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Best of 2013: Margaret Thatcher versus the Scots

Margaret Thatcher, The Guardian cover with headline 'She became harder than hard'While agreeing with Donne's 'any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind', I must admit to pouring a glass of good malt at the news of Mrs Thatcher's passing.

In Glasgow, hundreds partied in George Square at the news. As one commentator said, 'I wish there had been a statue of Thatcher so that I could have hit it with my shoe', bringing to mind the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The Southern English may laud her as the greatest prime minister after Churchill but for us Scots — and many in Northern England — she was a hate figure who in the febrile, last days of her premiership scarcely dared to cross the border for fear of being assassinated. Why?

Primarily because she was an ideologue, a Schumpeterian who believed in 'creative destruction' in economics, setting entrepreneurs free (Schumpeter's 'wild spirits') to do as they pleased, and in ignoring the will of the people in favour of the decisions of politicians.

Her policies were like those of the IMF during the time of structural adjustment policies — experiments which omitted to note the effect of these economic games on the lives of human beings.

I lived in Scotland through her time as prime minister and saw my country's industries disappear like snow off a dyke, plunging thousands into poverty. She eschewed negotiation with the unions and preferred all out war, regardless of the consequences. Once her legacy is reassessed, she will have the unenviable reputation of being the PM who caused most poverty in UK history.

She supported tyrants like Pinochet, called Mandela a 'terrorist' and ordered the sinking of the Belgrano, an Argentinian battleship which was moving away from the Falklands and was outside the exclusion zone; 368 Argentinian sailors were killed and the Iron Lady was pictured smirking triumphantly at the news, no doubt approving of The Sun's notorious headline of 'Gotcha!'. That act scuppered the emerging UN peace deal.

She ushered in a culture of greed disguised as entrepreneurial spirit that resulted years later in the Global Financial Crisis. And she hectored our allies in the European Union like the Little Englander she became.

Above all, she was hated for using Scotland, with its separate legal system, as a guinea pig for another experiment — the introduction of the poll tax which was seen as a tax on the poor to benefit the rich.

It caused the largest civil disobedience campaign in Scotland's history. A theologian friend filled out his tax form in New Testament Greek. I pretended to be a war veteran and said I had not fought for my country to tax the poor. We hoped for policy death through humour. We were threatened with the courts but how could you try a million Scots? The policy was defeated, and Thatcher was dumped, when she tried to introduce it into England.

Her most telling phrase was that 'there is no such thing as society', showing a complete misunderstanding of the communitarian nature of Scottish society which actually believes in the common good — as illustrated in the near unanimous support for a free health service, free (and good) education for everyone (a policy stretching back to the Middle Ages), a healthy civil society, a parliament designed to avoid the adversarial politics of Westminster, and free transport on buses for everyone over 60, all paid for willingly through our taxes.

This was anathema to Thatcher and she was anathema to us.

Thatcher said in 1988 'as long as I am leader of this party, we shall defend the Union and reject legislative devolution unequivocally'. The Scottish Parliament has been running successfully for over a decade, for much of that time under an SNP administration, and will oversee a referendum on independence in 2014. Thatcher's party, on the other hand, has been reduced to one lone Conservative MP from Scotland in the Westminster Parliament 

In the end, Scotland has the last laugh.

Duncan MacLaren headshotDuncan MacLaren was a researcher in the House of Commons and national press officer for the SNP in his youth. This article was originally published on 9 April 2013.

Topic tags: Duncan MacLaren, Margaret Thatcher



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