In 2015, when heavyweight councillors and senior local government officers in Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester and other city regions and counties are demanding far-reaching powers, it is largely forgotten that following the Wheatley Royal Commission on Local Government in 1969 Scotland had eight regional authorities, including Strathclyde, Lothian and Grampian.
Retrospectively, all eight were successful, but none more so than Central, covering Stirling and the vast industrial/petrochemical complex of Falkirk/Grangemouth. Central Region's considerable economic and social achievements were in no small part due to its Vice-Convener for the first 12 years of its life, and its Convener for the last four, Charlie Sneddon (no one would recognise him as Charles).
In his matter-of-fact way – Labour through-and-through but never indulging in cheap political point-scoring – Sneddon believed that the break-up of the Scottish Regional Government, triggered on the whim of Prime Minister Thatcher's distaste for Ken Livingstone and the GLC, was politically criminal. From the outset he believed that the proposed Assembly in Edinburgh would cause endless trouble and serve no useful purpose for people in Scotland dependent on local government and health authorities for basic services. His last words to me, before illness took its toll, were, "This Scottish Parliament has turned out to be more mischievous, more ridiculously self-seeking and more costly than I thought it would be."
Born into a coal-mining family, Sneddon attended Bo'ness Academy, whose gifted mathematician headmaster, William Dea, pointed him towards a career with a local shipping company. Showing promise, he was poached by Fison's Chemicals, then worked for BP Petrochemical for a decade. Over 30 years of sitting on committees appointing head teachers, Sneddon would observe to me, "Of course, scholarship is important, but I also look for the qualities of Old Man Dea, who really cared about preparing his pupils for the future,"
Elected to Bo'ness Town Council in his early twenties, he became the town's youngest-ever Provost (1964-75), and the youngest Provost in Scotland at the time. He was also a member of West Lothian County Council, and from this position, and later, as Vice-Convener of Central Region, Sneddon was at the forefront bringing about the reclamation and redevelopment of the southern foreshore of the Upper Firth of Forth: look southwards from the National Trust for Scotland village at Culross, and the measure of this environmental triumph is stunning.
Further, without his drive and support though thick and thin, the visitor attractions of the Birkhill Clay Mine and the Bo'ness Steam Railway simply would not have happened. Sneddon enjoyed an exemplary working relationship with his Convener and friend, the powerful Jim Anderson, who recalled, "Charlie was a colleague of modesty, honesty, sincerity and integrity, with an imposing presence, who made a notable contribution to all aspects of local government, not only in Scotland but in the UK. He had a wide vision of industrial development, and the infrastructure to make it possible. In particular, Charlie and I were active in various European organisations, and were among the first in Britain to see how we could obtain European funding for worthwhile projects."
Charles Sneddon, petrochemical operative and politician: born Bo'ness 28 March 1932; OBE 1984; married 1953 Margaret Kidd (died 2014; one daughter, one son, and one son deceased); Provost of Bo'ness 1964-75; died Larbert 7 March 2015.