ANGRY council leaders are threatening to hold referendums across Scotland in an effort to halt the Executive’s plan to re-draw the map of local government.
The Scotsman has learned that smaller councils which fear they will be swallowed up by big cities or neighbouring authorities are making plans for a "referendum revolt".
Councillors of all parties have been infuriated by the remarks made by Tom McCabe, the local government minister, last week when he announced the financial settlement for councils this year. Mr McCabe surprised town halls by saying he wanted to revisit the issue of the boundaries established by the Conservative government in 1996 when they introduced 32 single-tier local authorities for Scotland.
While most of the larger councils welcomed Mr McCabe’s announcement, his words have provoked anger amongst the leaders of some of the country’s fiercely independent smaller authorities.
A total of four have promised to look at local referendums - which would almost certainly produce results in favour of independence - with a fifth refusing to rule out the possibility.
Labour-controlled Clackmannanshire and East Renfrewshire have been joined by SNP-led Angus and Lib Dem/Independent-run Perth and Kinross. East Dunbartonshire, which is Lib Dem run, is considering its position.
The highest passions have been stirred around Dundee, specifically mentioned by Mr McCabe, where the city council believes that the towns of Monifieth and Invergowrie should be returned to them.
Jill Shimi, the Labour leader of the council, said that she welcomed Mr McCabe’s promise to look at Dundee and argued that the city needed the two towns back to strengthen its tax base.
She said: "The people in these areas all use our regional services we provide but they do not pay for them. Dundee has a very high proportion of homes in the A to C council tax bands and this should be rebalanced. If Monifieth and Invergowrie re-joined the city we could potentially cut our average band D council tax by 100."
But Councillor Jimmy Doig, leader of Perth and Kinross council, said: "The people of Perth and Kinross will be extremely angry at any suggestion that parts of our area should be absorbed into a ‘Greater Dundee’ to help address financial problems caused by the failure of the Scottish Executive to effectively fund local government."
Councillor Rob Murray, the SNP leader of Angus council, which currently includes Monifieth, said: "I would be very happy to have a referendum."
A well-placed source at Labour/Lib Dem-run East Renfrewshire council said that there had been far less debate about expanding Glasgow - the fear of councils around the city - since the last local government re-organisation but Mr McCabe’s remarks had been noted.
Charles Gordon, the leader of Glasgow, said: "The subject of Glasgow’s boundaries has not been on the agenda since the last reorganisation in 1996. The whole issue is a non-starter as far as I am concerned."
An Executive spokeswoman said: "Mr McCabe made clear that he was prepared to sit down with COSLA and examine the areas that are under pressure, and have a root and branch analysis of the existing distribution system to try and see if anyone is seriously dis-advantaged by it."