Administration battle drama as Conservative and SNP groups go after other parties
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MORAY’s Conservative and SNP groups are busy courting other parties and independents in a bid to control Moray.
Both Labour and Moray’s two independent councillors confirmed they had been approached by both dominant groups in pursuit of overall control.
The Conservatives won 11 councillors at last week’s local election, making them the largest grouping, with the SNP lagging behind with eight members.
Both sides have elected joint group leaders, and are now trying to build an alliance of 14 councillors to let them take control.
This means Labour’s group of three, as well as the two independents, the one Liberal Democrat and the solo Green, will determine Moray’s fate.
Conservative co-leader Neil McLennan said: “With a strong Conservative return and a majority of first preference votes for pro-union voters we want to represent the people of Moray, who increased Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour members.
“We have had good discussions across all groups and really want something to work for the people of Moray.
“It brings together strengths, experience and expertise, while also sending a strong signal about our intentions to work collaboratively and cooperatively within and out with the party.
“It will now be in the hands of others to decide if they want to collaborate with us in that way.
“We have offered a vision which is ambitious, decisive, and collaborative.
“Moray has great people working in it, and the people of Moray deserve the best. We hope to deliver that for them.”
Conservative co-leader Kathleen Robertson said: “Councillor McLennan and I want to avoid a “cutting of the cards” situation again.
“However, numbers are again tight, and it will require cross-councillor cooperation if we are to gain momentum for Moray.”
The SNP’s co-leader, Councillor Shona Morrison, said: “Our priority is to speak with other councillors and see where those conversations take us as we look to bring together a viable and sustainable partnership to run the Council effectively.”
Fellow co-leader, Councillor Graham Leadbitter, said: “We are now actively seeking talks with other councillors in a bid to form a workable coalition that will serve Moray in a progressive and fair way and deliver policies that will deliver improvements to services and help individuals, families and communities to cope with the Tories’ cost of living crisis that we are all experiencing.”
This Wednesday’s (May 18) in-person council meeting, the first since before the Covid pandemic, will give a first glimpse at the dynamics between council groups.
Members will also vote on any potential administration at that meeting.
Labour confirmed that talks are under way with the SNP and Conservatives.
Group leader John Divers has worked closely with SNP co-leader Graham Leadbitter during his council career, however, a Labour-Conservative team would be the simplest path to an administration.
Labour spokesperson Stuart MacLennan said: “The Conservatives and SNP wasted little time in reaching out. We hold the balance of power.
“If we decide to do so, and we are not saying we will, we can decide who forms the administration in Moray.
“Neither the SNP nor the Conservatives have the political capital to form an administration without us.”
Mr MacLennan said any proposed administration would have to reflect Labour’s priorities in Moray and any alliance would be limited.
He said: “In our manifesto we were very clear that we would not get in bed with the SNP or the Conservatives by setting up a formal coalition.
“Any administration we would support must pursue the policies our candidates raised on the doorsteps.
“At the end of the day, either administration is possible.
“The SNP have furthest to go in terms of bringing together parties and seats, but the Conservatives have furthest to go in terms of building goodwill.
“This is especially after the very poor behaviour of some Conservative councillors towards Labour and particularly towards John Divers.
“Both groups have an uphill struggle, just for different reasons. Ultimately, it is up to them to persuade us.”
Moray’s two independents are also key to negotiations, as the Conservatives will need both, along with either the Liberal Democrat or the Green member, to form a Labour-free administration.
The SNP must secure one independent, along with Labour and both one-member parties, to find a route to power.
Independent councillor Derek Ross was part of the Moray Alliance Group, which attempted to replace the SNP minority administration with a Conservative-Independent alliance in December 2021.
He said: “I have no idea what is happening.
“I have spoken to the Conservative group, which is the largest group, and obviously I have been talking to other councillors.
“I just hope we do not have a situation where we are cutting cards again.
“Episodes like that cause the council reputational damage.”
Independent councillor for Heldon and Laich, John Cowe, said: “I have been contacted by both sides and I am being courted by both sides.
“Whether it is a rainbow alliance or a Conservative coalition, I will always go for the administration that will do right by the people of Moray.
“I am not saying I will go either way.
“The answer is – and this is the answer I will give to both parties – I will take each issue on its own and I will make my decision for the people of Moray.”