GORDON Brown has led tributes to Sir Charles Gray, the former Labour leader of Strathclyde Regional Council, who died this morning at the age of 94.

The former Prime Minister said he would be remembered as one of the “great generation” of local government leaders, making a lasting contribution to social justice.  

A councillor for almost half a century, Sir Charles was arguably Scotland’s most powerful Labour politician during the premierships of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

His family said he passed away peacefully in the nursing home where he had been living in recent years.

Mr Brown said: “Charles Gray will be remembered as one of the great generation of leaders who led Strathclyde Region with distinction and integrity, and whose contribution to a more socially just community will not be forgotten.”

Charles Ireland Gray grew up in the steelworks village of Gartcosh, where his father, who lost a leg in an industrial accident, was a clerk at the local mill.

He joined the Labour party at 16 and within a year was running the local branch in Chryston in North Lanarkshire.

He later became chairman of Monklands East, where another Labour legend, John Smith, was the MP.  

His council career started in 1958 when he was elected to Lanark District Council, where he was taken under the wing of the famous Labour fixer Dick Stewart.

Mr Stewart would go on to lead the vast Labour-dominated Strathclyde Regional Council, and Sir Charles would follow in his footsteps, taking the helm from 1986 to 1992.

There, he clashed regularly with Mrs Thatcher’s Scottish Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, not least over the introduction of the poll tax and plans for water privatisation.

The water authorities had been privatised in England and Wales in 1989, but Strathclyde held a postal referendum on the issue in March 1994.

Seven out of ten residents returned a ballot and 97 per cent voted against, killing off the idea north of the border.

After leading the Region, Sir Charles was president of the council umbrella body Cosla for two years and led the UK delegation to the European Committee of the Regions. 

When the Tories broke up the regions, he became education convener of North Lanarkshire Council. He was made a CBE in 1994 and was knighted in 2007 for services to education.

He juggled his early local government work with his job as a railway inspector, toiling weekends and holidays, and later admitted he should have spent more time with his wife Cathie and their five children.

In 2013, he urged Labour to back independence seeing a Yes vote as the way for the party to “reclaim its place at the forefront of Scottish politics and Scottish life”.

He was disappointed it didn’t, but remained a member all his life.

His son Donald told the Herald: “He was a hell of a man.”

Sir Charles is survived by three sons and two daughters, 12 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. His wife Cathie died in April 2021.