The SNP group at Moray Council now have a “legitimate claim” to seize control of the local authority after their stunning victory in the Buckie by-election.
On a day when three council by-elections in different parts of Scotland all produced major swings in the direction of the nationalists, Sonya Warren’s victory in Buckie stood out as it made the SNP the largest single political group in the Council with 11 seats.
Councillor Warren snatched the Buckie seat in emphatic fashion, polling 59.5% of the vote and leaving Independent candidate Normal Calder in her wake. Mr Calder polled 27.9% while the Scottish Conservative candidate Tim Eagle had 12.6%.
“I fought this election in Buckie because I am passionate about my community and I will be a strong advocate for Buckie in Moray’s Council Chamber,” the new councillor said after the dust had settled on the count.
She added: “I thank the voters of Buckie Ward for their huge support in this election and the many people who helped me throughout my campaign.
“I am delighted to be joining an SNP Council Group in Moray that has fought to protect our schools, that supports our local town centres and that recognises the importance of investing in key assets like Buckie Harbour.
“The hard work of the campaign is now over and the hard work as a Buckie Councillor begins.”
One of the first jobs Councillor Warren will have is to attend a crunch meeting of the SNP group on Monday, when they will decide if they will make a bid to take over the administration of the council.
The current administration, consisting of 10 Independents and one non-aligned Tory, will also meet on Monday to consider their future. Council convener Allan Wright said: “We have a meeting arranged for Monday morning and the result of the Buckie by-election is on the agenda.
“I cannot predict what the current administration will do – but the SNP can now claim to be the biggest single group and definitely, I would say, have a legitimate claim to form the administration.”
The balance of power at the local authority now rests with the two Labour and two Conservative councillors – the latter having been part of an acrimonious split from the administration group last year.
Fochabers/Lhanbryde Tory councillor Douglas Ross praised his own candidate’s performance in Buckie – and indicated that there would be areas where he might lend his support to the SNP group. He said: “Sonya and the SNP have secured an impressive victory in this by election and I look forward to working with Sonya on the council when there are issues we agree on.
“These are certainly interesting times – the independents previously said when they were the largest group that had a moral right to form an administration. Now it seems fair that this moral right is shifted to the SNP and they are given an opportunity to form an administration.”
Leader of the Moray Labour party, Councillor John Divers, meanwhile revealed that an approach had already been made to them by the independent group in January, after the death of Councillor Joe Mackay which brought about the Buckie by-election.
Councillor Divers told the P&J: “The more interesting point is will the SNP be brave enough to make a play to take over the lead of the council? If they don’t make a play, people will wonder why – because after today they are the largest individual group so they have the right to go forward.
“We will wait and see what happens – if the SNP are brave and take that responsibility on.
“We will do what’s best for the people of Moray, but whoever is leading the council in the future will need the support of other groups, so we will see what comes of that over the weekend.”
Meanwhile defeated independent candidate Norman Calder said he was not yet finished with representing the people of Buckie. The 66-year-old said he now plans to become a member of the Buckie Community Council.
He said: “I would like to congratulate Sonya Warren and her extensive support team on the SNP win, and wish her all the best for the future.
“To all those who voted in my favour I offer my heartfelt thanks, to the few who felt it necessary to criticise my effort to serve the community all I can offer in reply is my forgiveness and sympathy.
“My next move will be to offer my services to Buckie Community Council – hopefully they will have me on board as I have already been nominated.”
Scottish Conservative candidate Tim Eagle also congratulated the new SNP councillor: “This is an excellent result for the SNP and their vote share was substantial. I congratulate Sonya on becoming the new councillor for Buckie and I know she will do a good job representing the area on Moray Council.
“I enjoyed the election campaign and was delighted to get out and about around the area speaking with local people and listening to their concerns.
“The reception I got from the people I spoke with was very welcoming and friendly and I’m grateful to everyone who took the time to engage with me during the campaign.”