Tory candidates dominated the Moray Council elections, topping the polls in every ward and “sending a message” that the area is no longer an SNP stronghold.
All eight Conservative hopefuls were elected, winning a total of 36.1% of the first preference votes cast compared to the SNP’s 31.6%.
The Nationalists went from having 11 members on the local authority to nine, with party veteran Gordon McDonald among the casualties.
His supporters shed tears as Mr McDonald bade farewell to 30 years of serving the public.
The SNP group’s new co-leaders, Graham Leadbitter and Shona Morrison, hope to join with Independents to form a “progressive coalition” to run the council.
Prior to yesterday, Moray had only three Conservative councillors.
Tory hopeful in next month’s general election, Douglas Ross, predicted the party’s popularity would grow further – and suggested that SNP MP Angus Robertson could be next to lose his seat.
Mr Ross said: “It’s clear that people in Moray want a change, and are leaving the SNP.
“Mr Robertson’s face told the story during the count, he is realising that his 9,000 majority from the last UK election is in real jeopardy.”
Last night, Mr Robertson said his campaign launch in Elgin today would demonstrate the strength of the SNP’s support in Moray and declined to comment further.
It is thought that Independent councillors will be courted by both sides, though the five who were re-elected were in the previous Tory-Independent ruling group.
Mr Leadbitter said: “Our first order of business will be to speak to other councillors in a bid to form an alliance that will defend our public services.”
Sole Labour councillor, John Divers, said he is open to negotiations.
The Tory uprising began when Walter Wilson stormed to victory in the Speyside Glenlivet ward, followed by Independent Derek Ross and the SNP’s Louise Laing.
Tory Ray McLean won the most votes in Elgin City South, trailed by Nationalist Graham Leadbitter and Labour’s John Divers.
The trend continued with Frank Brown topping the polls in Elgin City North for the Conservatives.
Independent candidate, Sandy Cooper, faced criticism in recent weeks for promising to shell out thousands of pounds of his own money to schools in return for votes.
Opponents said the pledge was “tantamount to bribery”.
But Mr Cooper was elected, as well as the SNP’s Paula Coy.
The SNP’s Patsy Gowans, who has represented the ward for the past five years, lost her seat.
Claire Feaver notched up another win for the Tories in Forres, with 2,094 first preference votes.
Second placed SNP candidate, Aaron McLean, trailed 705 votes behind with 1,389.
Independents George Alexander and Lorna Cresswell retained their seats.
Mr Alexander ran on a pledge to fight in favour of school closures, and said that would be his top priority upon resuming his place in the chambers.
The area’s youngest councillor was elected in Heldon and Laich, as 28-year-old Amy Patience won a seat for the SNP.
But it was Tory James Allan who dominated the vote, and Independents John Cowe and Ryan Edwards were also elected.
Conservative hopeful Donald Gatt romped to victory in Keith and Cullen, with the SNP’s Theresa Coull and Independent Ron Shepherd also gaining seats.
Mrs Coull follows in both her mother’s and her son’s footsteps in taking a seat on Moray Council.
She celebrated her win with son Gary Coull and his baby daughter, Bess.
Tory Tim Eagle topped the polls in Buckie, with the SNP’s Sonya Warren and Independent Gordon Cowie also gaining seats.
The Nationalists launched a fightback in Heldon and Laich, gaining two seats where they previously only had one.
But although Shona Morrison and David Bremner were elected, it was Conservative Marc Macrae who took the lion’s share of the tally.
Former Labour councillor Sean Morton lost his seat, with his tally of first preference votes dropping to 215 – from 512 in 2012.
Mr Morton declined to comment on whether ongoing child porn possession charges – which he denies – had dented his popularity.