MORE than one million people in Strathclyde, 97% of those who took

part in a postal ballot, have voted against plans to take water and

sewerage services out of local government control.

Fears of possible public apathy were shown to be unfounded:

Strathclyde chief executive Neil McIntosh announced amid cheers from

scores of councillors and sympathisers that there had been a 71.5%


It outstrips the 63.8% response in the Scottish referendum fifteen

years ago.

Even in Conservative strongholds like Ayr and Eastwood parliamentary

constituencies, the ''Yes'' vote was a meagre 6.6% and 4.8%


However, the Government appeared unmoved by the result. Scottish

Secretary Ian Lang dismissed the ballot last night as a meaningless

exercise and a disgraceful waste of council taxpayers' money which

should have been spent on delivering services.

In a statement issued from the Scottish Office, Mr Lang said: ''There

has been an ill-informed debate in which Strathclyde has wilfully

misrepresented the Government's position. Privatisation is not being

proposed. Water and sewerage services will remain in public hands.''

At the same time, the Conservative MP for Ayr, Mr Phil Gallie, said:

''I think there is now a case for some local council involvement and

places on these boards and I will be discussing this with Government

Ministers in the near future.''

A total of 1,720,940 ballot papers were issued for the referendum and

1,228,623 valid papers were counted. The total number supporting the

Government's proposals was 33,956 (2.8% of the valid vote). The total

number voting ''No'' was 1,194,667 (97.2% of the valid vote).

A breakdown of results in Strathclyde's 33 parliamentary

constituencies revealed that the ''no'' vote was highest in Glasgow

Provan with 98.7%. Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, Glasgow Govan, Glasgow

Springburn, Motherwell North, and Greenock and Port Glasgow were close


In an atmosphere mirroring a General Election declaration, Labour

councillors and supporters cheered and chanted ''democracy at work'' as

Labour leader Robert Gould said: ''The views of the people of

Strathclyde couldn't be clearer. They don't want their water taken away

by this Government and run by an unelected quango.

''It would be unwise of the Government to proceed with their water

legislation with less than 3% supporting it. I call on the Government to

abandon it.''

Councillor Gould said the integrity of the ballot, carried out by

Electoral Reform Ballot Services at a cost of #650,000, could not be


However, Conservative leader Councillor Iain Drysdale claimed the

Strathclyde public had been misled into believing it was a ballot on

water privatisation when, in fact, the Government's proposed water

boards would still be in public control.

After the declaration, Mr Drysdale was involved in a heated exchange

with Councillor Gould and Councillor Charles Gray, president of the

Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

The ballot result was a triumph for Councillor Des McNulty, who has

fronted the council's opposition to the water proposals and the reform

of local government. He declared: ''We have had an absolutely tremendous

result today. We have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. It is a

victory for the people of Strathclyde.

''We have demonstrated that the Government's proposals for water and

sewerage are completely unacceptable to the people of Strathclyde.''

Liberal Democrat leader Dr Christopher Mason said Strathclyde's voters

had confounded those who said they would not bother to vote. ''The only

party challenged by today's result is the Conservative Party and the

challenge to them is to accept the people's verdict and amend the


Mr Gray said it was almost unprecedented to find such a high response

rate in a referendum. This alone demonstrated the strength of feeling in

Scotland about the future of water and sewerage services.

Mr Bill Speirs, deputy general secretary of the STUC, said the

Government now ran the risk of being wiped off the political map in

Scotland. For the SNP, Mr Andrew Welsh MP called on the Labour Party to

follow up the referendum result with a campaign of action in


A delegation of senior Strathclyde councillors, led by Mr Gould and

accompanied by MPs, will today officially hand in the referendum result

to Mr Major at Downing Street.

Major dismisses poll6

Brian Wilson17