A MISUNDERSTANDING BY a newly elected councillor halted a vote that would have seen work on flood protection schemes for three communities being added immediately to Moray’s Capital Plan.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the Full Council, proposals were put that would have seen the Capital Plan adjusted to include £830,000 for the Hopeman scheme with a further £3.65million for Portessie and £280,000 for Dallas.
However, as the spend entailed “significant previously unbudgeted” capital spending, the council administration wished to hold the proposals so that they would be taken account of in the overall review of the 10-year budget plan “in the wider financial context” ahead of the 2016/17 financial year.
An SNP-led motion called on the immediate allocation of capital funding to allow work to proceed – and that was a move strongly supported by new Hopeman-based independent councillor Dennis Slater during the debate. When the votes were cast, however, the result was a 13-13 tie – with the casting vote of the Council Convener, Allan Wright, allowing the administration amendment to go through.
It emerged that Councillor Slater had inadvertently voted with the administration, causing SNP members to take to social media and question his commitment to his local constituents.
Councillor Slater told insideMoray: “Quite simply, when called to vote I pressed the wrong button, for which I can only apologise to everyone concerned and in particular the SNP group councillors and Councillors John Cowe and Douglas Ross who had voted with the opposition group on this important issue.
“I also apologise to the many, many people with whom I worked and campaigned with very closely to have this flood alleviation scheme brought to the council table in the first place.
“It will still happen but perhaps with a delay of just a few months, but I must admit the realisation of what I had done in the vote brought home to me the importance of being very, very careful over the electronic voting system in the council chamber!”
Although aware that the vote from the newly elected Independent member was made in error and that Councillor Slater has steadfastly refused to join the ruling administration group, the SNP last night issued a statement slamming his action, insisting it was no different from those of administration group members who also voted against the motion.
Buckie councillor Gordon McDonald said: “I was shocked that Independent councillors believe that protecting these communities from flooding is not a priority. SNP Councillors were unanimous in their support of these schemes being prioritised and progressed now and it is extremely disappointing that those who voted against us do not share the same level of concern.
“It is especially disappointing that a councillor in Heldon & Laich elected only a matter of weeks ago has managed to vote against a scheme that he campaigned for.”
My support for Dennis Slater as a truly independent councillor is no great secret – and I was shocked to learn that he had appeared to vote against a cause that he has fought so hard for on his way to winning the Heldon & Laich by-election last month.
What was quickly clear to me, however, is that Councillor Slater had become confused in the vote itself, his first vote and one of utmost personal importance.
He had spoken passionately in praise of officials for the work they had undertaken in bringing a flood alleviation scheme to the council chamber. He directly spoke in favour of the SNP motion that the work should go ahead without delay, and it was quite clear to everyone in the chamber where his thoughts on the issue lay.
Then in a few seconds he pressed the wrong button in the vote – not even realising he had done so until it was pointed out to him by a fellow councillor.
I backed Dennis Slater in the by-election because he is a man of utmost integrity – integrity that he demonstrated by immediately going to the SNP group and offering an apology for his error, and he was quick to issue a public apology to his own constituents and those of Portessie and Dallas.
In any other walk of life, that would and should have led to a handshake, understanding and perhaps some advice from far more experienced members of the Council.
Instead, it produced an attack on Cllr Slater’s integrity, an attempt to question his commitment to his constituents and to slurry his good name.
That is perhaps what is expected in modern politics. The SNP group may feel justified in taking such action – but what they have achieved for short-term gratification could well return and haunt them in the future.
Dennis Slater was voted to Moray Council on a platform of true independence, standing against the political party system in our council chamber.
Voters in Heldon & Laich selected him for the very honesty and integrity he demonstrated yesterday – and against the political shenanigans perpetrated in the aftermath of the vote by the SNP.