Thatcher upstages Hague mission

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Indy Politics
Baroness Thatcher - Madame Poll Tax in the Scots' pantheon of demons - yesterday cast a baleful shadow over William Hague's big day out in Scotland, blunting his efforts to persuade voters to turn away from home rule.

Ministers and the alliance of parties supporting a Scottish Parliament could scarcely suppress their delight at the former prime minister's intervention in the last days of the referendum campaign. Baroness Thatcher said the Government's proposals were a "negation" of shared history and would awaken a "resentful English nationalism".

Meanwhile, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, sought to bolster a double "Yes" vote on Thursday with a promise that the new parliament would show the same prudence over public spending in Scotland that he had demanded of UK government departments.

While the assurance was designed to quell business fears of MSPs letting the brakes off public spending, it will not be welcome by Labour councillors and union leaders who were dismayed at Mr Brown's "iron" pledges against more spending made before the election.

"We will start our stewardship in a Scottish Parliament by saving, not spending," Mr Brown said in Edinburgh. The lecturing tone of Baroness Thatcher's article in the Scotsman was a reminder of the arrogance that so irked the Scots in the 1980s and fuelled the demand for home rule. Seizing the gift, Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalists, said Baroness Thatcher was a "living monument as to why we want a Scottish Parliament. Mrs Poll Tax has come back to haunt the Tories and the `No' campaign."

For Mr Hague, hoping to make maximum impact in the last 48 hours before polling, it was exactly the damaging distraction he could have done without. Baroness Thatcher had a long-standing pounds 50,000 engagement to address American travel agents at a Glasgow conference but "No" campaigners had urged her not to enter the devolution debate.

Her disregard for that advice meant before Mr Hague was able to make his own anti-home rule case, he had first to try to shrug off the Thatcher factor. "I think all debate is helpful," he said without a hint of conviction.

Mr Hague's message was not so different from that of the baroness, though the tone was softer. He said the "cobbled together" nature of the proposals and the inequality of Scottish MPs being able to vote on English affairs while the reverse was not possible would "sow the seeds of resentment".

The Tory leader visited a school for a question-and- answer session. He told the 16- and 17-year-olds of the New Royal High School, an Edinburgh comprehensive, that if higher taxes were available to a Scottish Parliament it could affect their futures. However in a show of hands, the 80 modern studies pupils voted by a clear majority for a devolved parliament and narrowly in favour of tax-raising powers.

Two newspaper polls today appear to show Scotland heading for a double "Yes". System Three in the Herald put support for the first question at 61 per cent, and the second at 45 per cent. ICM in the Scotsman puts the first question at 63 per cent and the second at 48 per cent.

Hamish McRae,

Sheena McDonald, page 17

Letters, page 15