The long-running battle for power at the top of Argyll and Bute Council has taken an intriguing twist after the Argyll and Bute for Change Alliance apparently concluded a coalition deal with Tories and Lib Dems - just when it seemed they were on the verge of getting into bed with the SNP.
Members of the ‘change alliance’ - which is dominated by independent councillors - had been expected to seal their partnership with the SNP ahead of Thursday’s meeting of the full council in Lochgilphead.
But then a news release was issued by the SNP group on Tuesday evening hitting out at “covert negotiations” between members of the ABFCA and Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors over the weekend and since.
The SNP release, sent out by Kintyre councillor John Semple, reads, in full, as follows.
“Argyll and Bute Council has operated since February of this year led by a minority SNP administration. During this time we have worked to engage all councillors of the council in jointly driving forward the council’s business.
“We have delivered the vast majority of our policies by attracting majority support from across the council chamber because our policies were well-founded. However we recognised at an early stage that there was a growing risk of this being an unpredictable situation which would not give the degree of certainty or political clarity required to provide a stable platform for leadership or policy development.
“It was also evident that other political groups were not content to be led by a minority SNP administration.
“The SNP group, at an early stage, sought to remedy this situation. We explored the potential for forming a coalition with Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors which would have given a more secure footing for governance but ultimately this did not find favour with some of our Council group or the wider constituency.
“Latterly we have met and reached agreement on a number of significant issues which led to a signed commitment to seek a partnership with the non-political group, The Argyll and Bute Alliance for Change (ABAfC).
“Earlier this week the SNP Group on Argyll and Bute Council voted by a significant majority to agree the detail of a partnership agreement that had already been approved by Councillor Duncan MacIntyre who led the negotiating group for the ABAfC.
“The final stages of negotiation were due to be undertaken today however the meeting was called off at the last minute by Councillor Macintyre who intimated that he had received representations from the Liberal Democrat and Conservative grouping which he wished to explore.
“Whilst this placed the SNP group in an unenviable position, we were confident of the work done together to establish the foundations of our new partnership. We had hoped to have a new administration in place by Thursday, and whilst this setback would, under different circumstances, be terminal, we considered it too important to the smooth running of council or the likelihood of any potential worsening instability in the council.
“We remained hopeful, but this evening we have learned that A&BfC have been in talks with the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives throughout the previous weekend and since.
“We are disappointed that these negotiations have been carried out covertly and with disdainful disregard to our partnership discussions. Our agreed partnership - signed by Councillor MacIntyre – remained the basis and focus for our on-going work as we worked towards the announcement of our partnership at Thursday’s meeting of the Council.
“Time will tell whether this arrangement, which will be delivered through a group of multiple self-interests, can stand the test of time and will realise the necessary stability. We wish the new coalition well in the knowledge that there remain some colleagues within the Change Alliance with whom we have worked in the past, and will happily work with again in the future should the opportunity arise.”