Alex Salmond: I played key part in Thatcher’s downfall

ALEX Salmond has seized on the release of the new film about Margaret Thatcher to claim he played a key role in toppling her from power more than 20 years ago.

With The Iron Lady starring Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep due to hit the big screen this week, Mr Salmond told The Scotsman a Commons intervention by him as a young SNP MP in the late 1980s “helped to kick-start” Mrs Thatcher’s departure from office.

The First Minister’s audacious claim about his role in Mrs Thatcher’s downfall centred around an episode at Westminster in 1988 when Mr Salmond was thrown out of the Commons chamber after he interrupted the then chancellor Nigel Lawson in mid-flow.

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In a dramatic move, Mr Salmond – who had been an MP for just a year – spoke out against the controversial poll tax, a flagship policy of the Thatcher government.

After barracking Mr Lawson and becoming the first MP in history to break parliamentary convention by intervening during the chancellor’s budget, Mr Salmond was ordered to leave the Commons.

Mr Salmond claimed the incident, which took place nearly 20 years before he became First Minister, had taken him from “obscurity to prominence” and that it represented the beginning of the end for the Thatcher government.

The First Minister said his stance in the Commons led to the first chink in the armour of the Iron Lady’s government, which had already survived bitter industrial disputes such as the 1984-5 miners’ strike.

Mrs Thatcher was later hit by mass demonstrations against the poll tax and internal opposition within her own party, which led to her leaving office in 1990, two years after Mr Salmond’s Commons challenge. The new film boasts a cast including Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher and Richard E Grant as the prime minister’s arch Tory rival Michael Heseltine.

It is expected to feature events such as the Falklands War and the miners’ strike.

Mr Salmond, who is not named on the character cast on the film’s website, said his parliamentary onslaught on Mrs Thatcher was the first time the Tory governments of the 1980s had not looked “impregnable”. He said: “Some would say it took me from obscurity to prominence, but I intervened on Nigel Lawson during the Budget to protest at the poll tax.

“I said this is an outrageous tax on the poor, while giving tax cuts to the rich at the same time.

“The whole of the Tory benches roared at me and the Commons authorities switched off my microphone.

“I had thousands of letters about this in Banff and Buchan, a lot of which were supportive. This was people saying the poll tax is unacceptable and we’re not having it.

“We later saw the downfall of Thatcherism.

“The budget speech helped to kick-start the idea that the Thatcher government was not impregnable.”

‘Fantasy claim’

However, senior Scottish Labour MP Frank Doran, who was in the Commons chamber on the day of Mr Salmond’s 1988 budget intervention, said that the SNP leader’s claims about his role in Baroness Thatcher’s downfall were “fantasy”.

Mr Doran, who is now a Labour MP for Aberdeen North, also accused Mr Salmond of using the new Thatcher movie as an opportunity to try to “rewrite history” and score political points for the SNP.

He said: “I was in the Commons chamber that day and the majority of people thought that the intervention by Mr Salmond was more about ego and grandstanding than anything else.

“This is Alex Salmond trying to rewrite history, as what did for Thatcher was that she started to believe in her own rhetoric and was out of touch wit her own back-benchers.

“These were the reasons for her leaving office, rather than the intervention by Alex Salmond. For Alex to think that Tory MPs were influenced by him is fantasy.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “There is no end to Alex Salmond’s vanity, as he’s claiming that he was responsible for events that he had no part of.

“Next he will be claiming credit for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid in South Africa.”

And here’s how the then-Chancellor remembers it...

Nigel Lawson gave the following account of Alex Salmond interrupting him in the Commons in his autobiography The View From No11, Memoirs of a Tory Radical.

By long-standing tradition, the Budget Statement is listened to without interruption (although sedentary mutterings are by no means unknown). But that tradition was flouted, in the most lamentable way, in 1988.

The first interruption occurred well before I reached the higher rates, when I had just announced the cut in the basic rate. The Scottish Nationalist member Alex Salmond began shouting: “The Budget is an obscenity. The Chancellor cannot do this.”

He would not stop when the Deputy Speaker (who always occupies the chair for the Budget speech) “named” him. The motion was then put that Mr Salmond be suspended “from the service of the House” for five days. This was then voted on, with the Labour front-bench voting with the Government in support of the Deputy Speaker’s decision. A handful of the Labour members left joined the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists in the No lobby.

But the voting figures – 354 to 19 – for the suspension show that most Labour members abstained. I could not help wondering what kind of democracy the Nationalists would establish in Scotland if they ever had the opportunity.