Editorial: Moray needs firm, strong and diplomatic leadership

Sunday Supplement
The editor voices his views on Moray’s most topical events of the past week …..

Moray Council

There could really only be one subject for my appraisal this week – and in any case, it has been dictated by reader Bill Nicol who asked if I might attempt to explain the strange events in the Moray Council chamber over these last six days.

Bill asked some pointed questions – so I’ll seek to provide answers in my normal manner¬†– as I see them.

1 – The reason why the leader of the council resigned?

Let’s lay it on the line here, I’ve met Allan Wright several times and to say we never really got on is probably being kind. I’ve always had the impression that he did not like me one bit – you know, you get that at times, right?

Anyway why did he resign? Quite simply for the reason he gave – five of the ruling administration of 14 councillors chose to vote against him and reject the findings of a consultancy report that would most likely have seen the closure of several Moray schools.

Was he correct in doing so? No, I don’t thing he was – what Councillor Wright has never really understood is that he was the leader of a ruling group that consisted of 11 members who (at least openly) have no political affiliation. As such, some of them actually believe themselves to have the freedom of making up their own minds without the requirement of a party whip.

And when all is said and done at least one of his two Tory colleagues on the local authority did not agree with him and had the courage to ignore party affiliation and put the hopes, aspirations and desires of the people first.

Something that Allan Wright has never really done – don’t get me wrong, he has acted in what he believes to be the best interests of Moray, however, he made the mistake in my view of believing that he knew those needs better than anyone else.

2 – The reason for Douglas Ross getting sacked versus Councillors Cree and Paul?

As the leader of the main SNP opposition group only that group could ‘sack’ Councillor Paul – they had no need to do so of course because she was following the line that the SNP group will have agreed behind closed doors.

In the case of Councillor Cree, he too was, I believe, following a line agreed by the administration coalition group behind close doors. The Tory/Independent administration clearly recognised before the meeting on Monday that they were going to lose.

The SNP had said they were going to propose an amendment to the Sustainable Education Review (SER) that would say no to closures of any rural schools including Milne’s High School.

Several administration councillors had clearly indicated they would support that motion – as did the two Labour councillors. So a last-gasp watering down of the SNP amendment was agreed in that the ‘no closures’ deal would be on the basis of a five-year moratorium.

That is why Councillor Paul proposed that amendment and the convener, Councillor Cree, seconded it – effectively counting him as one of the five who voted against Councillor Alexander and Councillor Wright’s motion to adopt the SER as it stood.

Councillor Cree’s ‘betrayal’ therefore was most likely a prearranged one to save at least some of the SER’s contents.

On the other hand Councillor Ross was always aligning himself against the administration not only on this issue but several others, most notably the West Approach Road.

Such was the anger of his administration colleagues on this that they moved to sack him – a decision taken, in my view, without thought for public opinion (but then that has never been much of a consideration for this administration).

3 – How can Councillor Cree justify blowing a gasket when he voted against the SER in a back-handed manner?

See answer to question two – his voting ‘against’ the proposals was in fact a pre-agreed ‘game saver’, although a pretty poor one when all is said and done.

Bottom line is agreement not to close any rural schools either ‘for ever’ or ‘for five years’ is pretty much the same thing – a new set of councillors will have been elected, a new administration formed and so new decisions open for discussion long before the five year ‘moratorium’ is up.

4 – SNP Councillor Paul – how is she not called to task disagreeing with SER in a back-handed manner?

Again see the answer to question two. Councillor Paul did actually admit during the debate that she had expressed a personal desire to see a new ‘super’ primary school created in her Speyside ward, knowing that would have replaced several smaller schools.

However, she is a member of a political party aligned group – and leader of that group or not she will vote the way the majority of her fellow councillors wish her to vote.

That is not always the case of course, but will generally apply for major decisions such as this one clearly was.

The question of course is why the SNP appeared to move so solidly behind not closing any schools – after all, they had given absolutely no indication until days before the final decision that they would oppose the SER.

Councillor Wright, indeed, appeared to have been absolutely certain the SER had the backing of the SNP and insists he came back from holiday days before the vote to discover through an SNP press statement that was not the case.

5 – Where can the present councillors go now when all the leading lights had smoking guns in their hands?

Bill actually said ‘smoking gins’ but I’m sure he meant guns!

Even if the forthcoming Elgin City North by-election does not fall to the Tory or Independent candidate, the current administration would retain control of Moray Council, as regardless if Councillor Ross voted with the opposition the administration would have the ‘casting vote’ of the Convener at full council.

What the past week has revealed, however, is the fragile nature of any coalition – and in particular one that is made up predominantly of ‘independent’ voices.

I’ve voiced concerns here before about this, making clear that despite having been an active member of the SNP in the past I would prefer party politics had no part to play in our local administration.

In my own description of ‘party politics’ I include the current grouping of independents at Moray Council – they were voted for on the premise of their being individuals and not belonging to any political party, so they should not act like they were a ‘party’ by forming a coalition.

Then again you can understand why they did so – someone has to take control and it would seem that the open disrespect and indeed personal hostility against the SNP in particular by certain individual councillors is particularly unhelpful.

Conclusion?

Strong leadership is required and currently that does not exist – I don’t believe either it existed under Councillor Wright, who finally demonstrated his total lack of respect for the people of Moray and their wishes and desires in his comments this past week.

Moray needs a truly diplomatic leader to emerge, one that has no axe to grind with any political grouping or individual, one who has the respect of the full spectrum of people inside and outside the Council.

Such a person would need to unify all individuals and parties, negotiate for the good of Moray while truly listening to the wishes of the people who live and work in our community.

I know who my choice would be, I just hope others recognise that there is probably only one person on the Moray Council who is capable of meeting this requirement. ¬†Of course I don’t have a vote, but if I did it would go to the man who saved me the trouble of having one in the first place – Councillor John Cowe.

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