The SNP are poised to make a bid to seize control of Moray Council after storming to victory in the Buckie by-election.
Sonya Warren’s landslide win means the Nationalists are now the biggest single group on the local authority with 11 seats.
And although the official party line last night was that nothing has been decided yet, they are widely expected to launch a power grab after holding talks on Monday.
The SNP now has the number of seats as the current council administration of 10 Independents and one Conservative.
There are also two Labour members of the local authority and two Conservatives outwith the ruling group.
Local businesswoman Ms Warren secured her seat on the first count at Fishermen’s Hall in Buckie with 1,485 votes – 59% of the total number cast.
The by-election was triggered by the death of veteran Buckie councillor Joe Mackay in January.
Last night, SNP group leader Pearl Paul refused to confirm the party would make a push to take control of the local authority.
But the Speyside Glenlivet councillor said: “We weren’t counting our chickens before this by-election, but we are now a group of 11 members.
“We will have a group meeting on Monday morning, and whatever decision we make will be in the best interest of Moray.”
Moray council’s Conservative convener, Heldon and Laich member Allan Wright, said: “We have a meeting arranged for Monday morning, and the result of the Buckie by-election is on the agenda.
“I cannot predict or preempt what the current administration will do, but the SNP can now claim to be the biggest single group and definitely, I would say, have a legitimate claim to form the administration.
“Now, whether they choose to do that or not, I cannot say, but we always knew that the Buckie by-election was critical in terms of the numbers we have.”
Labour’s UK leader Ed Miliband has ruled out a post-general election coalition with the SNP at Westminster if he fails to win an outright majority in May.
But the situation locally has the potential to play out differently.
Labour group leader on Moray Council, John Divers, who represents Elgin City South, said: “You go back three years, after the last council election, when both the Independents and the SNP wanted us to come onside.
“Even going back to when Joe died, we were approached again by the Independent group to see if we would come onboard.
“The more interesting point is will the SNP be brave enough to make a play to take over lead of the council?
“If they don’t make a play, people will wonder why, because after today they are the largest individual group, so they have the right to go forward.
“Councillor Sean Morton (Fochabers Lhanbryde) and myself will talk it through, and we will see if we are approached or not, and take it from there.
“We will wait and see what happens, if the SNP are brave and take that responsibility on.
“We will do what’s best for the people of Moray.
“Whoever is leading the council in the future will need the support of other groups, so we will see what comes out over the weekend.”
Conservative Fochabers Lhanbryde councillor Douglas Ross was ousted from the administration in November, with his Tory colleague James Allan, who represents Elgin City South, choosing to quit weeks later.
Councillor Ross said: “These are certainly interesting times. It’s clear from today’s result that the SNP is now the largest party in the Moray Council.
“The Independents previously said when they were the largest group they had the moral right to form an administration.
“Now it only seems fair that this moral right is shifted to the SNP and they be given an opportunity to form an administration.”
Sonya Warren (SNP) 1,485
Norman Calder (Ind) 696
Tim Eagle (Con) 315