Margaret Thatcher possessed a Scottish spirit that would make William Wallace proud

  • With the news that Margaret Thatcher has been “voted the most influential woman in Scottish politics in 200 years”, I thought it was worth reposting an article I wrote in June 2012 as part of my Devil’s Advocate column for STV. (Which took a purposely contrary approach to a topic of the week.) It was a very different time in some ways back then – David Cameron was in charge, the media had no respect for the Labour, the Chilcot Inquiry hadn’t come out – but some things never change. Perhaps this might help explain how Maggie, who has since passed away, still casts such a shadow over a nation that some have assumed reviles her.

Ah, dear old Maggie, how greatly our nation has clung onto the memory of her. (And by that I mean Scotland even more so than the rest of the UK.)

This week sees The Iron Lady offer up an apparently sympathetic portrait of the UK’s former Prime Minister, giving rise to further debate about her merits (or relative lack thereof).

Yes, Thatcher’s health may be in decline, but even then supposed liberals Phyllida Lloyd (the director), Abi Morgan (the writer – you may know her better for the BBC’s The Hour)  and Meryl Streep (starring as the former PM herself) seem to have been kowtowed when confronted by nothing more than the spectre of the Conservative when at her fearsome peak in public office. (You can only imagine what they might have produced had Thatcher still been in fighting form; it’d have likely been the sort of “hagiopic” that would have left even Kim Jong-il feeling like they’d gone a bit over the top.)

Oh, how we Scots love to hate her. Even if most appear to despise her so much that they can’t admit the enormous enjoyment that they get out of the whole deal. It’s strange – though unsurprising – to bear witness to the sheer amount of supposedly sensible types who won’t waste a single second to condemn any violent or bigoted infractions in the Old Firm rivalry, but who then don’t see any hypocrisy in gleefully discussing plans to hold “death parties” once an old lady suffering from dementia passes away.

There seems a common consensus in our country that Scotland was hit brutally hard by her policies during the 80s, especially in the industrial communities, with her early introduction of the poll tax here not exactly something that endeared her any more to the populous.

But as she saw it – and she wasn’t the only one – the UK was in a mess when she inherited responsibility for its future direction in 1979. Drastic action would have to be taken (just as it has been taken again since the last General Election in 2010). So she did what she evidently thought was best for the UK as a whole – to pretend that she wanted to wreck the country on purpose is patently absurd. (Not that it’ll stop many claiming that to be the case, of course.)

Say that she had realised that Scotland might be hit proportionately harder by her policies, should she have refrained from implementing them? To do so would have been to sacrifice the greater good of the UK populace for the sake of less than 10% of its members (most of whom according to her ideology would still have the opportunity to make something of themselves).

It might be a hard truth to bear, but were we outside that minority then most of us wouldn’t hesitate in making the same choice. In fact, it’s her that we should thank for the increasingly likely prospect of an independent Scotland, as Maggie made it abundantly clear (through her actions) that we would be better off making our own decisions without others imposing their different preferences upon us. (Perhaps Alex Salmond can build a monument to her outside Holyrood when the time comes?)

But anyway, her actions seem no more extreme than those of David Cameron, who appears to have no qualms hammering helpless minorities – and indeed women – to grab any extra cash he can to reduce the budget deficit. So what is it about Maggie that so particularly enraged us?

She was steadfast, stubborn, indomitable, unwavering, bullheaded, unyielding, determined to see things through to the last… Basically all aspects that Scots are supremely proud to claim as part of our national psyche when we present ourselves to the world at large. (The fact that she’s also ginger is almost a coincidence too far – can somebody take a quick look at her ancestry, or just find out if she was a fan of Irn Bru?)

Unapologetic, refusing to admit when she might have got things wrong; basically Maggie had the same sort of spirit that the likes of William Wallace possessed, which made it unbearable when somebody like that wasn’t Scottish, and even worse didn’t seem to have our best interests at heart.

A recolourised historical picture of William Wallace, from 1297. Face paint may have been CGIed.

Why should it be okay for Scotland as a socialist nation to rage against the system, but for its main adversary not to be so similarly pugnacious? Perhaps she was wrong in her political alignment, but had she been on the other side of the divide there can be no doubt that the nation would have been inordinately proud to hail her as an honorary Scot. Isn’t it only fair to admit that, even if we have to do so through gritted teeth?