And now the Auld Sang is ending. In the sacred names of progress, efficiency and centralisation, Mrs Margaret Kerr, the last provost, the bailies and councillors will demit office on 15 May , the new district council, somewhat anonymous and likely to remain so, will take over and the citizens and ratepayers of the burgh will have only one representative to wheedle and praise and blame and to put their interests forward. Woe is them.
Fletcher of Saltoun, who opposed the Union of Parliaments in 1707, would have words to describe the tragedy. Who else could do it adequately? (Tranent Civic Week 1862-1975)
With these words R.M. Sorbie, former town clerk and member of the SNP welcomed the demise of the town council and the introduction of the two-tier local government structure of district and regional council. The old town council, consisting of provost, two bailies and six councillors, and the officers – town clerk, clerk to the police court, treasurer, public prosecutor, burgh surveyor/sanitary inspector, and medical officer was no more (East Lothian Official Guide c1960).
Whether it was the town council or any other council, left-wing politics dominated in the post-war years. The Haddingtonshire Courier Year Book 1945 lists an active Co-operative Political Party and the still functioning Independent Labour Party. Frank Tindall (1998 p17) recalled: ‘It was always said that the Tranent Town Council and the Board of the East Lothian Co-operative Society were the same team in different jerseys…’ One can add to this a third team jersey – the local Labour Party. The 1945 Year Book also lists the Unionist Association.
The number of women who held prominent positions in Tranent is notable. Before the second world war Margaret Nicholson had been the town’s first woman councillor and the first woman magistrate in Scotland. Meg Henderson became the first woman provost in 1956, Mrs Margaret Glennie followed in 1960 and the last town council before its abolition in 1975 boasted not only provost Margaret Kerr but a further two women councillors (Haddingtonshire Courier Yearbooks, 1956, 1960, 1974). Jackie Crookston was evidently just one of the first of Tranent’s ‘strong’ women!
Tranent was and still is the headquarters of the constituency Labour Party and remained so throughout all the upheavals in the constituency boundaries, including the divorce from Berwickshire. Records checked by current constituency organiser John Russell show that the High Street building was originally a fish and chip shop with flat above bought by the constituency party as a going concern in 1948. The sitting Labour MP, J.J. Robertson, the co-op and individual members put up the money to secure the £10,000 mortgage – a sizeable contribution considering the wages of working men. However, the income from the flat rental and the shop was insufficient to meet the repayments (‘too many fish walking out the door’) and after four years it was resolved to close the shop and turn the whole building into a Labour Party Social Club. Legislation required 60 members to endorse the change, but because of a strong teetotal element in the party, 60 could not be found. Therefore the East Lothian Labour Social Club was constituted as an independent body with membership open to any East Lothian resident. The club proved a great success and in 1965 a new function hall was built on land to the rear. The extended club could expect 400 visitors at the weekends in the 1970s (Nisbet, 1972 p23) There are current plans at the start of the new century to spend £70,000 to renovate the offices for the use of party, club, MP and MSP.
The career of George Thomson illustrates a key political conflict of the period. Chairman of the Tranent Labour Party branch in the mid 1980s, he was ousted from the party when the constituency group refused his nomination to succeed long-serving regional councillor for Fa’Side, George McNeill (this was the time of the Militant and poll tax conflicts). Taking some of the local party with him, he formed a local Independent Labour Party to fight the seat. He lost narrowly, but then defeated Labour veteran Tom Ferguson at the next district council elections. Ferguson subsequently won in another ward. Meanwhile Thomson and his entire executive committee defected to the SNP. ‘If they don’t like [it]’ said party chairman Tommy Kerr, ‘hard cheese’ (East Lothian Courier 1990 March 9).
Feelings between Thomson and Ferguson reached a climax when punches were exchanged at a council meeting in February 1992: ‘…after the sound of a scuffle outside…one councillor returned with a swollen eye. Another followed, having removed his jacket’. Both were charged with breach of the peace (East Lothian Courier 1992 February 7 and 21).
George Thomson stood as an SNP parliamentary candidate for East Lothian in the 1992 election (East Lothian Courier 1992 March 27), but subsequently withdrew from local politics. He now runs the local post office. Tom Ferguson, the longest serving local councillor, retires in 2003.
THIS ACCOUNT OF TRANENT PARISH WAS COMPILED BY DAVID MOODY AND DAVID SYDESERFF ON BEHALF OF TRANENT LOCAL HISTORY SOCIETY. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION, RESEARCH AND PERSONAL MEMOIRS WERE PROVIDED BY DAVID SYDESERFF AND THE FOLLOWING:
- David Affleck: Healthcare – the day centre; lunch club
- Dr A. Davies: Healthcare
- Ian Downie: Belief – the Methodist Church; Leisure – Tranent Bowling Club; Shops & Services – working for the Co-op
- Robert Gray: Economy – Industry – Blindwells opencast
- John Greig: Elphinstone
- May Henderson: Economy – Agriculture – Blindwells farm (1940s)
- Dr G. Kennedy: Healthcare
- John Kneller: Belief – the Church of Christ
- Moira Logan: Leisure – greyhound racing; pitch and toss
- Bob McArthur: Shops & Services – the Co-op
- Dan McLean: Economy – Industry – the sweetie factory
- Mark Plain: Belief – the Church of Christ
- John Russell: Politics – the Labour Party; the Labour Club
- John Sneddon: Economy – Industry – Working at the Fleets
- James Strachan: Homes – Housing in the west end
- Further assistance was given by Jean Grant, Tommy Luby, Jackie Stevenson. Thanks are also due to Gillian Lonergan, Archivist, Co-operative College, Manchester for information regarding the changes that occurred in the Co-op societies