COUNCILLORS in Argyll and Bute are due to elect a new leader today (Thursday) after the shock decision of Helensburgh’s Aileen Morton to stand down from the role.

Councillor Morton, who had been Argyll and Bute Council’s leader since shortly after the last council election in May 2017, made the surprise announcement last week.

She has not disclosed the reason for her decision to stand down as leader, saying only that it had been taken “after much thought”.

Councillor Morton, who was first voted in as a Liberal Democrat councillor in 2012, will remain as one of four elected members for the Helensburgh Central ward.

Her successor at the head of the council’s ruling coalition of independents, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is expected to be chosen at a full council meeting to be held via video link today.

READ MORE: Argyll and Bute Council leader Aileen Morton steps down from role

However, her Helensburgh colleague, Conservative councillor Gary Mulvaney, Cllr Morton’s deputy throughout that time, is widely seen as the front runner.

Councillor Morton said: “We have achieved much over the past few years and there is so much potential for further success.

“The next leader of this council can build on that and will be starting from a very strong position, supported by a fantastic workforce who know, as I do, that Argyll and Bute is a great place to live and work.

“It’s been my privilege to lead this council for the past few years and to serve the people of Argyll and Bute. I will continue to do so, working with my successor.

“My sincere thanks go to all who have supported me over the years.”

Councillor Mulvaney said: “I’ve worked with Aileen over the past three and a half years and she has done a tremendous job.

“She works incredibly hard, diligently, knows her brief and everyone else’s, has a first-class mind and combines that all with a common-sense approach and good sense of humour.

“Leading a council in these times is a challenge for anyone and but she did it admirably. Simply the best.”

READ MORE: Should Helensburgh leave Argyll and Bute for West Dunbartonshire Council?

Councillor Graham Hardie, also a Liberal Democrat councillor for the Helensburgh Central ward, said: “I have worked closely with Councillor Aileen Morton both in the administration, as a fellow ward member and as a local Liberal Democrat and know she is a highly talented politician and has a great work ethic which are both ideal qualities for leadership.

“She has made a huge contribution to Argyll and Bute and should be commended by all quarters for her efforts as council leader.

“I know my fellow councillors and myself will miss the sense of direction and purpose she gave us all through her impressive leadership qualities and skills.”

Other councillors from the area have expressed their hopes for the council when a new leader is chosen at today’s meeting.

SNP councillor Lorna Douglas, who also serves Helensburgh Central, said: “We’re living through possibly the most challenging period in political history; the worst is yet to come when Brexit truly bites our already fragile economy.

“I sincerely hope whoever emerges from this Tory/Liberal administration is tough enough to face the immense challenges ahead.”

READ MORE: Councillor column: Give us what we need to see our area grow

Lomond North opposition councillor George Freeman said the role of leader should be treated as a full-time position.

He said: “The resignation of Councillor Morton certainly comes as a complete surprise.

“As it is essential that the leader’s position is treated as a full-time job, I believe that it requires a high calibre councillor who can commit to leading the council on a full-time basis, and not treating it as a sideline while working full-time outwith the council.

“Unfortunately, at this time, there are few councillors who are capable of filling that role.”

The Helensburgh and Lomond area’s constituency MSP, Jackie Baillie, said: “I want to thank Aileen for her years of dedicated service to communities across Argyll and Bute.

“Aileen’s contribution to the council as leader has been immense. She has helped to transform Argyll and Bute by securing greater investment for the area and building stronger working relationships between local politicians, businesses and communities.

“I have never been in doubt about Aileen’s commitment and determination to ensure that Argyll and Bute gets a fair deal.

“And although I am sad to see her leave the role of council leader, I look forward to continuing to work with her as a councillor for Helensburgh.”

Conservative West of Scotland MSP and Helensburgh resident Corry, who was also elected as a councillor in 2012 before becoming an MSP five years later, added: “I was shocked by Councillor Morton’s resignation as I had joined the council at the same as her and found her to be a good councillor who brought a lot to her work, as councillor and leader.

“She has done a good job in leading the council as part of TALIG (The Argyll, Lomond and Islands Group), which has been very successful and I wish her well for the future.”

Click here for all the latest Helensburgh and Lomond headlines