David Torrance is a former political reporter for Scottish Television who is now a freelance writer, journalist and broadcaster. Last year he wrote the biography of George Younger and next week sees the publication of his latest book, 'We in Scotland' - Thatcherism in a Cold Climate.
The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper once wrote that he believed ‘the whole history of Scotland to have been coloured by myth, and that myth is never driven out by reality, or by reason, but lingers on until another myth has been discovered, or elaborated, to replace it.’ In the 1980s I would contest that the Scots discovered such a myth, that of a Mrs Thatcher who did not understand Scotland, neglected it, hated it and even sought to use it as a ‘test bed’ so malicious was her vendetta against it.
Myth Number One - Margaret Thatcher hated Scotland
The first, that Mrs Thatcher hated Scotland simply doesn’t stack up, although the perception manifested itself fairly early on. Even in December 1979, just months after she became Prime Minister, a journalist put it to her that because Scotland had a majority of Labour MPs the Prime Minister ‘had not all that [much] sympathy on Scottish issues’. This provoked a rather sharp response. ‘Absolute nonsense,’ she snapped, ‘I spend a good deal of my time on them and I think possibly visit Scotland as a part of the UK more than anywhere else.’ This was true, yet it still became a standard exchange of the Thatcher era in Scotland: accusations that the Prime Minister did ‘not care’ rebutted with counter-accusations that Scots had simply failed to notice just how much she did.
It is true, however, that Mrs Thatcher knew little about Scotland, either personally or politically. The Scottish issue that had dominated her four years as Leader of the Opposition was that of devolution for Scotland, a Heathite policy commitment she had gradually eroded with substantial fallout at Shadow Cabinet level. This certainly gave rise to frustration when it came to Scotland, but not hatred. George Younger, for example, recorded a very telling remark in his diary in late 1978: ‘Mrs. T. said that if Scotland rejects the Assembly [in the referendum planned for March 1979] we would have to try to be as helpful as possible. But if Scotland chose an Assembly they would get nothing.’