THE skill Councillor Ewan Dow has gained as a qualified football

referee could serve him well as he takes over as the leader of the

minority SNP administration of Tayside Regional Council later this


He's 22 years and seven months old and became a regional councillor

two months ago.

Last weekend his colleagues in the 22-strong SNP group had the

confidence in this political youngster to elect him as their leader.

It is almost certain that Mr Dow is the youngest person ever to have

run a Scottish local authority. Tayside, the fourth largest regional

council, has a budget of #500m and a workforce of 18,000.

It is no exaggeration to say this youthful leader lives and breathes

politics. ''I suppose I'm married to the party,'' he says.

Born and bred in Fife from radical mining stock, Mr Dow's life since

leaving school in 1989 seems to have been one long political campaign on

behalf of the Scottish National Party.

Only football gets a look-in amid the politicking -- he supports

Aberdeen. Predictably, his ambition is to become an MP.

He first tried to sign up with the SNP branch in Kelty, Fife, when he

was 15.

Mr Dow said: ''The secretary wouldn't let me join, in case my

membership interfered with my future career prospects. I wanted to go in

for computer science, where many jobs locally were linked with the

defence industry, and she was afraid being an SNP activist might count

against me.''

Eventually he joined the party in 1990, and at Aberdeen University his

deep involvement in politics on the campus, where he became vice

president of the students' union council, took precedence over a course

in computing science and he left without completing a degree.

In the 1992 General Election, Mr Dow campaigned to get SNP leader Alex

Salmond re-elected in Banff and Buchan then worked as an election agent

in Aberdeen at the district elections.

A taste of the dole in 1993 led to him joining the family funeral

directors business, where he worked part-time balancing the books.

After an unsuccessful attempt to win a district seat at a by-election

last year in Cowdenbeath, two months ago he saw off another of Tayside's

diminishing band of Tories at the regional elections by winning the

rural seat covering Bridge of Earn and the Carse of Gowrie.

At these elections the Nationalists' fortunes did well in Tayside. The

elections left the SNP with 22 members on the Dundee-based council,

Labour with 16, the Tories four, and the Liberal Democrats two. There is

also one Independent councillor and one Independent Labour.

There was a swift assumption of power for the fledgling councillor,

who was appointed deputy group secretary and whip, as well as chairman

of the general purposes committee.

When asked why he thought his colleagues had shown such confidence in

his potential for leadership, Councillor Dow said perhaps they were

impressed by the contribution he made on education and social work


He also said it could have been his leading role in the recent big

clash, between the SNP and opposition Labour and Tory councillors, over

the Nationalist's plan to compensate the needy and the elderly for the

VAT on domestic fuel bills.

That issue is the subject of a report by officials and will be

considered by the council in the autumn.

One SNP official told The Herald: ''He's talented and articulate,

sensible and very committed. He also has national as well as local

political experience.''

If local government reorganisation goes ahead, the new Tayside leader

says the priority will be to try to preserve jobs and services as

Scotland is carved up into 32 unitary authorities.

If the changes become law, the SNP in Tayside will press to get as

many councillors as possible on to the new public authorities, which are

destined to run the water and sewerage services.

Mr Dow also believes that separate education and social work

committees must remain with separate directors, despite the new

councils' greater legal flexibility to amalgamate and change their

committee structures.

Tayside Regional Council is doomed to die in April 1996. Mr Dow's bid

to stay in local politics will then probably involve him fighting either

the present Tory convener of Perth and Kinross District Council or the

Provost for a seat on the new single-tier authority. Tories beware.