Bill Jamieson: Thatcher had great Scot qualities

Margaret Thatcher in Edinburgh, 1988. Picture: Hamish Campbell
Margaret Thatcher in Edinburgh, 1988. Picture: Hamish Campbell
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Margaret Thatcher was arguably the greatest Scot ever to become Prime Minister.

Vilified though she became in Scotland, throughout her astonishing political life, she championed a set of values central to the Scottish persona.

She embodied our best features. She believed passionately in enterprise, individual endeavour and self-reliance. She held thrift to be one of the cardinal virtues in both private and public life. She was courageous to a fault, bold where others were weak. She feared no-one.

And she grasped the fundamental importance of sovereignty and fought to defend it at the cost of her political life.

I had occasion to meet her several times during her premiership. For all the aura of power and authority, the first thing that struck me was how small she was – a surprisingly diminutive, almost frail figure. That impression did not last more than a few seconds.

It was not enough that, to take issue with her, you had to be sure of your ground. You needed also to be at least as forceful in stopping the flow to get your question in.

What caused millions to respect her was that she stood against a fatalistic defeatism that had set in about our economy and our national life. She defied an entrenched conviction across the bien pensants that politics was about the management of decline. She restored to the country its self-belief. It was not popularity she inspired, but pride. That is why she was endorsed in three stunning election victories.

Economic transformation under her was hard-earned. It did not come through privatisations or tax cuts (those came later) or cheap money, but through financial discipline, the abolition of exchange controls and support for the business sector through de-regulation and the creation of enterprise agencies – though the contribution from the latter may have been more psychological than real.

The privatisations of the giant behemoths of British Gas and British Telecom followed in the second term. Together with a boom in home ownership, household wealth rose notably, and with it confidence.

In Scotland, old industries were hit hard. But what many decry as “Thatcherism” would have been inevitable in any event. No government could have shirked from this. We could not go on as we were.

It is said that, in defying the ambitions of the European Commission in her final months (“No! No! No!”), she had lost touch, lost the plot, even gone mad.

But for me, this was her finest hour. She was never better than in her resistance to an encroachment on sovereignty that was about to make a quantum leap.

Many Scots reviled her and railed against her premiership. In so many respects, they rail against a reflection in the mirror.

Her legacy in Scotland will come to be appreciated far more than now. For should Scotland opt to vote Yes in next year’s referendum, it is precisely these values, entirely this resolution and exactly this leadership we will need if we are to have a fighting chance.