MORAY COUNCIL’S INDEPENDENT and Tory administration has received a boost ahead of extremely difficult budget considerations with the addition of Heldon & Laich councillor Dennis Slater to their ranks.
Councillor Slater was elected at a by-election in October on a ‘true independent’ ticket, insisting that he would not join any group on the Moray Council but rather remain free of group or party obligations.
However, the former fishing skipper told insideMoray last night that he was finding it ever more difficult to serve his constituents – and insists that he felt the best way he could do that during the difficult decisions facing the local authority was to join the independent group.
“While I have taken every opportunity to serve my community for the last three months, I have realised that I can do better for both my community and the wider Moray public by working with other councillors who also cherish their independence,” Councillor Slater said.
He continued: “In these particularly difficult financial times, it is important that all councillors work together to address the enormous challenge to balance the books.”
Welcoming the new member of the administration, the Leader of Moray Council, Councillor Stewart Cree, said: “As a fellow independent I recognise the difficult decision Dennis faced in deciding whether to join the administration group.
“We are independent because we do not believe in party politics within local government – we are not a party and accommodate a broad range of views.
“In a short time, Dennis has demonstrated the capability and ability to contribute more than simply being a local member. We are delighted that Dennis has decided to work with us in facing the significant financial challenges that lie ahead.”
The SNP opposition group leader, Councillor Gary Coull, hit out at Councillor Slater last night, saying that he had “duped” the Heldon & Laich electorate in October’s by-election campaign.
He said: “I feel bad for those who voted for and supported Cllr Slater on the promise that he would not join any administration. Once again we have seen a so-called independent candidate dupe the electorate into thinking that they will be truly independent just to come into the Council and join a party of ‘Independents’.
“However, it doesn’t come as a surprise as independent candidates who win an election seem, in effect, to make up their own political party even though they say they are against them.
“We are once again seeing that independent councillors are not as independent as they say they are.”Douglas Ross – now back to being a ‘group of one’
Douglas Ross, who has been serving as a non-aligned councillor since his dismissal from the administration group, expressed his surprise at the decision, saying: “First of all I would say despite this strange decision I have a great deal of respect for Dennis as an individual and a councillor.
“I have been happy to assist him in any way I could as he found his feet since the by election and I will continue to work with him on areas we agree on. However, many people will question the fact that just a few short months after being elected as a truly independent councillor he has now chosen to join the independent group of councillors in the administration.
“I simply cannot accept that not being part of the administration means you are less able to serve your constituents. I enjoyed the opportunity to serve in the administration and lead two committees – but my ability to deal with issues on behalf of local people or groups was in no way diminished when I was thrown out. Indeed more and more I see the administration group not as a collective of individually minded people who bring different perspectives to debates, but simply a block vote to push through proposals that suit the senior officers of the council.
“You need to look no further than the email I found from the independent Leader of the administration checking that all his councillors still supported the Western Link Road. For 100% of apparently independent councillors to all dutifully support such a controversial proposal begs the question, just how independent minded councillors are allowed to be in the administration.
“Dennis has taken this decision and while I respect his right to do that I wish he would have given things a bit longer out with the group to see what you can achieve even on your own.
“However its seems that when some people get a little power they will go to great lengths to keep it.
“Councillor Slater has ensured the political leadership of the council remains with the Independent group and I am left in the strange position, often criticised by colleagues for being too political, as being the only truly independent councillor in Moray. That is a title I have achieved by being in a group of one!”
REGULAR READERS WILL know that as Editor I took the unusual step of supporting Dennis Slater at the by-election last October – and that included helping to guide his campaign and canvas on his behalf.
I did so because I believed that Moray needed to go in a new direction, that when a Councillor said he or she was independent, they should mean that in every way. Dennis fully agreed with that at the time and I had no reason to feel this particular train would switch tracks.
How any independent councillor can do this and yet be part of a group that will undoubtedly vote together, regardless of the needs of their own particular community, is a long way north of my ken.
I appreciate the dilemma Dennis faced. He felt isolated, he did not feel he was able to fully represent Heldon & Laich because he was not privy to the advance discussions and decisions being made by the different political groups at the Moray Council. He felt isolated going into some very difficult decision making over the next few months – but that was supposed to be his path, he would take decisions on a vote-by-vote, item-by-item basis.
He remains a close friend – but I cannot feel anything but disappointment at his decision, one I tried to dissuade him from. But of course he is his own man and that is something everyone respects about Dennis.
When I set insideMoray on a path of non-alignment to anyone other than those who wished to have a strong sounding board to local communities, I dreamed that one day our local authority would also be one that truly reflected similar aims and aspirations.
That is an aspiration I still have. Many say it is neither realistic or practical – but then it would not be aspirational if it was easy.