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
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.
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.