Opinion: The Editor attempts to bring some early speculative clarity to the forthcoming Council election that will see over half of the 26 places being taken up by new faces.
JUST A LITTLE over three months before the people of Moray are asked to vote for those who will represent their interests at Moray Council for the next four years.
It could well be one of the most tightly contested contests ever – and, for sure, it will produce a completely new set of faces making the decision that effect our daily lives in so many ways.
So who are these people who will take on the roles being vacated by such as Alan Wright (Convenor and Tory leader), Stewart Cree (Leader and Independent), Gary Coull (SNP Leader) and a host of senior members such as Pearl Paul, Mike Shand, Mike McConnachie and Margo Howe (all SNP councillors who are not returning).
At this moment we only know five for sure who have been named by the Moray Conservative Party – but for the sake of this crystal-ball conjecture, we can perhaps have a pretty good stab at what is in store.
As someone who has worked closely on a daily basis with the SNP group – and with pretty much every other councillor at some time or other over the last seven years – my own conjecture does come with some background knowledge.
We do not know who will contest wards for the SNP as yet, we do know five of what I believe will be seven places being contested by the Tories. Likewise, we are still in the dark over who will represent Labour – but again, we know that currently they have just one councillor (having started with three).
For the Independents, it is equally muddy waters – their ‘top two’ are vacating the premises before their ‘hot seats’ positively burst into flames, while we are led to believe there are others who are still seriously considering bailing out.
The Green Party will strive to contest as many wards as possible and, for once, they might have a chance of convincing people to let them have a go. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems will doubtless field ‘ghost’ candidates – ghost as in never appearing in person, rather than ghosts as in scaring anyone.
Tories on the up
Looking closely at what has been happening over the last five years – and in particular over the time since the Independence Referendum – I have to say that the Tories have every reason to feel confident.
It would not be a major surprise that they build on the massive increase in votes gathered by Douglas Ross last year and see their three members increase to five or more. That could, quite possibly, be enough to allow them to form a new alliance with Independent councillors – and exert an even greater influence through senior roles.
At the sharp end of the Tory bid is Marc Macrae, contesting Fochabers/Lhanbryde.
Marc was, of course, Richard Lochhead’s right-hand man and someone I worked with at the SNP Constituency Office in Elgin – until he was forced out for reasons that have never been made public and likely never will.
Suffice to say that Marc resurfaced as Douglas Ross’s election agent last year – and now will seek to take up his place at the Moray Council. Having overcome serious illness in recent years he has the energy and drive to take on a leading role in the new council, be that in the Administration or in opposition.
Independents still have talent
While the two ‘leading lights’ from the current administration are bailing out – and it has to be said not many are mourning their departure – there remains sufficient capability, should they choose to run, among other members of the Independent group.
John Cowe actually defeated me in my famously forgettable by-election bid in 2013 – and as I’ve said many times, saved me from a role I would have been totally unsuitable for. He has thrived in his new role and would, in my view, do a great job leading the council through the troubled days ahead.
Another who has surprised me over the last few years is Chris Tuke, who has handled the planning committee since ‘inheriting’ it from Douglas Ross with fairness and humility, the latter a rare thing in the current Administration.
George Alexander is another who could, if he runs again, play a major role. I know, crusty, rude, belligerent – he’s been all of these things and more, including in my direction! When the chips are down though he has a depth of knowledge and determination second to none.
One Independent, incidentally, who I am not confident in being returned is Dennis Slater, who I gave such strong personal backing to in his 2015 by-election. The Heldon & Laich ward has three Independent and one Tory at present – two of the independents coming in via by-elections, much easier to achieve than when all four places are being contested.
I suspect one of the independent members to lose out – if that is Dennis it will be with some personal regret, even if I still feel embittered by the manner in which he changed from ‘true independent’ to ‘administration member’ in just three months.
SNP – Local rule or National direction?
I make no apologies for the sub-heading above. As I said at the outset I worked on a daily basis with the SNP in Moray and know much of how they think and how they work.
I have no doubt whatsoever – the SNP group in the Council is very much influenced by our SNP MP and MSP. Now many people in Moray, in particular SNP supporters, will see nothing wrong with that at all. Many more will fear it more than any single issue facing local government.
Leadership I can see being taken up by Graham Leadbitter, part-time assistant to Angus Robertson and a very careful and capable Elgin councillor. With the ‘old brigade’ of the local party moving on, however, it is difficult to see who might emerge in their places – but there is one name I’m putting in here as pure speculation on my part, Laura Mitchell.
Laura you might remember contested the ‘list’ vote for a Highlands and Islands seat at Holyrood – only to just miss out. I would not be surprised in the slightest if she emerged as a council candidate and, if successful, went on to occupy a leading role.
I would have tipped Kirsty Reid for a leading role in any SNP administration – and was as surprised as anyone that she has said she will not run. I do expect other leading roles to be taken up by the very capable Buckie pair of Gordon McDonald and Sonya Warren. I would also very much expect the hard working Aaron McLean to feature prominently in any SNP Council leadership.
Labour in Strife
After losing one of their three councillors in a by-election (and that councillor later re-emerging as a member of the SNP), the last thing Moray Labour needed was a suspension for their most prominent councillor.
If Sean Morton can return again as a driving force in local politics remains to be seen. Again, the ‘official’ Labour candidates are yet to be named but I fear that their local vote may reflect their current national status.
Could the Greens finally make a breakthrough in Moray? I rather hope they do, we could perhaps use their fresh approach and I have to say that in James Mackessack-Leitch they have someone who surely deserves to be a councillor.
So there you have it – there is lots to ponder over the next three months and I’ll welcome regular submissions from all parties or candidates to insideMoray.