An independent member on Perth and Kinross Council has joined the Conservatives.
Councillor Mike Barnacle, who represents Kinross-shire, says he is “completely against the SNP’s obsession with breaking up Britain” and believes the Tories are “the only party who can effectively defend the Union”.
Mr Barnacle was first elected in Kinross-shire in 1999 as a Liberal Democrat before leaving the party over perceived lack of support to the local community.
In both 2012 and 2017, he was re-elected as an independent councillor.
He said: “I am completely against the SNP’s obsession with breaking up Britain.
“Now is not the time to revisit this divisive argument on Scottish independence and we should be focusing all our efforts on rebuilding our economy and society from the awful effects of the pandemic.
“I have also been greatly impressed by the level of Conservative UK Government support for business and employees during the pandemic.
“I believe that the Scottish Conservatives are the party best placed to defend our union.”
He has also welcomed the council announcement in this year’s budget to devolve some powers to Kinross-shire.
“I also find I share a common programme with my colleague Councillor Purves that we can work together on for Kinross-shire,” said Mr Barnacle.
“The recent Conservative council budget included funding to support a pilot local committee for Kinross-shire, which I have been campaigning for since 1999 and I am certain that this will be well received locally.”
Fellow Kinross-shire Conservative councillor, Callum Purves, said: “Mike and I have worked closely together over the past four years on issues such as tackling overdevelopment, our environment, and devolving powers locally.”
Conservative Perthshire South and Kinross-shire candidate for the upcoming Holyrood election, Liz Smith, welcomed Mr Barnacle to the party.
She said: “Mike Barnacle is one of the most experienced and most highly regarded councillors whose first concern is always for his local constituents and our local communities.”
Jim Fairlie, SNP candidate for Perthshire South and Kinross-shire said: “This news is hardly surprising.
“Councillor Barnacle has a history of voting with the Conservative administration and makes Boris Johnson’s vision of Brexit seem tame in comparison.
“Councillor Barnacle may have defected to the Tories, but the recent by-election in Almond and Earn shows that they are actually losing ground across Perth and Kinross-shire.”
Councillor Barnacle’s change of status takes the total number of Scottish Conservatives on the 40-seat council to 19. The SNP has 13 members, Lib Dems five, Labour one and there are now two independents.
Grant Laing, leader of the council’s SNP group, said Mr Barnacle should focus on local issues instead of “larger constitutional questions”.
“It is unsurprising that Councillor Barnacle, the former Liberal Democrat and Independent councillor, has joined the Conservatives,” he said.
“The SNP group will continue to hold this Tory council to account and carry forward a positive message into the next local election campaign.”
Independent Councillor Xander McDade said: “Councillor Barnacles has made a personal decision to join the Conservatives as a result of his passion for the Union.
“Whilst we wish Mike all the best in his final year on the council, we can confirm that no other members of our group have any intention of joining the Conservatives or the Administration.
“We believe our group has had an outsized influence over the past three years and has shown the successes Independents can have for their constituents and the wider council.
“We believe local government should not be about constitutional debate and therefore we will continue to work – as we have for the past three years – with all political groups on the Council in the interests of our constituents and the people of Perth & Kinross.”
Councillor Alasdair Bailey of Scottish Labour said: “I disagree respectfully with him on the value the Tory party bring to the Union. This election is an opportunity for us to decide who will lead Scotland’s recovery.
“Boris’ Tories are happy to distract from their shambolic handling of Covid and Brexit by making this election all about independence.
“This is a trap; what Scotland needs is a strong recovery so we must elect a recovery-focused parliament.
“Scottish Labour is the only party which is fully committed to a strong, inclusive recovery with a focus on health, wellbeing and jobs.”