THE SNP OPPOSITION group at Moray Council is under new leadership this morning after the surprise resignation of Cllr Pearl Paul for health reasons.
Cllr Paul will remain on the council but has handed control of the main opposition group to Keith & Cullen councillor Gary Coull with immediate effect.
The timing of the move may be significant, coming as a by-election has been called in Heldon & Laich that, if won by the SNP group, would place them in a strong position to snatch administrative control of the Council.
Announcing the decision last night Cllr Paul said: “I have been Group Leader of the SNP Council Group on Moray Council for over 12 years now. I now have to step back from that role due to recent health issues.
“There is a wealth of talent in our Group and I know that the group will be in very good hands under Gary’s leadership. I have been very proud to lead a group of fantastic councillors, who have provided challenge to the Moray Council’s Administration and, indeed, challenge within the group, which is hugely important in keeping us focussed and on the ball.
“While I am no longer Group Leader I am still a councillor for Speyside Glenlivet and while I may be speaking a little less than I would as Opposition Leader that does not mean I’ll be any quieter on the issues affecting the folk in Speyside!”
After being the unanimous choice of the SNP council opposition, new group leader Cllr Coull said: “I would like to thank the SNP group for placing their faith in me to lead them in the Council.
“Our 11-strong group is an effective and constructive opposition and I intend to ensure that carries on.
“Pearl has been a brilliant leader of the SNP in Moray Council during the last 12 years and I want to thank her for the dedication. She has brought common sense to local politics and I am delighted that she will be continuing as councillor for Speyside/Glenlivet.”
One of the two Labour councillors on the local authority was quick to welcome Cllr Coull to his new role, Fochabers/Lhanbryde Councillor Sean Morton saying: “I am very pleased to hear Gary Coull will lead the SNP group at Moray Council. He is someone of real integrity who can get things done.
“Often in politics it seems impossible to work with an opposition – no-one can say that about Gary, I congratulate him on replacing Pearl Paul. Nobody can imitate Pearl but Gary has the same down to earth approach and it will serve him well.”
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead welcomed the move saying: “Gary has been a huge great asset to the Council Group since being elected as Moray’s youngest councillor in 2007. He has worked incredibly hard for Keith and Cullen over the last eight years and I have no doubt that he is the right person to lead the SNP Group as we look forward to the next council elections in 2017.
“Pearl can be very proud of her record as leader and how she has transformed the fortunes of the SNP in Moray since taking over in 2003, including overseeing two spectacular by-election victories in the last year.”
Westminster colleague Angus Robertson MP added: “I congratulate Councillor Coull on taking up the role of Leader of the SNP Group in Moray Council.
“He is leading a council group with strength in depth who have a strong record of backing Moray’s communities on issues such as Libraries and Rural Schools. The experience he has personally gained will stand him in very good stead.
“I also thank Pearl Paul for the tremendous commitment she has given to both her community and to the SNP over many years and which she is continuing to do as a ward councillor.
“She has taken the SNP Group from just three in 2003 to the 11 councillors now and she can be very proud of her record in office.”
On a personal note I have to pay tribute to Pearl Paul who provided me with massive support and encouragement during my own brief dally into the political arena.
She has been an inspirational woman and the driving force behind her local party for 12 years, the good thing is that she will remain as a councillor and as such will continue to hold influence in the council chamber.
What form will that influence take is a question voters in Heldon and Laich ahead of the forthcoming by-election have a right ask?
No direct answer was forthcoming by the new SNP leader last night.
Gary Coull is certainly a capable leader and it would appear is being groomed as the next Convener or Leader of Moray Council.
Yet still he would not commit on what voters in the by-election might expect if his candidate wins at Heldon and Laich and so increases the SNP numbers in the chamber to 12.
Cllr Coull has said only that a power grab in that event “would be something to consider”.
Surely it is not too much to ask that the SNP stop dithering and come out with a clear, unequivocal statement to the electorate before they commit their votes?