Lib Dems claim SNP group too 'unstable' for council coalition

Aberdeenshire Alliance, Martin Kitts-Hayes, Jim Gifford and Norman Smith
Alliance: Martin Kitts-Hayes, Jim Gifford and Norman Smith at a press conference on Thursday.STV

The Liberal Democrats in Aberdeenshire refused to enter into a coalition with SNP councillors because the nationalist group is “too fragile”, its leader has said.

Speaking following the first Aberdeenshire Council meeting since the elections, Aberdeenshire Liberal Democrat leader Martin Kitts-Hayes said his party had “lost confidence” in the SNP group following its AGM.

At the SNP general meeting days after the election, the party voted Rob Merson as its leader to replace Joanna Strathdee. However, less than an hour after the vote Mr Merson resigned only for Mrs Strathdee to reclaim her post.

Mr Kitts-Hayes said: “We lost confidence in the SNP to be strong and stable partners. There was an issue of trust. If you go in you have to be clear that political party is united and clearly that is not the case with what happened.”

The Conservative group claimed they had “fruitful talks” with the SNP following the elections but that the nationalist has simply not contacted them again.

Aberdeenshire Conservative leader, and new leader of the local authority, Jim Gifford, said: “We spoke to the SNP and for various reasons we ended up with this alliance we have now. We spoke to the SNP right after the election and we never heard much more from them after that.”

Both parties have now returned to coalition power with a group of independents filling the gaps left as nine Liberal Democrats lost their seats at the elections.

SNP group leader, and leader of the opposition, Councillor Joanna Strathdee, said: “With more than double the number of seats as the next nearest party, the SNP had a clear mandate from the voters to lead the new administration on Aberdeenshire Council.

“Unfortunately, we have seen a repeat of what appears to be happening the length and breadth of the country with Tory, Liberal and Labour coalitions being formed to stop the SNP. It’s disappointing for the people who put their trust in us based on our manifesto pledges, but we will still try to get as much of our programme implemented as possible.

“At the end of the day, the SNP in Aberdeenshire will support good ideas which make life better for our citizens regardless of which party proposes them, and I hope the other parties will view our suggestions in the same light.”

Mr Kitts-Hayes said despite the SNP having more councillors than any other party – and being the only party with a councillor in each ward – the alliance have the “moral authority” to run the council.

He said: “Our moral authority is we represent the majority of citizens in Aberdeenshire. After the election the SNP had 28 seats and it was up the them to try and form an administration – they failed to do that – and given the void that was likely to be left we felt it was in the interests of the people of Aberdeenshire for us to get together and form a more stable administration rather than have a minority administration.”

Mr Gifford added: “We formed this alliance because we want the very best for Aberdeenshire Council services.

“The Aberdeenshire Alliance is a willing and able partnership established to ensure Aberdeenshire Council is a strong and effective administration for the next five years. It is a partnership which is absolutely built on mutual trust and respect which brings together three very separate and distinct groups with a mutual ambition for Aberdeenshire to be the best in Scotland.”

He said the alliance was “committed to ensuring money is not wasted” and that the finishing touches are being put to the council programme for next five years.

Norman Smith, leader of the independents group – which consists of Mr Smith, Mark Finlater, Ian Tait, Michael Watt, Alan Buchan, Alan Gardiner, Alison Norrie, Tom Malone and John Latham - admitted he was surprised to be sitting as part of the council administration.

He said: “It seems at the moment to be very friendly and very stable and we’ve made it very clear we do not want party politics to come into it.

“Party politics should not come into local government and I don’t feel we have compromised ourselves in anyway.

“Independent councillors will now have a far greater say in what the council does.”

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