Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Scottish Conservative Party Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: City Hall, Perth
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 820/79
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1500.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3091
Themes: Agriculture, British Constitution (general discussions), Executive (appointments), Union of UK nations, Conservatism, Defence (general), Economic policy - theory and process, Education, Employment, Industry, European elections, General Elections, Monetary policy, Energy, Taxation, European Union (general), Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government, Strikes & other union action

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Well, we won …

I am delighted to make my first public speech as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the Conference of the Scottish Conservative Party. You are in better heart and more united than for a very long time. And so you should be.

We have had a splendid result throughout the country.

We had a net gain of 55 seats—6 of them in Scotland.

Our vote increased by over three million—and our vote in Scotland went up by almost a quarter of a million.

We had a lead over Labour of more than two million votes—the biggest lead of one major party over the other since 1935.

But there was one great disappointment. Not just in Scotland—but for all of us—Teddy Taylor 's defeat was a bitter blow. We lost our standard bearer at the hour of victory. Over the last few years, while holding Cathcart against the odds, Teddy has done more than anyone else to rally the Party in Scotland—to put us back on the road to success. It is a tribute indeed to his inspiration and his leadership that the army can march forward when its Captain has fallen. The House of Commons is a poorer place without you, Teddy—but you will be back, and in no long time.

I know that in the interval you will take comfort from the successes which you did so much to achieve.

We really did fight a most successful campaign and I would like to pay tribute to Russell Fairgrieve, now one of our Scottish Office Ministers, who gave such splendid service as Party Chairman, to Graham Macmillan and the Central Office staff, and to you, Mr President, your office bearers and to all our Conservative campaigners throughout the length and breadth of Scotland who worked so hard and so devotedly [end p1] in the interests of our Party and the country.

You served us well not only in the style of your campaign but also in the quality and calibre of the Members of Parliament you have sent to Westminister. It should not go unnoticed that as well as picking an excellent Scottish Office team led by George Younger, I have also chosen men like Alick Buchanan-Smith, Hamish Gray and Hector Monro for important tasks in the United Kingdom Ministries. This administration fully accepts the truth of the saying that if you want the best, you'll find plenty of them in Scotland.

However, despite all these successes, there is still some way to go. I say this in no ungenerous or ungrateful spirit. But our advance still leaves us 14 short of a majority of seats in Scotland.

Many of us in this hall can remember the time when we had such a majority. We shan't be satisfied until we have achieved that target once more.

What are the obstacles in our path—is it that our policies are not so popular in Scotland? Of course not. Every opinion survey—and we have had enough of those recently—every one shows us that our main policies are overwhelmingly popular. But that is hardly surprising. The Scots have always prided themselves on common sense politics—and that is exactly what we have been offering them—action on law and order to make our streets safer, tax cuts, incentives for small businesses, a drive for higher standards in schools.

So why hasn't the Conservative Party been even more successful in the polling booths? Above all, I believe, because so many people have been conditioned by years of Socialism, locally and nationally, that they have come to accept that we cannot do any better than we have in the last few years. There are lingering doubts about anyone who says— “Yes, we can do better and we will do better if only we can do things in a different way” .

I understand the anxieties. For years, people in Scotland, and in parts of England and Wales too, were told that when times were hard the State would be able to put everything right.

Well, the truth is that the State hasn't delivered the goods. Unemployment has risen steadily. More and more firms have gone to the wall. Taxes and debts have rocketed, while the standard of community services has often fallen. Year by year we have become poorer than our competitors abroad. We've been promised the earth—but State Socialism has failed us. [end p2]

We shouldn't really have expected otherwise. Because it isn't governments that create wealth and create jobs, it's the people.

No government on its own can make a country prosperous. Only the people who live in it can do that—by producing and delivering the right products at the right price, at the right time.

If we cannot do that, if we cannot compete on equal terms in international markets, if we cannot earn our living in the real world, then no amount of nationalist myths or socialist illusions will keep the chill winds out.

This is not abstract economic theory—it is common sense, based on fact and history. Look at the great industries of Scotland's past—and present. How were they created? Was it by boards and commissions and Ministries and quangos—of course not. It was by entrepreneurs—great Scottish entrepreneurs—who brought together the opportunities of the moment and the skills and talents of Scottish workers.

That is how those great enterprises were created in the past and it is how great enterprises are created today and will be created once more tomorrow if only we can recapture some of the vision and optimism which inspired us in the past.

Most of the conversations I remember most clearly from the Election campaign touched those chords. People said: “Do we have to go on like this?”

People asked:

“Is it too late to change? Can't we have a government that will give us back our pride, our self respect, our faith in ourselves?”

These are the questions we have got to answer in the coming months and years.

Not just by what we say but by what we do.

The acid test of politics is not what you say at the hustings, but what you actually do in government.

The world will little note nor long remember what we say, but it will not forget what we do. By that test we are happy to be judged.

During the first week of this Administration we have implemented two specific undertakings which we gave in our Manifesto.

We promised to implement, in full, the recommendations of the Edmund Davies Committee on police pay. On Wednesday, George Younger and Willie Whitelaw fulfilled that promise. [end p3]

We promised to improve the pay of our Servicemen.

On Thursday the Defence Secretary, Francis Pym, fulfilled that promise also with an increase back-dated to the first of last month.

This will go a long way to stop the critical outflow of skilled man-power from the Armed Forces.

This was the 9th General Election I have contested. I have never found the voters more serious and more thoughtful about the great issues that confront us.

We fought an honourable campaign, never pretending that there were instant solutions to our problems. We argued consistently that what mattered was to concentrate on the long-term policies and to get them right.

All too often our prospects in Britain have foundered on short-term expedients.

We must approach our problems with realism and commonsense. We face a grave and continuing threat of inflation. Over the last five years, prices in this country have more than doubled: the purchasing power of the pound has fallen to less than half of its 1974 figure. 10 per cent inflation (10.1%; published yesterday)—which we have at the moment—is still far too high: were it to continue the value of money would be halved every seven years.

The evil of inflation is still with us. We are a long way from restoring honest money and the Treasury forecast when we took over was that inflation was on an upward trend.

It will be some considerable time before our measures take effect. We should not underestimate the enormity of the task which lies ahead. But little can be achieved without sound money. It is the bedrock of sound government. [end p4]

We have just had a visit from our German friends—a nation which has been conspicuously successful in tackling inflation and increasing the prosperity of her people. She and France have recovered from situations far worse than ours. And they have no North Sea Oil. What they can do we can do—if we will.

But it means restoring incentives; an economy without incentives is like a car without an accelerator.

It means backing success and believing in success: without the strong, how can we help the weak?

It means making it pay to work in Britain again. Surely it makes sense to encourage the responsible, honest, law-abiding citizen.

Cutting the tax on work restores not only the will to work and get on, but the initiative, enterprise and reforms that we so badly need. That is the way to get new industry starting and small businesses expanding. And that is one of the Government's main tasks. Not trying to do industry's job for it. But to produce the climate in which industry can get on with its own job.

In Scotland we have a highly educated people, a tradition of entrepreneurial skill and excellence, and an impressive economic potential. The task of Government will be to provide the means of releasing those energies for the good of the whole nation.

In parts of Scotland you have special problems of high unemployment and declining industries.

We accept that government has a duty to mitigate the effects of industrial change. While we see no benefit in pouring vast sums of taxpayers' money into firms or industries which have no future, or which lack the will to adapt to the new demand of their customers, we will certainly not turn a blind eye to industries which need assistance to overcome the problems of transition—we will be prepared to help them along the way as long as there is a real prospect of success. [end p5]

That is why both before and during the Election I made it clear that the Conservative Government will support the Scottish Development Agency.

The SDA can do valuable work in easing the transition from the industries and jobs of the past, to the industries and jobs of the future.

It can provide temporary help for firms which have been brought low by the nation's economic ills, but which have a viable future.

The SDA can also help in providing finance for new businesses. We would prefer to see them grow up—as their predecessors did—independently, individually, without State aid and certainly without State interference.

But years of over-taxation have taken their toll and the ordinary citizen just hasn't been able to save enough money to back new ventures.

The confidence, the cash resources, and the vitality of the private sector have suffered. Until we can restore them, there is a gap which the SDA can fill.

We all hope that those firms which are at present being helped by the taxpayer will soon be able to succeed by themselves; but success or failure lies in their own hands.

The Conservative Party has for long supported regional aid. Examples abound of successful firms in Scotland that have prospered by their own efforts and through the sensible use of regional aid.

Scotland has within it many regions. The decision to appoint a Scottish Office Minister with special responsibility for the Highlands and Islands (Lord Mansfield) is in recognition of the very special needs of those sparsely populated areas of our country. [end p6]

The North-East of Scotland, too, is a region with special factors arising out of the growth of the oil industry. Improved access to that area is vital. For that reason one of our main priorities will be to rebuild the Perth-Aberdeen road to at least the standard of a dual carriageway.

Scotland's agricultural and fishing interests will be a prime concern of this Government. They were flourishing long before North Sea Oil was discovered and will be there long after it has gone. They also give balance and stability to our society. The people who work in them have those very virtues of sturdy independence, hard work and pride which we Conservatives admire and which our country needs.

Not only in the Scottish Office but also in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries there is now a strong Scottish voice. No one knows more about fishing and farming than Alick Buchanan-Smith—I want the whole of British agriculture and fishing to benefit from his knowledge and guidance. As I stressed recently in Aberdeen, our top priority will be to seek an agreement on fishing with the EEC which will protect the interests of our own fishermen. We will safeguard our natural resources.

Although we've heard a lot in recent years about resources, especially energy resources—today, as ever, Britain's most valuable natural asset is the energy and resource of her people.

It is to encourage that energy, that resource, that this Government offers our people opportunity. [end p7]

The opportunity to get on in life as far and as fast as our abilities allow. That is why we intend to concentrate on raising standards and discipline in our schools.

In this task, I hope we can look forward to the help of everyone involved in Education. I am very glad to know that in the present situation the vast majority of teachers in Scotland are acting responsibly. As a former Secretary of State for Education south of the Border, I can understand the teachers' feelings about pay and conditions. But professions have responsibilities as well as rights. It cannot possibly help the cause of an honourable profession for teachers to damage the prospects of the children they teach.

We want also to increase opportunity by giving more families the chance to own their own homes.

By bringing in legislation which will give to every council tenant the right to buy his own home at a substantial discount and with a 100 per cent mortgage, we will start to transform the housing picture in Scotland.

Without such a shift of policy, the majority of Scots face the prospect of paying rent for the rest of their lives with nothing to show for it at the end of the day. And nothing to hand on to their children and grandchildren. And they would be denied the freedom and mobility which owner-occupation provides.

So, greater freedom to live their own lives is part of our bargain with the Scottish people and the British people.

But it is freedom under the law; and there can be no doubt that one clear message from the election is that people want something done about the crime, violence and vandalism which cause misery and fear to our law-abiding citizens.

The first small sign of hope in the battle against crime came last year with the substantial increase in police numbers which we had urged for so long. We are totally committed to making the funds available for a fully manned police force with high morale. [end p8]

But we also believe that there must be adequate penalties to curb crime and deter the criminal. We spelt out our policies clearly in our manifesto and we will implement them as soon as possible.

In the meantime the battle against crime will be pursued with relentless vigour and total commitment.

Mr President, your new Conservative Government will also demonstrate that we have a receptive mind to improvements in the Government of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom. Certainly we have definite views on the Scotland Act. We will ask Parliament to repeal it. But we have made it clear that we shall initiate all-party discussions aimed at bringing government closer to the people.

We would like to see agreement between the parties, because this is the soundest basis for constitutional reform.

Most important of all, change must be consistent with the maintenance of the unity of the Kingdom. We are one family in this our United Kingdom. From this comes the strength we give one another. From this comes our security. To this we are totally committed. Ours is the Conservative and Unionist Party.

We want to see all the parts of the country grow and prosper together, secure and stable at home, strong and respected abroad, a free country prepared to defend our freedom. That is why we shall strengthen our defences, which have been so gravely weakened in the last few years. I look forward to telling our allies that they are dealing once again with a Government dedicated to defending the values we all share; and prepared to make that duty the first charge on our national resources.

That should also be one of our principal themes in the first elections to the European Assembly next month. There are many other arguments that we will put forward—our steadfast determination to protect the interests of our fishing communities, the need for a sensible reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, the importance of greater democratic control of the Commission. But we should never forget that the European Community is the voice of Free Europe. [end p9]

Churchill, Macmillan, Monnet and the other statesmen with their broad and generous vision believed in a free Europe, but not a standardised Europe. They were concerned with democracy. They were concerned with peace. That must still be our inspiration and our purpose—to safeguard democracy in the cradle of the civilised world.

Election campaigns rightly focus on the differences between the parties. But when the battle is over the Government acts for the nation as a whole.

We will seek to do that on the principles I have described today. On Tuesday we shall set out our programme for tackling this great task. It will be a new beginning. It will mark a decisive break from the drift and decline of recent years. But in a deeper sense there is nothing radically new in our proposals. They are changes to bring back what we all regret having lost.

Surely we all want to keep more of our earnings to spend as we wish. Surely we all want the law to be respected and obeyed. Surely we all want better education for our children. Surely we all want Britain and the Western world to be properly defended.

And when we speak of freedom, we are not thinking of an abstract notion taken from a textbook of political science, but of a living principle which has animated centuries of British history.

The ideal of freedom under law, not just as a philosophical concept, but as a way of life, was Britain's greatest gift to the world.

It is not surprising therefore, that those who disparage our freedoms seek also to undermine our laws.

It was because we were a free people that we were able to become the first industrial nation.

It was because we were a free people that we were able to achieve full democracy without revolution and without any breach with our ancient institutions and traditions. [end p10]

It was because we were determined to preserve and to vindicate our freedom that nearly forty years ago we found the strength to stand alone and to give hope and inspiration to a beleaguered Europe.

It was because we were a free people that we built an Empire and gave that Empire its freedom.

As long as we remain true to ourselves we shall be a force for freedom. It is because this is the mission of our party, now confirmed by the people, that we have the confidence and faith to set about the work of government.