Margaret Thatcher in Edinburgh: Her famous Sermon

0
Have your say

SHE had created a storm of protest before even opening her mouth.

It was 1988, and the Iron Lady was preparing to address the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

On her way to address the General Assembly

On her way to address the General Assembly

By the time she sat down, what would become known as the “Sermon on The Mound” had created fury.

It had all began rather differently in Edinburgh 13 years earlier.

Initially, Margaret Thatcher proved popular in Scotland, drawing a 3000-strong crowd to a walkabout in the St James Centre just days after her election to party leadership in 1975.

Delighted with her reception in the Capital, she told a lunch for 600 party officials, MPs and supporters: “I have been given the most marvellous welcome that any politician could ever have been given anywhere in the world.”

Enjoying a beer with husband Denis at S&N in 1987

Enjoying a beer with husband Denis at S&N in 1987

Lothians MSP David McLetchie recalled a “tremendous enthusiasm” for Mrs Thatcher in those early days.

He said: “She had a bit of the Obama effect because of the sheer novelty of it at that time.”

However, this initial popularity soon turned to something much more negative.

“Sometimes she had a harder image than her policies actually warranted and she played up to the caricature. Instead of showing a more compassionate and sympathetic tone – which I think was there – she almost lived up to her image and felt she had to be the strident Iron Lady,” said Mr McLetchie.

A trip aboard St John Crusader with John Hume of the Seagull Trust in 1984

A trip aboard St John Crusader with John Hume of the Seagull Trust in 1984

The sermon on The Mound event was seen as a provocative move from a politician who enjoyed little support in Scotland. A year earlier, she had won a third general election, yet again without a majority in Scotland. Moves were under way to set up the Scottish Constitutional Convention to draw up detailed plans for devolution and the poll tax was about to be introduced in Scotland a year ahead of the rest of the UK.

Yet there she was, using the church’s annual gathering as a platform to preach her
ideology. In her address, Mrs Thatcher sought to persuade the Kirk there was a 
theological justification for her emphasis on individualism and the creation of wealth.

She quoted St Paul saying: “If a man will not work he shall not eat.” She told the assembled churchmen and women: “It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but love of money for its own sake. The spiritual dimension comes in deciding what one does with the wealth.”

She was never invited by the Church of Scotland to be at the assembly. She attended as a guest of the Queen’s representative, the Lord High Commissioner, after she let it be known she wanted to go.

A piper welcomes the Conservative Party leader to Turnhouse in 1975

A piper welcomes the Conservative Party leader to Turnhouse in 1975

There is a convention at the assembly that VIP guests are invited to speak, so the Kirk had little choice but to let her deliver her “sermon”.

However, the moderator, Professor Jim Whyte, had the last laugh when, thanking her for the speech, he presented Mrs Thatcher with two books, both reports critical of her government’s policies and one of which he described as “a Christian approach to the distribution of wealth”.

Mrs Thatcher was said to be puzzled by the philosophical objections to Thatcherism in Scotland, famously acknowledging so in her memoirs that “there was no Tartan Thatcherite Revolution”.

She added that “the balance sheet of Thatcherism in Scotland” was a “lop-sided” one “economically positive but politically negative”.

First Minister Alex Salmond summed it up when he said that in terms of Thatcherism Scots “didn’t mind the economic side so much” but “didn’t like the social side at all”.

A later trip to Edinburgh proved more eventful as bomb disposal experts were called to the Barnton Hotel minutes before her arrival in 1992.

Hotel staff and guests, employees at a nearby garage and residents of a number of houses were evacuated after police officers spotted an unattended bag in the hotel foyer.

The “suspicious package” later turned out to be a photographer’s bag containing a telephoto lens. Mrs Thatcher was in town for a private lunch at the hotel with Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.

david.oleary@edinburghnews.com