THE longest-standing council leader in Scotland is to quit, opening the door for a potentially bruising succession race.
Jim McCabe, the often outspoken and controversial leader of Labour-led North Lanarkshire Council since 1998, will leave his post on February 29th, a little over a year before the next local elections.
He will release a statement later today confirming his decision having made the announcement at a meeting of Labour councillors on Monday night.
The Herald understands it comes amid an increasing internal clamour for a change in leadership as Labour faces a major struggle to hold power in its traditional heartlands.
Colleagues claim the 72-year-old is keen to spend more time with his grandchildren after a lifetime in local Labour politics.
It has also been claimed that Mr McCabe is far from keen on being the leader to hand-over power of one of the UK's last bastions of old Labour to the SNP in May 2017.
But opponents from within his own party say his decision to step down gives Labour "a glimmer of hope" that they can ward off the challenge.
The move is also likely to spark a bitter contest to become leader, with several sources predicting veteran Airdrie councillor Jim Logue will throw his hat in the ring and has the backing to mount a challenge.
However, the bitter legacy of the Monklands scandal from over two decades ago is again expected to be a factor in North Lanarkshire politics, with long-time adversary Jim Brooks also expected to throw his hat in the ring or encourage a supporter to do so.
It is understood Mr McCabe has decided to stand down at his group's AGM after insisting he wanted to deliver one further budget in February.
One source said: "Jim just genuinely feels he's done his bit and feels with what's coming down the line financially its as good a time as any for him to hand over the reigns.
"He does also want to spend more time with his grandkids."
But another said: "As its stands, holding the council in 2017 will be an extremely difficult task. But with a change, there's the tiniest glimmer of a chance.
"Logue has the numbers and McCabe knows it. Jim (Logue) has finally realised this is his last cance. If he hadn't taken McCabe on now an insurgency would've coalesced around someone else.
"But he will face a challenge from the Coatbridge crowd.There's no love lost there."
Last October, Mr McCabe, who has admitted to being friends with a major contractor, cleared of any wrongdoing by watchdogs.
The stalwart, a long-time leader of Labour within local government umbrella group Cosla, was reported to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life after not declaring his friendship with executives at a company at the heart of a multi-million-pound council deal.
He also faced intense pressure from within his own party and opposition nationalists over his relationship with officials at Mears Scotland but was cleared.
Mr McCabe was also away from frontline politics for several months after suffering a suspected heart attack in December 2013.