A COALITION of independents, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives will take control of Argyll and Bute Council today.
The first meeting of the authority since May 4's election is due to take place in Lochgilphead on Thursday, when the new leader, depute leader, provost and depute provost will be elected.
And while no official announcement on the forming of a new administration was expected before the meeting, it looks virtually certain that the groups who ran the council before this month's poll would resume control of the authority.
Helensburgh councillor and Liberal Democrat group leader Ellen Morton said talks between the Argyll, Lomond and the Islands group (TALIG) – of which she is a part – and newly-elected members of the council had been progressing well.
The SNP – the largest group on the council – issued a formal invitation to the Lib Dems and independent members last week to join it in a so-called 'progressive coalition'.
Cllr Morton said: “I had a conversation with [SNP group leader] Sandy Taylor last Wednesday. If there was going to be an agreement with them I think you would have heard about it by now.
“Conversations between the TALIG members and new councillors are going well.
“TALIG members who have been re-elected are in discussions with some of the newly-elected councillors to see whether they wish to work with us on the same basis as we have worked hitherto – that is, to deliver a strong and stable administration in difficult times.
“The group known as TALIG was formed as a direct consequence of the chaos which followed the last election in 2012, when two SNP-led administrations collapsed within 15 months.
“It was formed of people who realised our day job was to deliver council services, who knew they could work positively for the good of Argyll and Bute, alongside people they could rely on, leaving party politics at the door of the council chamber.”
Conservative councillor Gary Mulvaney said: "The Conseratives perfomed very well during the elections, becoming the second largest group on the council just behind the SNP.
“We are keen to play a role in creating a strong and stable administration in Argyll and Bute and are progressing our discussions within the 21-memberArgyll, Lomond and the Islands Group (TALIG).”
The question of who will become the council's leader and deputy leader is less clear: one source told the Advertiser that Cllr Morton was expected to be voted in as the new council leader at Thursday's meeting, but Cllr Morton, while refusing to be drawn on who the new leader might be, said that particular rumour was “not true”.
One Helensburgh and Lomond councillor who won't be part of any ruling administration is Lomond North independent George Freeman, who told the Advertiser that he had joined forces with Douglas Philand (Independent, Mid Argyll) and Donnie Kelly (Conservative, South Kintyre) to form a group to be called 'Argyll and Bute First'.
Cllr Freeman said: “We are hopeful that others may be persuaded to join un over the coming months.
“I was not invited to the early meetings of those trying to form an administration and have no concerns over that as I prefer to represent my constituents and communities rather than having to toe the line.”
A news release from the council's SNP group accused the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives of an “all too familiar tactic” which “put the constitutional question before the needs of Argyll and Bute”.
SNP group leader Sandy Taylor said the moves to form a new ruling group “lacked respect” for the area's voters.
Cllr Taylor said: ““The new ruling group named TALIG, consisting of Lib Dems, Tories and a majority of independents, formed this week without reference to the SNP, shows a distinct lack of respect for the electorate of Argyll and Bute.
“The SNP group was committed to finding a way forward to form a new and effective social democrat alliance on the council.
“My concern is that the continuing allegiance of the Tories and Liberal Democrats denies the SNP any prospect of a progressive administration which could progress our manifesto for change and above all see the transfer of decision-making power to local communities.”
THE new leader of Argyll and Bute Council will be voted into office today – and a Helensburgh councillor could be in line for the top job.
A coalition of independents, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives is expected to take on the political leadership of the authority at the first full council meeting after May 4’s election.
The decision of long-serving council leader Dick Walsh not to seek re-election led to a frenzy of speculation both before and since the poll over who might succeed him.
And while one senior Helensburgh councillor has ruled herself out of the running for the top job, two more, to varying degrees, have not.
Cllr Aileen Morton served in the last administration – also comprising independents, Tories and Lib Dems – as the council’s policy lead for economic development and strategic tourism, and has also held the education brief in the past.
She is also standing as the Liberal Democrat candidate in East Renfrewshire in next month’s UK general election.
Cllr Morton, who won a second term in the Helensburgh Central ward at the recent election, said: “For the council to operate effectively there’s a need for some councillors to step up and take on senior positions – which can be challenging when you consider that those same councillors also need to meet the needs of the constituents who elected them.
“Having been a policy lead for the last few years I’m well aware just how demanding the role of council leader is, so if I were asked to take it on that’s not a decision I would take lightly.”
Cllr Gary Mulvaney, who led the council’s Conservative group from 2012-17, is thought less likely to take on the leader’s role because of his full-time job running a company in Helensburgh.
Cllr Mulvaney, who was re-elected to the Helensburgh Central ward, has also been selected as the party’s Argyll and Bute candidate in the Westminster election on June 8.
He said: “Being leader of any council is a full time job, especially in a geographically large council as Argyll and Bute, which is headquartered 60 miles from Helensburgh.“I already have a full time job, one which I combined well with roles as area chair and depute policy lead for finance.“Whatever the outcome, I will play my part to support and work with colleagues to ensure we have good governance of the council.”
Cllr Ellen Morton, however, who leads the authority’s Lib Dem group, said she would not be seeking the leader’s role.
Asked to comment on speculation that she might take on the top job, she said simply: “That’s not true.”
The new ruling group on the council – which will be dominated by members of the Argyll, Lomond and the Islands group (TALIG) – has been formed over the last week despite the SNP being returned as the largest party group.
The SNP has 11 members on the council, up from eight prior to the election, while the Conservatives more than doubled their representation from four councillors to nine, and the Lib Dem group increased from four members to six.