Cllr Allan Wright is the Convener on Moray Council.
Conservatives in Moray are going from strength to strength. At the elections to the Scottish Parliament last May, Councillor Douglas Ross became a list MSP after slashing the SNP majority in Moray from 11,000 to less than 3,000. At the same time, Moray resident, Edward Mountain, became the second of three Conservative MSPs for the Highlands and Islands.
The Moray results were symptomatic of the resurgence of Conservative support under Ruth Davidson which now sees us as the biggest opposition group at Holyrood. And that opposition was seen to full effect on January 18 when the SNP government was defeated on its proposal to emasculate Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Now, Brexit issues aside, the attention turns to the local government elections on May 4th.
In Moray, Conservatives have stolen a march on both the SNP and Labour by having candidates announced in seven of the eight wards. The final ward, Keith and Cullen, will see a Tory candidate selected in the next couple of weeks. There has been extensive press coverage of the candidates.
The important thing this time is that we have no paper candidates. Every one of those selected has a really good chance of being elected. We have a first-class team and I would anticipate that we will have at least six Conservative councillors after May 4th.
We have election leaflets written and printed and already being delivered in some wards. The enthusiasm extends beyond the candidates to a growing army of supporters who will play a major role in getting our people elected.
Regular campaign meetings are being held and all those involved are acting as a team, led by the Moray association’s vice chairman, Alan Tissiman.
The challenge must not be underestimated. The SNP will probably field two candidates in each ward. They did that the last time and came unstuck. A strange quirk saw the SNP candidate who appeared first alphabetically get elected – in three cases at the expense of a sitting councillor.
There will also be a goodly number of independent hopefuls and there has to be a real possibility that a coalition of Conservatives and Independents will continue to be the Moray Council administration BUT with a much stronger Conservative power base than currently.
However, it could be argued that it would be a good time to be in opposition as the SNP government continues to squeeze local authority funding. The cut in the central grant for the coming financial year in Moray is £6m which is equivalent to a council tax rise of 18 per cent.
We will be allowed to raise council tax by three per cent and will probably do that. But current estimates are that we will need to take almost £10m from our reserves to balance the books on budget day. If the current squeeze continues into 2018/19, the council will face bankruptcy.
So, the challenges are great and thorny issues like rationalising the schools estate, and reducing leisure facilities such as town halls, community centres and libraries will have to be visited with a strong degree of purpose.
However, cometh the hour cometh the man (or person) and Conservatives in Moray have a superbly strong team of candidates who are up for the challenge.