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Watch the moment deck of cards is used to decide leadership of Moray Council

The jack drawn by SNP councillor Aaron McLean beat the seven picked by Conservative group leader Tim Eagle.
The jack drawn by SNP councillor Aaron McLean beat the seven picked by Conservative group leader Tim Eagle.

The leadership of Moray Council has been decided by drawing cards.

Conservatives supported by two independents lodged a takeover bid for the authority from the SNP minority administration.

However, following a one-hour debate, the sides were tied over deciding the fate of the leadership of the council.

Both the SNP and Conservative proposals received 12 votes with independent Amy Taylor, who is a former SNP councillor, abstaining.

Following a short break Conservative group leader Tim Eagle and senior SNP councillor Aaron McLean met to cut a deck of cards.

Mr Eagle went first and drew a seven, Mr McLean then drew a jack to keep the SNP in power in Moray.

Jack beats a seven

After the one-hour debate, where both the SNP and Conservative groups, argued about who had the mandate to lead Moray Council – the leadership of the authority was eventually settled by cutting a deck of cards.

Former council leader George Alexander, who is an independent Forres member, urged councillors not a part of either group to make a decision in the vote while warning that leaving it to chance would be “hugely embarrassing”.

After the vote was tied, Mr Eagle and Mr McLean convened in the neutral venue of the independent councillors’ offices for the draw with the council’s chief legal officer Alasdair McEachan umpiring the contest.

Meanwhile, all other councillors were consigned to watching the showdown on webcasts from their own home or office.

At the onset of the draw, Mr McEachan clarified a “fresh” pack of cards was being used for the event while the two councillors stood side-by-side facing a laptop set up on the table to record proceedings.

Mr Eagle went first, pulling the seven of hearts and showing it to the camera before walking backwards back towards the wall.

Mr McLean, who explained he had driven to Elgin specifically in case of such an event, approached the deck slowly with his arms folded – before pulling the jack of spades.

A short silence then ensued with Mr McLean showing the card to the camera again in the pause.

Mr McEachan then confirmed the result: “I can confirm that just took place in terms of our standing orders, the vote was drawn by lot, and the jack was the higher number to be drawn.”

Why cards?

Moray Council standing order 64(c) states that in votes relating to appointments that ties are settled by drawing lots.

Moray Council has confirmed a deck of cards is always kept available to settle such votes.

It is understood that only a new pack that is still cellophane-wrapped can be used for the event.

It is not the first time that key decisions have been settled in such a way in Scotland.

In February 2016 Dumfries and Galloway Council used cards to settle a vote at their key budget-setting meeting.

However, that occasion was only to settle a preliminary disagreement – not to decide the leadership of the authority.

Moray Council last cut cards in 2012 to decide an appointment to the Grampian Valuation Joint Board.

The SNP won on that occasion too with former councillor Gary Coull nominated alongside two representatives from the Conservative and independent administration of the time instead of three.

What was the Moray Council debate actually about?

The special meeting of Moray Council was convened to settle a leadership takeover bid from the Conservatives.

The nine-strong Tory group, supported by two independent councillors, launched the move after the resignation of SNP councillor Paula Coy in November reduced the administration to just seven.

Conservative group leader Tim Eagle argued the resignation had left the SNP with a “democratic deficit” – arguing his larger group would deliver a “bigger and bolder” budget for Moray.

The SNP’s Graham Leadbitter remains Moray Council leader. Photo: Jason Hedges/DCT Media

However, the debate turned increasingly personal amid talk about the “commitment” of some councillors in the group that wanted to take over.

Meanwhile, SNP councillor David Bremner and independent Mr Alexander raised concerns about one Conservative councillor living in Aboyne while another two had moved to Edinburgh this month for family reasons.

Mr Alexander said: “My conscience wouldn’t allow me to stay outwith Moray and make decisions that affect the people of Moray but don’t affect me. That isn’t democracy.”

Independent Derek Ross, who supported the Conservative takeover, described the comment as “below the belt”.

Meanwhile, Mr Eagle stressed the councillors involved, who were not named, still had “extended family and friends” in Moray.

Conservative group leader Tim Eagle would have become Moray Council leader if the cards were cut differently. Photo: Jason Hedges/DCT Media

He added: “Setting the budget is about a lot more than where you pay your council tax.

“Those councillors are still incredibly included in the process.”

SNP council leader Graham Leadbitter had earlier raised concerns about the timing of the Conservative takeover bid.

He said: “We’re only 16 weeks away from the pre-election period, the two weeks at Christmas means there is only 14 business weeks.

“The pragmatic decision should be to maintain the status quo until the election and then it will be up to the people of Moray to decide.”

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