a Council with £ millions of taxpayers’ money. A council that has been frequently dubbede here and elsewhere as a basket case. Jonathan McColl, has sent out an official e mail, of which I have a copy, containing the following in black type: I would add that I also could not share a platform with Mr Heaney. This is a man whom Council officers have had to ban from the press benches in Council.
    Not only does he fail to follow basic press codes of conduct and refuses to sign up to the independent press regulator that every other journalist signs up with, but his string of threatening behaviour towards members of the public and Council staff is unacceptable. I have personally witnessed him behaving in a threatening manner to an elderly female member of the public, chasing her to her car shouting aggressive questions at her. I have also witnessed him being verbally and physically abusive to a female member of Council staff (poking his finger into her shoulder while shouting and swearing at her in the middle of the Council chamber) and being verbally abusive to various other staff members and Councillors. There are also numerous accounts from other people that are plausible and fit with the aggressive, misogynistic, arrogant persona I have seen for myself. I cannot share a platform with him. It would suggest to Council staff and other Councillors that I condone his behaviour. These remarks are untrue and amount to defamation, which is actionable in law. The only thing that is true is that I told Amanda Graham quietly to “bugger off” when she interrupted me from speaking to Provost Hendrie about not being able to hear what was being said at the meeting nor see the faces of the people who were speaking at it in order to identify them. I did this during the interval, not during the meeting. Amanda will tell you that swearing, even mildly, is not my usual modus either in work or elsewhere. I most certainly did not assault anyone by poking them in the chest and nor did I chase Ellen McBride, a member of the education committee, to her car and shout any questions at her, never mind aggressive questions.
    The photographs I took of her were taken legitimately as part of my role as a journalist, which I have been for almost 60 years, and were taken from a considerable distance away, which the photographs themselves prove.
    I would ask you to end this tarnishing of my character which has been recognised with numerous awards and conferment of honours over many years, and has gravely upset me and my family. Cllr McColl disclosed in a large article in the Lennox Herald that he was mentally ill. In light of his recent behaviour we considered it important that in light of what he had said in the article, his suitabilty to hold such an important position in charge of such a large budget should be checked. Persons who have known about this for some time may have been failing in their duty not to have had this investigated. The Editor

  3. Looks very much like the Bill Heaney is a man with a grudge, and a nasty grudge at that.

    Mental illness can be a terrible affliction but very often it can be ameliorated and managed. Not my hero, I have to say, but Winston Churchill was prone to depression or the black dog as he called it, and he worked through it.

    Similarly, there are many others in the performing arts such as Stephen Fry or John Cleese who have coped with depression. But it is not just the famous who suffer from mental illness. Very many ordinary people do too and readers will know this only too well.Giving people support is what you do – and maybe nine out of ten times that is sufficient to help them get on and live a fulfilling life.

    What you don’t do is rack up the pressure like so called Journo Heaney has done. Calls for an enquiry into McColl, calls for McColl to confirm if he declared or failed to declare his illness with the Council or the health board, call for decisions taken by the councillor group to be investigated as if McColl was the mad supremo single handedly responsible for policy, along with call for him to be considered for sacking.

    Nothing like kicking the cripple eh Billy Boy and all too reminiscent of the old Labour who not so many years ago hounded a depressed Paisley MP to commit suicide. But then again Billy has a grudge, and if he can push someone with health issues, Billy Boy does.

    Maybe that’s why Heaney Media is not a member of IPSOS, the press governing body that regulates conduct. Maybe IPSOS won’t have him for the behaviour he indulges in – and maybe that’s why neither the Council officials, nor the local SNP, nor the national politicians, nor the heath board interact with him because he’s the rogue blogger that he is.

    Shameful conduct not that Billy Heaney would know!

  4. So, you Oor Willie. Or you could well be. Or are you just Willie with a big yellow streak running down your back? Did no one ever tell you that anonymity is a fatal blow to credibility? Get off your pail and into your dungarees, which are appropriate dress for the dirty work you are doing on behalf of the discredited SNP. If you are going to shovel badly informed sewage then don’t shovel it in my direction. I despair about Independence under the SNP if they are going to creep about their business as you have just done in your ill-informed epistle above. Look at McColl’s words in my reply to your other cowardly associate. Everything I have written is true and accurate. What McColl has written is lies and is actionable in law. All the questions I have posed are relevant. Let’s have the answers. Let’s find out if he is a fit person to hold the position of Leader of the SNP Group in West Dunbartonshire Council. And, by the way, because others manage to get through life with bi-polar disorder doesn’t mean everyone who has it does. And, while I thought his behaviour was strange before he divulged it for political gain no doubt, I consider him more to be pitied than pilloried. He has left the SNP and the First Minister in an unenviable spot.

  5. Bill, I sincerely think that your response to me is an absolute howl of bile and bitterness.

    And folks will make up their own mind about your attack on Johnathon McColl with in fact very many having already done so by expressing their views on Facebook.

    Whatever grievances you have, and you certainly come across as a man slighted, or a man not given the respect he thinks he deserves, it does you no service to attack the sick.

    If the Council officials, the elected representatives, the government nationally do not as you say engage with you, then you have to ask why. But then again, maybe it is you, and not them.

    But I come here not to over criticise you. There is much you can do of which much will be appreciated. You are not a stupid man. But narrow cheap personal vindictive sniping as you have engaged in here is never appreciated.

    Ego Bill, it gets in the road of so much, don’t let it afflict you.

    Do that, be fair minded, objective and folks will respect your comment and observation. And don’t let personal bitterness colour your abilities. You’re better than that.

    And yes, I do support independence. I, like so many others, want a better Scotland, as I am sure you do.

  6. Sniping is having a go at someone from a covert position, Willie. My reaction to the attacks on me from Jonathan McColl and from you and others for comments on his recent revelations about his mental health – and, you have to remember it was him who made this public, is dismay. I don’t think I wish to dignify this further by making any more comment. When you crawl out from under the stone of anonymity, drop me an e mail.

  7. I have been asked (again) to make it clear that it was Cllr McColl himself who raised the issue of his own mental health. We simply asked pertinent questions. Had the medical protocols been followed in relation to his appointments as leader of the Council and member of the Health Board? We think the public should be told. Editor

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