Having voted for the Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson as their MP in the General Election last year, the good people of East Dunbartonshire must have been thrilled to hear that she has proposed that a statue should be erected to commemorate Margaret Thatcher. There’s a priority for you. Jo Swinson was born in 1980, which means that she was a small and politically unaware child during most of the Thatcher era. Mind you, she’s a Lib Dem, so it’s not that unreasonable to point out that she’s still politically unaware as an adult. However her age as well as her anti-independence and tacitly British nationalist politics do mean that she doesn’t appreciate the visceral nature of the feelings that Thatcher evokes in those of us who had adult experience of her time in power.
I went to a comprehensive in North Lanarkshire, and left school in 1979, the year that Thatcher became Prime Minister. Out of childhood, into young adulthood in the ground zero of Thatcherite devastation. Her government and her policies blighted my community and my life, like they did to so many lives and communities across large swathes of the UK. The coming years were to be marked and deformed by impoverishment, the shrinking of horizons, the cruelty of blaming the poor for the suffering inflicted on them by the rich, and a nasty and all-pervasive sexism, homophobia, and racism that was pandered to and fostered by those at the very top of government.
It certainly wasn’t just Scotland which suffered, but in Scotland the bitterness of de-industrialisation was made worse by the fact that not only did Scotland not vote for Thatcher, Scotland had only recently narrowly failed to achieve a devolved Scottish Assembly. In part that was because Labour backbenchers had, to their eternal shame, pauchled the 1979 devolution referendum by insisting that 40% of the entire electorate had to approve the plans. Although a majority voted in favour, much the same majority in percentage terms as voted in favour of Brexit, it should be noted, those voting in favour failed to surmount the artificial 40% hurdle. In the fall-out, the Labour government of James Callaghan collapsed and Thatcher won the subsequent General Election, leading to endless complaints by Labour MPs that SNP MPs had ushered in the Thatcher era by failing to support the Labour government. That would be the same Labour government which had been undermined by its own backbenchers.
However Labour’s devolution bill in 1979 also failed to secure a sufficiently large majority in that year’s referendum because the Conservatives had urged Scotland to reject Labour’s plans for Scottish self-government and promised us “something better”. That something better turned out to be Margaret Thatcher, a Prime Minister who rejected any possiblity of Scottish home rule out of hand, and who stood before the Conservative party conference and proudly announced herself to be an English nationalist. Along with the cruelty and heartlessness of Thatcher’s rule, Scotland also suffered the bitter taste of betrayal.
People self-medicated on alcohol and drugs in an effort to cope with the hopelessness of lives without prospects, of an existence where there was nothing on the horizon but drudgery and struggle. I remember Mikey, one of my friends in Easterhouse who died of an overdose weeks before his 21st birthday, a kid who never had much of a chance in life and who saw Thatcher’s policies snatch away what little hope he once had.
Thatcher’s era coincided with the AIDs epidemic. As a young gay man in a working class community in the West of Scotland, struggling against homophobia and an epidemic which was killing thousands of gay men, Thatcher’s government added Section 28 which legally institutionalised bigotry and hate. I have no patience for younger LGBT people who support the Conservatives, people like Ruth Davidson who say that she hardly remembers Thatcher and that we should get over it. All I can say is that I remember it, and those of my generation can never get over it. You don’t get over witnessing your friends die while the Conservatives fed a gutter press that sought to demonise you. If you forget the bigotry and homophobia that Thatcher stood for, you risk allowing its repetition.
Thatcher’s great legacy was to justify greed, and to turn selfishness into a virtue. She began the assault on the post-war consensus that said that everyone in society has a responsibility to everyone else. Thatcher began a process of undermining the social security network that guaranteed a basic standard of living for all. She sold off public services in the name of an ideology of private avarice. She began the process of widening the gap between rich and poor which has grown into a chasm today.
Thatcher claimed to love the British state, but she hollowed it out from within. All the nationalised companies which once supported a British identity, British Steel, British Coal, British Airways and all the rest, Thatcher sold them off one by one. Now all that is left to prop up a British identity are the armed forces, the BBC, the royal family and the Westminster parliament itself. She destroyed what she said she held most dear, and indirectly paved the way to the modern Scottish independence movement.
We already have memorials to Thatcher. There are the fields where factories once stood. There are the silent streets where shipyards once bustled with activity. There are the quiet homes of grandparents whose children had to emigrate in order to find work and whose houses are never filled with the laughter of their grandweans. There are the graves of countless Mikeys who died far too young. There is no need for a statue to commemorate Thatcher, but there should be a memorial to commemorate her victims.
Still, there would be an up side to a statue of Thatcher in Scotland. It would generate jobs, because security guards would be needed to protect it from angry citizens with hammers and blowtorches, and cleaners would need to be employed to remove the graffiti and the thrown paint. And best of all, if there is to be a statue to Thatcher in Scotland, it will give us something to topple once we become independent.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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