Thirty years ago today Tayside’s first community charge bills – also known as poll tax demands – were sent out.
Those opening their letters could be forgiven thinking they had received an April Fool’s joke, given what then ensued.
The poll tax was introduced to replace the previous domestic rates system.
Tayside Regional Council’s finance department sent out about 300,000 demands to people liable for the new charge.
Dundee’s current Lord Provost Ian Borthwick is one of only a handful of Scottish councillors still serving today who was involved in the introduction of the tax in 1989.
Mr Borthwick said: “I distinctly recall the huge level of heated debate it generated in the city chambers at that time.
“However, despite feelings running high, this was something foisted upon us by central government and we had no option but to comply and impose the tax.”
Mr Borthwick added: “My personal feeling was it was a very unfair tax that had the power to split families.
“It worked partly on the basis of how many people lived in a household.
“That resulted in the situation where young people were having to leave home so the household bill could be reduced. To my mind, that meant families were being split up so they weren’t faced with such high bills.”
Mr Borthwick said huge numbers of people protested against it.
He said: “We had protesters outside the city chambers in City Square making their feelings known.
“It was a really difficult time for everybody, councillors and residents alike.
“The tax ended up not lasting too long, which was possibly a good thing all round.”
Among the more noticeable protests was a 90-minute stand-off between those trying to impose the tax and those against it in the city centre on March 29, the day before the letters were sent out.
The Tele reported at the time that “in a self-confessed act of civil disobedience, the SNP blockaded the main car park used by councillors and officers of Tayside Region and Dundee District Councils until they secured an assurance from Tayside finance convener Joe Barton that his Labour administration would not use warrant sales to recover community charge debts”.
The article went on to report that 90 minutes later a message was sent to the protesters that they had discussed the warrant sales issue and it was agreed warrant sales would not be used.
It was stated in the council chambers “never in the history of the council have warrant sales been used for the collection of domestic rates and there is no reason why that should not continue”.
The hated levy was eventually abolished and replaced with the council tax that remains with us today.
SNP councillor Willie Sawers recalled: “I remember the anger across Dundee at the imposition of the poll tax. Not only was it a very unfair method of collecting taxes, but there was huge resentment that it was introduced in Scotland a year before the rest of the country.”