Margaret Thatcher news: Secret papers show former PM was advised to slash Scottish budget | UK | News (Reports)


The late British Prime Minister, who died from a stroke seven years ago, would have celebrated her 95th birthday today. She was the UK’s longest serving leader and first female Prime Minister before she was forced to resign after a leadership challenge from Michael Heseltine. Her 11-year rule came under scrutiny in the years that followed her departure from politics, including bombshell disclosures from formerly secret correspondence.

Thousands of pages related to Mrs Thatcher were unsealed by the National Archives, in accordance with their “30 year” rule, which gave insight into her time as Prime Minister.

In one, she was warned by then-Downing Street policy advisor David Willetts that people in the north of England were resentful of those in Scotland. 

He told her that £900million more was being spent on Scottish people than those in England, in a letter from January 1986. 

Lord Willetts, who later served as Science Minister in David Cameron’s 2010 Coalition, claimed that if they inflicted cuts they could gain support from “envious” voters.

He claimed that Scotland was “the only juicy target” for further cutbacks and said: “Your economic policies stop at the English border.

“Ultimately, the question is a political one. The position of the Conservative Party in Scotland is so bad that it might not deteriorate any further.

“And the envious north of England might even welcome an attack on the pampered Scots over the border.”

In previously unsealed documents, Lord Willetts also said that Scottish people had their “snouts in the trough” of public spending. 

At the time, Scottish Secretary Lord Younger accused parts of his own government of being “prejudiced” against the country, The Herald reported.

Other Conservatives were claimed to have been concerned that Lord Younger might resign amid the fallout. 

Lord Willetts concluded that Mrs Thatcher should use the “threat” of a study into public finances, which would analyse the whole of the UK – and would highlight the financial disparity. 

He felt this would ensure a reduction in the Scottish budget and could force Lord Younger to accept cuts as high as tens of millions of pounds.

Lord Younger was replaced during a cabinet reshuffle the same month the letter was written and replaced by Malcolm Rifkind.

The new Scottish Secretary fought against the threat of cuts in a letter he wrote in February 1986, where he warned about the worsening state of their economy.

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He also tried to defend the Ravenscraig steelworks plant, which later closed and led to 770 direct job losses and a further 10,000 linked to them. 

UK ministers announced extra spending south of the border and continued to discuss the Barnett Formula – the system that helps to decide how much money is allocated to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. 

Mrs Thatcher ordered a study after accusations of “resentment” against Scotland in February, which came out inconclusive. 

By May, Lord Willetts later advised against a full UK needs-based study but maintained that the threat of one could squeeze money from the Scotland Office.

Mrs Thatcher later asked Edinburgh to work out plans for where cuts could be made based on population sizes after a report found a fall in the number of those living above the border.

After the disclosure of the Lord Willetts’ letters in 2015, a Scottish National Party spokesperson told The Herald: “No one will be surprised at secret Tory plots to slash Scotland’s budget.

“The Tory austerity agenda is one of choice not necessity and it has been going on for decades. They are doing the same under [then-Prime Minister David] Cameron.”


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