HAD there been no footage one might have dismissed it as the fake news of its day. For here was an event on a par with aliens landing in George Square, Nessie being sighted in the Clyde, or a midge-free summer.
Yet it was captured on camera, reported in the press, thousands of eye witnesses. None of your “deepfake” Queen’s Christmas address malarkey here. Believe it or not, a leader of the Conservative Party once received a warm welcome in Scotland. And her name was Margaret Thatcher.
We ought to pause here for a collective gasp of disbelief from any reader under 30, but they should look it up for themselves, on iPlayer, episode one of Kirsty Wark’s The Years that Changed Modern Scotland, 48 minutes in.
The year was 1975, a Labour Government was in power, and Mrs Thatcher was the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party. She came north to rally the Tory troops after the number of Conservative MPs in Scotland had taken another dip, this time from 21 to a once unimaginable 16.
According to the Edinburgh Evening News, Mrs Thatcher was “mobbed by enthusiastic crowds” on a visit to the St James’ Shopping Centre. She can be seen on film, the police and her aides slowly carving a path through smiling onlookers. Either the folk in Edinburgh were Oscar-worthy actors to a man and woman, or the reception was genuine.
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Mrs Thatcher certainly thought so, later telling her party that Scotland had been “set aflame” with enthusiasm for the Conservative cause. Note that this was long after her “milk snatcher” days, so she was hardly an unknown political quantity.
Perhaps Downing Street played the adoration of the Maggie clip to boost the current Prime Minister’s confidence ahead of his visit to Scotland, expected to take place today.
At the time of writing the where and when was not disclosed for security reasons, but political considerations doubtless played a part too.
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Though I never thought to say such a thing, I will be glad if the visit passes with the minimum of fuss. This week of all weeks is a time for quiet reflection, not noisy aggro.
That is not to say there should be no anger as the UK death toll from Covid passes 100,000 people – 5796 of them in Scotland. There should be anger and there is.
Mr Johnson may say his government did everything it could to minimise loss of life and suffering, but that is not good enough. What he did, and did not do, and when he did or did not do it, were matters of life and death.
Not enough personal protective equipment in store. Failing to close the borders early. Moving elderly, Covid-untested patients into care homes. Inability to set up an effective test and trace system. The dithering over subsequent lockdowns, confusing messaging. Not sacking Dominic Cummings.
How far down a long list of catastrophic failures do you want to go?
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Having a six figure death toll, placing the UK after America, Brazil, India and Mexico, was not down to bad luck. It was, as Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said yesterday, the result of a “legacy of poor decisions”.
Professor Sir Michael Marmot, of University College London, has drawn attention to another legacy, that of poverty and not enough investment in the public sector, to help in explaining the UK death toll and Covid’s greater impact on some groups.
The pandemic has hit the whole world full-on, but some governments and nations were strong enough to handle the blows, or fast enough on their feet to see the punches coming.
After a decade of austerity under Conservative governments the UK was a very long way from fighting fit. Pile poor decision making on top of that, and we begin to see how the UK became the first country in Europe to pass the 100,000 Covid deaths mark.
The Scottish Government has questions of its own to answer over its handling of the pandemic, though you would never have thought it from the contribution of SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford at PMQs yesterday. Like the questions directed at the Johnson administration, they will come in time.
In the meantime, life and politics carries on, including prime ministerial visits to Scotland, even if the First Minister declares herself “not ecstatic” at the prospect.
It seems an odd moment for Mr Johnson to head north. The theory has it that a weekend poll showing majority support for independence has Downing Street rattled. Given there have been 19 previous polls saying the same thing, Mr Johnson is remarkably slow to rouse.
This visit could have been pencilled into the diary some time ago, when there was a vague notion that Scotland, given time, might learn to if not love Mr Johnson then at least hold off on the loathing.
The Prime Minister is not, it has to be said, the type that many people in Scotland naturally warm to. But talk of him being toxic in Scotland, and thus aiding the case for independence every time he opens his mouth or pays a visit, misses the point.
It is not Mr Johnson’s manner that matters, but what he does in the context of the times. Mrs Thatcher met with cheering crowds because it was 1975 and, being in opposition, she had little impact on the lives of Scots. Some 11 years later, when her Government’s actions and inaction had left the country an industrial wasteland, she couldn’t set foot here without a massive police presence. It was nothing to do with her personality; it was her policies.
It is the same with Mr Johnson. If he considers that the biggest hill he has to climb is making people like him, then he and the Union are in trouble. There are far greater factors at work here.
What should most concern him from that weekend poll was the acceptance, north and south of the border, that independence would happen one day. A matter of when, not if. It will take more than a few photocalls to overturn that increasingly ingrained assumption.
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