Margaret Thatcher: ‘Conservative, bossy and English’

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TWO of the men charged with delivering Margaret Thatcher’s policies in Scotland have said she was a misunderstood figure north of the Border and that her Iron Lady image belied a “kind and generous” woman.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Baroness Thatcher’s last Scottish Secretary, and Lord Forsyth, a Scottish Office minister in her last government, said many of the criticisms of in Scotland had been based on myth and her image.

Sir Malcolm said: “She was a Conservative, bossy, English woman. Scots could put up with one of those, but not all three.”

Lord Forsyth, who remained close to her until her death, said she cared “passionately” about Scotland and the Union. He added: “She opposed devolution because she thought it would lead to a rise in nationalism and could eventually break up the UK, and events have proven her analysis right.”

Sir Malcolm said she had been “wrongly blamed” for a decline in support for the Tories that had started in the 1950s and had existed because of “a collapse in the Liberal vote and the fact the SNP did not really exist until the 1960s”.

Both men said the decision to introduce the poll tax a year early in Scotland had been wrongly portrayed as using Scotland to a test an unpopular policy – the two had the responsibility for selling the poll tax to Scotland.

Sir Malcolm said: “It was introduced here first because the Conservative Party in Scotland wanted to avoid a review of the old rates.

“Scotland was certainly not being used as a test bed.”

Lord Forsyth said: “Arguably, it was the reverse. The poll tax was imposed in England to solve a Scottish rates problem.”

Sir Malcolm said one of the moments he would remember most was when he had accompanied her to football’s Scottish Cup final in 1988.

He said: “After half-time, it was a bit chilly and she put on a bright blue coat. I said to her, ‘Prime Minister, you can’t wear that’. The final was between Celtic and Dundee United.

“She said to me, ‘But Rangers aren’t playing’. It is the only time I instructed her to do anything and I told her to put on another coat, and, to be fair, she did.”

Both men said that despite her reputation for not listening to colleagues, she would change her mind if those around her argued forcibly enough.

Lord Forsyth said: “One of the reasons she liked me was because I would argue with her and stand up to her. She hated people sucking up to her, but woe betide anybody who took her on and did not have their argument properly prepared.”