FORMER Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind today led Edinburgh tributes to Margaret Thatcher following her death at the age of 87.
The ex-Edinburgh Pentlands MP praised Baroness Thatcher and insisted she “bore no animosity” towards Scotland.
It came after news of her death brought both tributes from around the world as well as reminders of what a deeply divisive and unpopular figure she remains.
Sir Malcolm told the Evening News: “She was always puzzled by Scotland’s attitude towards her because she actually bore no animosity towards the country whatsoever.
“She always failed to understand how the country of Adam Smith, who gave birth to modern economics, was so unimpressed by her values and principles.”
Sir Malcolm, who represented the Capital as a Conservative MP for 27 years, also insisted that Lady Thatcher’s then government never viewed Scotland as a “test site” for the poll tax in 1989 and that it was only implemented a year earlier than England upon the request of the then Secretary of State for Scotland, George Younger.
Now representing Kensington as an MP, he added: “George Younger asked the cabinet to implement the rates as everyone in Scotland was angry following the ratings revaluation.
“The reason it came into effect a year early was not so it could be tested but because there was an air of why wait another year on a new system just because the English aren’t ready?
“The whole issue surrounding the poll tax has been very much muddied over the years by shoddy historical work.
“What isn’t in doubt is that it was a politically foolish mistake to introduce it at all. It was a bad tax.”
Lady Thatcher died after suffering a stroke at the Ritz in London where she had being staying since being discharged from hospital last year. Neither of her children, Carol and Mark, were at her bedside as they were abroad.
She became the first woman prime minister when she entered Downing Street in 1979 – and went on to hold the office for 11 years.
She will not have a state funeral but will be accorded the same status as Princess Diana and the Queen Mother, with full military honours. The funeral will take place at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral next week.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson paid tribute to “one of the truly great prime ministers”.
She said: “She defended Britain’s sovereignty, helped win the Cold War, empowered thousands to own their own home by democratising property ownership and smashed the glass ceiling.”
Former Conservative MSP and Evening News columnist Brian Monteith said: “Margaret Thatcher changed Scotland for the better; that many people cannot accept that is their problem.
“More Scots owe her a great deal than they do to practically any peace-time prime minister and one day she will be recognised for it.”
Following the news of her passing, Prime Minister David Cameron cut short an official trip to Europe and announced that parliament was being recalled from its Easter recess tomorrow to give MPs the chance to pay tribute.
Flags were flying at half-mast on public buildings such as Edinburgh Castle and at Holyrood.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: “I came into politics to fight the ideology and values of Margaret Thatcher which I believe damaged our country. But today is not a day to debate that.
“Today is a day to offer the deepest condolences to her family, friends and all who loved her.
“No-one can deny she made a deep mark on the history of this country.”
City council leader and Labour group leader Andrew Burns declined to comment on her death – instead he tweeted a quote from Martin Luther King, which read: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness.”
Former Hearts chairman Lord George Foulkes revealed that even though he had battled the former prime minister at the dispatch box, he had worked alongside her to save jobs at a factory linked to both their constituencies.
“I was elected to Westminster in 1979 when she became prime minister so I had a few exchanges with her. I was one of the people who opposed the sending of the task force to the Falklands and I spoke in a debate on that against her.
“I also had dealings with her when she came to Cumnock in 1982 and faced her first demonstration with about 1000 people at the Stonefield Vehicle factory. According to the biographer Sir John Junor, it was the first time she realised she wasn’t as popular as what she thought she was.”
He added: “I had some very strong disagreements with her on the miners’ strike and poll tax. But personally, she was actually very helpful.
“When I went to see her about the closure of the Falmer jean factory in my constituency of Cumnock she helped me with a campaign to kept it open. The firm’s HQ was in her constituency of Finchley and we worked together to keep it open.
“When I was being introduced to the House of Lords she was introducing Sir Archie Hamilton, and despite the fact I have been one of her most severe critics, on a personal basis she was a different person.
“I have heard from others that she was often very kind.
“I think people should be sad when anyone dies, but it would be wrong not to recognise that she was divisive and did things which were unpopular.
“It’s also important to recognise some of her achievements as Britain’s first female prime minister and her contribution to ending Soviet Union tyranny in Eastern Europe.
“Ironically, she helped us to bring about Scottish devolution because the no-mandate argument was used to say the policies she was introducing in Scotland were not wanted here and brought a stronger case for the Scottish Parliament.”
Margaret Thatcher’s premiership will be remembered for her standing shoulder to shoulder with US president Ronald Reagan during the Cold War.
There are, however, many resentments still held against her, not least her treatment of miners in the 1980s, withdrawal of free milk for school children, and the poll tax.
At the last general election, the Tories returned just one Tory MP, Scottish Conservative chairman David Mundell, who said: “She was a truly transformational figure who rescued an ailing Britain and set our nation on the path to an economic prosperity and social mobility that we had never previously enjoyed.
“Margaret Thatcher was a leader with clear ideas and the conviction and resolve to fight for them.
“She was an unwavering defender of our national sovereignty, a staunch advocate of the principles of democracy and the rule of law and, along with Reagan, a principal architect of the wave of freedom that swept aside the Iron Curtain and liberated millions from the chains of communism.
“Margaret Thatcher changed Britain for the better, but she helped change the world for the better, too.”
At a grassroots level, she still possesses a certain gravitas among the party’s rank and file. City businessman and Tory party activist Iain McGill said: “I had the great pleasure of meeting Lady Thatcher on several occasions in recent years. She was obviously old and frail but she still held that magnetism, when she entered a room you felt it.
“I’m a working class boy from Leith and both her and Ronald Reagan in the 80s inspired me to enter politics. I was fascinated by them in school.
“Her name still crops up on the doorsteps but not as much as the Left likes to think.”
The youngest councillor on Edinburgh City Council, Nick Cook, said of her passing: “I was all of three years old when Margaret Thatcher left office.
“However, my first political memories involve the Iron Lady herself.
“The son of a small businessman, I remember many an evening spent by my father’s side, ‘working’ alongside him at his garage as he educated me, from the perspective of the average voter, about the history of Thatcherism, and how Maggie transformed Britain for the better, both at home and abroad.
“Mrs Thatcher was a leader firmly on the side of people like my dad who, however modest their aspirations, worked hard to provide a future for their family better than that which they had themselves. As modest as that itself may sound, it is my enduring memory of Margaret Thatcher.”
‘SHE SHOULDN’T BE HONOURED HERE’
THE son of the late Scottish miners’ leader Mick McGahey and Unison branch secretary for NHS Lothian, Mick McGahey Jnr said: “I don’t think she should be honoured in any way in Scotland. She destroyed the industrial base in this country, decimating the mining industry, shipbuilding, steel working and the railways.”
Independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald, above, said: “She inspired women to enter politics and be taken seriously because there was never any questioning her resolve.
“One thing she could never get though was that Scotland measured her by a different yardstick. Scots just didn’t care for her and there was no way they’d ever vote for her.”
City council Tory group leader Cameron Rose, below, said: “In the teeth of bitter and rancorous opposition, she held course and her government was instrumental in turning Britain into a modern and successful country.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie MSP said: “Although I did not share her political outlook, as our first female prime minister she changed the face of our political system forever.”
‘A NATIONAL INSTITUTION’
Dr Robert Crowcroft, lecturer in Contemporary History,
University of Edinburgh
Margaret Thatcher was the most controversial public figure of the age. She was also the most significant prime minister since the days of Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill. Her passing should encourage society at large to rethink her place in our island story.
The most important thing about Thatcher herself was the aura of conviction that she projected. Her force of will was a powerful asset, enabling her to steer a difficult – and frequently unpopular – course with confidence. Through this, she effectively became a national institution, far more so than any leader since Churchill’s wartime premiership. I myself vividly remember Thatcher being forced out of office in 1990. I was eight at the time, and I genuinely did not know that anyone else was even allowed to be prime minister, such was the aura she projected.
Thatcher was deeply divisive – indeed, she always enjoyed a row – and assessments of her legacy risk being politicised. To her admirers, she ‘saved’ Britain through necessary economic reforms, restored prosperity and encouraged personal ambition. She demonstrated that the state could be rolled back. To her critics, Thatcher pursued a dogmatic ideology which left scars on communities across Britain, degraded public services, and encouraged a more materialist society.
There is merit in both of these arguments. Thatcher gave Britain its confidence back and demonstrated that permanent decline was not inevitable. But she also helped to create a society in which people lived on their credit cards.
It is possible that future historians will treat claims that Thatcher revolutionised Britain with some scepticism. In some respects she undoubtedly did. But many of her ideals were easily reversed. For instance, the size of the state increased greatly under New Labour, and the public still looks to the government to solve life’s ills. For better or worse, modern Britain is not the country that Thatcher wanted to create.