The three-way college merger in Lanarkshire collapsed this week after Coatbridge pulled out, saying the intransigent approach shown by the other two colleges had left it with no choice.
The news will be seen as a blow to the education secretary's plans for restructuring the FE sector. Michael Russell told the education committee this week he saw single college regions as the "direction of travel" in the regionalisation process.
Cumbernauld and Motherwell colleges announced plans to merge on 11 January and said the door was open for the remaining two in Lanarkshire - Coatbridge and South Lanarkshire - to join. A month later, Coatbridge said its aim was to do so, but South Lanarkshire has stayed out of the process.
A Coatbridge College spokesman said no effort had been made by Cumbernauld and Motherwell to include it in the process. And concerns raised by Coatbridge over governance and its level of participation were not addressed. This related to the other colleges' refusal to revisit decisions they had taken before Coatbridge came to the table.
Merger workstreams put in place prior to Coatbridge's involvement were cited to TESS as an example - all were to be led by Motherwell and Cumbernauld, despite Coatbridge asking to be given the lead in a fair proportion of them.
When Cumbernauld and Motherwell announced plans to merge, they said that if either of the other two joined, this could not be allowed to delay progress.
TESS has also learned that the Coatbridge College board was concerned about the late insertion by merger committee members of a page on delegated authority into the consultation document. The change became known to Coatbridge only shortly before publication of the document.
John Gray, Coatbridge chair, said his management board had "always believed that a regional merger is in the best interests of the people of Lanarkshire".
"We are clearly disappointed that our partner colleges have failed to address material concerns we have raised regarding existing governance and accountability arrangements."
But Coatbridge College remained committed to the federation, which includes all four colleges in Lanarkshire, including South Lanarkshire College.
The chairs of the boards of Cumbernauld and Motherwell colleges said they were "saddened and disappointed" that Coatbridge College had decided to withdraw.
"Whilst Cumbernauld and Motherwell will still proceed with a two-way merger, both colleges are fully committed to working with all colleges within the Federation of Lanarkshire Colleges and have reaffirmed that the door will remain open for Coatbridge to be welcomed back into the merger," they said.
A spokesperson for both colleges added: "We are hopeful Coatbridge College will come back to the table and the three-way merger can continue. We remain committed to the merger and believe it is in the best interests of the students, staff and local communities."
The Scottish government said it was aware of Coatbridge's decision to withdraw from the merger. "The important thing is that all colleges work towards a solution that best meets the needs of learners and employers in Lanarkshire and we are pleased that the other colleges have indicated the door remains open," said a spokeswoman.
Late 2011: Coatbridge submits a merger proposal for the four Lanarkshire colleges to the Scottish Funding Council
December 2011: Cumbernauld, Motherwell and South Lanarkshire colleges announce plans for a three-way federation
December 2012: Coatbridge joins federation negotiations
11 January 2013: Cumbernauld and Motherwell colleges commit to merger by August 2013
11 February 2013: Coatbridge announces its plans to join the merger
25 February 2013: Coatbridge pulls out of the merger process.