Monday, 15 April 2013

The punk monster Scotland created

My Monday column for the Daily Record

Star turn from Richard Dormer as Terri Hooley. the godfather of late 70s Belfast punk

It’s 1979 all over again - from the brilliant Belfast punk movie "Good Vibrations"   to the election re-runs on television last Saturday. It’s all a reminder of how we got to this place, to the divisive pomp of a Thatcher funeral.

Why David Cameron chose to pour the remnants of Olympic feelgood down the drain with a Commons session baffles me. Churchill had 45 minutes of tributes, she had a whole day, just to retoxify the Tories.

The ‘79 imagery reminded us too how 11 SNP MPs went into the voting lobby with the Tories to bring down the Labour government by one vote.

Jim Callaghan, all gallows humour, said it was the "first time in recorded history that turkeys have been known to vote for an early Christmas."

The SNP lost all but two of their seats in May, Thatcher was elected, the rest is history and rather a lot of myth.

There are more legends about Thatcher and Scotland than there are around Loch Ness. She presided over the destruction of the old heavy industries that gave central Scotland its 20th century Labour identity. The deep mines, the shipyards, the steelworks and the certainties they provided for a largely male workforce are gone.

She waged war on the miners, showed no compassion for the jobless misery of monetarism. But Thatcher didn’t just discriminate against the Scots, she had it in for working people all across Britain.

Somewhere we forgot she was just Queen of the South, not the Queen of England, and that she was in the tide of history as much as making history

We took Margaret Thatcher’s medicine very personally. Instead of dismissing her as the poster girl of globalisation, which swept away the Soviet Union as surely as it closed Scottish shipyards, Scots made her the lightning rod for intense pain of these worldchanging forces.

We held her responsible for every ill visited on our native heath. We didn’t like her policies, we didn’t like her "we in Scotland" tone, we didn’t like the poll tax.

In fact, most of the UK hated her but put up with it all because there was no opposition alternative.

In many ways she was a failure, her economic policies were more bonkers than Osborne’s. The welfare budget under the Tories, then as now, increased. She lurched on lubricated by North Sea oil receipts, the blood of the Falklands and late night whiskies to steady her nerves.

But instead of ridiculing her Labour demonised her and instilled fear among voters. Labour succeeded in making voting Tory a taboo in Scotland, and created a Frankenstein monster that came back to haunt it.

Having completed a one move chess game the party didn’t stop to think what the consequences would be.These Scottish Tory voters didn’t become socialist converts, they gathered around an anti-Labour alternative, the SNP.

The SNP, which took former Tory strongholds in north east, became the true inheritors of Thatcher’s division. From a rural, conservative base Alex Salmond managed to built, and hold together over two decades, a nationalist coalition that can talk left and walk right.

Labour was still fighting Margaret Thatcher in 2011, putting her face on Holyrood election leaflet and leaving the keys to the parliament under Alex Salmond’s mat.

Holyrood, her lasting legacy, was born from a collective determination to "never see her like again" more than any grassroots demand for home rule.

While she pulled us to the right, and we stayed there, she also put us on the road to self determination. Where that leads exactly we don’t know, but the SNP can be grateful for the convenient signpost she and Labour in inadvertently provided.

The SNP doesn’t like inconvenient history, like Hugh MacDiarmid’s shady fascist politics, and how it ushered in Thatcher’s Tory government.

Angus Robertson’s "We will never forget, we will never forgive" SNP declamation of the poll tax in the Westminster debate on Wednesday, reinforced the Scottish mix of malice and mythmaking around Thatcher.

She is divisive even in death. A Labour MP who stayed away on Wednesday vowed to me with equal bitterness that he would "never forget or forgive" the SNP’s role in unbottling Thatherism.

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