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The Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian

Local Government

Over the period 1945-75 Musselburgh Town Council meetings took place in the evenings. This enabled people from all walks of life to stand for election. Control of the council alternated between the Labour party and the Ratepayers' Association (allegedly non-political but predominantly of a Conservative persuasion).

Two Labour councillors, Thomas White and Peter Hamilton, both former provosts were prominent in directing council affairs. Thomas White with wise counsel and Peter Hamilton as an expert on local government finance. Councillor William Caird, also a former provost was the driving force behind the Ratepayers' Association. The councillors were ably assisted and advised by a widely respected town clerk, David Taylor, and the town chamberlain, James Mackie. A major problem facing the town council was a shortage of council housing due to a lack of building land. Midlothian County Council opposed applications at different times but on each occasion Musselburgh Town Council appeals were upheld. This enabled large housing projects to be implemented, thus easing overcrowding and reducing housing waiting lists.

From 1975-96 Musselburgh was represented on East Lothian District Council (ELDC). Labour party councillors dominated E.L.D.C. and the representation of Musselburgh on the council, the main opposition being Conservative party councillors. Former town councillors were well represented, bringing a good level of local government experience to the new council.

As meetings of the council took place in the afternoons, many former councillors were, for business reasons, unable to pursue their interest in local government. Musselburgh councillors were influential in establishing the structure of the council. Councillor Thomas White was the first chairman and Peter Hamilton the chairman of finance. Councillor George Wanless was chairman for the final eight years of the council.

Other Musselburgh councillors playing prominent roles in the affairs of the council were Margaret McKay as chairman of the housing committee and Graeme Campbell as chairman of the finance committee. Malcolm Duncan as chief executive was highly regarded both within and outwith the council.

The public, particularly in the burghs, did not take kindly to the reorganisation. There was a feeling that local government had become less local and there was a sadness at no longer having a provost.

As with the burghs and the county council previously, there were areas of disagreement between E.L.D.C. and Lothian Regional Council. This was particularly so in the provision of industry, mainly a regional council responsibility, whose priorities were in places other than East Lothian. This was unfortunate for Musselburgh, already suffering from the decline in traditional industries - coal mining, fishing, net mills and paper mills. To overcome this E.L.D.C. had to take responsibility for the compulsory purchase of the former paper mill site and redevelop it to bring in new industry. This venture was successful.

Because of ever increasing traffic levels, roads in Musselburgh became badly congested. A public campaign led by Musselburgh Labour Party forced Lothian Regional Council and the Scottish Development Department to implement a Musselburgh bypass, opened in the late 1980s (see Transport).

From 1996 Musselburgh had a representation of five out of 23 councillors on the new East Lothian Council. As only one of the five was a woman, this did not meet the clamour for equal representation of the sexes. Councillor Norman Murray, as group leader of the Labour party, the majority party on the council, was the most influential of the Musselburgh councillors. He was also chairman of the Scottish Convention of Local Authorities. The chief executive, John Lindsay, was seen to be a strong driving force in implementing council policy. The public were mostly unconcerned about the change to a unitary authority, except, perhaps, being pleased that education was under more local control.

Musselburgh Community Council (1975-2000) from its inception was mainly non-political in its representation, made up of persons with the general interest of the community in mind.

Community councillors found it difficult to know what role to play, partly because they had virtually no powers. Their main purpose turned out to be taking up local concerns and pursuing them with the appropriate authorities. They played a prominent role in the provision of Christmas lights, much appreciated by the public. They also carried out small, community-based projects, including at the end of the period, putting up several information boards in both Musselburgh and rural parts of the parish. These were designed, written and illustrated by Paul Lambie.

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