A DECISION by the independents and Liberal Democrats to form part of a coalition to control Highland Council has enraged the SNP, leading to accusations the independents “betrayed the public vote”.
An alliance between the 28 councillors and the 10 Liberal Democrats has been agreed, propped up by the three Labour councillors.
It paves the way for former council leader Margaret Davidson to return as council leader with Lib Dem and Labour leaders Alasdair Christie and Jimmy Gray as her right hand men.
But SNP leader Maxine Smith claimed the independents had “betrayed” voters by turning their backs on her party.
Councillor Davidson insisted she acted on the instruction of independent councillors who decided against a coalition with the SNP.
The SNP, the biggest political party on the council with 22 councillors, claimed the decision was made before negotiations were held with their leading members.
SNP group leader Maxine Smith said: "When we had our meeting we were basically told that the independent group had made a decision not go with us, before we had been given a chance to tell them what we could offer.
“We are a group of 22 and they are a group of 28 and together we would have formed a robust, stable and experienced coalition, which would have remained in place for the five-year term.
“Given that our vote stayed high and the Lib Dems, Labour and independents all lost seats to the Tories, this does not make sense and is a betrayal of the public vote.”
She also called the proposed administration “unstable” and suggested some members may be unreliable.
“With such a small majority and so many different views it will be completely unstable,” she added.
“It only takes a couple of people to be off sick or on holiday and they won’t have their majority to win a vote.
“Independents are always leaving meetings too, you can’t run an administration that way.”
Cllr Davidson insisted it would be “a stable coalition”.
She said: “The independents are the largest group and after meetings they instructed me to form a coalition with Labour and the Lib Dems and that is what I have been doing.”
The council’s Lib Dem group leader Alasdair Christie said: “The Lib Dems councillors stood for election to help people, especially vulnerable people and we will continue to do that now that we are in.
“That is our main priority for the Highlands and I hope if we form a coalition that the people we are working with will share that view.”
He also claimed it is the SNP who has betrayed voters by taking power away from the Highlands.
“When a coalition is formed there is always going to be someone who is left out,” he said.
“The SNP supported the independents in the last two years and it was the Lib Dems who were left out to a degree.
“There is still an important role to play in the opposition of holding the administration to account, that is what my group has been doing in recent years.
“I think Highland people will feel more betrayed by the centralisation agenda of the current SNP government, which has taken services away from them,” he said.
“To me that is a far bigger betrayal.”