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Frontrunners emerge for new Highland Council leadership ahead of the start of coalition talks

Councillors Raymond Bremner and Bill Lobban will lead the SNP and Independent groups respectively.
Councillors Raymond Bremner and Bill Lobban will lead the SNP and Independent groups respectively.

An agreement on who will form the new Highland Council administration is a step closer after the region’s two biggest political groups finalised their top teams.

As the dust settles from Thursday’s vote, both the SNP and the Independents have held meetings to agree who will lead them.

The SNP hold more seats than anyone else, with 22, and will be led by Wick councillor Raymond Bremner.

Mr Bremner previously served as leader of the opposition.

Bill Lobban will lead the Independent group, who won 21 seats.

Both groups fall below the 38 seats required to form a majority, meaning it’s very likely they will either have to work together or with some of the other parties.

The Lib Dems are the third largest group with 15 councillors.

The Conservatives have 10, the Greens have four and Labour has two.

Council coalition talks in the pipeline

There was a bit of a first day of school vibe at the Highland Council chamber today, as newly-elected representatives and returning faces gathered.

New portraits are being taken and officials are busy tidying up all the admin that comes with a fresh term.

The big question is who will lead the council and behind the scenes parties are busily getting their own houses in order.

Councillor Bremner was always expected to continue as SNP group leader, and as the head of the region’s biggest party he stands a very good chance of becoming the new council leader altogether.

Inverness councillor Ken Gowans is the new deputy leader of the SNP group in the Highlands.

Ken Gowans will be the new deputy leader for the SNP, Ian Brown will retain his role as party whip and Emma Knox will become the party’s secretary.

A deal between the SNP and the Independents still seems one of the most likely outcomes. But Independent group leader Bill Lobban is not ruling anything in or out.

He said: “We are very open. But it’s far too early to talk about what may or may not happen.

“The Independent group will make decisions for the best of the Highlands.

“Whether that involves working with the other groups, we’ll see.”

Change at the top for Highland Tories

One major change that has been announced is the new leadership team for the Highland Conservatives.

Andrew Jarvie was previously the group leader but will now step aside.

He swapped his Inverness South ward for a space in Wick and East Caithness.

Struan Mackie and newly-elected Helen Crawford will be the new co-leaders of the group.

Break up Highland Council
Councillor Struan Mackie.

Mr Jarvie said: “I had already decided I would not be standing as group leader again.

“I have promised an awful lot to the people of Wick. My best efforts will be focused on delivering that.”

With the Tories and the SNP extremely unlikely to work together, the new leadership could focus its attention to a possible deal with the Independents and the Lib Dems.

The Lib Dems had a successful election day, picking up another five seats to increase their number to 15.

The local party held a meeting today. It is expected to announce that Inverness councillor Alasdair Christie will continue as its leader.

Mr Christie said: “It was a great result for us.

“Conversations will be taking place this week as a group, and we’re open to discussions with other people as well.”

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