THE SNP WILL FIGHT to return former Elgin City North Councillor Patsy Gowans to the chamber after the shock announcement from Councillor Sandy Cooper on Wednesday.
Councillor Cooper quit just four days after pipping Mrs Gowans to the post in the local council elections – giving no reason for doing so.
However, the controversial Independent had been under pressure with accusations that he had lied about his former political status – while some sections of the media were applying pressure on him to say if he would hold to a promise to donate part of his salary to local schools.
In his resignation letter to the Council Chief Executive, Councillor Cooper said: “After careful consideration, I wish to tender my resignation as councillor for Elgin City North ward. I apologise most sincerely for the great inconvenience and cost which this will involve.
“I am most grateful for the help, advice and assistance given by so many members of your staff during my training. I wish Moray Council every success in the future.”
SNP group co-leader at the local authority, Graham Leadbitter, was first to react to the news, pledging to support a return to the council for Mrs Gowans when the by-election takes place within the next three months.
Councillor Leadbitter said: “This resignation after just four days in office will be deeply shocking to the electorate of the Elgin City North Ward and the wider Moray electorate.
“The result of this is a £25,000 by-election bill to Moray Council and huge frustration for voters who are being asked to go to the polls to elect a councillor just after they thought they had done that.
“Sandy Cooper’s election blocked well-respected local SNP representative, Patsy Gowans, from continuing her hard work on Moray Council. That he should resign within only days means there will need to be an unavoidable by-election, which the SNP will contest to win.”
Labour attack a ‘shameful episode’
Moray Labour were heavily critical of Councillor Cooper’s behaviour last night describing his entire campaign as a “shameful episode”.
Party election agent in Moray is Stuart MacLennan, who said: “While we’re pleased to see the back of him, this is the only positive from this otherwise shameful episode.
“Mr Cooper waged a campaign based upon half-truths and questionable ethics and had he stood down when we first called him out on it then Nick Taylor would have won a seat in Elgin North. To say that we are incandescent that it has taken Mr Cooper this long to go is an understatement.
“Given his behaviour through this campaign I suspect that this is less a ‘road to Damascus’ moment and more likely a realisation of the serious consequences that might flow from his outrageous conduct during the campaign.”
Defeated Labour candidate in the Elgin City South ward, Nick Taylor, added: “While I’m obviously disappointed that Mr Cooper has only seen the error of his ways, the voters of Elgin City North will rightly be outraged.
“Mr Cooper spent his campaign promising to donate £25,000 over the course of his term of office to local schools. Instead, he has quit after four days on the job and he’ll end up costing local taxpayers £25,000.”
Analysis: Talks over Adminstration continue
Talks have continued over who will form the new council administration, with the SNP group holding a second round of talks with Independent members on Wednesday.
The Conservative group have also held talks and these will continue, as five of the Independent members and one Labour seek the best deal possible.
The departure of Councillor Cooper will reduce the ‘true independent’ group to two members as he had previously indicated he would not align to any political group.
It could, however, make the by-election a vital one – even all five existing Independents joined a Tory/Independent coalition it would be 13 strong. That would be enough to control the Council, but perhaps facing a challenge just months on depending of the Elgin City North result.
On the other hand, an SNP/Independent alliance would hold 14 seats and so a majority – if they were then to regain the services of Patsy Gowans their Administrative hold would be greatly strengthened.
The wild-card remains Labour councillor John Divers – who is playing his cards very close to his chest.