Margaret Thatcher is responsible for Scotland’s problems with drink and drugs, health secretary Alex Neil has claimed.
The SNP Cabinet minister’s decision to blame the former prime minister was attacked as “preposterous” by the Tories last night.
At a pro-independence rally in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, Mr Neil insisted that Scotland’s predilection for heavy drinking is a direct result of Mrs Thatcher closing heavy industry and failing to create jobs, sparking a huge rise in drink-related deaths among working-age men.
The health secretary highlighted research by Scotland’s chief medical officer, Sir Harry Burns.
Mr Neil said: “Since 1980 there has, among working-age men primarily in the west of Scotland, been an increase in the mortality rate during their working years of 60 per cent.
“Four conditions [drug abuse, alcohol abuse, violence and suicide] are responsible between them for 60 per cent of the 60 per cent increase in mortality among working men since Thatcher took power in 1979.
“According to Sir Harry’s analysis, it is down to one factor and that is the total lack of work and the failure to replace jobs in the traditional industries, like steel and like coal mining, with other well-paid jobs.
“What has happened is that the men have lost their dignity, their pride and their respect and have turned to drugs, they have turned to violence and they have turned to alcohol abuse because they have lost that respect and that dignity.
“That is at the core of the social problems we have in Scotland today.”
But Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “This is one of the most preposterous interventions in the referendum debate to date.”
He went on: “In any event, figures demonstrate that the deterioration in Scotland’s record with alcohol began almost to the day Margaret Thatcher left office.
“What you can’t do is relate it to Mrs Thatcher herself. Subsequent governments allowed alcohol to become more affordable and it remains a critical problem in Scotland today.”
He said Mr Neil should get on with introducing minimum unit pricing for alcohol.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said it is “far too easy” for politicians to blame the late prime minister for Scotland’s problems. He said: “It’s a bit more complicated than that. There is evidence to show the reckless deindustrialisation of the 1980s Conservative government is a contributory factor. However, it is cheap alcohol that has led to increasing levels of consumption which has resulted in greater harm to health including death. That’s why we need minimum pricing.”
Last night, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “Mr Neil was agreeing that the rapid deindustrialisation over which the governments of Margaret Thatcher presided had grave social consequences in Scotland and elsewhere, which the Tories paid scant attention to, and that is a perfectly valid point to make.”