SENIOR politicians yesterday accused a university of a "sham" and "dubious tactics" over a proposed name change.

The University of Paisley plans to drop the town's name from its title as part of a merger with Hamilton-based Bell College, and rename it the University of the West of Scotland.

However, Hugh Henry, the Deputy Justice Minister and MSP for Paisley South, branded the consultation process "a sham" because it was being carried out during the summer.

Mr Henry, who is among a number of leading politicians at the forefront of a campaign to retain Paisley in the name, said: "My office was notified while I was on leave that the university wanted responses by August 25. My colleague Douglas Alexander has had to interrupt his family holiday to deal with the current terrorist threat.

"Community organisations in Paisley have largely closed for the summer. The students are not in the university. Who exactly are the board of the university talking to? I have been contacted by angry students who feel that this has been done deliberately while no-one is about."

With a total of 180,000 students, the merger would make the university the fourth largest in the country. The new institution, planned for next year, will operate from four campuses located at Paisley, Hamilton, Ayr, and Dumfries.

But Mr Henry said the university board should delay its decision on the name until mid-October to ensure it gets the "fullest possible" response.

"Paisley and its people should not be treated with such contempt, " he added. "These are dubious tactics and the board should think again. Failure to do so will convince many of us that minds have already been made up and the consultation is a sham." His view was echoed by Jim Sheridan, Paisley and Renfrewshire North MP, who also called for the consultation process to be extended.

He said: "The timing of the consultation could certainly have been better. We could get a true reflection, if the consultation were extended. It would also give local politicians time to meet university officials."

Mr Sheridan, who recently resigned his government post in protest at the Prime Minister's position on the Middle East conflict, described the debate over the possible name change as "extremely important for the people of Paisley".

He added: "It is important for Paisley to keep its university and its identity, particularly at a time when it is looking for city status."

Bruce McFee, SNP MSP for the West of Scotland, said the consultation appeared to be taking place "after the decision had been made".

He added: "The consultation is a complete and utter sham process and what has almost been overlooked in this is the justification for the merger itself.

"But notwithstanding whether it is a good idea to merge in the first place, nothing has been allowed in the name that would give a vague geographical reference. They should think again about this."

A spokesman for the university - founded in 1897 as Paisley College of Technology - said yesterday that a "full and detailed" consultation process was under way.

He added that the university would be happy to speak to politicians directly on the issue.

Proponents of the merger say it is to create a university large enough to tackle the chronic problems of under-representation in higher education in the west of Scotland.

The merger of two schools of health and nursing would also make the new university the biggest provider of nurses and midwives in Scotland.