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The Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian

Local Government

There was little involvement of political parties until c1974. Given that in 1969 the population of the parish, though still diminishing, was still mainly engaged, directly or indirectly, in agricultural work, and hence estate driven, it is not surprising that there is little or no recollection of ‘local’ politics. Indeed, the only two politicians whose names seem to come readily to the minds of the few older inhabitants still living in or around the parish, the Conservative MP Major W.J. Anstruther Gray and the Labour representative John P. Mackintosh were ‘national’ rather than ‘local’. This may be due to the apparently common practice whereby, on polling days, farm workers would be gathered together early in the morning, reminded of their voting ‘duties’ by their employer and transported to cast their votes, NOT always according to their employer's exhortations, but sometimes according to conscience!

In the late 1960s, one major issue of local importance, however, did affect the parish, but, by its very nature, became of national significance, in that the good offices of the then MP for East Lothian, John Mackintosh, were sought. The issue concerned the closure of Spott Primary School and the use to which it was to be put upon closure. The principal personalities involved were the minister (Reverend Duncan Turner); the director of education for the county (Dr John Meiklejohn); and the aforementioned John P. Mackintosh. After months of persistence, in the form of letters to the press, and to those involved in helping to solve the issue, public meetings, and a petition signed by 106 persons residing in and around the parish to the Secretary of State for Scotland, Willie Ross, the issue of whether the school should become the focus for Spott community activities, or be used as a holiday home for mental health patients (the council's stated intention) was finally decided in favour of the community. The controversy between the people of Spott and East Lothian County Council was finally solved when the East Lothian Voluntary Association for Mental Health abandoned its plans to turn the school into a holiday home for the patients of Herdmanflat Hospital.

it is possible for them (the MHA) to go elsewhere without detriment to themselves. It is quite impossible for Spott community to go elsewhere.

Haddingtonshire Courier editorial, 16 May 1969

It would appear from the very large file of correspondence and press coverage, that although the county councillor, Mr V.C.V. Cowley, agreed that Spott village had a ‘desperate’ need for a village community centre, it was the Reverend Turner who most actively pursued the matter to the very highest levels of government, to the ultimate and continuing benefit of the local community.

For the period 1975-96 it would appear that the community council and the owners of Spott estate were those mostly involved in matters relating to Spott, and that these were mainly connected with planning issues. Incomers to the village, who bore no loyalty to the owners of the estate, felt that the desire to exploit agricultural land for housing for which there was no proven need, was not in the interest of the village. That plans did not go ahead would seem to indicate that the owners of the land, and of a not insignificant number of properties in and around the village (originally built for agricultural workers), were no longer in a strong enough position to ‘influence’ decisions concerning new developments.

From 1996 on, the issue of land use and housing developments came to the fore in a major way during this period. Plans that had been afoot to build houses on the only vacant plot of land between the church and the community hall (former school) surfaced once again, and most acrimoniously, during the Public Inquiry into the East Lothian Local Plan. The village was split into two camps, and the eventual outcome was that East Lothian Council accepted ‘that housing at the objection site would have a detrimental effect on the setting of the listed church and on fine views across the site’. The reporter also noted (April 1999) that ‘all the land around the village is in a single ownership and there have been several unsuccessful planning applications for large scale housing developments in the past, including on the objection site’.

What this would finally seem to demonstrate is that local ‘government’ was now, in some tangible form, in the hands of the elected council and its officials, rather than subject to any estate-driven interest. The councillor of the period, Jean McEwan, worked very hard to obtain an acceptable solution, but met great acrimony during the public inquiry sessions devoted to the issue. The current, only lately approved, local plan, designates Spott as a conservation area, and would therefore seem, for the moment at least, to guarantee that in future, agricultural land may only be subject to a change of use in favour of housing IF there is a demonstrable need to create such housing for ‘purely agricultural purposes’.

Spott has two members on the East Lammermuir Community Council. Great difficulty has been experienced in trying to retrieve the minutes of community council meetings, and therefore only snippets relating to its deliberations and effectiveness have so far come to light. These include concerns over vandalism to the sign at the entrance to the village (from Dunbar), road surfaces, and the lack of a play area for older children. Though meetings are supposed to be public, it would seem that (latterly at least) there is no public notification of such meetings, and therefore no possible presence thereat on the part of any interested villagers.

Given the estate driven nature of decisions in the earlier period, and the agricultural nature of the occupations of villagers and parishioners generally, until 1969 and the school disputes, no manifest interest in national ‘politics' was apparent. Even then, it was not until the public inquiry of 1999 on planning that local politics seemed to take the stage.

Similarly, national and European politics would seem to have had no repercussions or echoes at all in the parish. The name John P. Mackintosh seems to resonate more than others and it is clear that he was actively present, where needed. Since the population is still very small and most of the incomers are working or retired professional people, there is little of the social cohesion or mix likely to lead to, or require, much ‘political’ debate. That said, if an issue were to arise that might have a negative outcome for the parish, and for the village in particular, doubtless solidarity would win the day.

It should finally be noted that, despite the rural nature of the parish, and the general national trend for voters to ignore elections of whatever nature, polling days in Spott village hall bear witness to a high percentage of voters actually turning out to vote.

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