DENNIS SLATER WILL take a weekend to rest up after a very hard month campaigning for his place on the Moray Council.
But on Monday morning the real work will begin – when he walks a lonely path as the only absolutely non-aligned community representative on the local authority.
For the political establishment his stunning victory in Heldon & Laich defied all logic.
The SNP in particular flooded the ward with activists from all over the north of Scotland – supported by three powerful national politicians, Angus Robertson MP, Richard Lochhead MSP and Stewart Stevenson MSP.
They also wheeled in the party machine in Edinburgh where they manned the telephones to canvas voters in Heldon & Laich.
If Dennis looked a bit stunned at his 675-vote margin of victory on Friday, the former fishing skipper was not half as stunned as his opponents. He was quick to make it clear, however, that his pre-election promises would be fought for with everything he has, telling insideMoray: “This was a great journey, a fantastic experience as I moved from one community to another and listened to the hopes and aspirations of our residents.
“At the start I was unsure on even if I wanted to put myself, my family and my friends through the wringer – but when people spoke of the need for someone to stand up against political parties in the council chamber I knew I had to at least try.
“Now I will go into that chamber and fight with everything I have for the communities in my ward. There will be pressures coming from many directions, I know that – and there are still many people who do not believe I can walk a truly independent line.
“These pressures I expect will continue but I am ready for the challenge, I am ready to demonstrate that when decisions are made by me they will be for all the right reasons – they will not be because a group or political party has told me the direction in which I have to go.”
The Heldon & Laich by-election was from the start set up to be a fight between the SNP and Dennis Slater – and from the start the independent laid out his stall and never wavered for one second.
For the SNP the stakes were high – very high. While they refused to say if victory would lead to their forming a new administration at Moray Council, after the vote their party leader in Moray admitted that was always the intention.
Councillor Gary Coull said: “It was a hard fought and close thing and a win at Heldon & Laich would’ve taken us to 12 of the 26 seats – and would have seen us control nearly half the chamber. We were up for the challenge of a new administration to drive things forward in Moray and try to improve the lives of people here.
“It may be that an independent has won – but he is one that has said he is not going to join the administration. It would have been good to get that change in the council but we do not know if that is going to be possible now.”
On the Tory side there was good news in that their candidate, Peter Bloomfield, actually increased his vote from his last tilt in the 2013 by-election. Peter declared himself “very pleased” for Mr Slater, someone he knows well, while his Scottish Conservative colleague Douglas Ross, who is another non-aligned member, congratulated his own candidate while welcoming the victor.
Councillor Ross said: “Firstly I would like to congratulate Dennis Slater on his victory, this was an excellent result leading from stage one. Dennis has been elected with a mandate not to work with groups on the council but to represent his constituents first and foremost – and I will assist him in any way I can to help him to do that.
“This was also a very good result for Moray Conservatives. Our share in the vote increased from 15% in the last by election to almost 22% this time. In Pete Bloomfield we had an excellent local candidate who is well known and respected and this contributed to our strong showing here.
“We were only three hundred votes behind the SNP at the first count and that gives us a lot of confidence ahead of the Scottish Elections next year. The SNP threw everything at this by-election yet Heldon and Laich continues to be an SNP free area on Moray Council.”
For the incredibly hard working Green candidate James MacKessack-Leitch there was again disappointment as his vote actually fell from the last by-election. “It was always going to be a hard-fought encounter but I am pleased for Dennis,” he said at the count.
Dennis Slater is a friend who I first met during my own failed tilt at election to the Moray Council.
Throughout that 2013 campaign, during which he was supporting the eventual winner John Cowe, he made it clear to me that he admired my own reasons for seeking election – but just felt that it was time for change.
Since then I have worked alongside Dennis many times, he was always willing to offer advice as I set off on a different path to politics, aiming to use my retired status and skills learned over the years to serve our local communities by developing insideMoray and serving on several local groups.
In Dennis I saw a kindred spirit, in him I saw someone who, like me, had reached a conclusion that party politics was all well and good on the national stage, but on the local one it was misplaced and did not truly represent local aspirations.
So when Eric McGillivray resigned his place in my mind there was only one person who should replace him.
I was told that Dennis was unsure, so I approached him and pointed out that while he was already doing a fantastic job serving our local community in many ways, he had an opportunity here to do much, much more.
I made it clear to him that I would be with him all the way, that his aspirations matched perfectly those of insideMoray – serving our communities – and as such I saw absolutely no conflict in getting behind him using all means possible.
I now look forward to working even more with Dennis – in the Lossiemouth Community Council, in our shared passion for the Moray Coast Tourism Group, and in the Lossiemouth Community Development Trust.
Most of all I look forward to reporting his activities in the Moray Council as our truly independent councillor, in the certain knowledge that he will take each and every decision he faces in the same manner as he always has – doing what he feels is best for our communities.