Despite desperate (frantic) attempts to re-write history with variations of ‘Scotland never rejected Thatcher’ by an assortment of scribes (no names necessary*) the reality is, we did. This is a really good time to reflect on what that rejection meant and means today.
Did we reject Thatcher? Yes we did at a fundamental base value level, and we still do. It’s why the cortege of Thatcher fans and apologists that besieged our airwaves this week seemed so odd. Here was people speaking openly – in public – in favour of Thatcherism.
The tortured stupidity of Ruth Davidson was a glory to behold as she trotted out her defence of the Iron one. ‘She was more pragmatic than people thought’ she blabbed at one point citing ‘she stock-piled coal prior to the strike’ as evidence for Maggie’s non-ideological pragmatism.
[Note to self: she’s not very bright]
The weird sexualised sycophancy of Lord Forysth was only marginally worse, referring to the 1975 leadership campaign he quips about a bawdy sticker: “There was the most almighty row because the slogan was: ‘Put a woman on top for a change.’ I thought she’d never speak to me again but typically she pretended not to understand the double-entrendre.” This is Tory comedy Carry On style.
The evidence for this rejection is everywhere: from support for the abandonment of selling of council housing in Scotland (though the media obsessed about how Scotland embraced this and conveniently ignored its abject failure in repossessions) to the dramatic collapse of the Tory vote from 31.4% in 1979 to 17.5% in 1997 when we first established a Tory-Free zone. All of this through to the visceral decades-on anger, it’s on everybody’s lips it’s in everyone’s clenched fist.
But of course the clearest example was the largest civil disobedience campaign in British history, the struggle against the Poll Tax, which seems to have been wiped from the history books by those seeking to prove that there is no or little difference between political cultures and movements north and south of the border. This memory-loss needs to be challenged.
Least of all Thatcherism was rejected in Scotland culturally because it represented Chingford Britain, a petty Little-Englandism writ large, with Tebbit’s Cricket Test and Monday Club nationalism overseeing a decade of Union Jack thuggery on the terraces of Chelsea, Milwall et als. This jarred.
Why wasn’t she more popular in Scotland? Aside from the obvious decimation of manufacturing (some have it that 250,00 people lost their job during her time), maybe something of the brutal certainty didn’t chime also. There was a deep-seated arrogance to her idea of TINA: there is no alternative. But watching the re-runs you realise this is the wrong question. It’s not ‘why didn’t Scotland love Maggie, it’s why did she gain such support at all?’ The terrible hackneyed oratory, the awful sound-bites and the collection of very odd men that surrounded her look bizarre in retrospect.
Why didn’t Scotland embrace her? Because she combined a moronic simplism with a sure-fire certainty about a political project that didn’t make sense even within the parameters of it’s own twisted logic. Plus, it was just about (and remains) social bullying.
Suzanne Moore writes: “what remains of her agenda is privatisation that is so internalised, it is immoral. By this I mean that a loathing of those who have little, who are weak or uncertain is justified by a political discourse which says we can longer afford the weak. The Thatcherite fetishisation of strength enables the coalition to trample on the already broken. We are saving money apparently because some humans are not worth saving. That’s just housekeeping.”
The result was a society bitterly divided between north and south, whole communities abandoned. Thatcher’s body will not lie in state at Westminster Abbey as others offered the for ‘security concerns’. That’s some legacy.
Spontaneous parties celebrating any humans death may be ghoulish but denouncing them is a form of social control. The reality is that the state funeral for Thatcher is a slap in the face for everyone who suffered from her policies and another attempt at unification through symbol. As Jacqueline Rose has put it: ‘it is an act of coercion and a masquerade…pretending at a time when the social divisions of her legacy have never been more acute that on this at least the British are at one’.
This isn’t just what Britain does best, increasingly it seems to be all Britain does. A year after floating Betty down the Thames on a gold barge we’re going to spend £10 million celebrating Margaret Thatcher. Really?
Well if Danny Boyle’s glorious revanchism perked up the dropping breasts of Britannia for a moment I expect Thatcher’s wake to boost Yesism as much as the crude censorship of the National Collective.
As usual our writers have the best analysis. This from James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still..
‘It’s only with the passing of time that the picture comes fully into focus, as the present slides and settles into history. Who are we? One of the unintended effects of Margaret Thatcher’s revolution, he sees now – and let’s face it, that’s what it was, a revolution – was to destroy Scottish loyalty to the British State. If it didn’t provide you with a job, if it didn’t give you a decent pension or adequate health care or proper support when you were out of work, what was it for? It wasn’t for anything – except maybe things you didn’t want or believe in, like nuclear weapons on the Clyde, or the poll tax. In the Thatcher years the great presumption of the left – that the industrial working class would eventually tame capitalism – came crashing down. The class war may not yet be over but it’s certainly not what it used to be. In its steed there may be many creeds, ancient and new, ethnic and national and religious and green…’
Elsewhere in the book one of Robertson’s characters reflects that the point of the Scottish Parliament may be simply to say ‘we exist’. That’s not good enough any more. It never was.
As global crisis finds local expression, as globalism unfolds before us, the impetus for control of our own resources and self-management increases. This is not about a retreat from Westminster incompetence, entrenched venality or the allure of the City as a sump for corporate whoredom. This is not – crucially – about wallowing in victimhood, glorious failures, the iniquities of yesteryear (count them). This is not about creating ‘a smarter, fairer, better’ clone of Nu Labourite efficiency, nor a Jim Matherish beacon of entrepreneurial business-slick Scotian buzz. The ‘how many start-ups’ and hand-wringing about reliance on the (utterly taboo) public sector is redundant.
The challenge now is to create an alternative way of operating based on being in the world. Ones that aren’t based on the values celebrated by Thatcher’s governments, by Keith Joseph and Norman Tebbit, by Nigel Lawson and Michael Forsyth.
So as we dream of (at last) establishing a post-Thatcherite Scotland let’s toast ‘ many creeds, ancient and new, ethnic and national and religious and green…’ and begin to figure out what that means.
- Okay okay I mean, for different reasons David Torrance, Alex Massie and Gerry Hassan