Lib Dem shock as councillor defects

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A SENIOR Liberal Democrat councillor today announced she had quit the party and joined the SNP.

Elaine Morris, a former chairwoman of the Lib Dem group on the city council, said she was disillusioned with the party's coalition with the Tories at Westminster and the lack of local leadership over the trams.

Her defection makes no difference to control of the council because the Lib Dems and SNP are in coalition, but it will come as a blow to the struggling Lib Dems.

Edinburgh's SNP group leader, Steve Cardownie, welcomed Councillor Morris's switch, saying: "She is not the first person from the Lib Dems to join the SNP and won't be the last."

Cllr Morris, who represents Forth ward, said she had become unhappy with the UK Lib Dem-Tory coalition. "Although I was in favour initially, I don't think they have performed well. I was horrified by the tuition fees debacle."

She criticised the Lib Dem leadership on the council for not giving a stronger lead on the trams. "Although I supported the trams, I don't think they sold it to the people of Edinburgh. They were not good guardians of the scheme."

She added that it was difficult to see how the 220 million funding shortfall could be met without having a negative effect on the city.

"In principle I have been supportive, but not at any cost."

Cllr Morris, a former press officer at Buckingham Palace, was elected a councillor in 2007 but said she had become increasingly disillusioned over the last 18 months.

"I don't think the Lib Dems have done a very good job of engaging with the public," she said. "During some school closure meetings we did not give credence to some parents.

"We allowed the political agenda to be dominated by the trams while what we have done in terms of improved results in schools and the first council housing for two decades have all been left hanging. We failed in the most basic element of politics – communicating effectively how well we have spent people's money.

"I think the SNP, given the way they have sold their policy nationally, will do a better job communicating the strengths of the current administration."

She said she hoped to stand for re-election next May, but stressed she was not seeking special treatment in the SNP's candidate selection process.

Cllr Morris joined the Liberals in the early 1980s, rejoining in 2006 after her membership had lapsed. She said quitting the party was "not done lightly", adding: "It's one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made."

She said she did not believe her defection should cause problems about working as part of the administration alongside former Lib Dem colleagues.

"I don't have personal issues with any of them. I think they will respect my decision."

She said she suspected other members of the Lib Dem group shared her views. But she added: "I'm not aware of any of them being sufficiently dissatisfied to change allegiance."

Cllr Cardownie said he had been aware of Cllr Morris's dissatisfaction for some time and had been in discussions with her for more than a month. He said: "Elaine is a hard-working councillor and we are delighted to welcome her."

Lib Dem group chairman Charles Dundas said he knew Cllr Morris has been unhappy but was surprised to hear of her defection. He said: "Liberal Democrats are Liberal Democrats because we believe in a common political philosophy."

He said if she was dissatisfied with the UK coalition, he could not see how her decision would impact on that. And he claimed: "The Lib Dems are the only party that have given any sort of lead on the trams."