THE ruling SNP group have resigned as the administration of North Ayrshire Council in a shock move.

It follows the defeat of their candidate Robin Sturgeon in last week’s Irvine West by-election, which left Labour with 11 councillors to the SNP’s 10.

Provost Joan Sturgeon - wife of defeated candidate Robin and mother of First Minister Nicola ­-­ has also resigned.

The decision paves the way for Labour to try and form a new administration, with the support of independent councillors.

With council elections to be held next year, it had been thought that the ruling SNP Group would remain in charge as a minority administration.

Now a special meeting of the council will be held on August 30 to make arrangements for a new council to be formed.

The move came almost a week after Labour’s Louise McPhater won the crucial by-election.

In a statement, Provost Sturgeon said: "With the change in representation on the council it is clear to me that I should allow a complete reset of the council administration, including resigning my own position. While the post of Provost is non-political it is elected at the start of every council term and it seems clear to me that I should allow that election to take place in tandem with the democratic election of the new administration. It has been one of the greatest honours of my life to serve the people of North Ayrshire and I thank them for giving me the opportunity to do so."

North Ayrshire Council Leader Willie Gibson said: "I am personally hugely disappointed in this change. Since the SNP took control of a failing council in 2012 we have taken huge strides in creating better services for North Ayrshire. Our recent APSE nomination for UK Council of the Year is based not on some random nomination but purely on measurable performance and shows the massive change in our fortunes.

"I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our staff who have contributed so much in these changing times and have ensured that our vision for a better North Ayrshire has come to fruition. In the end, however, the democratic will of the people must be paramount. You can rest assured that I will be working twice as hard to convince those people to elect us as a majority again next May."

Tony Gurney, SNP Councillor for Ardrossan and Arran, said: “On August 11 the SNP won the popular vote in the Irvine by-election. Unfortunately our candidate was a small number of votes short of an absolute majority. This meant second preference votes were taken into account allowing Labour and the Tories to combine on their joint platform, electing a Labour councillor and changing the overall balance of the council. The Labour party now have the most members on North Ayrshire Council.

“In 2012 when the SNP had the highest number of members we were given the opportunity to form an administration. We did so and North Ayrshire has since had an SNP administration that has tirelessly served the people of North Ayrshire and been highly successful in doing so. Indeed North Ayrshire Council has recently been nominated as UK Council of the Year for the third time in a row.

“That being said democracy must triumph and, given that the SNP group no longer command the largest representation on the council, it is only right that Labour be given the opportunity to form the next administration of the Council.

“Accordingly the SNP group has taken the difficult decision to resign from administration to allow Labour the opportunity to form an administration. In order to ensure the smooth running of the council this resignation will not take place until a new administration can be identified and put in place at the next meeting of the full council.

“It has been an honour for the SNP to serve North Ayrshire and we will continue to do so in opposition. In addition we will work tirelessly to ensure that, at the next council elections in 2017, we can emerge, once again, as the largest group on the council.”