Scotland reacts to the death of Margaret Thatcher

With just one MP still in Scotland, the effect of Margaret Thatcher’s reign continues to blight the Conservative party north of the border.

With just one MP still in Scotland, the effect of Margaret Thatcher’s reign continues to blight the Conservative party north of the border.

In particular, it was the decision in 1989 to impose the poll tax on Scotland before the rest of the country which sealed the fate of the Scottish Tories to his day and sowed the seeds for growing nationalist feeling across a country that resented having the poll tax imposed on them like some sort of guinea pig.

In its obituary to the former prime minister, STV has concluded:

“In Scotland – and much of the north of England – Mrs Thatcher remained till her final breath a figure of revilement. It is no exaggeration to call her the most hated woman in Scotland and that contempt is unlikely to subside with her passing. The Sunday school injunction against speaking ill of the dead will not be kept this time.

“Asked why Scotland rejected his old boss, former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind posited: “She was a woman, an English woman, and a bossy English woman.

“However, the animosity felt towards Mrs Thatcher was inspired not by her Englishness, but by her worldview, her personality, and her tone. She was seen as remote and extreme, a cold practitioner of brutal policies that were contemptuous of the social democratic consensus that had embedded itself in Scottish national identity.”

But it wasn’t just the poll tax that caused uproar. Among her other, controversial flirtations with the Scottish establishment was the now famous Sermon on the Mound, a speech delivered by Thatcher in 1988 to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

In the speech, she controversially and somewhat divisively in Scotland sought to offer a theological justification for her political beliefs and ideas on capitalism and market economics. She claimed that “Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform” before quoting St Paul by saying “If a man will not work he shall not eat”.

Yet for all the political discomfort felt in Scotland, it was a country that had meaning to her. The former chief political correspondent of the BBC John Sergeant noted:

“It’s interesting that her two election campaigns that really mattered were 1979 and ’83 – both of them started in Perth. That’s where she made her opening speech.

“So Scotland did matter to her a great deal, but she was always rather dismayed that she didn’t do very well in Scotland.

“Her heart used to sink travelling north, as it did for Tony Blair. Once the poll tax was hung round her neck, and of course the miners dispute and everything else, she was always an amazingly divisive figure in Scotland and Tory fortunes north of the border never recovered from that early period.”

Meanwhile, in his reflections, David Torrance, author of We in Scotland – Thatcherism in a Cold Climate, has acknowledged that Thatcher’s own assessment of her impact in Scotland is probably the most accurate. For the Scotsman he writes:

“In retrospect, it could be that Margaret Thatcher’s own assessment of her Scottish legacy was also the most accurate.

“Acknowledging in her memoirs that there had been ‘no Tartan Thatcherite revolution’, she went on to observe that the ‘balance sheet of Thatcherism in Scotland’ was ‘a lopsided one’, ‘economically positive but politically negative’.

“Although this is a difficult argument to make post-2008, the positive aspect of Lady Thatcher’s balance sheet was undoubtedly true. At the beginning of her premiership the Scottish economy lagged behind that of England – as it had for decades – but eleven years later it was in harmony with its southern neighbour, and even a little ahead. The post-Thatcher recession of the early 1990s, for example, barely impacted on Scotland.”

He continued:

“She was genuinely mystified by her political failure north of the border, frequently interrogating Scottish Tories as to the reasons why. It probably didn’t bother her personally, but as a Conservative imbued with Disraelian notions of ‘One Nation’, it undoubtedly concerned her politically. When, in 1990, the Prime Minister famously referred to ‘we in Scotland’ during a television interview, she did so out of a genuine desire to demonstrate empathy.

“Self-evidently, it didn’t work, and a few months later Mrs Thatcher was gone, forced out by jittery colleagues and little mourned in Scotland. Yet her legacy, however lopsided, persists, in the language, policy and most importantly the assumptions of a devolved nation, a legacy that will – most ironically of all –likely persist even in an independent Scotland.”

Giving his response, to her death, Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond who no doubt owes much of his position today to a continued resistance in Scotland to Thatcher praised her as a “formidable” politician. In a fairly short and sweet statement he declared:

“Margaret Thatcher was a truly formidable prime minister whose policies defined a political generation. No doubt there will now be a renewed debate about the impact of that legacy. Today, however, the proper reaction should be respect and condolences to her family.”

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