Letters: The abolition of regional councils was a Tory dictat imposed with scant consultation

Sir John Major was vehemently opposed to the existence of Strathclyde Region
Sir John Major was vehemently opposed to the existence of Strathclyde Region

IN a throwaway line in his latest column ("Our water success should point the way ahead for energy", The Herald, August 16), Brian Wilson suggests that the 1975 local government reorganisation was carried out by the Tories.

I hope his other statistics are correct, since the reorganisation that was then carried out was possibly the best (and last?) example of political co-operation.

It was realised that the chaotic local authority system in Scotland then obtaining was not sustainable. A burgh like Stewarton (pop 5,000) had the same powers and most responsibilities as a city like Glasgow. Also the counties had large burghs within them but few duties, especially roads.

In 1966 Harold Wilson set up the Wheatley Commission to recommend a new set-up for local authorities. In 1969 this was presented and after the 1970 General Election went to Edward Heath. The following three years were used to refine and hear grievances.

In 1973 Edward Heath passed the Scotland Act, largely based on the Wheatley report creating the strategy for these new local authorities. After the election in 1974, Harold Wilson set up the Paterson Commission to advise the new authorities on staffing and salaries. In 1975 we had the first election for new councils. In 1975/76 they operated in the shadow, establishing themselves and their staff. In 1976 they assumed full powers. There was thus a 10-year period of investigation, discussion, and refinement before introduction.

This was totally unlike the creation of what we have now. John Major talked of the "abomination of Strathclyde" at a Tory Party conference, I think in 1993. The Scottish ministers then set about inventing new authorities which within Strathclyde could be Tory, South Ayrshire and Eastwood (now East Renfrewshire), as they both had Tory MPs.

There was minimal consultation; I recall a number of weeks around the New Year period.

Legislation followed, challenged briefly in the Lords before introduction and delayed from the usual month when elections were held.

So in 1996 when there was minimal collaboration and no overlap, our current set-up arrived. In fact, when I retired along with a very large number of Strathclyde's senior and middle-range officers, many of my staff had no allocated posts, so dysfunctional was the "handover".

John Taylor, Dunlop.

LAND REFORM IS A MUST

YOUR report noting that Andy Wightman, a lifelong advocate of Scottish land reform, has been forced to bring his own Scottish land ownership proposal to the Scottish Parliament ("One-third of Scotland owned by fewer than 360 landowners, says campaigner", The Herald, August 15) highlights a gross failing which should have been a priority early in Holyrood's existence.

The Access Act (Scotland) 2003 was a significant step in the right direction but an opportunity missed by not expanding it to include land reform. The present pattern of land ownership in Scotland is little different from that of centuries ago. At a time of heightened desire for total self-governance such legislation could only help advance that cause and give a boost to national pride.

In any independent nation the power to control foreign or commercial ownership and use of its land is fundamental. Change is needed in a way that benefits Scots and Scotland in line with other modern European states. Holyrood's failure to act on this has now led to spectral resurrection of Margaret Thatcher's tree-planting scheme for the wealthy to reduce their tax liability, except that in its new guise commercial concerns are allowed to buy and exploit Scotland's land in order to offset their carbon production. What is the difference between the two?

It may be considered too late to reverse or prevent this but robust, fearless legislation must include retroactive power. Mr Wightman's wealth of knowledge on the issue will steer it correctly if successful but expect a bitter fight with much statistic mangling. In any event he deserves congratulations for continuing to fight for what he believes in.

JA Smith, Dunblane.

BRING BACK RAIL SERVICES

I NOTE your report on the actions of the residents of Newcastleton ("Village bought up petrol station and is saving on high prices", The Herald, August 16). They had been without a petrol station for a decade, but they have been deprived of decent public transport since the demise of their railway station in January 1969 and connectional services to both Carlisle and Edinburgh and beyond.

Mention is made of the paltry four buses a day that pass through that are more than likely the remnants of the so-called replacements for train services.

Restoration of a rail link should be actively called for in the same spirit that has brought back the filling station.

John Macnab, Falkirk.

COLLECTIVE WISDOM

ALISTAIR Johnston (Letters, August 17) is rightly concerned about falling standards of English. Mr Johnston's suggestion that "the Government are" is wrong is, however, open to doubt. Collective nouns may take either singular or plural verbs, depending on, for example, awkwardness.

It is better to say that the staff are always at one another's throats than that the staff is always at one another's throats.

Doesn't sound right, does it?

David Miller, Milngavie.

• I BELIEVE Alistair Johnson is correct in maintaining that “an historical fact” should have been “a historical fact”. This is because the general rule is that before all words starting with a consonant an "a" is customary.

However, if the word starts with a silent h, the alternative indefinite article an should be used. For instance “an hotel” would be correct if one were one of the few remaining speakers who do not pronounce the "h" in the word hotel.

Peter Martin, Muir of Ord.

BOO-HOO, PUGH WHO?

ANENT a Florence Pugh, on her split from boyfriend, a Zach Braff: “We’ve been trying to do this separation without the world knowing, because we know it’s been a relationship that everybody has an opinion on” (Quotes of the day, The Herald, August 17 ).

Well, not everybody. Sad to admit. But who, and who?

R Russell Smith, Largs.