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Dr Robert D McIntyre
Chapter 27 - Local Government Reform


Increasing demands on local authorities and a large burden of roles placed on them by central government by the 1960ís brought persistent clamour for the reform of local government both in England and Scotland. Government response was to set up two Royal Commissions. The Wheatley Commission for Scotland reported in September, 1969 and resolved the problem of the future structure and organisation firmly in favour of centralisation. The report was a plannerís dream and the suggested local boundaries were founded on an estuarial argument, which totally neglected long-established local loyalties, for example, in Fife.

No fault or blame could be placed at the door of the members of the Commission, however, for a failure to deal with the most important topic - that of finance - which was excluded from their brief.

When the proposals reached the legislative stage, now under a Conservative government in 1973, there had been modifications to give a greater degree of flexibility, but the general structure remained. This two-tier pattern was retained, with the absurdity of one top-tier regional authority - Strathclyde - encompassing half of Scotlandís population. How any one could argue that this enhanced local democracy beggars belief and even former Labour Ministers recognised this when the Bill was undergoing its committee stage in the Commons.

Perhaps a more severe objection to the destruction of local democracy was the complete lack of thought given to the functions and powers of a Scottish Parliament. If Strathclyde spoke for half of the population, what would be the sense of a Parliament trying to speak for the other half?

Both Gordon Campbell and Willie Ross accepted the general thrust of Wheatley and the desire to reform Scottish local government along lines which would produce greater centralisation in the interests of the planners - to the detriment of local democracy and the government of Scotland as a nation.

But, despite a number of misgivings including the threat to vote against the Third Reading by a few Labour members, the Bill passed into law, with all its consequences.

Two-tier local government structure terminated the historic place of the burghs in Scottish local government. The Royal and Ancient Burgh of Stirling was embraced by both Stirling District and the Central Region with a population of more that a quarter of a million.

Stirling had granted the freedom of the Burgh for over four centuries and the last threesome to be accorded this honour were Michael Kelly, as exProvost, Alex Reilly, a local journalist, and Dr Robert McIntyre. Ironically, amongst those present at the ceremony on 3rd May, 1975 was Lord Wheatley whose Commissionís proposals resulted in the demise of the Burgh.

Fittingly, Dr Robert McIntyre used the occasion to warn of the need for the people to defend themselves against the tyranny of oppressors - the modern day robber barons calling themselves corporations, whether private or nationalised, or international or even great local authorities.

Essentially, he hoped that the people of Stirling and the new Stirling District would march into the future in such a way that they would retain a sense of community.

But what were his innermost thoughts at this time? He could look back on forty years of campaigning for Scotland and its place in the world. Thirty years previously, he had been the first SNP Member of Parliament. Now the Party had eleven and looked to be on the verge of a real breakthrough to power and achieve a mandate for independence. Labour in government was proceeding with legislation for a Scottish Assembly and, with North Sea oil and gas, the prospects were more that assured that an independent Scotland would be viable.

He had held the SNP together and, with others of a similar mould like Arthur Donaldson and James Halliday, had witnessed the Party grow into a real and significant political force. Local government had been an additional, and important, means of endorsing his assertions that the Scots had the ability to govern themselves and that the way to prove this was to contest elections, both local and parliamentary.

Professionally, in medicine, he still had work to do, while inwardly acknowledging the achievements of his profession in the Health Service in combating dreaded diseases like diphtheria and tuberculosis.

Stirling suited him and he was willing and able to be of service in a future which looked bright. At sixty-two years of age, while the past had a hold, it was the future which engaged his attention. Surely the successes of the Party in 1974 would not be dissipated and that shortly Scotland would regain its historic place in the community of nations. Hope rose high.

But, but...


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