How Thatcher destroyed the coalition of nations
Did Margaret Thatcher create the current independence movement in Scotland?
I was intrigued by a blog post on the pro-independence blog Bella Caledonia, which quoted James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still:
One of the unintended effects of Margaret Thatcher’s 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.
When you’re trying to govern a coalition, whether of parties or of nations, it’s important to keep them all happy.
Let’s have a brief look at Danish politics. Just after the last general election there was an interesting interview with Henning Dyremose, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first of Poul Schlüter’s Conservative governments (in my own loose translation):
What the Social Democratic Prime Minister needs to do is to create a situation where the Socialists win, where the Social Liberals win, and where she can ignore the Social Democrats. The latter are so delighted that she becomes prime minister that she does not have to give her parliamentary group and the ordinary party members any kind of concessions. If she can make a deal that makes both Socialsts and Social Liberals happy, she knows the Social Democrats will also be happy. If the Socialists — who were weakened in the elections — are also weakened in the government programme negotiations, their members will begin to ask whether the price they pay for supporting a Social Democratic prime minister is too high. If the Social Liberal leader doesn’t get enough concessions, she could just as well remain outside the government. The Social Liberal Party would have more influence if they chose to remain outside the government. That’s why they’ll be expensive to include in the government.
I find it interesting to apply Dyremose’s advice to the UK. That is, one should realise that the smaller nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have the ability to leave and realise their ambitions elsewhere, so England should give them more influence than strictly speaking necessary to keep them happy. Ultimately, English politicians (and to some extent English voters) will be content so long as England is leading a strong United Kingdom, even if the smaller nations sometimes get their own way. (This also applies to Spain, of course, where Catalonia is clearly not seeing the benefit of remaining within the Spanish Kingdom any more.)
It reminds me of my old suggestion to double the number of Scottish MPs in Westminster.
Anyway, I don’t think anybody in Westminster is going to pay heed to the advice above. The Scottish loyalty to the British state has been broken, and the natural way forward now is to vote Yes in 2014.
5 thoughts on “How Thatcher destroyed the coalition of nations”
Interesting badge. The ‘silly question’ was the question of whether the UK should be governed by the elected government or by self-appointed union leaders …
Not necessarily. The question could also have been whether there was an alternative to finding a consensual, one-nation way forward.
But my ‘silly question’ was the actual Big Question of the day that brought down governments in the 70s and led to her election in 1979. I think your question is a hindsight question.
Clicking through and reading the articles and comments — would you say that socialist supporters of independence want to go back to how things were in the 1970s? I.e. government control of pretty much everything? Or is this largely about the size and nature of the welfare state?
Thomas, I have been thinking about the quote about the British State in the article. If you look beyond the appeal to the heartstrings that this kind of writing relies on (i.e. only our ideology is compassionate) then what it is really saying is that if the British State no longer conforms to the socialist ideals of the 1970s, then we no longer want it, and want to try to build our utopia in Scotland instead. If the State were actually capable of meeting all the economic needs of all citizens (as this quote implies it should be able to) then why was that not actually achieved under Labour in the seventies? Thatcher exposed the fallacy that the State is there to provide for all our needs (and beyond) and replaced it with the (then radical) idea that the State is there to provide a stable framework in which people are free to find ways to meet their own needs. But giving people the freedom to engage in the kind of economic activity that actually increases prosperity is simply dismissed as ‘encouraging greed’ by the Left. Surely the real greed lies in the attitudes of the unions in the nationalised industries of the 1970s in blackmailing governments into paying their members ever more money while refusing to change or improve work practices to make those industries competitive?