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 to the Scottish Conservative Party Conference – 14 May 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the 1993 Scottish Conservative Party Conference, held on 14th May 1993 in Edinburgh.


Mr President, I’ve not come to this conference to talk just about Scotland. I’ve come to the Conservative and Unionist Party to talk about the whole of the United Kingdom. I hear you had some singing as well as some talking this week: the Secretary of State sang to you; Lord Sanderson sang to you, and this evening there’s a band in this hall – but you’re spared, I promise you. The last time we met was before the General Election. Do you remember? The Conservative Party? No chance, they said. Scotland? You’ll be wiped out, they said. The Union? A lost cause, they said. How wrong they were. Mr President, we stuck to our guns; we stood by our principles; we saw it through, and against all the wise men’s odds we won when the votes were counted. Aberdeen South from Labour. Kincardine from the Liberals. We won seats in Scotland and we won power right across Britain, thanks to you, the work that you did, the leadership that you gave here in Scotland. We proved faint hearts wrong. I’d like to say tonight how much we owe to Russell Sanderson, for on one worked harder than him to bring about victory. He’s been a tower of strength in Scottish politics for almost as long as any of us can remember. A very trusted friend, and a very wise owl, indeed. Russell, we owe you a very great deal and we’ll miss you. But bless you for all you’ve done. But we’re fortunate in Scotland: in Micky Hurst we have a worthy successor. A tough campaigner, a fighter, an old friend: just the man we need in 1993. A very welcome appointment. I offer my best wishes for the future.

At the Election our opponents got quite a lot of things disastrously wrong. One of them of course was Galloway and Upper Nidsdale. How confident they were! It was all in the bag: they were measuring the office for curtains for a new Nationalist Member of Parliament. But they don’t need that office, and it was curtains of a different sort for the SNP. And, today, you can fit all the SNP Members of Parliament into a telephone box. Appropriate, really. The number they required was unobtainable and they had trouble getting through. They should have asked: I would have told them. Ian Lang’s a good operator and he reversed their charges. lan, you’re leading a renaissance of Conservatism in Scotland. It started with the General Election. It went on at the District Council elections. It’ll continue right the way through this Parliament. And I will tell you the next target for lan’s winning team: more Conservative gains in next year’s European elections.

So, Mr President, we Conservatives know all about fight-backs, and today, once more, we’re coming out fighting: fighting for what we believe in. Mr President, we are not going to change our objectives. We are going to do what the Conservative Party has always done: the right thing at the right time for our country. That is the way to carry the British people with us. This is a five-year Parliament. Last week, at the end of the first year we had a serious setback. There’s no point in fudging the issues. The local election results across England and Wales were bad: worse than we thought they’d be; and, so, too, was the by-election at Newbury. We shouldn’t ignore that, but neither should we over-react to that. We’ve been here, before, you and I. And this time there are four years to the next Election. Four years to take through our programme of modernising Britain and building up its strengths. We don’t have a large majority, at present, so we cannot always grandly sail ahead oblivious to all. We may have to tack a little here, manoeuvre a little there. That’s politics. We can’t ignore the Parliamentary arithmetic. That would be plain stupid. But we cannot, and will not hold back from our objectives. So don’t expect a bland, Parliamentary programme: there’ll be red meat aplenty, and don’t expect us to shrink from controversial decisions because we won’t do that in the year ahead.

We won’t be Nationalists, Liberal, Labour by imitating them – pale pink and poisonous as they are. I mean, of course, the policies. We are Conservatives. We must think like Conservatives. We must act like Conservatives. And we’ll win by carrying out policies that are distinctively Conservative. Conservatives are rooted deep in every part of the country. Draw on that strength.

Let’s tackle first the problems people fear most: inflation, unemployment, crime, but there are other reasons why people look to the Conservative Party: for strong and modern industry; for better public services; for lower income tax; getting the state off people’s backs; wider ownership of homes, of shares, of pensions. A solid, sound schooling for the young, and yes, devolution, Conservative devolution: devolution of choice to every family throughout the United Kingdom. Mr President, that’s the modern Tory agenda. My agenda, your agenda, the agenda we will win on right the way through this Parliament. And I’ll you how we’ll do it: by remembering who we serve and what we stand for. By seeing the right policies through. Mr President, we’re at a turning point after a time of great difficulty for our country. We have had a war; a recession; a tough General Election; and international events have crowded and during this time there have been three matters that have dominated my concern. The first was to get inflation down and keep it down. That is the only way to bring down unemployment and create jobs. We forget too easily the fear and uncertainty of rising prices. The second was to put our country where it can play a leading role in shaping European policy. We must shape it and not be shaped by it. I don’t want to see Britain sidelined and dragged along behind the ambitions of others.

And the third concerns the very future of the United Kingdom: a threat too little recognised before the last General Election. We had to waken our fellow countrymen to the scale of the danger and then face it down. Mr President, cutting inflation has meant hardship for many people. They want to know why and they deserve to know why, so let me explain. For many, the 1980s was a time of prosperity: Conservative governments brought home ownership within reach of millions who’d never expected to enjoy it. We all became too confident. We took our eye off the ball. We allowed inflation to creep back. People who’d worked hard, who’d borrowed money to start businesses or buy houses were caught up in it. Inflation had to be brought back under control. We had to do it. Left unchecked, it would have threatened everything that we had worked so hard to create. Doing that meant higher interest rates, higher unemployment, it lead to bankruptcies and home repossessions. I would have given all I had to avoid it, but if we hadn’t done it, people would have suffered all those things and we would still have had the inflation. That is the heart of the matter. All our hopes for the future depended upon the conquest of inflation. It was a huge responsibility and a huge challenge. It took determination. It took skill. It took guts, and Norman Lamont has shown he has all three in the difficult months through which he has come.

But curbing inflation is only the first, the first, but indispensable step to recovery and growth. Since the General Election the fight for recovery has gone on, but people’s patience, even British patience is not unlimited. They have been hurt out there, they are reacting, and although we can see that recovery is underway, it isn’t obvious in the pay packet, it isn’t obvious in the Job Centre – not yet, but it will be. Mr President, the recovery has started. It is soundly based. Inflation is under control and we are going to keep it that way. No more boom and no more bust. We’re going for steady, non-inflationary growth. The British people have earned it and this Government are going to deliver it.

Mr President, the second issue I faced when I became Prime Minister was a troubled relationship with our partners in Europe. Let’s be frank: we have an ambivalent attitude to the European Community: as a nation we don’t love Europe. We’re too British: too Scottish, English, Welsh, Irish for that. But we know its importance to us. We know our prosperity depends upon it. We, in this Party, want more cooperation in Europe between freely trading sovereign states. That’s what we’ve been fighting for these last two years. The kind that has led to hundreds of millions of pounds of inward investment pouring into Scotland: nearly one hundred thousand jobs depend upon that. And Britain’s hard, economic self-interest depends on having influence in Europe; on winning arguments in Europe; on building alliances in a Europe we can live with and be comfortable with. Mr President, you cannot build such a Europe if you denounce it daily; mis-represent it hourly; and poke suspiciously at it by the minute.

It’s easy to play ‘John Bull’ in a china shop: attractive even. There is popularity to be gained by it, but it is not in our long-term interests as a nation to do that. If we cut ourselves adrift from the mainstream arguments about Europe, we would soon be sidelined, and five years from now the bitter, hardest of that short-term policy would be found in collapsing exports; in collapsing prospects; in collapsing companies, and in growing unemployment queues from one end of the United Kingdom to the other. There are great issues at stake: open Europe markets are vital for Britain; inward investment is vital for Britain. I am out to win both. I will do nothing that will put them at risk; I will do everything I can that will help to make Britain grow. Some of you may feel that we’ve heard rather a lot about principled opposition to Europe. I want to hear more in the future about principled support for Europe. Those, like me, who want Britain in the centre of European debate are not crying out for a federal state; not seeking to end a thousand years of British history; not seeking to undermine the essential individuality of our island. We are seeking a wider Europe, a Europe with less bureaucracy and without federalism. I know of no Conservative Member of Parliament who cannot support that sort of Europe, and I believe that vision is shared by almost everyone in this country and in this party. So let us put the arguments behind us – better to battle together, better for Britain, better for our Party and better for our future.

The final great issue that faced us when I took office was the very maintenance of a United Kingdom. No other Party but the Conservative Party was going to fight for it, and I was determined, come what may, that we should. Some said the strategy was crazy, but you in the Party in Scotland, you never had any doubts. The Union was our great cause, and I spoke about the Union in every meeting I went to from the Tamar to the Tay. England needs Scotland, every bit as much as Scotland needs England. The United Kingdom is united, today, for one reason above all because the Conservative and Unionist Party won the last General Election. Mr President, we chose to put the Union right at the heart of our Election campaign. We spoke of the historic choice that faced our nation between a united and prosperous Britain, a force for good in the world, or the path to separatism, the path to disintegration and insularity. And we spoke about the Union, about our long history and achievements together, we spoke from the heart. We said the right thing at the right time for our country. It was instinctive and it was heartfelt, and the people responded. Mr President, for me, that was perhaps the sweetest victory of all in April of last year.

But, now, now we must build on that victory. The separatist tide was turned but it’s not yet beaten. And that’s why Ian Lang’s proposals to bring the Union alive are so important: the will improve Government in Scotland; they will give Scottish people a stronger say. They mean change, yes, but we are changing to preserve the Union, and let me make this prediction: some time in the future we will look back at the last Election and say this: that was the moment of greatest danger to the Union, and that was the moment the Scottish people spoke up for it and saved it.

Mr President, on these great issues we’re now winning through. It would have been easy to give up but we didn’t. And we won’t give up on our reforms in health, education, railways and public services; despite difficulties and setbacks, we intend to carry them forward. We had no intention of giving up – give over, I would say to those who think we might give up. Mr President, I know that some people say from time to time we’ve spent the whole year talking about Maastricht. Sometimes it feels like that to me, as well, but the truth is, we haven’t. During this last twelve months we put a series of radical, reforming Bills to Parliament: the Housing Bill, an Asylum Bill, a Lotteries Bill, an Education Bill, an Employment Bill – all key Conservative measures, all solid Tory objectives, and all in the first session of Parliament.

That’s what Conservative governments are for: to extend choice to parents, to extend freedoms to trade union members, to give new rights to tenants, more opportunities to people to own their own homes, more chance for parents to know how their children are doing at school, and that is what we have been doing in the past year. And not a lot of people know that, but it is a massive programme of reform that we have carried through Parliament in the last twelve months. Mr President, these policies are building choice in every city, in every town and every village. Choice is power. We are taking choice away from Government and giving power back to the people. That is where power belongs. I want to see minimum control by Whitehall and maximum choice for every family. All this has been rolling forward: radical changes, far-reaching changes, stretching out and reaching forward to the year 2000. Mr President, there are ancient echoes in all of us that whisper: we’ve done enough. We should now opt for the quiet life. It sounds tempting. But if you start down that road, you soon bump up against a hard fact, and it’s this: unless we face up to change, change will overwhelm us. Year by year, all around the world, the pace of discovery quickens. We cannot just stop the world and get off. Mr President, it’s when the Conservative Party is on the side of reform that we win. That’s when we prosper. We Conservatives must have the confidence to go forward; confidence to test the market; confidence to trust the people: that is our duty, that is our strength, and that is our programme.

So, let us keep our eyes on the bigger picture; on the key challenges of the next four years. And let me share with you some of my own priorities and the direction in which we must go. I’ve spoken already about some of the key themes, but there are other fundamental issues that demand to be heard. We must build a stronger, manufacturing base. We must take regulation off industry’s back – large industry and small industry. We must make public services truly serve the people’s needs. And we must provide the best possible education in all our schools. And, Mr President, critical to millions of people in this country, we must win the war against crime.

It is upon these issues that we will take our stand. They will dominate our thinking and our law-making, so expect action on deregulation, expect action on education, and expect action on law and order right at the very heart of what we do. Ken Clarke’s package, yesterday, was just an instalment, so we will have a full programme and a busy autumn. Mr President, unless British industry is competitive abroad, Britain will be weak at home. We have to get the basics right for business: inflation, interest rates, tax, they’re all uniquely favourable to British industry today. Exporters haven’t seen a combination like that for very nearly forty years. The signs are right. Manufacturing output is up; investment is up; productivity is up: excellent signs, every one. Retail sales; construction orders; car sales – all of them are up – all very good signs. And Scotland – Scotland is leading the way: another very good sign, not least with whisky exports – Scotland’s liquid gold: rivers and rivers of scotch pouring down foreign throats. And not only foreign throats! I cannot tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this part of the speech. That’s the way to get overseas businessmen to sign. And look at that – Ian Lang smiling, as well! That’s another sign: a Scottish sign, a marvellous sign, an Auld Lang sign! I know, Mr President, the joke was awful, but the whisky was great.

And the future looks good: we’ve turned the corner. But for British industry the challenge is still enormous. For them to succeed they need a workforce with skills and with imagination. It’s they who’ll carve out success for Britain. So our children must be taught the skills they need. That’s why we need the basics at the very beginning of schooling. It’s why we need good, vocational education. Why we need proper information on how children are doing. And, yes, Mr President, that’s why we need tests in schools, as well. Mr President, we might as well face the truth, only quality will win in today’s world. As a small boy, I grew up like many of you, I suspect, looking at a map covered in pink with a huge British Empire spanning the world. Like many people I’m nostalgic about that. I wish the world was still a captive market for British exports, but it isn’t. And it’s no good our dreaming that it is and pretending that things haven’t changed. Our businessmen have to operate in the most competitive world we’ve ever seen, and so we must give those businessmen every bit of help that we can. And that’s why this Government must be, and I promise you it will be, right out there in the thick of the fight, right out there alongside British industry – manufacturing matters. And, Mr President, wherever I travel around the world I’ll tell you what I want to find. I want to find goods with that magic label, ‘Made in Britain’, all around the world. We’re going to win in the export markets of the world, and to those who said that Scotland can’t play its part in that, I say: this is James Watt country, Baird country, McLaren country, Bell country – doers. Doers who took destiny by the scruff of the neck and changed it. And it’s the country of Adam Smith, the arch priest of enterprise and choice. So, I make you this promise, here in Scotland, and where better, we’re not going to let tin-pot regulators who can’t see beyond their office door tie down the genius of a nation.

Mr President, choice: choice is central to Conservatism, It is its very heart. Without choice there is no freedom. Without choice there is no achievement. It is a basic fact of human nature. When people choose of their own free-will, they become committed. They don’t just stick to the contract. They give that little bit extra. They become inventive. They make things happen. That’s the spirit we want, and not least in our public services. And, so, since the Election, look what has happened in some public services. In Scotland’s health service: not just the seventeen new trusts, but much more besides. Look what Scotland’s hospitals are achieving: better patient care; shorter waiting times; tough targets exceeded. That is the power of choice at work, today, in Scotland. And when others abroad were beginning to write about re-inventing government, we, in Britain, were putting it into practice. That is what the Citizen’s Charter is all about. The most far-reaching programme for raising standards in public service ever seen. Some said it was irrelevant. The cocktails grenadiers sniped and sneered, but then they don’t rely on public services. But millions and millions of British people do. And what has happened in these last two years? Real changes – real changes enhancing real lives, the time taken to deal with pension claims cut by a third; every hospital eliminating waiting lists of two years or more; ninety-five percent of Scotland’s parents now getting their children into their first-choice primary school, and every parent in Britain receiving an annual report on their child’s progress in schools. Some people always took such things for granted, but not everyone. And now the Charter’s opening out old narrow privilege. It’s making first-rate service a natural expectation of everyone. So here’s a slogan for Whitehall: competition reaches the parts of the civil service that memoranda cannot reach! We are changing the age-old practices of the public sector: making pay relate to how good they are, not how long they’ve been doing the job; giving the private sector the chance to compete. Mr President, we are still only at the beginning. Over time, there will be no part of the public service that will not be touched by these changes: from the dustman at your door, right up to the office of the Cabinet Secretary himself. And, I daresay, he’ll soon be asking my Private Secretary precisely what I mean by that. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t!

Mr President, I want now to turn to another matter of huge concern. And let me say this right at the outset: I refuse to accept there is nothing to do about crime, and I’m not going to turn my back on what I know is a growing worry for millions of people. The great majority of decent British people know it’s the duty of everyone to uphold the law: no ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’. But I’m afraid there are a far too many who do ‘if’ and ‘but’. Who do criticise the police. Who do devote their energies to explaining crime and justifying it. And there are those who boost the self-esteem of young criminals by giving them the chance to swagger on television and radio. To them I would say: just think. Just think, then stop, That way you can play a part in this country’s fight against crime. Mr President, I don’t underestimate the challenge. There is a huge battle ahead, and it involves all of us. If we fail to teach children the difference between right and wrong, we are fostering crime. If we turn away or close the curtains, we are helping crime. If know what others have done and don’t say ‘no’ but say nothing, we are aiding crime. The police and Government, we will do all we can, but we cannot do it all. We are on the side of the public, but we need the help of the public. Society may not be to blame for crime, but it can certainly play its part in clearing it off our streets. I’ve been encouraged by the recent figures in Scotland showing a downturn in many types of crime. But Peter Fraser made it clear to you this afternoon, that we are far from complacent. We are putting more police on the beat. We are clamping down on late-night drinking, and we are reviewing Scotland’s criminal justice system to see how it can be improved further. Many of you will have been here at this conference all day, so let me say this, to ‘Judy of Edinburgh’ who spoke so eloquently and so bravely in this debate this afternoon, I heard what you said in that remarkable speech. Not only did I hear what you said, I got the message, and so have the whole Cabinet. Judy, you didn’t just speak for yourself. I believe you spoke for the whole country in what you said this afternoon.

South of the border, we’ve been busy, too. There are too many young criminals offending and re-offending, and laughing while they do it. So, we’re giving the police and courts the powers they need to deal with them. There are too many people who’ve been committing new crimes while out on bail, so we’re going to crack down on them, as well. They will face stiffer sentences and, in my judgment, quite right too. And on too many occasions we’ve seen pedestrians killed by drunken or dangerous drivers, so we’ll be doubling the maximum sentence for them. And we’re removing artificial restrictions on the English and Welsh courts. They’ve resulted in some absurd sentences recently, and they’ve prevented magistrates from giving people with long criminal records the punishment that fits their crime. Mr President, that is wrong. I am not having policy driven by the size of the prison population. I am having policy driven by the safety of the population at large. And another thing, Mr President, we want our police to use their time as efficiently as they can. We want to help them do the job they want to do: beating crime. We don’t train, and equip and pay our police filling out forms. I don’t want policemen fighting paper on their desks: I want them fighting crime on the streets.

Mr President, we are in the midst of a decade that will see greater change than any decade, even the most venerable person in this hall will have lived through. Change is accelerating, not just in this country, but in countries all around the world: inventions we’ve never dreamed of; social and other problems we’ve never yet faced lie not very far ahead of us. If ever there was a time when governments had to take a long view rather than a short view, you and I, today, are living through that time. We cannot afford just to cast our eyes on the problems of tomorrow, next week, or even next year. We have to stop and think and plan; and often take decisions that may seem strange, today, but are geared at the problems or the opportunities that we can see five or ten years ahead. It seems a long way away, the next millennium. It isn’t. It’s eighty months away. We need to start preparing for it now; thinking for it now; planning for it now; putting our industry and our nation in a position to compete for it in the most competitive world we’ve ever seen, Those are the matters that crowd on in governments, on Ministers, quite apart from the day-to-day problems that one reads about day-to-day in the morning newspapers and watches day-to-day on television.

We need to stand back sometimes and re-assess where we are, where we’ve come from and where we need to be. I joined the Conservative Party, above all, for one reason: because I believed it had the clearest philosophy and the clearest instinctive ‘feel’ for the ambitions and hopes and dreams of individual people of any political party in this country; and it had a history that was unique. No other political party in any part of Europe, in any part of the world, has served so long, so well, so often in government for its nation.

We are a remarkable political party: the most formidable fighting force when roused that western politics has ever seen. We have had our good days and our bad days; our highs and our lows; our opportunities and our difficulties, but it is in that unity, that philosophical unity of belief, that instinctive feel for what our nation is and what it wants that Conservatives draw their greatest strengths. It is at times of difficulties that they go back to those ancient instincts, draw out that strength again, and prepare for the years ahead. We’re a party that thinks beyond one generation. We can afford to do so. We were governing this nation long before the Labour party was ever a nightmare in anyone’s mind. And we’ll be governing it long after they’re dead and gone as a political party, provided – provided we maintain that instinctive connection with the cares, the concerns, the hopes and the aspirations of the British nation. That is the genius of our party. That is the genius, I suspect, that drew all of those, however we may have thought of it, in this great party, and kept us here through the years,

So, let us put aside temporary problems and temporary difficulties. Let us keep our eye on the far distance as well as the near future. Let us plan not just for what we’ll be doing tomorrow or next year, but for the sort of society we want our children and our grandchildren to grow up in. That is what I ask this party of ours to do, both today and in the future. So, at the moment, after recent difficulties, we are fighting back at this conference. Fighting back for our ideals, fighting for what we believe in. Fighting for what brought us in to the party and what will keep us bound in this party, even in the most difficult of days. We have been through tough times, tough for this party, more important, perhaps, tough for millions of people across the land. But at the last General Election those millions of people supported us: fourteen and a half million more votes than any political party had ever received at any Election in this country, and they did so because we set out simply and clearly what we stood for and what we were doing. We set out where we were going and why we wanted to go. And from one end of the country to another they listened. We touched a chord in their instincts. They trusted us to do what was right for Britain and to see it through.

Mr President, that is what Conservatism is about – your Conservatism, my Conservatism – to offer a fuller life; to stand up for Britain; to keep our United Kingdom whole and strong. Today, I sought to spell out where we stand and what our policies are. Our ambitions are, as they ever were, the ambitions of millions: to build a prosperous Britain. A Britain which sends its goods to every part of the world; a Britain where people feel safe on our streets, and secure in their homes. A United Kingdom, where effort is rewarded, where choice is ‘king’ and where everyone has the chance to succeed. Mr President, that’s the Britain that I want, and that is the Britain that we are fighting to build, and I invite you all to join me in that fight.