The SNP has seized control of Aberdeenshire – three years after becoming the biggest group within the authority.
The group won 28 seats in the 2012 election, but was kept out of the administration after the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Labour and nine Independents banded together to form the Aberdeenshire Alliance.
However last month, the cracks in that ruling coalition came to the fore – culminating in the departure of deputy council leader Martin Kitts-Hayes.
He has now teamed up with the SNP and yesterday – to the disbelief of the Aberdeenshire Alliance – was named co-leader of the new administration, along with Richard Thomson.
Mr Kitts-Hayes quit the alliance with fellow Independent Sheena Lonchay and Labour’s Alison Evison and Raymond Christie, and together they formed the Progressive Alliance.
They teamed up with the SNP, and yesterday the two groups – known as the Partnership – successfully ousted the administration.
Last night, opponents accused the Nationalists of making “concessions” to get the power, and claimed the new administration was unstable.
Former council leader Jim Gifford said: “Experienced and hard-working councillors have now been pushed aside by a team with little experience and one which has been cobbled together on the basis of individual ambition, personal vendettas and private agendas.
“I’m disappointed that this alliance, which still had a lot of work to do, has been stopped from doing it.
“It’s telling that there’s been no vote of no confidence. That’s because this alliance has the confidence of the people in Aberdeenshire who regularly tell us we’re doing a good job.”
Councillor Anne Robertson, who was leader of the council until 2012, raised fears about a shared leadership.
She told the chamber: “To be leader of Aberdeenshire Council is a privilege, not a convenience for political ambition.
“Being leader of Aberdeenshire Council requires selflessness, you put its residents first and you are devoted to the role and nothing else.
“The proposal here doesn’t demonstrate clear leadership from the get-go.
“This will not be to the benefit of this council and the communities that we serve.”
Councillor Peter Argyle added: “People looking in from the outside are going to look at the appointments made, and see a member of a group of four has the equal status to a group of 28. That lets you draw conclusions about the concessions the SNP is willing to make to get to power today.”
However, the leaders of the Partnership – who will be supported on a “confidence and supply” basis by the Democratic Independent Green Group (Digg) to allow them to have the majority – dismissed the comments.
Mr Thomson said: “The SNP was ready to form an administration whenever the position presented itself. It has been clear over the last few months that the Aberdeenshire Alliance wasn’t working. The opportunity was there to take power.
“It’s not a concession. We’re in a council chamber full of minorities. The SNP just happens to be the biggest one with 28 seats, but it’s not a match on 34. That’s the reality.”
Mr Kitts-Hayes added that the deal would allow members to use their varying levels of experience to ensure the best for the people of Aberdeenshire.
He said: “The SNP has never run the council, they have no experience of it. Richard recognised it was going to be a steep learning curve. I was the deputy leader of the council, so we agreed to work together.
“The key to running a successful council is knowing how the system works.”
Hamish Vernal, who was SNP group leader until being appointed provost at yesterday’s meeting, added: “It’s no secret we felt deflated and disappointed by the decision three years ago by the political groups to lock us out. It’s a different political climate now and that has been reflected. What’s happening now should have happened three years ago.
“We believe in the slogan ‘believe in better’ and we believe we can do things in a better way over the next few years.”