Gerald Warner: Two sides to leftists’ stories – and Thatcher’s legacy is no exception

IT WAS always easy to recognise a Scottish feminist between 1979 and 1990: she was the one wearing a badge exhorting ‘Ditch the Bitch’.

The sisters took time off from girning about “glass ceilings” and “male-dominated workplaces” to excoriate a woman who had so far got above herself as to become Britain’s first female prime minister.

Scottish leftists had never been known for understatement. When Margaret Thatcher came into office, they drained the reservoirs of hyperbole dry. Genocide was a positively commonplace description of government policies; “Tebbit’s death squads” was one nugget contributed by a trade unionist to stigmatise Conservative healthcare policy. Yet it should not be supposed that this extravagant reaction was not rooted in a coherent philosophy; on the contrary, the Scottish Left had a ­pellucidly clear world view. It was based on the folk legend that there is such a thing as a free lunch – whatever economists of every hue and nationality might say.

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Nor did it lack empirical evidence to support it, as Scotland had been voraciously tucking into free lunches since 1945 – is still doing so on a more modest table d’hôte scale today. In the 1980s it was subsidy à la carte, with crème Barnett to top it off. What outraged the Scottish Left was Margaret Thatcher’s rhetoric rather than her policies. She preached self-reliance (“What do we have a welfare state for?”); hard work (“An’ me wi’ a bad back, tae!”); and private enterprise (“You mean yon filthy word ‘profit?’ ”). This ­blasphemy against the decencies of ­socialist dependency culture was in no way neutralised by the fact that, in Scotland, The Lady’s bark was worse than her bite.

Public expenditure, in hard figures, did not decline on her watch. At UK level it rose from £93.6 billion in 1979-80 to £227.5bn in 1990-1; from 1986-7, however, it did begin to decline as a percentage of GDP, so that by the time Thatcher left ­office, spending represented 39.4 per cent of GDP, compared with 44.6 per cent in her first year. An attempt was made to redirect subsidy more constructively, though often still within largely Keynesian parameters. Between the advent of the Thatcher government and the 1987 general election that more than halved Conservative representation in Scotland, the Scottish Development Agency’s budget rose from £80 million to £136m.

The reality, as opposed to the leftist propagandist construct, was that Scottish living standards reached a record high between 1981 and 1989, rising by 30 per cent – but nobody wants to know that, it would undermine the grievance culture. When Margaret Thatcher came to power Scotland had a smaller proportion of its people owning their own homes – one third – than any other European country apart from the then East Germany; by the time she left office she had malevolently inflicted home-ownership on a majority of the population, as aggrieved lefties will testify.

Then there was her vicious imposition of the “Poll Tax” on Scotland a year earlier than on the rest of the UK. In fact, Scots demanded it. The first Poll Tax riot took place at the Scottish Conservative Party conference – with delegates clamouring to be rescued from the punitive 1985 rates revaluation by early introduction of the community charge. The fiscal imposition whereby 1.9 million ratepayers supported local authorities with 3.9 million constituents was an encapsulation of the Scottish leftist assumption that one half of the country should carry the other upon its back.

And let’s not forget Section 28/2a – you know, the law that sent homosexuals to concentration camps. Thatcher had no interest in people’s sexual morality, but Jill Knight MP, chairman of the Child and Family Protection Group, received complaints from parents that five-year-olds in school were being given books with ­illustrations of how homosexual acts were performed. Alarmed by the Gay Liberation Front’s manifesto statement that “We must aim for the abolition of the family…” she introduced Section 28, with Thatcher’s approval. The legislation contained no criminal sanctions but today it is demonised by powerful homosexual pressure groups as the equivalent of the Nuremberg Laws. The Scottish Parliament’s repeal of it after more than a ­million Scots had voted to retain it in an independent referendum was an early taste of devolved “democracy”.

Margaret Thatcher’s historic premiership had just one adverse consequence, which she could not have foreseen: by facilitating upward social mobility on an unprecedented scale she created a new demographic that is economically middle-class, but without the cultural underpinning previously associated with bourgeois status. That has subverted the traditional middle class, with consequent social problems. Otherwise her legacy is that of a great prime minister. As for whingeing Scottish lefties, of course the rest of the world is wrong and they are right. There, there, there…

Twitter: @GeraldWarner1