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Co-leader of Moray Council quits Conservatives after just two months to become independent councillor

Moray Council co-leaders Neil McLennan and Kathleen Robertson.
Moray Council co-leaders Neil McLennan and Kathleen Robertson.

One of Moray Council’s co-leaders has quit the Conservatives just two months after being elected.

Moray’s Conservative group has said it changed up their leadership to help members focus on the “difficult” job of balancing the books.

The leadership says Neil McLennan lost a vote of no confidence among members due to concerns they have about his behaviour – but had hoped he would continue within the group.

However, Mr McLennan has said he has decided to leave the council group entirely while citing his own concerns about the behaviour of other Conservatives locally and nationally.

He says he will wait to find out who is replacing Boris Johnson as prime minister before he decides if he will rejoin his fellow Conservative members.

It is understood that Mr McLennan will remain as a co-leader of Moray Council, despite his resignation, until the next meeting in the chambers on August.

Opposition SNP councillors have described the situation as “incredible”.

‘I shall consider my political position in future’

Mr McLennan, who was elected for the first time in May, wrote in a social media post: “Once the national leadership position is clearer and the issues I have raised are resolved, I shall consider my political positioning in the future.

“For now, I remain first and foremost committed to supporting my ward members in Buckie and supporting Moray.”

On Twitter, he added: “I have stepped aside from the ‘unconstituted’ group Moray Conservative Councillors Group having consistently questioned poor behaviours.

“I temporarily shall position myself as an independent councillor with ‘one nation’ Conservatism leanings.”

He says he has received information from a former councillor about the conduct of another current Conservative member.

Mr McLennan added: “I have formally written to that councillor about this new information and await a response. Once all evidence is in place about councillor conduct, I will report issues, as is my duty, via appropriate organisations.

“I have also put my name to a motion calling for changes to the overall leadership of the council after summer recess.”

Kathleen Robertson, who is also a co-leader of Moray Council, initialy said the setting of the council’s budget was the reason for the move. The decision has been made with immediate effect – but needs to be agreed by the full council.

Mrs Robertson said: “Councillor McLennan received a letter from our group at the end of last month confirming his loss of a vote of no confidence which removed him as group leader, after concerns had been raised with me over his behaviour by councillors both within and outwith the Conservative group.

Moray Council co-leaders Kathleen Robertson and Neil McLennan had said they wanted to “foster collaboration and co-operation within the local authority”.

“However, we recognised the many talents he has and had hoped to use this summer recess period to reach a compromise to allow him to fully use his talents for the people of Moray as part of our group.

“It is disappointing that has not occurred and that this dispute has resulted in Councillor McLennan leaving our group.

“That will not detract myself and my fellow group of Moray Conservative councillors from focusing on the challenges facing our area and being an administration that delivers on the people’s priorities.”

‘Learning and growing’

Mrs Robertson said: “The new Conservative group of councillors in Moray are now eight weeks into term and have been learning and growing as a team.”

The co-leader recently apologised for using language such as “Oh God” and “Jesus man” during a council meeting.

She continued: “Eight brand new councillors were elected to the council [in May] to join three incumbents who were re-elected.

“It has taken time for our group to settle and work out the strengths and weaknesses of each individual.

Forres councillor Kathleen Robertson. Photo: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

“Going forward my intention is to ensure everyone in the group reaches their maximum potential as councillors, whether they are new or were re-elected.

“That will not only benefit their own personal development but also help to achieve the best for the people of Moray,” she said.

SNP questions whether Conservative administration will last

Opposition SNP councillors have raised doubts about the future of the Conservative administration following Mr McLennan’s resignation.

A Conservative and independent alliance was formed after elections in 2017 before it collapsed.

SNP co-leader Graham Leadbitter said: “We have the incredible situation that the Conservative council leader has been removed from leadership of his group, is now sitting on his own in Moray Council as a ‘temporarily independent’ councillor but is still the co-leader of Moray Council.

Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter
SNP Moray co-leader Graham Leadbitter.

“Once again a group of Tory councillors in Moray have failed to make it through the summer committee break, less than three months after the election, without cracks or splits happening.

“The question folk must be asking is whether the Tories can maintain an administration or if they will walk away as before.

“Whatever happens SNP councillors are committed to continuing the hard work required whether in opposition or in administration.”

A spokeswoman for Moray Council said: “The position of council leader requires to be formally agreed by the council if there is to be a change.

“The next full council meeting is scheduled for August 10.”

Moray Council is led by a minority administration of 10 Conservative councillors following Mr McLennan’s resignation.