HEATHER SCOTT is one of the greatest of political survivors.

She was first elected as a councillor in May 1976, when Abba’s Fernando knocked Save All Your Kisses For Me by the Brotherhood of Man off the No 1 slot in the pop charts and Darlington had a Labour MP called Ted Fletcher. Jim Callaghan was in No 10 Downing Street opposed by a young Conservative leader called Margaret Thatcher.

Seven Prime Ministers later, with seven inch records made of vinyl having been replaced by minidiscs, CDs and then by aethereal downloads and streams, in 2019, Cllr Scott ended 40 years of Labour control and became Darlington Borough Council’s first female leader in its 152-year history.

“Having just achieved this lifetime ambition, maybe they will have to drag me out,” she told The Northern Echo at the time, while accepting that a 79-year-old leader was not in the first flush of youth.

The Northern Echo:

Cllr Heather Scott cutting the turf at the launch of Darlington's Rail Heritage Quarter at Head of Steam earlier this year. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT.

Now, three years later, having led the town with a gusto and through the Covid pandemic, with an eighth Prime Minister in Downing Street and Darlington represented by its first Conservative MP for nearly 20 years, she is to step down as council leader.

Cllr Scott’s childhood was spent 1,370ft above sea level beside the Stainmore summits of the trans-Pennine road and rail routes. Her grandfather was a gamekeeper on the moors and her father ran a garage. He had strong political views, and when they moved to Barnard Castle, she joined the Young Conservatives for the social side and got sucked into canvassing.

When she married her late husband, Gordon, they ran the Post Office at East Cowton before moving into Darlington in 1976 to bring up their two children. The local Tories heard and as they were short of candidates, asked if she would stand. She was elected.

She became a leading light locally, and also stood to become the Parliamentary candidate in Durham, Newcastle, Bishop Auckland and Richmond.

“A lot of women were on the selection committees and in those days, they really didn’t think that women should be becoming MPs, and the type of questions that I got were ‘what does your husband think about this’ and ‘how are you going to look after your children’,” she said. “I would have loved to have been an MP but I have to accept that it didn’t happen.”

The Northern Echo:

Heather Scott after her skydive in 1989 when she was Darlington mayor

Cllr Scott has also been noted for her support of the Bowes Museum, of the Abbeyfield sheltered housing organisation in Darlington, her work with Rotary, and for her brightly painted fingernails.

She was mayor of Darlington in 1989, taking part in a skydive and being kidnapped for charity, and receiving an OBE for her services to the community. To an outside observer, this honour, coupled with the facts that at 49, her Parliamentary ambitions had been thwarted and she had lost the local Conservative leadership election, might have indicated that her political career had run its course.

The Northern Echo:

Heather Scott in 1989 when mayor, with her daughter, Janet

But with Labour ascendant nationally and locally through the 1990s, she clung steadfastly to her Conservative cause, and was rewarded by being elected group leader in 2007.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Heather Scott in 2007 when she was elected Conservative group leader with Michael Fallon, who was the town's MP from 1983 to 1992

Cllr Heather Scott in 2007 when she was elected Conservative group leader with Michael Fallon, who was the town's MP from 1983 to 1992

Then, as the political wheel turned, she emerged triumphantly on top to lead the council in 2019. Her legacy will include the setting up of the Treasury Campus in Darlington, which will eventually have up to 1,500 civil service jobs, as well as amazement that anyone can survive the ups, downs, machinations and misfortunes of a 46 year career in local politics.