Fit for the job?

Derek Mackay, Jonathan McColl and Nicola Sturgeon.

By The Editor

Mental health. It is said that one in four of us has a problem with it.

And not all of the symptoms are just fatigue; episodes of short temper; irascibility or feeling tearful for no apparent reason.

The most common MHP is probably PMT or, the opposite, which is also PMT (pre and post menstrual tension) which manifest themselves in periods of sometimes acute pain and are often accompanied by mood swings.

These are commonplace and are a catalyst for depression amongst women in our homes and places of work.

Even the leader of West Dunbartonshire Council is suffering from mental health problems.

Cllr Jonathan McColl has bi-polar disorder; which experts say is a serious illness, for which there is no cure.

However, Cllr McColl has indicated that so far as he is concerned this disease does not have an adverse effect on his ability to carry out his duties on the Council.

Whether or not medical experts or psychiatrists agree with him, he has never disclosed.

And he appears not to have any confirmation that he has passed any test to prove that he is mentally fit for work.

So, is Jonathan McColl fit for work, or is he not?

Less serious mental health problems, such as alcoholism, would be considered grounds for exclusion from occupying the post of council leader, but bi-polar disorder?

With respect, this is a really important question in light of the fact that West Dunbartonshire Council is due to have its annual budget meeting within the next few weeks.

And the public who pay their council tax and depend on local authority services deserve to know not just how it will be spent but who is making the decisions.

Are the right and proper persons in place to carry out this highly responsible public duty?

And are they fit and able to do it?

Cllr McColl decided to go public with his mental health problems during a recent Mental Health Week in Dumbarton.

He has bipolar disorder, which involves dramatic mood swings from deep depression to elation.  He has twice tried to take his own life.

This 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, another organisation which has not had its troubles to seek.

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

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

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,

making 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 has stated definitively that 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 media 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.

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.

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

Burgh Hall 7He 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 happens now then?

In the SNP, even at the highest level, members appear not to know each other well enough to be each other’s confidantes in relation to their health.

The Derek Mackay case proves this. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon may have known her Finance Minister was a bit too fond of the drink and warned him about it.

But she says she knew nothing of the problems which caused her to sack him the day before he was due to deliver the National Budget for Scotland.

She could hardly have been expected to know since mental health problems are something the sufferers usually keep very much to themselves.

This is not the case with Cllr Jonathan McColl.

He has openly declared that he has bi-polar disorder, a serious mental illness.

In these circumstances, the First Minister has a duty to establish officially if he is mentally fit to remain in charge of the SNP administration here.


  1. Jonathon McColl has committed no crime and across the parties I don’t think there is anyone who would criticise him for the individual he is. Folks may disagree with his politics but they don’t disagree with the person.

    Caroline Flack allegedly committed a crime. A tiff with her partner gone wrong she became part of a relentless media attack as her show trial which the complainant did not want, rolled on remorselessly. And it cost her life. Cut short in her prime she killed herself under the relentless media pressure.

    Not however that the media will care as they look for the next victim to harry. Such redtop journalism might sell papers but it is despicable – and the recent example of the hapless Derek Mackay filling eight pages of the Sun every day for over a week is another example of the absolute vendetta that redtops bring to a story. Yes Mackay was a fool, yes he may have been fond of a drink, and yes, he may have inappropriately been chatting up a young man twenty five years his junior, but eight full pages for a week – c’mon, that’s not news.

    Should Jonathon McColl resign. Well if one in four of us have mental health problems, that would be a huge amount of resignations. In fact, the country would come to a standstill. Moreover, with the Council recently deploying mental first aiders in and around the offices, one can see that there are maybe a few more than just Jonathon McColl who are not well.

    In addition, and recognising that the distribution of mental health issues spans all classes of humankind, with maybe even hot spot clusters around some menopausal women, is the DD calling for a mass assessment of council employees from the Chief Executive down. With nearly 6,000 employees that’s a lot of potential for mental ill health.

    Message to Mrs White. Mental assessment for all. Like mandatory drug testing why is it not in place. It’s a serious question and if you ask it of one, then you need to ask it of all.

    Me I’d leave Jonathon McColl alone. Bi polar can be managed. It has a spectrum from mild to wild. Some of our greatest citizens suffered from manic depression. Churchill was one, Van Gough was another, even the contemporary comedian Stephen Fry, or the late lamented Spike Milligan were sufferers. Didn’t stop them being successful – but maybe caused them to hole up thoroughly miserable from time to time.

    Time to cut Cllr McColl a bit of slack if I may opine.

    1. We did not ask that Jonathan shd resign, Willie. We asked that he submit to a medical/psychiatric test that can establish whether he’s fit or not to run WDC. Some papers go over the top, some don’t. If, God forbid, something happened to anyone including Cllr McColl, and it was attributed to the fact that he was mentally ill and no one did anything about it, there would be rightful uproar about that. Is he fit or is he not? That’s a question we feel needs to be asked.

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