Analysis: Budget bluster had more to do with your own career, Alex

Alex Salmond may have claimed many political scalps in his long career, but the Iron Lady’s was not one of them.

In March 1988, when the young MP for Banff and Buchan intervened in Nigel Lawson’s Budget statement, the future First Minister was out to make a name for himself rather than bring down Margaret Thatcher, then nearing her ninth anniversary as prime minister.

By long-standing tradition the Budget statement was heard in respectful silence, but as Lawson worked towards a section in his speech announcing a cut in the basic rate of income tax, Salmond rose from the benches and declared (according to Hansard): “This is an obscenity. The Chancellor cannot do this.”

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It was difficult to hear what Salmond said next amid the ensuing uproar on the Tory benches, but one journalist recalled him shout: “Tax cuts for the rich, the poll tax for the poor”. The Chancellor carried on, but when MPs continued to roar, Lawson could be seen turning to the Prime Minister and saying: “This is terrible”.

Salmond later remembered the withering look he was shot by Mrs Thatcher herself. “I reckon that look was a good reason to keep going,” he joked.

The Speaker “named” him and called a division on his suspension from the House. But there is little evidence that the incident “helped to kickstart the idea that the Thatcher government was not impregnable”.

In 1988, the Conservatives were still at the height of their powers, although there was trouble on the horizon. Inflation was on the rise, while rumbles of discontent about the poll tax were beginning to be felt. But those issues would have happened anyway.

Salmond’s intervention had more to do with boosting his own career rather than hindering that of the Prime Minister.

As The Scotsman’s former political editor, Ewen MacAskill, wrote, his act “will have done him no harm in Nationalist circles, and increased his already strong chances of leading the SNP”. And so – more than two years later – it proved.

David Torrance is author of ‘We in Scotland’ – Thatcherism in a Cold Climate and Salmond – Against the Odds.