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Tories set up minority administration at first Moray Council meeting since local election

By Lewis McBlane

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MORAY'S Conservatives have defeated the SNP in a battle for Council control as Labour refuse to pick a side.

New Convener Councillor Mark Macrae, with Co-Leaders Councillor Robertson and Councillor McLellan.
New Convener Councillor Mark Macrae, with Co-Leaders Councillor Robertson and Councillor McLellan.

A vote pitting the Tories and the SNP against each other ended in a Conservative victory, though Labour say the administration "may not last very long" if it cannot build consensus.

Fochabers Lhanbryde Councillor Marc Macrae is the new Moray Council Convener while the Co-Leaders have been named as Neil McLennan and Kathleen Robertson.

In total, the Conservative proposal received 12 votes compared to the SNP's eight.

The six members who abstained, however, could leave a potential SNP challenge on the table.

Cllr Macrae said: "I would like to pay a great thanks to the two conveners who led the council in the previous term of office, Councillor Allan in the first instance and Councillor Morrison who led until the recent election.

"I think there has been very great work done and big shoes to fill and hopefully this can be done as we move forwards."

Cllr McLennan said: "We have set out a very clear statement about collaboration and cooperation and that will be required to ensure that the team around Moray Council and the people of Moray have the confidence of the Council progressing forward.

"We hope to support that through the collaboration we have already had and will continue to have going forward."

New Convener Councillor Mark Macrae, with Co-Leaders Councillor Robertson and Councillor McLellan.
New Convener Councillor Mark Macrae, with Co-Leaders Councillor Robertson and Councillor McLellan.

Discussing the prospect of an SNP administration before the Tory win, former Council Leader Councillor Graham Leadbitter said: "In putting forward an alternative we recognise that we are not the largest party in the council.

"But we do believe that there is a majority that have been elected into council with similarly-held political views in terms of progressive, socially just policy issues."

The vote was taken at the first Council meeting since the local election earlier this month.

This meeting was to be the first in-person meeting since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, however Covid cases among councillors forced the meeting to happen virtually.

Roddy Burns, Council chief executive, said: "As you appreciate, the meeting is being held virtually due to an outbreak of Covid.

"It is in the interests of everyone's health and wellbeing that we are doing so."

It is understood that Conservative councillors were the worst-hit by illness.

In a press release last week, Conservative councillor Donald Gatt said: “Moray Conservative Councillors are aware of interest in the health of councillors, all can be assured that Councillors are acting responsibly and that work continues.

"Churchill led from bed at times!

"Thankfully we all have modern technology.

"It will not hamper communications between groups which can and will continue to ensure best for the people of Moray.”

Some disagreed, however, and thought this might have impacted communication between parties.

Green Councillor Draeyk Van der Horn said: "We haven't had enough time, in my mind, to have wider discussions with all councillors.

"I, for myself, haven't met most of them and that is something I think we ought to take on board."

Moray's three Labour councillors refused to back either side, abstaining in the vote despite their pivotal position in coalition-building.

Labour leader Councillor John Divers said: "Labour has had discussions with both prospective administrations.

"These were constructive and it is pleasantly reassuring to see that there is, in fact, more common ground between the parties in the Council than reflected in both the press and in the Council's conduct towards each other in the past.

"Nevertheless, there are notable policy differences between the party groups in the Council as well.

"For that reason, we will not be voting for or against any administration today.

"This makes it unlikely that any administration which is formed today will command a majority of support.

"We believe this is the best way forward for Moray and will ensure that the best policies will be pursued under intense democratic scrutiny and accountability."

Cllr Divers also warned of consequences for any administration that could not perform.

He said: "Whatever new administration that is formed should be on notice, however, that if they fail to build consensus, that their administration may not last very long – as happened previously."

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