THE Scottish Parliament is to debate whether “there is still such a thing as society” on the same day Margaret Thatcher is laid to rest during a ceremonial funeral with military honours in London this week.
Scottish Green MSPs have forced a Holyrood debate on Baroness Thatcher’s political legacy this Wednesday as the formal service takes place in St Paul’s Cathedral for the former prime minister.
The proposed title for the debate echoes Thatcher’s assertion in 1987 that: “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”
Conservative politicians last night branded the move “crass and tasteless” and warned they would challenge the debate being deliberately timed to coincide with the funeral in London. Thatcher’s daughter Carol said yesterday that it will be a “tough and tearful week, even for the daughter of the Iron Lady”.
Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie insisted that MSPs were entitled to hold an “open debate” which comes a week after MPs delivered a series of tributes to Thatcher at Westminster as the House of Commons was recalled from the Easter recess.
Harvie said Scotland’s public services were still affected by the legacy of Thatcher’s time in office throughout the 1980s, when the Poll Tax was controversially introduced north of the Border before the rest of the UK.
He said: “Margaret Thatcher has died, but the tragedy for huge numbers of people is that Thatcherism as an ideology still lives. We aim to encourage honest consideration of the legacy of Thatcherism, the core elements of which – competition and selfishness – continue to affect our society and our economy. Despite her efforts to undermine Scotland’s shared values and public services, it is important to assert that our society still exists.
“Collective solutions to shared problems are all the more important in light of the failure of the Thatcherite economic model.
“By encouraging an open debate I hope we’ll see a bit less of the tribal politics Holyrood has suffered of late and a bit more of an effort to acknowledge our shared aspirations for Scottish society.
“There are those on both sides of the independence divide who oppose the values of Thatcherism; they will need to find ways to work together after the referendum, whatever the result.”
However, supporters of Thatcher reacted angrily to Harvie’s intervention, with Conservative Party business managers at Holyrood warning they would ask for the debate to be postponed until after Wednesday’s funeral.
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “We will be contesting the timing of this motion which seems to have been designed to cause the most upset and controversy. The Scottish Conservatives will have no problem participating in this debate when it arrives.
“But we believe the Greens should reconsider whether their own narrow-minded agenda is more important than the funeral of one of the UK’s finest ever leaders.”
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser attacked the Greens for forcing the debate on the day of the funeral and claimed the former prime minister’s views had been misrepresented by her political opponents.
Fraser, who is planning to attend the tributes in London, said: “It’s crass and thoughtless and entirely inappropriate to have this on the day of the funeral. If those behind this had a shred of human decency they would think again.
“The timing is completely inappropriate and that famous quote being used against Baroness Thatcher is being taken completely out of context. She was actually talking about the responsibility individuals have to each other and the need to help each other.”
The SNP and Labour are both set to take part in the debate, which a senior Conservative politician suggested could be one of the most bad tempered clashes at Holyrood in recent years.
Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said he would strongly oppose those attacking the legacy of Thatcher, who served as prime minister between 1979 and 1990.
He said: “It’s an absolute disgrace that this is happening and it’s a huge mark of disrespect aimed at a great former prime minister.
“It’s nothing less than we’d expect from the Greens, who have gone from being a respected minority group to a radical and reactionary rump.”
“I’d like to watch the funeral on TV, but I may choose to intervene in the debate, to speak out against this piece of extremely base political grandstanding from the Greens.”
However, Labour and the SNP defended Holyrood’s right to debate Thatcher’s stance on issues such as the Poll Tax and the mining industry.
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “People all over the country are debating the impact of Mrs Thatcher during her time as prime minister and it is right that the Scottish Parliament does so. Labour MSPs will take part in that debate and we would expect everyone to be respectful of her family on this day.”
SNP MSP John Wilson insisted that Holyrood had the right to criticise flagship Conservative policies from the 1980s such as the sale of council homes and privatisation.
He said: “The already wealthy got even richer during the Thatcher years and industries like mining were decimated, with needless asset stripping of public services.
“I hope that the debate will allow a frank discussion of all this, so that we can highlight how the Conservative governments of the 1980s inflicted lasting damage on Scottish society.
“Thatcher introduced the right to buy council homes over 30 years ago and took away much needed council housing stock for families in need. Now the grandson of Baroness Thatcher – David Cameron – has introduced the bedroom tax that is depriving council tenants of social housing in the same way as the sale of council properties did.”
Meanwhile, Carol Thatcher thanked those who had sent messages of sympathy and support, which had given her strength in the days before Wednesday’s funeral for the former prime minister at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Outside the family home in London’s Belgravia with brother Mark, she said: “I would just like to say that I feel like anyone else who has just lost a second parent.
“It’s a deeply sad and rather thought-provoking moment in life. My mother once said to me: ‘Carol, I think my place in history is assured’.
“The magnificent tributes this week, the wonderful words of President Obama, and others of colleagues who once worked alongside her, have proved her right.”
She added: “I know this is going to be a tough and tearful week, even for the daughter of the Iron Lady.”
Meanwhile, it was reported yesterday that Thatcher left instructions that the Prime Minister should give a reading at her funeral. She specified that the prime minister at the time of her death should read a lesson from the Gospels. Her choice of reading was John 14.1, which says: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
Another lesson will be read by Lady Thatcher’s 19-year-old granddaughter Amanda. The service will also include readings from the Book of Common Prayer, including the burial prayer that begins: “Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower.”
There will be the traditional reading for meeting the body arriving at a church, which begins: “I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord.”