THE Independents have taken power at Highland Council after a major split in the SNP-led ruling coalition.
The group said days ago it was seeking a deal with the Liberal Democrats and Labour - with the SNP frozen out.
But negotiations were still going on today.
And it has now emerged the Independents will run the administration alone.
Independent group leader Councillor Margaret Davidson said the aim was to create a stable council.
She said: "Leading any council is not an easy ride. Finding how we balance the budget is going to be the most difficult job over the next two years. I hope we can avoid cutting front line services.”
Consequently, the SNP will now form the largest group in Opposition with the Liberal Democrats and Labour also out of power.
SNP Group Leader Cllr Maxine Smith said: “We look forward to working with the new Administration in order to do what is best for the Highlands. We will support the Administration when we believe it is right and we will oppose it when we believe it is wrong.
"As Leader of the Opposition, I will work constructively with the Independents and my SNP colleagues all feel the same.”
SNP Group Depute Leader Cllr Richard Laird added: “The last week has been frustrating for the council, its staff, and Highland residents. What is important now is that the Council has stable leadership for the next two years and we will ensure that happens. The SNP will form a constructive Opposition to the Independent administration and will continue to put the good of the Highlands front and centre of everything we do.”The move comes after the Liberal Democrats unexpectedly quit the SNP-led coalition administration last week, saying they could no longer work with the nationalists.
Carolyn Caddick, Lib-Dem councillor for Inverness Sout,h who was at the forefront of the coalition talks, said much of the joint working with the SNP and Labour had been positive but the Lib-Dems had reached a point of no return.
She cited under-funding of Highland NHS, armed police and the SNP’s refusal to back down over its council tax freeze as the main problems.
Speaking moments after the decison was made public, she denied that the Lib-Dems had taken a gamble and lost.
She said: "I do not see it as a gamble. I think the most important this for me personally it that we no longer are in a coalition with the SNP.
"And it will be better for the SNP too as they will be able to follow the Scottish Government line more easily in opposition."