Dumfries and Galloway Council had been led by councillors from the SNP and Labour, with support from independents and LibDems. However, in February the Labour co-leader – Linda Dorward – stepped down citing “clear political and policy differences”.
That left the SNP’s Stephen Thompson as sole leader of the council, leading an unstable coalition without Labour’s backing.
The budget process one month later saw the SNP’s proposals fail, as Labour abstained (except on their own proposals) and the Tories won the votes of one LibDem and two independents.
After the passing of the Conservatives’ budget, Thompson said his position had become untenable and resigned.
The opening at the top of the council led to a leadership race, with both the Tories – the largest group with 17 seats – and Labour (who have eight seats) aiming to take control.
The SNP (11 councillors) abstained, but the Conservatives were able to install their own members at the head of the council thanks to backing again from independents and one LibDem.
Gail MacGregor, the Tory group leader, was elected leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, while fellow Conservative Malcolm Johnstone was elected depute leader and convener.
The appointments were welcomed by Conservative MSPs including Stephen Kerr, Murdo Fraser, and Finlay Carson.
Excellent news, @TenaciousTory will be a superb leader after years of SNP/Labour chaos https://t.co/J4iG3cbI71
— Murdo Fraser (@murdo_fraser) March 7, 2023
Angus SNP councillor Lloyd Melville said Labour “should be ashamed”.
Cameron Garrett, the co-convener of the Dumfries and Galloway Greens, also criticised Labour for the Tory takeover.
He said on Twitter: “The responsibility for this lies squarely with @ScottishLabour playing national politics at a local level.
“We have clearly seen the damage Tories have done in Westminster, now expect people’s lives to be worse off in [Dumfries and Galloway] too.”
It comes after suggestions that Scottish Labour had interfered in order to put an end to the coalition between them and the SNP – which was an embarrassment to Anas Sarwar who had repeatedly pledged his party would do no such thing.
Sarwar hinted he had had discussions with the Labour group in an interview with ITV Representing Border in January.
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He said: “The local Labour group knows clearly what our position is and we both agree that we have to be consistent with our approach throughout the election campaign and post it that we would have no formal coalitions with either the SNP or the Tories.”
Independent councillor Dougie Campbell said the Labour group had been “irresponsible” and slammed “interference” from party headquarters.
He said on Twitter: “@dgcouncil ‘progressive’ alliance of Independents, SNP and Labour groups has collapsed as a consequence of the irresponsible behaviour of the Labour Councillors and Labour HQ interference. Well done @AnasSarwar. Mission accomplished.
“I asked for and was given a promise twice by Labour councillors that Scottish Labour HQ wouldn’t interfere in D&G Council governance and today made it very clear that constitutional games were at the heart of their irresponsible actions.”