Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Scottish Conservative Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Perth
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1500. There are a few additions to the press release embodied in the speaking text, notably several jokes and a reference to Denis Healey being "a little relaxed with the truth".
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3826
Themes: Agriculture, Parliament, Union of UK nations, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Economy (general discussions), Education, Industry, Local elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Pay, Taxation, Family, Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Local government, Media, Trade unions

This has been an exciting conference. Exciting not only on the crucial issue but in the way the many debates have been conducted. In those the Conservative Party has shown, in speeches from the floor and from the platform, imagination, practical experience, drive, and policies for the future.

This afternoon, at the outset, let us all resolve to concentrate our fire-power on our Socialist and Nationalist opponents. [end p1]

It's been quite an eventful year since our last Conference in Dundee.

The Government's overall majority in the House of Commons has gone.

And thanks to the Opposition they have finally been persuaded to surrender their majority in Committees too. [end p2]

Nearly 1500 Labour Councillors in England and Wales have gone.

I am sure that Labour Councillors will suffer a similar fate in Scotland next year.

Sir Harold Wilson has gone—his timing as usual was impeccable.

In fact everything has gone—except the Government. And I hope we can soon send them packing too. [end p3]

I am going today to talk about three things—

About the economy.

About the fundamental political choice facing all citizens of the United Kingdom.

And about particular issues in Scotland. [end p4]

You'll remember that shortly after the 1970 General Election, Mr Wilson—as he then was—gave the British people some advice.

He told them to write down on the back of an envelope the prices they were then paying for everyday things, and to put the envelope for reference on the mantelpiece behind the clock.

For Sir Harold, it was unusually good advice. [end p5]

Indeed, I hope that everyone followed it in February 1974—so they can remember just how much less expensive life was with the Tories.

And in case people have forgotten, let me remind them.

In February 1974, the average family paid £390 a year income tax.

This year the same family will pay no less than £870—and increase in income tax alone of nearly £500 a year under the Socialists. [end p6]

In February 1974 to go by train from Perth to Dundee it cost 43p. Now it costs 83p—nearly double.

By bus it cost 37p. Now it costs 59p.

A bottle of 1976 Labour Whisky costs about a pound more than the 1974 Conservative vintage. That alone should sound the death-knell of the Labour Party in Scotland. [end p7]

A second class stamp cost 3p in February 1974. Today it's 6½p.

Telephones have become a near luxury. A call from Perth to Edinburgh is more than double what it was two years ago.

A car is becoming a liability rather than an asset—particularly if you are unfortunate enough to have a car, provided by your firm, in order to do your job. [end p8]

For many people that is going to be a taxable benefit—unless of course you happen to be a Labour Minister.

They think that their own perks should be tax free.

That's a good example of the much advertised Socialist conscience in action.

It's not only their perks we have to pay for. We have to pay for all their higher prices. [end p9]

You name it—and it's gone up. Faster in the last two years of Socialist Government than ever before.

Every one of us has had to pay the crippling cost of the present Government's inflation, and we don't intend to allow that to be forgotten. [end p10]

To listen to Government Ministers you would be forgiven for thinking that Britain was now blessed with one of the most buoyant and most dynamic economies in the world.

And yet as we know from yesterday's figures, industrial production actually fell again last month.

Mr Healey—a man who has gained a formidable reputation in the past for being a little relaxed with the truth—Mr Healey tells us that we are “home and dry” , and that “an economic miracle” is just round the corner.

What an illusion! What a deception! What a nerve!
[end p11]

No one in our Party wants to exaggerate our economic problems, but no Minister is entitled to make light of them.

What is the truth?

It is that the British people have paid, are now paying, and will go on paying for years to come a devastating price for the rampant inflation that this Labour Government deliberately and knowingly unleashed on the nation in 1974. [end p12]

We are in fact paying a four-fold price for the Socialists' inflation.

We are paying the price in unemployment which is 600,000 higher than when we left office.

We are paying the price in taxation which in total has increased under the socialists by over £800 for every family.

We are paying the price in the lower living standards which everyone on average incomes and above has suffered since 1974. [end p13]

Above all we are paying the price in debt.

How many people realise that the Socialists have overspent by nearly £19,000 million in just two years.

That's about £965 for every family in the United Kingdom. [end p14]

No wonder then that we're a little sceptical about the talk of “home and dry” , about the talk of “economic miracles” .

All the Government has done is to go a little way towards reducing the galloping rate of inflation which they themselves created.

But don't let anyone imagine that we can now breathe a great sigh of relief and say “Well, at least now we are back to square one” . [end p15]

Unfortunately we are nowhere near square one. The annual rate of inflation is still not down to what it was when we left Office.

And there are still the additional unemployed to be got back to work the crippling burden of new taxation to be reduced the lost living standards to be restored and the huge load of debt to be paid off.

So much for “home and dry” .

There is a Chilean proverb that if you sow wind you reap storms. [end p16]

This Government has sown inflation, sown unemployment and is still sowing debt.

It sowed them by its irresponsible behaviour in Opposition, when it bitterly attacked our attempts to fight inflation.

And it sowed them again with that monstrous old fraud, the Social Contract—designed, coldly and cynically, to buy the Labour Party victory at an election, whatever the cost to the nation.

The storms that the Labour Party will certainly reap in the ballot box will be richly deserved. [end p17]

Labour Ministers, instead of doing penance for the folly, the incompetence, and the betrayal of the last two years, expect to be patted on the back for taking a stumbling step towards cutting the inflation and unemployment which they created.

Great Britain, which used to be the pride, the workshop of the free world, is apparently expected to throw its collective hat in the air because an agreement on wage restraint has been reached—an agreement that would not have been needed if the parties to it had not previously let the economy rip to win the last election. [end p18]

Let us remind ourselves what that deal is all about. It is an attempt to bring the standard of living of the people of this country down over the next year.

Mark that word ‘down’. It is the battered signpost that Britain has passed time and again in the last two years.

But whoever heard Mr Callaghan or Mr Healey or Mr Foot talking about bringing down the standard of living when they were bidding for votes? Indeed, Mr Healey said, quite specifically, that he saw no need for any reduction in living standards. [end p19]

Now I have no doubt that the broad mass trade unionists will endorse the deal that has been made in their name.

And it may be necessary in the circumstances.

But were the circumstances necessary? Did we have to see prices so high?

Did there have to be so many people out of work? …   . [end p20]

Did there have to be so many debts for ourselves, and our children, and our children's children to pay? …   .

Did we have to see the pound—in your pocket at home, and on the exchanges abroad—lose so much of its value? …   .

Let me tell you the answer.

Those things didn't have to happen. They didn't all happen in other countries. They happened here because we have had a bad and less than honest Labour Government.

It is as simple as—as brutally simple—as that. [end p21]

Mr Chairman, to survive and prosper this country has to change direction.

It's not just tinkering with the car that's needed. It is another engine altogether, and another driver at the wheel. Always assuming that when this Government is thrown out, cars are still being made in Britain.

What we have called for, and what we will continue to call for, is a strategy which changes direction, and which offers this country hope for the future.

A positive strategy for giving every family in the country what we Conservatives have always given them before: the opportunity to raise their standard of living. [end p22]

It is a threefold strategy.

We must cut Government spending and Government borrowing.

We must shift resources from those who spend the nation's wealth to those who create it.

We must restore incentives and rewards to skilled workers, to managers, to small businesses, to effort and initiative everywhere. [end p23]

We need a policy in short which recognises, first, that pay restraint—without Budget restraint—is not enough.

And, second, that the only long-term solution to our problems is not through stopping people earning more pay, but through starting them doing more work.

But that is not the Socialist way—their approach is based on a totally different philosophy. [end p24]

It is often said, sometimes cynically, sometimes with a shrug, sometimes with genuine belief—

“What does it matter which Party is in power, Socialist or Conservative? There's not much difference between them. In the end, though the words they use may be different, the things they do are, to all intents and purposes, the same” .

The country could make no greater miscalculation. People cannot contract out of a choice by pretending that no choice exists. [end p25]

The truth is that at every level—political, economic, philosophical—the gulf between Socialism and Conservatism is great, the differences profound.

And with Socialism going further and further Left as shown by the massive vote for Mr Foot in the recent contest for the Labour leadership, wider still and wider shall the gulf be set.

So there is a choice, a vital choice, and, sooner maybe than it thinks, the nation is coming to a watershed where it will be required to make that choice, perhaps for generations. [end p26]

It can choose on the one hand the Socialist way.

The Socialist way—in which what matters is not the people but the State.

In which decisions affecting people's lives are taken from them, instead of being taken by them.

In which an increasing part of their earnings and savings is spent not by them, but by Governments for them. [end p27]

In which property and savings are taken from the people instead of being more widely held among them.

In which those who work hard sometimes do less well than those who sit back and let others get on with the job.

In which the State is the only capitalist—and an incompetent one at that—instead of every one being a capitalist.

In which directives replace incentives. [end p28]

In which it is more beneficial to spend on oneself than to conserve for ones children.

In which “social engineering” matters more than the needs and abilities of the individual child.

In which the one-generation society has replaced the continuity of the family.

In which the power of the bureaucrat to intrude and impose is greater than the right of the family to privacy within its own walls. [end p29]

That is one of the authentic thumb-prints of Socialism,—making Britain a land fit for tax snoopers.

We have seen it only recently in Sweden, a country constantly held up to us as the very model of successful Social Democracy-by the Left.

We read of the effects there of penal tax rates. The emigration of some of Sweden's most distinguished citizens. The harassment of one of them by the tax officials into a nervous breakdown. [end p30]

We read the comments of respected Swedish journalists and authors on what is happening in their country: “The frightening and dictatorial state bureaucracy” .

“The evil atmosphere” , and “the pattern of oppression” —and the whole thing made possible by the “tragic patience of the ordinary people” .

Are we going “tragically patient” in this country?

Are we going to sit on our hands while the Labour Government push their tax snoopers' charter through the House of Commons? [end p31]

Mr Healey claims that these draconian powers will be used only in a handful of cases where large-scale fraud is suspected.

But it cannot be necessary to give tax officials powers to invade the privacy of our homes just order to deal with a few bad cases of fraud.

We will fight these proposals at Westminster. And, if they reach the statute book, we will get rid of them at the first opportunity. [end p32]

There are some people who say—

“Well, maybe Socialism used to erect all these signposts on the road to 1984, but things have changed now—because after all, we have got a new Prime Minister” .

It's true the shop window display has been changed—the front has been altered—but what of the goods behind the counter? Let's look at the merchandise under the new regime.

Mr Callaghan remains tied hand and foot—well, Foot, anyway—to the closed shop for journalists, without an effective conscience clause. There was none before. There is none now. No change there. [end p33]

Also, unchanged, another neat piece of Footwork—is the Dock Work Regulation Bill, which gives one set of Jack Jones' workers another set of Jack Jones' workers' jobs.

Then there's education. You can no more choose your children's school under Mr Callaghan than you could under Sir Harold WilsonHarold.

And if you are a council tenant and want to buy your house—well, Harold WilsonHarold didn't want to let you, and neither does James CallaghanJim.

I asked him in the House of Commons this week, to give a commitment that, as the local election results had shown that a lot of council tenants wanted to buy their own homes, his Government would not try to stop them. [end p34]

To coin a phrase “he wouldn't say yes, he wouldn't say no” .

Just like Harold WilsonHarold—Harold Mark 2.

In a manner of speaking, a block off the old chip.

So, the great divide hasn't narrowed. [end p35]

Against Socialism, we put forward the Conservative way.

In which what matters is not the State, but the people whose life and liberty the State is instituted to serve.

In which each individual is equally important, but different.

Equally entitled to rights, but equally free to rise to the heights of his talents. [end p36]

In which the family is the foundation of society and the desire to give the children a better start is honoured as one of the most natural and powerful influences for good.

In which freedom to choose goods, services, schools and housing is steadily extended.

In which it is recognised that a citizen cannot become responsible by legislation, but only by being able to make his own decisions in his own way. [end p37]

In which our heritage has to be earned afresh each day if we are to continue to possess it.

In which principles are more important than expedients.

In which we do not sacrifice our children's tomorrow for our own comfort today.

In which savings and thrift are encouraged so that citizens may be independent of the State and not perpetually dependent on it. [end p38]

In which increased wealth does not confer extra rights, but carries extra responsibilities.

In which practical care and concern is not confined to demanding State benefits, but is a common purpose of daily life.

That is the Conservative way.

The right way forward for our United Kingdom.

The right way forward for Scotland. [end p39]

I want to turn now to some of the problems and challenges here in Scotland which you have been debating this week.

It is clear from yesterday's debate that on the future of the constitutional relationship between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom we have what Harold Macmillan would certainly have called “our little local difficulties” . [end p40]

But there are two things of which I am absolutely certain.

First, even though there have been understandable differences of opinion over this major constitutional issue, they have not been conducted in any spirit of personal rancour.

Both sides have respected the integrity and the honour of those with whom they have disagreed.

As one of our speakers said yesterday, before this debate we were friends, and after this debate we shall still be friends.

And second, … [end p41]

We are wholly united in this hall—and throughout the Party in Scotland—on the need to bring home to the people of Scotland the debilitating and potentially ruinous effects of Socialist policies.

On the need to bring home that the solutions to Scotland's problems and to Britain's problems are the same.

Less Government. Less tax.

Less bureaucracy. Less over-manning.

Less waste.

More investment. More output.

More incentives and more work. [end p42]

Take farming and fishing—two basic Scottish industries on which we have had splendid debates led by people with practical experience.

No other group has a more arduous job or works longer hours than the farming and fishing communities, and both are vital to the Scottish economy.

Yes what has the Government done?

The farmers are beset by the Capital Transfer Tax, the Development Land Tax, and the threatened Wealth Tax. [end p43]

Now the influential Labour Home Policy Committee has come out firmly in favour of the nationalisation of all farm land, which would mean the end of the British agricultural industry as we know it.

The fishing industry is in even more serious straits. To shake the Government's complacency we have twice in three months used Conservative parliamentary time to force debates on the fishing industry.

All the Socialists can offer the industry is words. [end p44]

We are pressing for some short-term financial help to tide the industry over its worst crisis since the war. It is typical of the present Government that while it has used thousands of millions of pounds to prop up nationalised industries, it is quite prepared to turn a blind eye to the financial plight of the fishing industry.

The Socialist recipe for manufacturing industry is to expand the public sector through nationalisation whilst weakening the private sector through taxation.

That is as damaging in Scotland as anywhere. [end p45]

People in Scotland rightly want secure jobs and a higher standard of living.

But nationalisation has never provided either security or the certainty of long-term prosperity—if anything the reverse.

The precious funds being squandered on the nationalisation of Scottish shipbuilding and shiprepairing companies could be used infinitely better on new investment by private industry: on creating real jobs instead of pandering to the out of date and irrelevant doctrine of nationalisation. [end p46]

In no other EEC country is nationalisation Government policy. Indeed, so little is thought of it that it's not even a significant political issue.

Britain has the only Socialist Party still living in the 19th century, and in no part of Britain is there a more urgent need to be rid of Socialist Government than in Scotland. [end p47]

How does the proportion of home-ownership in Scotland compare with that in other Western European countries?

The answer is Scotland has a lower proportion of home-owners than England and Wales, Belgium, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Ireland and Denmark.

Scotland, in fact, has less home-ownership than any EEC country.

What a deplorable reflection on the largely Labour controlled local authorities in Scotland. [end p48]

Socialist Local Government in Scotland has not only been retrograde; it has also been conspicuously expensive.

It is no coincidence that the two Conservative controlled regions of Grampian and Tayside have the lowest administrative costs per head in Scotland. [end p49]

Whether at national or at local level, whether in this country or abroad, Socialism and suffocating bureaucracy are inseparable.

The same will surely be true of the present Government's devolution proposals if they are enacted in anything like their present form. [end p50]

And now—having mentioned the word ‘devolution’—which seems to have become the most emotive word in the Scottish vocabularly—let us consider where we stand on this very difficult question. [end p51]

Already you have discussed at great length the question of a Scottish Assembly.

We haven't yet seen the Government Bill incorporating their proposals. As you know, I and my colleagues had the gravest reservations about their White Paper, and about the speeches made by ministers in its support.

Their principal intention was to create yet another tier of government to add to those under which Scotland already groans. [end p52]

We were, we are, and we will remain opposed to any such development.

Therefore, as Willie Whitelaw has made clear, we will oppose any Bill based on their White Paper or which goes further than their White Paper.

At the same time, it remains our policy, which this Conference supported yesterday, that there should be a directly elected Scottish Assembly. [end p53]

But let me make this crystal clear. I could not support an Assembly—none of us could support an Assembly—if we thought it was likely to jeopardise the Union. We believe that the Union is more likely to be harmed by doing nothing, than by responding to the wish of the Scottish people for less Government from Westminster.

We, who are the Unionist as well as the Conservative Party, will stand fast in defence of a union which has endured so much, and achieved so much, not only in these islands but throughout the world.

I believe that the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland share that view. [end p54]

But we must not imagine that the establishment of an Assembly will by itself solve Scotland's problems.

The machinery by which we are governed is of less consequence than the purpose of those who are elected to govern.

Any machine can be used well, or ill. It can be designed with an honourable or a malevolent intent. It can be used to preserve or to destroy freedom. [end p55]

In the great business of securing the freedom of the individual at home, and defending the freedom of the West abroad, where do our political opponents stand?

We know what kind of society the Socialists want to create.

But what of the Scottish Nationalists?

Where their intentions are not wrapped in obscurity, they look all too similar to those which are advocated by Mr Foot and Mr Benn. [end p56]

Our purpose, our meaning as Conservatives, is to protect, defend and restore freedom, for everybody in the United Kingdom.

That is not the cause of Nationalism.

It is not the cause of Socialism.

But it is our cause. [end p57]

A cause which offers unity where the Nationalists offer separation.

A cause which offers opportunity where the Socialists offer bureaucracy.

A cause which offers challenge and responsibility to our young people. [end p58]

Mr Chairman, we must go on the attack.

Let us not be timid or uncertain in proclaiming our beliefs.

Let us resolve to build a world in which freedom is on the offensive.