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The Thatcher Legacy

In a way it is a shame that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not live to see the result of next year’s Scottish referendum on Independence. That is because if the vote is for Independence, it was Thatcher who set the wheels in motion for the destruction of the United Kingdom. When I first came to Canada in 1997 people would ask me if Scotland was an independent country. I had to explain that it was more like a US state or a Canadian province and even had it’s own legal system - with juries of 15 rather than 12. But the big difference was that despite having its own laws and administration, it had no legislature and it laws were made in London; rather like Alberta or Montana being run direct from Ottawa or Washington. Scotland effectively had a colonial administration run by the Scottish Office. Since the First World War the Scottish Office had basically been run on a consensus basis by Scotland’s political elite. The London government left the Jocks to run their own internal affairs . The Scots elite were reckoned to be a little more in touch with the social and economic aspirations of ordinary Scots than a cabinet plucked from the playing fields of Eton. But Thatcher was a revolutionary and she exposed the Scottish Office for what it was – a colonial administration. The prime example of this was the flat tax for local government services – better known as the Poll Tax. Anyone with respect for the spirit of democracy would not have drafted in English MPs to swamp Scottish opposition in the House of Commons to a tax system which only affected Scots. But that’s what happened. When the Scots complained, the English voters who had elected the English MPs who voted through the tax into existence reckoned it was just another example of “Jock Whingeing” and paid no attention. So, the tax remained - until it was imposed on England. It was then found to be a bad thing and steps were taken. There was also in Scotland a feeling that, along with that of northern England, the industrial base of the region was being sacrificed to sate the economic demands of voters in Thatcher’s electoral heartland in South East England. Colonies always feel their interests are subordinated to those of the Mother Country. Scotland’s dependence on heavy industry probably owed much to the Old Scottish Office Consensus allowing the likes of Clyde shipyard owner Lord Lithgow to sabotage efforts to create economic diversity in the country and then move their business to Korea anyway. Thatcher’s solutions seemed un-feelingly brutal and the sudden withdrawal of government support for heavy industry, when competitors in Europe and the rest of the world were still subsidizing their traditional heavy industries, perhaps a little short-sighted. It came as news to many in Scotland that there had ever been an economic boom during the Thatcher years. Though the fact that folk in London could sell a pokey flat there and use the proceeds buy a Scottish island should have been clue. The British Labour Party tapped into Scottish dissatisfaction with the political home truths Thatcher had exposed and, believing the Scottish vote would be key in turning the Tories out of power, included a Scottish regional legislature  in its 1997 election platform. When the Tories were kicked out by a landslide and the Scots’ vote turned out not to be so important, the political wings of the proposed assembly were seemingly clipped by the new Blair government. Thatcher always liked Tony Blair more than John Major who had ousted her as prime minister. Which pretty much brings us to the 2014 Independence Referendum. Only time will tell now if Thatcher’s Legacy will the destruction of the United Kingdom.

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