Tributes pour in for campaigner Phyllis Herriot

Phyllis Heriot campaigning to keep the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion open. Picture: Alan Ledgerwood
Phyllis Heriot campaigning to keep the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion open. Picture: Alan Ledgerwood
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TRIBUTES have been paid to an “old-fashioned socialist” and former council leader who fought Margaret Thatcher’s attempts to impose cuts on Edinburgh in the early 1980s.

Phyllis Herriot, Labour leader of Lothian Regional Council from 1979 until 1982 and later a tireless campaigner on behalf of pensioners, has died aged 89.

She was larger than life, always had a lot to say and was bubbly and warm

Eric Milligan

Former Lord Provost and Lothian Region convener Eric Milligan said: “You could never ignore Phyllis. She was larger than life, always had a lot to say and was bubbly and warm.

“Her personality was such that everyone got to know who Phyllis Herriot was.”

She was elected to the old Edinburgh Corporation in 1967, representing Craigentinny, and later served the same area on Lothian Regional Council before becoming leader of the ruling Labour group.

Councillor Milligan said that when the regional council was first created in 1974, it sought to take the best levels of council provision in each field from across Edinburgh and the Lothians and spread them over the whole region.

“Of course, that meant an increase in spending,” he said. “When the Conservatives came to power in 1979 under Margaret Thatcher, it was not that we wanted to be deliberately provocative, we were just carrying out our policies.

“But that put us head to head with the government over the rates increase necessary to finance what we were doing.

“Lothian Region became a cause celebre in opposition to Margaret Thatcher’s policy on public expenditure and Phyllis was in the centre of it.”

Paul Nolan, who also served on Lothian Region with Mrs Herriot, said: “It was an exciting but difficult time. The Tories showed no mercy and took no prisoners.

“Margaret Thatcher was a determined woman – but so was Phyllis.”

In 1982, Mrs Herriot decided to stand down from the council following the death of her husband Archie and a spell of illness.

But she quickly became active in other areas, serving as chairwoman of Lothian Health Council, a non-executive director on Lothian regional Transport and a leading light in the Scottish Old Age Pensions Association and Scottish Pensioners Forum.

She became disillusioned with Labour under Tony Blair – “I think she felt people were trying to disown what the previous generation had fought for,” said Cllr Milligan – and she quit over the Iraq war, going on to back the SNP’s Kenny MacAskill in the Edinburgh Eastern seat in the 2011 Holyrood elections.

She was also a staunch Hibs supporter and took part in the campaign to save Meadowbank stadium.

She was honoured with the Lothian Award, Edinburgh’s Citizen of the Year Award and an MBE.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com