Speech to Scottish Conservative Party Conference
|Document type:||public statement|
|Venue:||Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre|
|Source:||Thatcher Archive: speaking text|
|Editorial comments:||1109-1150. The text was timed and checked against delivery by John Whittingdale. His notes on audience reaction have been retained in the text.|
|Themes:||Local Elections, Conservative Party (organisation), Labour Party and Socialism, General Elections, Sport, Industry, Autobiography (marriage and children), Arts and Entertainment, Higher and further education, Local government finance, Community Charge ("poll tax"), Monetary policy, Economic, monetary and political union, Trade unions, Law and order, Union of UK nations, Conservatism, Foreign policy (Central and Eastern Europe), Taxation, Local government, Housing, Education, NHS reforms 1987-90, Employment, Defence (general)|
It is always a pleasure to visit Scotland. But it is a particular pleasure to be here today, one week after the local elections have started the Tory recovery which will give us our fourth general election victory. (Applause). Here Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Forsyth led the fight back—against not only Labour and our other opponents, but also against the defeatism of faint hearts. And they led it brilliantly, with Jim Goold's staunch support. (Applause).[fo 1]
The local election results confounded the pundits. And they taught two lessons. Where Conservatives proved that Conservative Councils cost you less, Conservative candidates reaped the benefit. Here in Scotland, it was true in Eastwood. In England, it was true in Trafford, Wandsworth and Westminster.
All in all, Mr President, I'm pleased with the local election results. The [ Neil Kinnock] Leader of the Opposition is pleased as well, they tell me. I'm not surprised. For the Ealing Comedy is over—and he'll now have his dustbins emptied by a Tory council. (Applause).[fo 2]
The second lesson from the local election results is that where Conservatives campaigned hard for our policies and with conviction the people responded.
That's why there is no-one better than those champions of conviction politics, Malcolm Rifkind, Michael Forsyth, Bill Hughes and Micky Hirst, to lead the Conservative and Unionist Party to victory in Scotland.
Labour like to boast about Scotland as an impregnable bastion of socialism. We Conservatives regard bastions like the Prussian General, Moltke—who smiled only twice in his entire life: once when someone said that a certain fortress was impregnable. We won't go into why he smiled a second time. (Laughter).[fo 3]
For years, Labour have taken Scotland for granted.
No matter what they do—losing Ford for Dundee, penalising Paisley Grammar School, insulting the Scots with estimates for the roof tax worked out on the back of an envelope—they have assumed that their Scottish fiefdom was safe.
But Scots have thrived on Tory policies. They're lining up to take advantage of Tory policies.
And we shall continue those policies. They revived our country's fortunes—and we shall take them further. There's a lot more to do—a woman's work is never done. (Laughter and applause).[fo 4]
Radical policies have helped us to win three General Elections. And they will win us a fourth.
Four on the trot—that's the target.
Of course Scots know a thing or two about that. But we English don't bear grudges ... well, not until next year at Twickenham! (Laughter and applause).
Meanwhile, to the Scots rugby team may I say, "congratulations". The critics didn't give them a chance. But the men in blue stuck to their task—and they came out on top. (Applause).[fo 5]
There's a lesson here. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 12 May 1990:
If we play as a team and keep our eye on the ball, we can make it a Conservative Grand Slam. (Applause). End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 12 May 1990.
Mr President, Every time I'm in Scotland, I see further signs of the success of our policies. — in Glasgow, with its new growth and vitality. Some other European Governments chose to nominate their capital cities as European City of Culture: we chose Glasgow, as a tribute and as a boost to its success. — Edinburgh, a thriving commercial and financial centre;[fo 6] — Dundee, the city of ‘Discovery’, living down the union fiasco over Ford and building a stronger industrial future; — and, of course, the city whose grit has always matched the quality of its granite, Aberdeen.
[ Denis Thatcher] Denis has his Scottish favourites too: Turnberry, Carnoustie and Gleneagles ... (laughter) Not to mention Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, and Glenlivet! (Laughter). And at the end of a difficult day, I am inclined to share his enthusiasm, for the latter at least. (Laughter).
Mr President, Scotland's prosperity has not occurred by accident. Conservative policies put the ball at Scotland's feet and the Scottish people kicked it. And as you well know, particularly on Scottish Cup Final Day, the Scots kick a ball rather well.[fo 7]
The success of Scotland's economy in recent years is a living tribute to the talent of her people.
It wasn't Government which increased output and productivity to record levels. It was Scottish business.
It wasn't the State which created tens of thousands of new jobs in the sunrise industries. It was Scottish management and Scottish workers.
And it wasn't a national plan or a devolved Assembly which attracted billions of pounds of investment here. It was Scotland's reputation for flair, innovation and sheer hard work.[fo 8]
Scotland is leading the world in tomorrow's industries.
Leading in electronics: the Scottish electronics industry is producing four times as much as when we Conservative took office.
Leading in financial services: Edinburgh has become one of Europe's great financial centres, handling over £50 billion worth of transactions every year.
Leading in technology.[fo 9]
And there's no better place to see the triumph of new technology than here in Aberdeen. For technology pioneered in Scotland has helped turn Aberdeen into one of the world's foremost oil capitals. And exporting that technology will bring still greater wealth to Scotland in the years ahead.
All this is a combination of Conservative policies and Scottish talent. (Applause).
QUALITY OF LIFE: CULTURE, EDUCATION,
Mr President, the Socialists want to make business work for Socialism. The Conservatives want to make business work for Scotland.
And it does. (Applause).[fo 10]
Business not only creates jobs, it generates the money to pay for investment in hospitals and roads, in schools and pensions, and protecting the environment.
And it has nourished Scottish culture.
Since the great age when Edinburgh was rightly called the Athens of the north, and David Hume and Adam Smith and all the great Scottish thinkers of the day dominated European thought, Scotland has been a citadel of culture. But there has never been a decade of more support for the Arts and the Heritage of Scotland than the one we have just lived through—a Conservative decade. (Applause).[fo 11]
The evidence is there for all to see. — The great Burrell Gallery which I saw the other day, built at a cost of £20 million to house a Scottish collection of treasures, some of which had been in packing cases for fifty years. — The National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street restored. — The National Gallery which houses one of the great national collections totally transformed.[fo 12]
Mr President, the revival of Scottish cities in these ten years is simply breathtaking. The heritage of Glasgow has been restored, from the Victorian terraces of Greek Thomson to the Georgian spire of St Andrew's Church, to the tenements of Maryhill and the bridges over the great river that gave Glasgow her power and riches.
In ten years of Conservative Government the heritage of Scotland has been redeemed. (Applause). Conservative policies have conserved the very best of our inheritance. This Conservative Unionist Government is proud of that achievement. (Applause).[fo 13]
We are as proud of Scotland's tradition of learning as we are of her culture. Scotland had four ancient universities at a time when England had only two. Today Scottish universities and colleges are not only centres of excellence, they are giving thousands more young people the chance to achieve their full potential.
And yes, I have heard the story of the Scottish engineer who, in Glasgow, thought he was quite good but who then went to England and discovered he was brilliant! (Laughter and applause).[fo 14]
Mr President, I find it hard to believe that it was a [ Donald Dewar] Scotsman—brilliant or otherwise—who thought up Labour's Roof Tax. Though I suppose it required a sort of genius to come up with something worse than the rates.
Who would pay the roof tax—households or individuals? They don't know, can't say.
What would its level be? They don't know, won't say.
How would it be set? They don't know, daren't say.[fo 15]
According to Mr Dewar it's a tax on the value of your home. But according to the [ Neil Kinnock] Labour leader it isn't the market value which will be assessed.
But then again according to Mr Gould, it's the insured value of your house. (Laughter).
But wait, according to Mr Rooker, it's not a roof tax at all, it's a floor tax. (Laughter). What a farce!
But, Mr President, this farce is serious. Serious for example for the elderly widow who bought her house forty years ago for £3,000 and now finds that today it's worth £90,000.[fo 16]
Serious for the council tenant who bought his home under Tory Government at a good discount but found the Roof Tax levied at today's market price.
Serious for anyone who did up his own house and so put up its value.
And it would even hit someone who remained a tenant because the tax would be levied on the value of the property—even though he didn't own it.
Yes, Mr President. It's a tax to penalise self help, a tax to penalise effort and a tax to penalise improvement: that's socialist taxation for you. (Loud applause).[fo 17]
Mr President, one thing is certain about the local elections. No-one voted against us because they thought their local Community Charge was too low.
People protested where they thought Labour councils had set their Charge too high.
So no wonder Labour want to change the system. They know the Community Charge shows up their record of poor services at very high cost. (Applause). That's why they want to get rid of it. For it gives the game away.[fo 18] Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 12 May 1990:
But, Mr President, there are some problems, and we shall deal with them. But our aim won't be to protect high spending socialist councils. It will be to give some protection to those who have to pay for them. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 12 May 1990.
People don't want high spending paid for by high taxes. But that's what Labour want.
At the next General Election there will be only one party which can promise them a lower tax bill: the Conservative Party. (Applause).[fo 19]
But we're not just committed to lowering taxation. We're determined to bring inflation down as well. Yes, it is too high. And is sometimes compared unfavourably with the figure for the European Community as a whole. But, if we calculated our inflation as they do in most other countries in Europe it would be almost three percentage points lower.
So if you compare like with like, we are not so far above Europe's average for inflation. But that's no excuse for complacency. The fact is our economy has been growing too fast and people have been borrowing too much. As a nation, we must save more and borrow less. That will help to bring down inflation and to reduce the trade deficit.[fo 20]
Until the problem is solved, the cost is high interest rates. I am afraid they create real difficulties for some people, especially those with large mortgages. Nevertheless home ownership remains the very best way to invest in your children's future.
Of course, as usual, the Labour Party come forward with an easy option.
Their latest is to urge more public borrowing, higher spending and lower interest rates. That's like trying to put out a fire with a petrol pump.[fo 21]
The fact is that Labour haven't a clue about how to control inflation. They admitted as much. They talk about credit controls: but the first thing they'd have to do would be to apply them to mortgages, otherwise they'd hardly make a dent in borrowing. And that means back to mortgage queues.
And they talk about the Exchange Rate Mechanism as if the mere incantation of those three letters, ERM, were enough to dispense with any other kind of financial discipline.
Sterling is already part of the European Monetary System. And we are committed to join the ERM when certain conditions are met.[fo 22] But the ERM is no soft option. You agree to keep your exchange rate within certain well-defined limits. If Sterling falls, you have no choice but to raise interest rates—which is precisely what Labour attack us for doing. In fact, the ERM does not increase your options, it reduces them. It demands firm financial self discipline of a kind we Conservatives have no reason to fear, but which Labour simply could not manage. The truth is that the ERM is a supplement to sound financial policies, not a substitute for them. (Applause).[fo 23]
Of course, Labour are now posing as models of fiscal rectitude. Indeed, Mr President, I understand that Labour's Shadow Chancellor has been wining and dining up and down the City of London.
He's been desperately trying to explain how the Labour Party proposes to manage the economy. It's what you might call Labour's Medium Term Gastronomic Strategy. (Laughter and applause).
I dread to think what was on the menu.[fo 24]
A few red herrings, perhaps? (Laughter). Or some Welsh tripe? (Laughter and applause). And after landing us all in the soup, a hearty helping of humble pie. (Laughter).
Mr President, don't swallow any of it. There's no such thing as a free lunch. (Applause). And you know who'll be picking up the bill.
Mr President, this year will be the fifth in a row that Labour have come up with a shiny new policy document.
It's odd, but the greater the number of policy reviews, the fewer the policies—though heaven knows, there are enough to worry about.[fo 25]
Two state investment banks. State intervention in key sectors of the economy. Measures to grab control of privatised industries on the cheap. An attack on shareholders' rights. A tax on savings. And over and above all this the long, dark shadow of rampant inflation.
What we're fighting to control, Labour would let rip.
In other words, they would tax anything that's constructive and subsidise anything that's wasteful.[fo 26]
Mr President, one whiff of speculation on a Labour Government and investment from abroad which has brought us so many jobs would be under threat.
As for Labour's Militants and trade-union power-brokers, they've never lost their taste for running the country.
But, you say, just a moment. Haven't Labour at last decided to clip the unions wings? And hasn't their [ Neil Kinnock] Leader let it be known—albeit, a few months behind the reforming Communist Leaders of the Eastern Bloc, but better late than never—isn't he planning to introduce a little more of that window-dressing democracy for which we all know him, this time by cutting out the block votes which the unions control?[fo 27]
And doesn't that mean an end to the union sponsorship of over a hundred Labour MPs?
No, it doesn't.
And it certainly doesn't mean an end to the farce where a man—and I note that it nearly always is a man—casts a block vote which claims to be the view of hundreds of thousands of individuals, some of whom, I'm told, actually exist. (Laughter and applause).
Mr President, Labour haven't changed and they don't intend to.
It just means that whereas the unions used to control 90%; of the votes at Labour's conference, now they will control a mere 70%;.[fo 28]
Big deal. (Applause).
Yes, but surely the Left have lost their grip—or haven't they?
Well, no. They haven't.
They've shown in Union Conferences, in violent demonstrations against councils setting their Community Charge and increasingly on the streets of the United Kingdom they are all set to do in the 1990s what they did in the 1970s.
We saw the hard Left in action the other day in the streets of London.[fo 29]
That riot on a Saturday afternoon wasn't a protest against the poll tax, it was warfare against the police of the most vicious kind. (Loud applause).
Let me remind you: it was twenty-eight Labour MPs— as well as some others—who demanded illegal mass non-payment of the Community charge. Time and again, it's Labour MPs who vote against the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which saves so many lives. And it's Labour Leaders who now call for the reinstatement of miners sacked for violence and intimidation in the miners' strike.
Mr President, it's the duty of a democratic Government to uphold the law. (Applause). And I put it to you that only a strong Conservative Government can be relied upon to do so. (Applause).[fo 30]
The rule of law is the rock on which democracy stands. Not to uphold it is to risk the rule of anarchy. And that's not a slur on anyone's integrity. It's a comment on where equivocation can lead you.
To form a Government and to govern demands policies. It demands principles. It demands decision. And, Mr President, it is not a job for the boys. (Applause).[fo 31]
DEVOLUTION OF POWER
Mr President, if Dr Johnson, who never had a good word to say for the Scots—or for women for that matter—were on his travels in Scotland today, even he might suffer an attack of optimism.
And what would he find?
That in the last ten years, 185,000 Scottish tenants have bought their homes.
That twice as many people in Scotland now own shares.
That in nearly every Scottish Secondary School parents have jumped at the opportunity to elect School Boards.[fo 32]
And that, through Scottish Enterprise—the inspiration of Bill Hughes—it's local communities and businesses that will be managing investment in enterprise and training.
I wonder what the good Doctor would say. He might conclude that with a Tory Government the noblest prospect the Scotsman sees is not the road to England but the highroad to his own home town. (Applause).
It may come as a shock to some people but what I want for the Scots is independence.
No, I don't mean the SNP's kind of independence. That would impoverish and isolate the Scottish nation.[fo 33]
It would mean not just the end of the United Kingdom, but the end of Scotland as we know it. (Applause). It would mean a Socialist Scotland stranded on the fringe of Europe.
I want the sort of independence which enriches the lives of the people.
The independence that comes from owning your own home, from owning a little bit of Scotland.
The independence that comes from having a stake in the company for which you work, and in other companies too.
The independence that comes from being able to build up savings to hand on to your children.[fo 34]
In short, the independence that comes from running your own life—and not being told how to run it by the Socialist state. And never forget, the SNP are a Socialist Party—the Socialist Nationalist Party. (Applause).
And, I believe, in devolution—but not Labour's kind of devolution, what they like to call self-government.
For the selves they have in mind are not your-selves but them-selves.
What Labour means by devolution is: — more power to Scottish politicians and less power for Scottish people and their families.[fo 35] — higher Scottish taxes: for if all the taxes spent in Scotland were raised in Scotland, income tax would rise by 20 pence just to pay for current spending levels. — fewer jobs—as tax rates rose and business confidence sank with uncertainty over Scotland's future.
Mr President, Labour's plans are a recipe for constitutional conflict, and the first incautious, perhaps irrevocable steps towards separation.
That would be a catastrophe for Scotland. And we in this Conservative and Unionist Party must see that it never happens. (Applause).[fo 36]
THE FUNDAMENTAL DIVIDE
For us, Mr President, politics is about ideals not interests. But that's not the way that Labour see it. For them, it's about the clash of competing factions, and the struggle of vested interests.
The names of those organisations on the Left—Militant, the Workers' Revolutionary Party, just the name of Labour itself—proclaim their commitment to class war.
But what truly divides the Parties is something different. It's a view of human nature which is fundamental.[fo 37]
Where Socialists want government to level, Conservatives demand that it should liberate.
Where Socialists want government to compel, Conservatives want it to enable.
Where Socialists seek to run people's lives, Conservatives look to uphold standards and the law.
SOCIALISM AND EASTERN EUROPE
Not so long ago, the Socialists told us that history was on their side. Now, it seems, it's Socialism which has no history—certainly none of yesterday's Socialists are prepared to be a part of it.[fo 38]
The Labour Party hasn't just disowned its past. It's now trying to disown any connection with the Socialist regimes in Eastern Europe in which they once found so much to praise.
But I don't advise the [ Neil Kinnock] Leader of the Opposition to try that one out on the Czechs and Slovaks. They've changed the name of their country from the Socialist Republic of Romania to plain Romania.[fo 39]
I don't advise him telling the Hungarians that Western Socialism works. They've almost as much contempt for it as they had for its Eastern cousin. They've set up two stock exchanges. They're privatising state owned industries. They're smashing state monopolies.
And I don't advise him telling the Poles that what they really need is a good old fashioned national plan. For the Poles plan to privatise some seven hundred firms. And that's just for starters.[fo 40]
Amazing that just when virtually every country in Europe is burying Socialism full fathom five, when those who know most about the poverty which Socialism brings now want the least to do with it, the British Labour Party is trying to breathe new life into the corpse. (Applause). It is tragic that Eastern Europe had to learn from bitter experience what we have known for generations.
Mr President, we believe in a nation of communities and a community of nations in which the ideals of freedom, justice and responsibility prevail.
We believe that every human being is unique, endowed with dignity and talents and possessed of the right to strive, within the limits of law and decency, to fulfill those talents. A fulfilment which can only be achieved within the communities which nurture us.[fo 41]
We realise, with Edmund Burke, that "to be attached to the sub-division, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affection. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind". What the class warriors of the Left refuse to grasp, however, is that markets are living, bustling, spontaneously generated communities. And it's not surprising that the first great champion of markets, Adam Smith, was the friend of Edmund Burke.
Both understood, as we do, that free individuals making choices in free markets aren't the enemy of responsible communities: they're the heart of them. (Applause).[fo 42]
More responsibility to the people, more power, and choice for people—those are the goals we've set ourselves.
So first we've reduced income tax. But the rates are still too high—and we want to see them lower.
Second, we've done more to encourage savings. John Major's recent budget will further increase the opportunities to save.
Third, more and more people own shares in the companies which employ them. John Major's budget is encouraging that further too. But we want this to be the rule, not the exception.[fo 43]
Fourth, as you know, this Government gave Council tenants the right to buy their homes. But some can't quite manage to buy them outright. So tenants of Scottish Homes can convert rents into mortgages. It's a pilot scheme, but if it proves its worth we'll extend it. (Applause).
Fifth, we are devolving more power in schools to parents. Here in Scotland, we've far more to do. And in Britain as a whole, I see a time when most schools will take on much more responsibility for their management.
Sixth, our reforms are giving more responsibility to hospitals and doctors so that they can give a better service and more choice to their patients. Already fifty large practices and four hospitals are interested in these new opportunities.[fo 44]
Seventh, we've privatised State Industries. That's devolving power to managers, widening ownership of shares and increasing choice and competition. And Mr President, there is more privatisation to come.
Eighth, we've begun a training revolution. By giving training vouchers to young people, we'll ensure that they really want the jobs for which they train.
Step by step the deprived areas of our cities are being transformed. Business is working in the community, generating enterprise, jobs and training.
Tenth, we are taking action to cut pollution and clean up the environment. These ten points——
That's Tory action for you. These are our signposts for the Nineties. (Applause).[fo 45]
Mr President, let me remind you of something which not many people seem to have noticed. This year, 1990, we complete the longest period of peace ever in Europe's history. (Applause).
It's a wonderful achievement. And it would never have happened unless we had kept our defences strong and remained staunch allies of those who love liberty. (Applause)
It was fifty years ago this week that Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.
This week too we celebrated the centenary of the birth of another great wartime leaders and a founder of the NATO Alliance, President Eisenhower.[fo 46]
He had a particular affection for Scotland: and Scotland in return showed its gratitude for the great role he played in securing our freedom, by granting him the use of Culzean Castle for the rest of his days.
Early next month NATO's North Atlantic Council will meet just a few miles down the road from Culzean, at Turnberry. Its main task will be to prepare a NATO Summit in London a few weeks later.
That summit will reaffirm NATO's basic principles: — secure defence—because you never know where the next threat may come from. — the continued presence of American forces in Europe. — and a strategy based on both conventional and nuclear weapons.[fo 47]
As President Bush reminded us the other day, conventional weapons were not enough to prevent war in Europe. The lesson of the peace which we have enjoyed for the last forty-five years is that nuclear deterrence works. (Applause). It's a lesson which the Labour Party has still not learned.
We share the wish to see spending on defence lower than it is now. But only when we are absolutely certain that it would be safe, that Britain's security would not be diminished, that we shall be adequately defended against any future danger.
The people of Britain know that they can rely on a Conservative Government—and only on a Conservative Government—to ensure the defence of this United Kingdom. (Applause).[fo 48]
Mr President, our Conservative belief in freedom, justice and responsibility is no mere abstraction. It's part of the daily lives of many people, some of whom may never have voted for us, who perhaps were Labour supporters. Today, they see Eastern Europe streaming West in droves, and realise that in such a world Socialism can have no future.
We Conservatives understand their hopes and fears. We share them.
For they are the quite people who make that extra effort for their children and, when needed, their country; who save for the future; who watch the bills and grumble and pay them on time; who have those intangible qualities that make up the character of this nation.[fo 49]
It is these people we must reach out to. It is them we must persuade.
As Socialism goes down all over Europe, so it will be in Britain. And tomorrow, as today, will be ours. (Prolonged applause).