We were a little mystified, on watching last night’s newsgasm about Margaret Thatcher, to see the degree to which Tories were suddenly punting the ancient Labour line about the SNP being somehow responsible for her becoming Prime Minister in 1979, and therefore by implication for everything that happened subsequently.
Alan Cochrane of the Telegraph, Michael Forsyth and Ruth Davidson have all been enthusiastically joining the usual parade of absurd Labour pantomime sorts like Lord Foulkes over the last 24 hours or so, which struck us as a mildly odd joint bit of anti-independence smearing, reliant as it is on people not realising that the two parties are cynically colluding while making diametrically opposite points.
We don’t think the electorate is quite that dim, though of course it’s never wise to overestimate people who would repeatedly elect Michael Forsyth and George Foulkes in the first place. So we’re just going to leave this here:
- We hesitate to start with the incredibly bleeding obvious, but VOTERS elected the Conservatives in 1979, not the SNP. Had the electorate still wanted to have a Labour government, they’d have voted for one.
- The previous Labour government was elected in October 1974. It would have had to call an election no later than October 1979 anyway. Few administrations, especially ones with tiny majorities, cling on to the last possible minute. They snap-call a vote whenever circumstances might give them a small advantage, and nobody holds a poll in cold, dark October if they can help it. So realistically, the vote of no confidence only hastened the election by two or three months.
- The SNP contributed just 11 votes to the 311 which saw the no-confidence motion pass by the narrowest possible margin (one vote). Labour had been in a pact with the Liberals to give them a working majority, but when Labour declined to call an election in autumn 1978 as the Liberals wanted and expected, the pact ended and the Liberals voted with the no-confidence motion. Curiously, though, we’re unaware of Labour still furiously berating the Liberals for “ushering in” Thatcherism more than three decades later.
- The Conservatives won the May 1979 election by over two million votes. The notion that James Callaghan’s embattled party would have turned that huge margin around in even five months is farcical. What is it that people imagine would have happened during those few weeks?
- The first Thatcher government lasted just four years before calling another election, in May 1983, giving Labour their chance to take the country back. But the Tories won in a landslide, more than doubling their vote lead over Labour to four-and-a-half million and securing almost twice as many seats – 397 to 209.
- Another four years later, Neil Kinnock made only a small dent in Thatcher’s lead, cutting it from 188 seats to 147, and even in 1992 John Major, written off before the vote, won a comfortable 65 seats more than Labour.
- Had every single SNP vote gone to Labour in every one of those four elections, the Tories would still have won them all.
The SNP, then, were manifestly not to blame for Margaret Thatcher and Thatcherism. Labour were. The party had FOUR chances to put its record and its manifesto to the electorate after the vote of no confidence in 1979, and on every occasion the electorate – chiefly the English electorate – rejected them comprehensively. They were the only alternative to the Conservatives that was on offer and the voters didn’t want them, which left the country by default with Tory governments.
The Nats were in any event fully entitled to have no confidence in Callaghan’s government – it had reneged on its promise and betrayed the Scottish people on devolution, and people rarely have confidence in liars who break their word. Labour brought the 1979 election on itself in its determination to cheat the people of Scotland out of more control over their own affairs – almost certainly out of terror of losing North Sea oil – but their defeat would have happened within a few months anyway.
It’s mindboggling that the party still clings so tenaciously to the myth three-and-a-half decades later, and that perhaps offers a note of caution to those in Labour ranks who think that two successive defeats in Scottish Parliament elections will cause their party to awake from its slumbers and internecine squabbles in Scotland.
Because if 34 years of staggeringly obvious common sense and logic isn’t enough to cure it of its pathological, bitter hatred of the SNP, it’s hard to see what ever will be.