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Dennis Canavan: how Thatcher reinforced the case for Scottish independence

DENNIS CANAVAN reflects on the death of Baroness Thatcher

Many years ago, I requested a meeting with Margaret Thatcher to discuss a jobs crisis in Falkirk. To her credit, she agreed to my request.

During the course of the discussion, she told me that she understood my concern about unemployment in Falkirk, pronouncing the 'a' in Falkirk like the 'a' in Thatcher.

She was not happy when I corrected her but her megalomania was such that she probably thought she had the power to change everything, including the pronunciation of Scottish place names. She certainly changed the face of Scotland and her legacy lives on.

I do not believe in dancing on anyone's grave and I shall not be attending any street parties to celebrate the demise of Baroness Thatcher. However, I have been struggling all week to find something positive to say about the Thatcher legacy in Scotland.

So here it is: She helped to bring about the creation of the Scottish Parliament and reinforce the case for Scottish independence.

Why do I believe that when I also believe that she treated the people of Scotland with absolute contempt? Well, sometimes absolute contempt can have unintended consequences.

For Thatcher, Scotland was simply part of her United Kingdom and, as soon as she became Prime Minister, she proceeded to foist upon the people of Scotland policies which were perceived by many Scots as the diktats of an alien government.

Her Secretary of State for Scotland was like a governor-general with no electoral mandate from the people he governed. The Tories ruthlessly used their majority in the House of Commons to force through Scottish legislation on matters such as housing, health, education and local government, despite the fact that the majority of Scots and the majority of their elected representatives were opposed to such legislation.

The most obvious case was the poll tax, surely the most iniquitous tax ever invented. Margaret Thatcher was dubbed Robin Hood in reverse, robbing the poor to give to the rich.

The overwhelming majority of Scots opposed the poll tax and, to add insult to injury, the people of Scotland felt they were being used as guinea pigs when Thatcher introduced the poll tax in Scotland a year before it was introduced in England and Wales.

All of this imposition of policies on the people of Scotland against the wishes of the people of Scotland helped to expose what became known in Scotland as a democratic deficit.

Even many people who had voted 'No' in the 1979 Scottish Referendum became belatedly aware that that the only way to address that democratic deficit was to establish a Scottish Parliament.

Our Scottish Parliament has now been in existence for nearly 14 years and it is nearly 23 years since Margaret Thatcher was ousted from 10 Downing Street. But her legacy is still with us.

We now have another Tory-led Government attacking the poorest and most vulnerable people by imposing savage welfare cuts, including another iniquitous tax called the bedroom tax.

An increasing number of Scots are now beginning to realise that, if Scotland were an independent country, there is no way that such an evil tax would be imposed on the people of Scotland.

An increasing number of Scots are also beginning to realise that, in an independent Scotland, the Scottish Parliament would have full powers over benefits and taxation and would therefore be empowered to create a fairer Scotland.

Scotland's democratic deficit was only partially addressed when the people of Scotland voted "Yes" in the 1998 Referendum. It can be fully addressed by voting "Yes" in the 2014 Referendum.

Dennis Canavan, former parliamentarian at Westminster and Holyrood, is Chairman of the Advisory Board of Yes Scotland, the campaign for independence

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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