The SNP group on Aberdeenshire Council has suffered a major blow with the defection of a leading figure to the Liberal Democrats.
East Garioch councillor and shadow finance spokesman Fergus Hood stunned the party on Sunday by quitting to join the ruling Aberdeenshire Alliance.
Councillor Hood, who was re-elected to the Newmachar ward in May 2012, said it had been a difficult decision to leave the SNP group but cited internal divisions within the group. He added that he hoped to make a positive contribution to the ruling Alliance administration.
He said: “I was very disappointed not to be able to form an administration with SNP colleagues last May. We had the opportunity and threw it away because of internal divisions around the leadership.
“The Liberal Democrats on the council have been a huge support in helping deliver real progress in my ward. It would not be happening without their support and in particular, the commitment shown by the Lib Dem group leader and council deputy leader Martin Kitts-Hayes.”
He went on to say: “I have been the shadow finance spokesperson for some years and hope that I will now get the chance to use my skills, experience and knowledge of the council finances to deliver the best possible public services to the residents of Aberdeenshire as a member of the administration.”
SNP group leader, Councillor Hamish Vernal, described the defection as ‘’clearly personal rather than political.”
He said: “Councillor Hood, like the rest of the group, was upset about the SNP not being able to move into the administration of the council last year despite having our best-ever results and, by a long distance, having the most seats and the strongest mandate of any of the parties in Aberdeenshire.
“That would have been the correct democratic procedure. However for the rest of the 27-strong group we are entirely focused on the future and being able to lead the council at the earliest opportunity, as well as making a constructive contribution for our constituents.
“While we’re obviously disappointed by what is clearly a personal rather than a political decision, we will continue to work with Councillor Hood for the good of the people of Aberdeenshire and through the Yes Campaign in the lead up to the 2014 independence referendum.”
Lib-Dem group leader Martin Kitts-Hayes welcomed 57-year-old Councillor Hood to the party.
He said: “I respect his track record as a committed and hard-working local councillor and I am sure he will fit in well with our group.
“The strength of the Alliance Administration has been our ability to work together without party politics getting in the way and our aim will always be to work in the best interests of all our constituents.
“Councillor Hood will be a strong asset to the Alliance going forward.”
Gordon MP Sir Malcolm Bruce also welcomed him to the Liberal Democrat ranks.
He said: “The Scottish Liberal Democrat group on the council is delivering for Aberdeenshire and I am pleased that Councillor Hood has decided to join our team.
“Our councillors have worked with members of all political parties to provide people across the county with real help at a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet.
“I have known Fergus Hood for many years. He has a strong record of action and works hard for his constituents. I am sure he will make a valuable contribution to the Scottish Liberal Democrat group as they work to build a stronger and fairer Aberdeenshire.
“I think it is a political embarrassment that someone at the heart of the local SNP, in the First Minister’s backyard, has lost confidence in its ability to provide effective leadership and a positive vision for the future.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The Scottish Liberal Democrats have a strong record of delivery in Aberdeenshire and I am delighted that Councillor Hood has joined our hard-working local team.
‘On Aberdeenshire Council it is the Scottish Liberal Democrats who are working to build the stronger economy and fairer society that we all want to see
“As part of the administration we are working hard to create jobs and boost key local services. I know that Councillor Hood will make a big contribution to our work in the months and years to come.”
Ellon and district Conservative councillor Gillian Owen also hailed the move.
She said: “The defection of Fergus certainly strengthens our position in the council. Fergus is a well-respected individual who brings a wealth of experience with him. I look forward to working with him.”