The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech in Scotland – 25 March 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Wednesday 25th March 1992.


It’s good to be back in Scotland for my seventh visit as PM – and after April 9 I shall be back again – as Prime Minister.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the choice at this Election is stark – as stark as it has ever been. It is a choice between socialism and opportunity, between high tax or low, between rising prices or falling prices, between trade union power and freedom at work. It’s between yesterday’s rhetoric and today’s reality, between a failed and humiliating past and a better future for us all.

Let me not mince words. This Election is far too important for that. Labour would wreck Britain. No one should enter any polling booth without a clear picture of what Labour stand for and the calamity that would befall our country if they should become its Government.

I will tell you what Labour are. Labour are destroyers. Their only political programme is to destroy everything the British people have been building these last few years.

Low taxes? They would reverse them.

Personal pensions? They would ruin them.

Personal savings? They would devalue them.

Good schools? They would close them.

Union reforms? They would scrap them.

Wherever Labour found a spark of innovation a shred of independence, or the spirit of enterprise they would pick it up and snuff it out. For all our futures, they must not be allowed to do it. And we will not let them do it.

They would turn the flights of television fiction into dismal reality. Imagine it. These are the voyages of the Starship ‘Lack of Enterprise’. It’s five-year mission to seek out and destroy new choices and new opportunities. To boldly tax where no man has taxed before.

Right back to stardate 1974-79; well, that’s one old repeat Britain can surely do without.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are two things you need to remember about tax. Labour are tax addicts. Conservatives have an allergy to tax. We want to bring tax down. They want to put tax up. A Labour Government would mean the biggest increase in personal tax since the war – not just for the better-off, but for everyone.

Do you remember the last Labour Government when tax levels soared to 98%? When the basic rate of tax for every worker was 35 pence in the pound. Well, now we know where John Smith gets his ideas from – he sat in that Labour Cabinet. He supported those high taxes.

Labour are still ducking the issue of our costing of their tax and spending plans. They don’t tell the truth about our policies, and they won’t tell the truth about their own.

Mr Cook has confirmed that all their promises would be implemented within five years. The cost of that would be £38 billion. I repeat £38 billion – £1,250 a year in extra tax for every taxpayer. The working families of Britain would be devastated; it would be the worst tax assault they had ever suffered. They need to know – and know now – whether Labour will impose the tax to pay for their promises or drop the fraudulent promises they cannot afford. So which is it to be? They should tell the people – and tell them now.

Mr Kinnock’s Shadow Cabinet and his minders cannot protect him for ever from answering these questions. The country expects the answers. It has a right to have them. So let’s hear them – now.

Then there’s inflation – Labour’s hidden tax. Labour like inflation. That’s fortunate – because they always produce it. John Smith says he’s ‘happy’ about higher inflation. He is happy to push prices up. Do you remember what it was like under Labour when you went into a shop and found one price sticker stuck on top of another as prices soared week by week? Do you remember trying to peel them off to see what the price had been the week before. That’s what inflation means. That’s what inflation does. I’ll tell you what I want. I want stable prices. I want prices to be printed on the side of the packet. I want prices you can trust.

What would Labour’s price rises do to the peace of mind of every pensioner? What would they do to savings, to pensions annuities, to the low-paid and those on benefit, all those whose income is fixed?

I’ll tell you what they would do. Hit where it hurts most. Hit the vulnerable. Hit the weak. Hit the elderly. In fact the only target a Labour government would hit would be the pockets of the people.

But it wouldn’t just be people. It would be business. Every percentage point on inflation would cost industry £5 billion a year. What would that do to investment? What would that do to jobs? What would that do to help recovery and get Britain competing in the world?

Labour are following their instincts – punching out with a left, and a left, and a left. First, higher tax. Next, higher prices. Then, just as the taxpayer reels, comes another typical socialist blow – credit controls. That’s what Mr Kinnock wants. Unbelievable. Homebuyers queuing for loans. State decisions on whether you can take out the HP for a new car or new television. Labour taking away your choice. Grabbing it for themselves.

Well, our priorities are different. For us, the battle against inflation is the acid test. This month, for the first time since before man walked on the moon, British inflation rates are lower than those in Germany. It seemed impossible. It seemed unachievable. But this Government did it. And now, I promise you, we will go on – until we achieve stable prices for Britain. That is our aim. That is what we will do.

Ladies and gentlemen, wherever you go in the world – and in the last sixteen months I’ve seen a lot of it – one thing people always comment on is the end of the British disease. The British disease? Do you remember when they all used to say it? We were the champions of the world – for strikes. We were the playthings of trade union power. A national humiliation. It was a national disgrace.

This Government has changed all that. We have been keeping strike records for over a century. And last year the number of days lost to strikes was the lowest ever since records began. That’s good for Britain. Good for our name. Good for our exports. Good to encourage inward investment. And good for jobs.

Reforming the trade unions is one of our proudest achievements. The public have supported it. Union members have supported it. So who could believe that anyone would want to reverse it? But they do. Labour do. We must tell the people. We must stop them. We must make sure that the union barons never again hold sway in this land in the way that once they did.

I just don’t believe that people want to reverse our union reforms. I think they want to take them further. And so do I. And so we will.

That’s why in the next Parliament we will give individuals greater freedom in joining the union of their choice. We will see to it that no strike is held without a full postal ballot. We will make sure that unions give at least seven days’ notice of a strike. And we will allow any member of the public to take legal action to stop the disruption of their public services by wildcat strikes. That’s the way to give power to the people and to keep everyone within the law.

That’s our agenda. So what is Labour’s? To allow secondary strikes. To stop employers obtaining an immediate court order to stop an unlawful strike. To take away from individual union members the right not to join industrial action. To restrict severely the right of the courts to take away a union’s assets when it breaks the law.

Back to flying pickets. Back to wildcat strikes. Be the law ever so mighty, the trade unions would be above it. That’s Labour’s policy. It would be a calamity – and the British people must never let it happen again.

Back to the past with a vengeance. Labour Ministers and trade union leaders carving up the British economy, and the British people left with the scraps. In 1979 we said goodbye to all that. On April 9 we must bury it for good.

I want you to tell the country how we cherish the National Health Service. And by the way, it is the National Health Service; it does not belong to the Labour Party. I will never forget what I owe to the Health Service. I will do everything I can to strengthen and develop it. So long as I am Prime Minister the resources we give it will grow year by year.

There will be many people in Britain – not just Conservatives – but people who support other Parties, and who care for the Health Service, who will have been distressed and shocked by the face the Labour Party has now revealed. By the glee with which they have swooped on human error and personal suffering to serve their Party’s ends. The British people are not naive. They will have noted with what relish Labour spokesmen have crowded forward to blacken the name of the Health Service and the doctors and nurses who work in it.

No regard for the truth. No regard for the feelings and emotions of the families they use. Nothing but concern for their own self-seeking propaganda. None of that simple decency which the British people expect. I tell you this. This attitude tells you more about the people who lead the Labour Party than it does about the Health Service. Such men are unfit to govern.

Such men must never govern.

Ladies and Gentleman, twice during our period of office, we have had to go to war – against the dictator of Argentina and against the dictator of Iraq. On both occasions the world knew where Britain stood. There were no doubts. No question marks. There was no uncertainty. Britain was steadfast.

The world needs to know where Britain stands. We cannot afford a Labour Party which doesn’t know from one year to the next where they stand. For the Labour Party, defence is not a responsibility – it is an embarrassment.

Labour is led by a man who – when the West faced a military build-up by the Soviet dictators – was proud to proclaim himself a disarmer. The brutal question has to be asked – is that man worthy or capable to be in charge of Britain’s defences?

Ladies and gentlemen, Britain needs strong defences and there is only one way to guarantee that – by electing a Conservative Government.

Britain’s authority in the world is a vital concern to everyone in this election. There is a stark choice between the parties. These are the questions which everyone should ask.

– Who won back for Britain the respect in which we are held abroad?

– Who came to the defence of freedom in the Falklands and in Kuwait?

– Who has stood firm beside the United States in leading the NATO Alliance?

– Who has safeguarded Britain’s security with our independent nuclear deterrent?

– Who has held out a hand to Russia and Eastern Europe, leading them back into the free world?

– Who has fought for Britain’s interests in Europe – consistently and constructively?

In short, you must ask yourself this question: whom can you trust to defend the nation’s interests and keep Britain safe?

I believe the answer is clear. This Government and this Party.

Now let me put some other questions to you.

– Who campaigned for years for CND, and then let his membership ‘lapse’?

– Who opposed NATO’s policy of standing up to the Soviet Union?

– Who called our closest ally – the United States – a threat equal to that of the Soviet Union?

– Who would have given away our nuclear deterrent and based our defence on taking to the hills?

– Who would have kept our troops sitting in the desert while they waited for sanctions to dislodge Saddam Hussein?

– Who would have thrown away our membership of the European Community?

– And who, at Maastricht, would have signed up to anything, any deal – at any price?

The answer to all these questions is of course…..but I don’t have to tell you, do I? There is only one Party in the western world which has been so wrong, so often on the critical questions of our time. Never were so many mistakes of judgment made on so many subjects by so few.

Every day, Douglas Hurd and I have to take crucial decisions for Britain. Our record is there for all to see. It’s tried; it’s tested. Unlike the Labour Party’s. This is a flawed, flakey – and dangerous record. How could the British people trust themselves to Labour.

What would those emerging democracies of Eastern Europe, reaching out to freedom, make of a Labour government? What would they think? They have endured the pain and the privation of socialism for decades, and thrown it off after much grief and suffering. So what does Labour propose to send them – Gerald Kaufman? Who is Gerald Kaufman? Where is Gerald? Has anyone here seen Gerald Kaufman? A good question, that, in the context of this campaign. Who is Gerald Kaufman? Do you remember him before he disappeared, locked away by the image makers? I personally think that’s rather unfair. I rather like seeing him on television. What I say is – set Gerald free. Let us see more of the man who praised the ‘magnificent achievements’ of the Marxist regime in Nicaragua – shortly before the Nicaraguans voted to consign it to the dustbin of history.

Ladies and gentlemen, almost twenty years ago, it was a Conservative Government which took Britain into Europe. We in this Party have never wavered in our commitment to membership or to the Community’s fundamental principles.

But what makes a good European? Always agreeing with our partners doesn’t make a good European. Always agreeing with the Commission doesn’t make a good European. Sometimes a good European has to say ‘no’. He has to say no if he sees Europe moving in the wrong direction. He has to say no if he sees Britain’s interests threatened. That is why, when necessary, we have rejected the proposals of the Commission. Insisted on greater financial discipline. And we have got it. When we demanded a fairer contribution from Britain to the Community Budget – we got it. When we called for the completion of the Single Market. We got that too.

And last December, at Maastricht, I negotiated on behalf of our country an agreement which advances British interests and strengthens the Community. It provides us with a superb platform for the British Presidency of the Council of Ministers, which will culminate in the historic summit that I will bring to Edinburgh later this year.

Those negotiations were tough. They were gruelling. Let me tell you something. When you are negotiating in Europe with your fellow Presidents and fellow Prime Ministers, there is nobody else with you. You’re on your own. You’ve got to have your wits about you. You’ve got to be clear about what you want to achieve. You have to understand the detail. One mistake – one slip of the tongue – one careless word – one moment of indecision – one gaffe – and you’ve sold Britain down the river.

Let me tell you what I believe are the principles and objectives that are right for all of us in Europe.

First, we want to see a community of nation states, not a United States of Europe. When our national interests and our partners’ interests coincide, then common action makes commonsense. But we must never give up the right, our national right, to take the crucial decisions about our security, our foreign policy and our defence.

Elsewhere, responsibility should not be given to the Community when it can be discharged at national or local level. That is a principle that I insisted on at Maastricht. It is a principle to which the Conservative Party will hold fast.

Second, we must ensure that the Single Market is a genuine free market, open for business right across the Community. It must have common rules – and those rules must be obeyed. Britain has an outstanding record in implementing Community Directives, once they are agreed. Some of our partners are keener on making new rules than keeping them. We will not take lectures on being a good European from partners that drag their feet.

Third, we want to see a wider, more open and outward looking Europe – a Europe which brings into the fold, as and when they are ready, the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. A wider Europe will be a better Europe. A safer Europe. A more secure Europe. The right Europe to hand on to the next generation.

Labour’s approach to Europe puts Labour’s needs first, Britain’s needs – someway behind.

Labour have changed their policy on the principle of Community membership. Not once, not twice, not three times… not four times… not five times. Six times.

Not long ago, they wanted to pull Britain out of Europe. Now they can’t wait to accept – uncritically – every proposal advanced by Brussels, whatever the damage to our national interests, no matter how great. When we defended Britain’s interests, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman had a special word for it. He called it a betrayal. One wonders what manner of word he would find to cover their own craven position.

Labour sees the Brussels bureaucracy as a raft on which to build a socialist superstate. They want to turn the Community – and I use their own words – into the ‘ally of Socialism in Britain’.

They want to accept the Social Chapter which we rejected at Maastricht – a Social Chapter which would increase trade union power, push up industrial costs, and hand to Brussels on a plate decisions that should be made in Britain.

More important still, if Labour, not the Conservatives – if Mr Kinnock and Mr Kaufman, not Douglas Hurd and I – had been at Maastricht, Britain would now be signed up to full European Monetary Union; regardless of whether it was right for Britain.

I was not prepared to do that. I repeat – you can be a good European and still say ‘no’. Indeed, to be a good European sometimes you must say no.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is one other great issue of which I must speak tonight. When I came to Scotland, just a few weeks ago, I said that this issue transcended the Election. It does. For it concerns the future of our United Kingdom.

Everyone in Scotland knows what I feel about this. I have made – I will make – no attempt to tack or trim. I want to see our Kingdom stay stay a United Kingdom. The United Kingdom, whose name is respected in every corner of the world.

I believe the vast majority of people in Scotland share my view. They remember – as I remember – that together, across nearly three centuries of our history, the peoples of these islands have shaped the destiny of the world.

No-one asked in those years whether the statesmen, the administrators, the men and women of industry and the arts, the writers and the lawgivers who came from these shores were Scottish, English, Irish or Welsh. It was enough that they came from this United Kingdom.

It was enough that they carried our language, our law, our principles, our civilisation. Together our nations have been far, far greater than the sum of their parts. Separate, we could never have changed the face of half the world. But together we did.

And, although we achieved this together, no-one, once they set foot on these islands, could doubt that the identity of each of our nations persisted and thrived. The Act of Union left Scotland free to develop its own code of law, its own education system, its own church, its own banks. Scotland retains her own unique responsibilities and distinctive traditions – with all the influence in the world that the Union brings. What is so different in Scotland today, that some in this generation should conspire to destroy the balance that has served us all so well?

I speak to you as an Englishman, not a Scot. But I also speak to you as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The future of Scotland is your decision. If after all the arguments have been carefully weighed, the people of Scotland want to break the bonds that bind us, then it can be done. No nation can be held within a union against its will.

Yes, we can break up the United Kingdom. But it would be an unimaginable disaster. But we can do it – and, whether we intend to or not, if we take the wrong decisions, we will break up the United Kingdom.

But as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I have a duty to rise above the heat and fire of an Election campaign. I have a responsibility to point out to the whole country – to every part of this Kingdom – the true nature of the issues at stake and the dangers we face. Any significant change in the constitutional arrangements between us will inevitably throw every aspect of those relationships into the melting-pot.

It is not Party advantage that leads me to this. There are others in Scotland who pursue the short-term course, the populist course, the self-serving course. I speak as I do because I believe – and believe with a passion – that we must fight for what is right. It would be all too easy, fatally easy, to conclude that the best interests of the Conservative Party would be served by separation for Scotland. We would be unbeatable at Westminster if that were the case. But that is not the nature of this Party. And it is not the nature of this Prime Minister. We are the Unionist Party. And we will fight for the Union.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will waste no time on the narrow nationalist case. It is a negative case, a socialist case, a separatist case. It is the fast route to the divorce of two great nations. The exchange of Great Britain for a little Scotland and a lesser Union. Our enemies and rivals would think we were mad.

But it is with that very madness that the Labour Party and the Liberal Party – the advocates of a tax-raising parliament – now foolishly play. Set aside that the combination of Labour Government in Westminster and a tax-raising parliament here in Edinburgh would make Scotland the most expensive place in Europe in which to invest.

The truth is this. It is what others have called the West Lothian question. It is what I call the Robin Cook reply. If there were to be in Scotland a tax-raising parliament with responsibility for health, education, or industry, then it would inevitably raise other questions. People in England and Wales and Northern Ireland would certainly question the rights of Scottish MPs to decide on these matters at Westminster for them. It would mean the creation of two-tier MPs, with Scotland’s MPs in the second rank. It could also mean that the level of Scotland’s representation at Westminster might be seen elsewhere as too high. In all this we see the very bedrock of our constitution beginning to quake.

I do not want these things to happen. I want to avoid, not to promote, the bitterness and conflict that would be the certain result. A new tax-raising parliament cannot be seen as a simple bolt-on extra to the constitution. It might start there. But it would never end there. Labour, in their self-seeking way, are playing thoughtlessly upon grievances in Scotland. For short-term advantage they are prepared to do long-term damage. They portray as a panacea what is a Pandora’s Box. Open that box – and the demon of separation would be let loose. We should not see it caged again so easily.

Scotland leads in this debate – but the current arrangements rest on the consent of everyone involved. To break our Union would be to diminish our influence for good in the world, just at the time when it was needed most. To break our Union would be to diminish our place in Europe – a separate Scotland would never be at its heart, but at best on its fringe. Labour policy would weaken us all. It would mean a Disunited Kingdom in a United States of Europe. And this Party will have none of it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I cannot hide from you how profoundly I feel about this issue. It is easy in an Election campaign for people to lose sight of the fundamentals. Among these the greatest is the very standing and security of our country – at home, in Europe and in the wider world.

The first duty of the Conservative Party when we came back to office in 1979 was to restore our pride and authority in the world. That we have triumphantly done. People across the world now look to Britain. We are giving a lead to others in crises and difficulties in every part of the globe. Standing for partnership in a wider Europe – but never afraid to pitch in there fighting for our country’s interests.

The Union is, I believe, the rock on which this Kingdom’s authority rests. Standing together, we have moulded the history of much of the world. Separating or separated we would be tossed on its tides.

I appeal to people in every part of our Kingdom to reflect on that. To reject with scorn the short-sighted policies of those who would surrender in Europe and separate at home.

Let us stand together. Stand for what we believe. Stand for what we can yet achieve. Together. United. Proud of Scotland, yes. And proud of the Union, too. Let us go out from this hall and tell the world. In this Party we will fight – and go on fighting to defend the interests of our country and that rock of Union on which its greatness rests.