The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at Focus on Scotland Dinner – 29 January 1993

Below are lengthened extracts from Mr Major’s speech to the Focus on Scotland Dinner at the Hotel Forte Crest, Bothwell Street, in Glasgow on Friday 29th January 1993. This text is from the Conservative Party press release issued on the same day.


During the last week, I have been looking to the future – looking for trade, looking for exports. Looking for prosperity. Looking for jobs.

That was why I took with me to India the most prestigious group of businessmen ever to accompany a British Prime Minister abroad. While we were there significant contracts were signed – a £100 million supply contract for British Gas; and a £140 million power transmission contract for GEC Alsthom. Even more important, we opened up export opportunities for the future. We established a new rapport with the Indian Government and the Indian business community that will bear rich fruit in trade, investment and jobs.

After India – Oman and Saudi Arabia. And with them, orders for 36 Challenger Tanks for Oman and 48 Tornado Aircraft for Saudi.

A huge boost for British industry – a huge boost for British jobs, some of them here in Scotland. One reason why I am so pleased to procure this Tornado order is that it will bridge the gap between the Tornado and European Fighter Aircraft – thus keeping together the army of skilled workers who service industry so well. It’s vital that we preserve these precious national skills.

Whenever I come home there’s always one thing that strikes me: we really do have a genius for running ourselves down. It baffles our friends abroad. They see that in recent years we have achieved much. They see our strengths. A stable political system. A tolerant and open society. A rich heritage that gives us stability and continuity. They see a country which has great opportunities. And so do I. It’s time to start selling Britain abroad. And stop selling Britain short.

Over the past two years, we have brought inflation down from nearly 11 per cent to under three per cent – well below the European average. And, with this week’s interest rate cut, we have brought base rates down from 15 per cent to only six per cent. It’s now cheaper for business to borrow and invest in Britain than it is anywhere else in the Community – and cheaper than it’s been here for 15 years.

So we have a great opportunity to invest for our future. A chance to succeed at home – and abroad. The Single Market is open for business – and I know Scottish business will be in there, responding to the challenge. But we must look beyond Europe as well.

The US market is expanding again – and the rise in the dollar has given us a new competitive advantage. In the Far East, and in all other key markets, we can succeed. In just the final three months of last year, our exports of manufactured goods rose five per cent, in real terms. We must build on that success. Manufacturing is not an optional add-on extra. It is a vital part of our economy.

The 1990s will be the most competitive decade business has ever seen. There will be no prizes for coming second. No prizes for old technology. No prizes for poor training. Either we invest and thrive, or we stagnate and simply survive. The circumstances are right. And the need is obvious. We need merchant venturers, not merchants of gloom. The time has never been better. And the rewards have never been greater.

The Government will help. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement signalled our approach. In public spending, he protected the capital projects so vital to our economic future, and opened the way to joint public and private schemes to improve our roads and railways and the rest of our infrastructure. He gave extra encouragement to private investment; and abolished car tax which had hung like a millstone round the neck of one of our greatest manufacturing industries.

We will continue to listen to industry – and respond. But – as I know industry would expect – we will do nothing to compromise our firm commitment to low inflation and control of public spending. These are the foundations of lasting growth; sustainable growth; growth that creates secure jobs, and will have a real and lasting impact on unemployment.

Others recognise the virtues of Britain. That’s why we continue to attract more inward investment than any other country in Europe. Here in Scotland, there has been good news just this week. Motorola has announced that it is continuing to expand, creating up to 600 new jobs and bringing total investment up to £100 million. And Hoover have chosen to move from Dijon to Cambuslang, bringing an extra 450 jobs with them.

It’s not surprising that people want to come to the UK. Our productivity has been rising fast – and industrial relations have been transformed. The number of days lost from strikes has dropped to record low levels. We’ve abolished the closed shop. We’ve outlawed secondary action. We’ve given the unions back to their members. And now, in Parliament, we’re strengthening rules on strike ballots and giving rights of challenge against unlawful strikes.

But we can do more to help industry. We must cut a swathe through the jungle of regulation that stops people starting businesses – and stops businesses growing and creating new jobs. I have asked every Whitehall department to turn out its cupboards and throw out the fussy rules and restrictions that serve no purpose but to hold British business back.

Next week Ministers will be joining me in No 10 for a bout of spring-cleaning. Whitehall too easily throws its weight about. We need to redress the balance in favour of enterprise. And we will.

This year, too, we must press ahead with a revolution in education and training. It is good news that the latest CBI survey showed that Scottish manufacturers are planning to increase spending on training and re-training this year. We need those new vocational qualifications, new high-quality courses for young people that will spread the skills we need for the future. And we need to work together to break down the barriers and old divisions in the workplace, and in schools and colleges. We need to tackle the old prejudices against manufacturing and engineering that have hampered our performance ever since the time of the Industrial Revolution.

That is the way to prepare Britain for a prosperous future. I am confident that you will succeed. Because Scotland has always been outward looking, Scottish businesses understand better than many others the opportunities offered by the EC Single Market. After 300 years of union with a bigger neighbour, Scotland knows it is possible to benefit from a larger association without losing its distinctive identity. And Scottish businesses recognise that the Union has been the foundation stone of Scottish prosperity. No-one knows better than you what damage separation would do to your prospects.

I think you know where I stand on the Union. Some things in politics are non-negotiable. And for me the maintenance of the Union is one of them. I believe it is vital for both our countries. That’s why I put it bang at the heart of our election campaign – in Scotland and in England.

Last April we succeeded in turning the separatist tide. We turned it further in the May Local Elections and in the months ahead we will turn it further still.

The Union has always challenged insularity and inward looking nationalism. The Scottish men and women who brought the Union alive knew no frontiers to their ideas: Livingstone, Telford, Watt, Bell, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Clerk Maxwell, Hume, Lister, Baird – explorers, scientists, industrialists, writers. They combined the Scottish spirit of radical enquiry with that Scottish capacity for hard work, to become truly international figures. They are part of Scotland’s greatness and they rose on Britain’s greatness. They typify the spirit of the Union. Their achievements are a powerful source of national pride. Together the countries of the UK have shaped world history. Together we have always looked beyond our frontiers and have played our part right at the centre of the world stage. But even after 300 years in which we have shared our culture, shared our experiences and shared our interests, we still remain distinctive nations with our own culture and traditions.

I believe that our defence of the Union during the Election stirred feelings and memories that we had left untouched for too long. Labour ended up looking shoddy, unprincipled and opportunist. They deserved to. That’s what they were. The credibility of their scheme was revealed for what it really was: a recipe for bitter conflict, enormous cost and ultimately, separation. The Labour Party should know that for so long as they put forward policies for short-term political gain that would lead to the division of England from Scotland, one Party will always stand in their way. The Conservative and Unionist party. And that is where we should be.

From time to time in our history there have of course been strains. Separatism has fed on these strains ever since the Act of Union was signed. Distance from London has led some rightly or wrongly to feel a sense of isolation and neglect. And at times, let’s face it, both Scotland and England have been clumsy in their dealings with each other.

I said during the Election that we would recognise and address these concerns. I said we would take stock of the way the Union works and Scotland’s place within it. We will be announcing our conclusions shortly. I will not pre-empt them tonight but I will give a few of our preliminary impressions.

I do not believe there is a widespread desire for total separation or dramatic constitutional upheaval. Most Scots, like most English people – recognise the benefits of the Union. Economic benefits, cultural benefits, and the benefit too of being part of an influential voice in world affairs.

But I do accept that there is a widespread feeling that Government is too remote. A feeling that it does not properly recognise Scotland’s status as a nation or provide enough opportunities for the Scottish voice to be heard. We will address these concerns.

Scotland has its own institutions – its legal system, its churches, its universities, its financial institutions and learned societies. It has its own priorities and we, the Government of the United Kingdom, should respond to them because that is what the Union is all about.

How do we do this?

First we must build on the many distinctively Scottish institutions which give a focus to the political identity of Scotland. We need to make the institutions of government more visible and accountable. The Scottish Office is Scotland’s department in Government with responsibilities right across the field of domestic policy. The Secretary of State for Scotland sits on all the vital Cabinet Committees and he is never hesitant in putting the Scottish view. So we will be looking to build on this role and build up the status of the Scottish Office.

It is vital also that Scottish people feel their interests are properly represented in Parliament at Westminster and in the Scottish Grand Committee. We took an important step in re-establishing the Scottish Affairs Select Committee whose job it is to scrutinise the work and policies of the Scottish Office and to explore key areas of particular Scottish interest.

Our reforms to local government in Scotland are also central to the taking stock exercise. A new single tier of local authorities will enable local councillors to promote more effectively the interests of the people they represent and will help to reduce the sense of remoteness that some have felt in the past.

But self determination is not just a matter of where decisions are taken in government or local government. It is about giving people more power over their own lives; devolving choice from government to individuals.

We want to widen choice and give more power to the user of public services – patients, passengers and parents. If the trains are always dirty and late, or if you are fobbed off again and again by the bureaucrat behind the desk, you should be able to do something about it. Insist on better quality and insist on being treated with courtesy, openness and respect. You should be able to insist on redress or at least a full explanation when standards are not met.

That is why we are increasing parent power in schools. Parent power has, if anything, even greater potential in Scotland than in England. Here, education enjoys a status that is the envy of schools elsewhere. Parent power in Scotland gives people the power to raise standards still further and develop Scottish schools along Scottish lines.

The NHS trust revolution and the extension of GP fund holding in Scotland is bringing health services closer to Scottish patients. Two hospital trusts are already up and running. Fifteen more have been approved to start this year and there are 20 further applications in the pipeline – representing 90 per cent of the hospital and community budget in Scotland.

Scotland pioneered the Rents to Mortgages Scheme – widening choice for tenants. I think back to all those years ago when we introduced the Right to Buy in Scotland – I remember being told that it wouldn’t take off in Scotland. Ownership wasn’t part of Scottish culture, they said. What patronising nonsense. Since 1979 home ownership in Scotland has risen from 35 per cent to 52 per cent. It remains our objective to encourage a home and share-owning democracy in Scotland. It is above all ownership that gives opportunity and choice and a share in the nation’s wealth. And it is what the majority of people in Scotland aspire to just as much as in England.

The qualities that have made Scotland a great nation are qualities that lie right at the heart of Conservative thinking. Individualism, a strong sense of social responsibility, radicalism, a belief in high standards in education and throughout public services, a deep sense of history and patriotic pride, a desire for greater choice and ownership and wealth.

Ian Lang has spoken of “bringing the Union alive”. Our task is to demonstrate, as we work together in the Union to bring economic recovery, that the UK Government is a Government for all the United Kingdom, for Scotland as well as for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We need to build a firm constitutional base that meets the needs of Scottish people to be heard and to participate in the democratic process. We must bring the Union alive for the future of a prosperous Scotland in a United Kingdom and in Europe.

We have a full and radical programme for this Parliament, to the next Election and beyond. And we have a strong message: a message of choice and opportunity, wealth, ownership and social responsibility. The tide of ideas is still with us. It is our agenda that will signpost the way to the millennium. Our plans for our people will determine the future of our country. We need to take that message to every town, every village, every street and every home.

That is why we won the last Election. Not because we believed the opinion polls – they were wrong – or because we listened to the Westminster pundits – they are often wrong. But because we won the battle of ideas on the doorstep. That is the key to our success. And with your help I’m confident that when the next challenge comes, it will once again unlock the door to the next Conservative Government.