A VETERAN Highland councillor’s sudden resignation has shaken the independent-led administration, raising the prospect that "four or five others could follow".
One of them could be a long-standing Ross-shire rebel councillor who has insisted she’ll step down if the administration pushes through parking charges for Dingwall.
Caithness independent Donnie Mackay quit on Wednesday night over the council’s budget proposal to roll out car parking charges at more local authority owned facilities.
He fears it would decimate High Street shopping in Thurso.
Numerous colleagues have said the same about the potential impact in their areas, including Dingwall and Nairn.
Reacting to the latest development, Dingwall and Seaforth councillor Margaret Paterson said: "I knew Donnie was thinking about it but as I said in the chamber I will leave the Administration if they impose parking charges on my town of Dingwall.
"I have fought for free parking in my town for as long as I have been a councillor, which is from 1994 when I was first elected. I know how damaging parking charges would be for the town and have always said ‘not on my watch’. It is a hard fight but worth fighting for – the survival of my High Street is very precious to me and I will fight tooth and nail to protect it.
"Who knows common sense may prevail and they will do a U-turn."
Mr Mackay (74), who has served far north constituents for 16 years, plans to formally join the council’s year-old Conservative group for his final spell before stepping down at the next election. He was a party member in his youth but has always stood as an independent.
He also cited the potential impact on tourism of toilet closures as another money-saving measure.
The vice chairman of the north planning committee said: "The parking charges will rip the heart out of town centres like Thurso. The big supermarkets are laughing all the way to the bank, with their free parking. Everyone will go there and the town centres will be left with nothing.
"And we’re trying to encourage tourists to visit the Highlands but public toilets will be closed. We’re going backwards instead of forwards. A lot of colleagues feel the same way – but I’m not naming names."
Council leader Margaret Davidson said: "I’m sorry to see Donnie leave the group and I’ve told him so. I’ve wished him well."
Conservative group leader Andrew Jarvie said he was "delighted" by Mr Mackay’s decision to seek membership of his group.
Defending the parking charges proposal, which is expected to be ratified at full council meeting at the end of the month, Liberal Democrat group leader Alasdair Christie reminded Mr Mackay that the Tory group backed the policy.
Mr Jarvie insisted that since the budget debate it had surfaced that the potential income from council car parks would be substantially less than initially projected because some of the sites are community owned and not council property.
On that basis, he said, his group no longer backed the charges proposal.
Mr Mackay’s decision will not affect the balance of power. If he joins the Tories, the council balance will be 27 independent, 19 SNP, 11 Conservative, 10 Liberal Democrat, three Labour, two non-aligned, one Sutherland Independent Group and one Green.