The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to 1995 Scottish Conservative Conference – 12 May 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association Annual Conference at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on Friday 12th May 1995.


Let me turn first to those Conservative councillors who lost their seats in Scotland last month and in England and Wales last week.

From my time as a councillor, I know how bitter defeat feels. I know the disappointment when a good local record is swept aside by national politics.

So let me say to them: you served local people ably and well. You served local democracy well. Your defeats were none of your doing. And I am proud of what you achieved.

There are two things we can do after such a defeat. We can grumble and be disillusioned.

Or we can fight back.

We can work to make sure that the councils our opponents won this spring come back to us at the first opportunity.

So we will keep an eagle eye on them.

We shall set up a “Council Watch” to see how they keep their promises. To see how they spend your money. To see how they put your council tax up.

We must put disappointment aside. Go out into local communities. Work. Work. Work. Begin now to prepare for the next elections. And when they come we will take back those councils, each and every one of them.

Politics is in a strange mood at the moment.

Curiously this is partly because we have won the battle of ideas and forced Labour to deny some of their ancient prejudices.

We’ve won the battle for an enterprise economy.

For individual choice. For consumer power.

We’ve defeated the old socialist ideas of state control and public ownership.

Of course, Labour still hanker for them in private. But in public they’ve been forced to claim that they disown all the values they once believed in.

All gone. The Socialist cupboard, we are told, is bare after the most comprehensive philosophical wipe out in British political history.

Well, I am a bit suspicious about that. Some changes, yes.

But if Labour could shed so easily the values they held for so long, how deep is their commitment to values they’ve lifted from us likely to be?

I’ll tell you. As deep as electoral convenience needs it to be. Labour know that the electorate wants Tory values. So they have an extraordinary election cry.

“We were wrong all the time. The Conservatives were right. But trust us to behave ourselves in future. Oh, and by the way, please don’t ask us about policies.”

We’re very generous hearted, we British, We always forgive sinners who repent and Labour is benefiting from that at the moment. But we’re also discriminating and I think people will ask “if they were wrong before, why should we believe they’ll be right in future?”

It’s a good question – and we’ll go on asking it.

The extraordinary thing about our Party is that, after 16 years in government, it is still fizzing with ideas.

In this week alone we have announced measures to:

– cut electricity bills

– make our Post Office more competitive

– and crack down on drugs

And before, the Commons rises for the summer we will:

– publish a Housing While Paper

– launch a major new national volunteering programme

– invite the first private Sector bids to run British Rail services

– announce a fares policy to help commuters

– publish a second Competitiveness White Paper

– consult widely on ID Cards

– and announce a bold expansion of nursery education.

We already have a range of ideas which will keep us moving forward for years.

But it is right for us now to discuss with you, the bedrock of our Party, what you want to see in the next Manifesto.

A Manifesto grown from our grassroots, as we build the next phase of Conservatism.

I came from the grassroots of the Party.

I know the wealth of talent and experience our supporters have to offer.

So I will be the first leader in our Party’s history to give every member in every constituency an historic opportunity.

An invitation to help shape the policies of the future.

I have already set up Policy Groups on more than 30 policy areas, chaired by senior Ministers, and including representatives of all parts of the Party. Their first reports will reach me by the end of June.

Now it is right to unveil the next stage of this unprecedented exercise in consultation.

From this summer to next spring there will be a series of discussions across the party and across the country.

Each discussion will be around the Five Themes set out last month:

– how to secure economic prosperity

– how to improve further opportunity and choice for everyone

– how to improve decent, commonsense values in law and order

– how to deliver first-class public services

– And how to build pride in the nation.

These discussions will be detailed and genuine. They will take place on an agenda which will be shaped by the work of the relevant Policy Groups.

I want Conservatives up and down the country to take part in this.

CPC groups – as ever – will form the core of policy discussion at constituency level. But we intend to involve as many party members as possible.

These discussions will be followed by Conferences here in Scotland, Wales and across England, where we can bring these ideas together.

The developing agenda – not detailed Manifesto points – will begin to be unveiled at next year’s Central Council Meeting in Harrogate.

I will play an active role in leading this process, together with all my colleagues.

The Conservative Party has always listened to the people.

That is why we were the first party to support the Right to Buy.

The first to introduce Trade Union democracy. The first to give parents the right to know about their children’s schools.

So we will begin this massive consultation exercise within our party, and then will broaden it to engage and enthuse the public as a whole.

So I am going to go out and about. To meet you, to talk to you and to listen to you.

To build a People’s Policy to bridge the gap between the doorsteps of Britain and the Corridors of Power.

I’m going to share with you the hopes I have for this country of ours. The problems we face. The opportunities we have. I’m going to talk about the long-term as well as the short-term.

And when we’ve reached a policy conclusion, I’m going to ask the nation for a majority sufficient to put it into operation.

I believe that the commonsense of Conservatives up and down the land is the best guarantee that we will enter the 21st century with the right policies for our nation’s future.

Let me turn to two or three of the five themes. First, policies to spread economic prosperity and security.

People feel secure when:

– their jobs are secure

– their living standards grow steadily year after year

– and they can be confident that their children will have a better future. I know of no-one who doesn’t want that.

But it doesn’t happen by magic.

If we’re really determined to build security and prosperity for all – as I am – then we must continue to build an enterprise economy. And to get that we must take the tough decisions to create it.

Sometimes they’ll be unpopular. Because it means resisting the clamour of every interest group for higher spending.

It means clamping down on inflation, however loud the protests. And it means cutting state borrowing, whatever the moans.

We’ve been doing that. And it is the right thing to do – and to do what is right, however, difficult, is not a bad creed for politics.

And, as a result, we can now look forward to the best and most prolonged period of economic recovery for decades.

This is no ordinary recovery. What we may be seeing – provided we can carry it fully through – is the reawakening of Britain as a growing economic power.

And before our critics scoff let me give them some examples.

When we came to office, Scotland was the home of dying industries, poor productivity and mass trade union power. Frankly, it was an economic mess.

Today Scotland is in the forefront of new technologies. Scotland makes more than a third of all the personal computers manufactured across Europe and over half of all Europe’s cash machines.

Scotland is attracting inward investment from companies in Germany, Japan, the United States and across the globe.

They are attracted here by the enterprise culture built by the Tories, the corporate tax structures, designed by the Tories, and our lack of the Social Chapter insisted on by the Tories.

Since 1980 Scotland has seen self-employment increase by two-thirds.

For the first time in decades, the United Kingdom is increasing its market share of exports.

And we are now paying our way in the world.

For years we looked enviously at the industrial competitiveness of Japan. So we attracted their investment. Now Japanese companies based in Britain are exporting their products from here back to Japan.

And now, just think about this. Today, when you put visible and invisible trade together, the UK is in surplus with Japan.

How many of us ever thought we would see that happen again? That transformation is remarkable.

And it’s been achieved by implementing the Conservative agenda of reducing burdens on business. Cutting back the power of shop stewards.

Getting Whitehall off the backs of our companies. Lowering corporate taxes. Resisting unnecessary regulations from Brussels.

And above all, by setting free the talent and skill of individuals right across this country. No serious observer can doubt these changes.

And yet the country had better be warned: every aspect of this transformation would be reversed in one term of Labour government.

We were told that by changing Clause IV Labour showed they were reformed: they no longer believed in nationalisation. At last, they were a modern party.

But what have they spent the last fourteen days doing?

Pledging themselves to reverse rail privatisation – even though it will produce lower rail fares.

Promising to end compulsory competitive tendering – even though it has saved council taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds.

Threatening new controls on privatised companies – even though their increased efficiency has produced a much better deal for consumers.

And trying to block the privatisation of the nuclear industry – even though it will cut electricity bills right across the country.

What this shows is that there is still a yawning credibility gap between what Labour says and what Labour does.

Do real Labour honestly worry about the profitability of our companies at ward meetings in Govan and Monklands?

Do they agonise about the “insecurities” of the middle classes in Constituency Labour Parties in Tayside?

Do delegates at Labour Conferences rack their brains to propose new policies to help private enterprise?

Of course not. You only have to ask the questions to know the answer.

If they were really serious they’d stop supporting the Social Chapter.

They’d drop their ideas to force employers to recognise trade unions.

They’d abandon their commitment to a minimum wage.

They won’t, of course. Because their commitment to the market is skin-deep. Were they to be in government, their Party would resurrect the calls for Socialism.

Daily our warnings are being proved right.

We always said the minimum wage would be damaging to jobs. And this week has proved it

First the CBI made it clear that they believe that any minimum wage would destroy jobs, drive away investment and cripple our companies.

And now we learn of a huge row within the Shadow Cabinet.

John Prescott attacked Gordon Brown’s figures on the minimum wage.

Gordon Brown attacked John Prescott. So in the end, decisive New Labour could only agree not to publish a figure at all.

Let me help them out of their dilemma. A minimum wage would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and hurt most those who are most vulnerable.

And that is why we believe it is wrong.

This little cameo creeping out from behind the mask shows how utterly unfit for office Labour still are.

They have ideas aplenty on how to make companies less competitive but none on how to help them win.

That is why, next time as last time, the economy will be an area where we will win – and win well.

I want to say a word or two about crime.

We’ve always stood for decent commonsense values and for strong law and order.

We’ve always stood by the police.

Our first thought has always been for the victim.

And we’ve always believed in tough action against crime, And we’ve backed up our views with votes in the House of Commons.

The battle against crime is constant. It’s never easy. It has to be fought consistently over years.

Tougher penalties. New crime prevention measures. More powers for the police. That’s what we have been doing.

The statistics show that crime in Scotland is falling. Good – but not good enough.

So we have introduced measures which will have a significant effect on the fight against criminality.

We are introducing a national DNA database to harness the advances of science against the criminal.

This may prove to be the biggest breakthrough in the detection of crime since the invention of fingerprinting.

From now on, those who break the law had better know that the best techniques of modern technology will be used to track them down.

Just one drop of blood or tissue or hair at a crime scene could be enough to identify and catch a criminal.

We have set up a national fingerprint register.

And in the next few weeks a national database of criminal records will go live to provide a valuable new weapon against convicted and persistent criminals.

From now on, if someone is arrested in Glasgow the police will be able to know immediately whether they have also been committing crimes in London.

And our new Criminal Justice Bill in Scotland will give the courts and the police a wider range of powers than ever before to catch, charge and convict criminals.

All these changes are designed to make our country safer and put more thugs behind bars.

But we have fought this battle alone without Opposition support. Where have Labour been as we have waged this war?

When we strengthened police powers to stop and search criminals, were Labour tough on criminals? No, they voted against.

When we gave the police new powers to deal with riots, were Labour tough on rioters? No, they voted against.

When we ensured that all prisoners serve at least half their sentences in prison, were Labour tough on prisoners? No, they voted against.

And when we passed laws to fight terrorists who bomb and maim the innocent, were Labour tough on terrorists?

Hazard a guess.

No, they voted against.

But most revealing of all, how did Mr Blair describe Michael Howard’s 27 measures to fight crime?

Measures to crack down on young offenders. Measures to tackle bail bandits. Measures to stop professional crooks running rings round the courts. Measures called for by the police for years.

Mr Blair called them “gimmicks”. Gimmicks.

Well, I don’t call them gimmicks.

The view I take of crime is quite straightforward. We are engaged in a war against the criminal.

In that cause we should put the rights of the public first and the rights of criminals second.

Most people are perfectly able to distinguish right from wrong.

If people break the law, they should not be excused.

They should not be pampered.

They should be punished.

That is what that people of this country expect. That is what this Party expects.

That is what I believe.

And that is what our policies will deliver.

Let me just say a few words about policy on Europe. Britain’s future depends on us getting that right.

The European Community gives our companies the biggest home market in the world.

It has brought peace to countries which had fought for centuries.

And it can increase the influence and prosperity of all the countries within it. It has many virtues.

So I want Europe to succeed.

But not at any price.

And not at the expense of the nation-state.

I am keen to co-operate with our European partners. But I will not deliver Britain to a federalist future.

At Maastricht I negotiated long and hard for two key opt-outs against total opposition from our partners.

Both were vital for our national interests. I secured them.

I removed Britain from the Social Chapter – making this country a haven for foreign investment, and giving our companies a crucial edge over their competitors.

And I reserved for us the absolute right to take our own decision, in our own time, about whether we join a single currency or whether we stand aside.

There has been some speculation in recent days about what will happen to those opt-outs at the next Inter-Governmental Conference.

So let me tell you.

Those opt-outs will stay. They are permanent.

And they are not negotiable.

In any discussion about Europe’s future, I will always consider Britain’s interests before I decide,

That is what this country expects. And that is what this party will deliver. Pride in the Nation is a phrase with a particular meaning here in Scotland.

We have a deep instinct as Conservatives. We care passionately about the nations of the United Kingdom. Our feelings are emotional as well as intellectual.

There is no other political party in the world whose history is so deeply bound up with the identity of one particular country.

You couldn’t translate the Conservative and Unionist Party to any other country. Yet for 300 years, it has given voice to the people of a United Kingdom.

I am proud of our Party. Of its history. Of its record. It has built Britain’s influence in the world.

It has defended our institutions and our freedoms from threats without and within.

It has worked unceasingly to spread decent values of democracy and push back the darkness of totalitarianism.

In a rough, tough world, Britain has a high profile – at the UN, in the G7, in NATO and in Europe.

We have real influence as we approach the 21st century.

So it would be a disaster if we of all nations imploded into nationalist divisions of our own.

Labour’s devolution policy is a shambles. With one speech last year, I forced a U-turn on regional assemblies in England. Since then, Ian Lang and I have asked a series of simple but important questions of Labour’s leaders about their ideas.

Questions like how much would it cost? They don’t know. What would happen to the Scottish Office? Difficult one, that. And what is their answer to the West Lothian Question?

Mr Blair said that “The answer to the West Lothian Question is the answer that we’ve always given”.

Unfortunately for him, they’ve never given an answer.

In that at least it’s consistent with the rest of Labour’s Scottish policy. There are lots of questions, but rather fewer answers.

Labour’s approach to devolution is as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster but a good deal more dangerous.

Nessie brings jobs to Scotland. Devolution would drive them away.

So, why do Labour support devolution? It’s a good question.

Not because they really care about the constitution of Scotland. If they did care, they would have found answers to these basic questions.

Not because they think it make Scotland more prosperous, they are tartan taxers. They accept that it would put Scottish taxes up – and they know that the Scottish business community think it would drive away investment.

No, the simple reason why Labour support devolution is just to lure votes away from the Scottish Nationalists.

Yes, they are ready to play with the very survival of our United Kingdom for party political advantage.

It is the most cynical policy of modern times.

There could be no clearer demonstration of the difference between parties which talk about convictions and values – and those who live them.

I scorn such cynicism. And I will never take any lectures from people such as these on the importance of principle in politics.

And what of the Scottish Nationalists themselves?

At least they have thought their policy through. It would be profoundly bad for Scotland but it is thought through.

They admit that if you fiddle with the powers of the United Kingdom Parliament you will ultimately destroy the unity of the United Kingdom itself.

The SNP aren’t Tartan heroes. They should be seen for what they are.

They are socialists. They are unilateralists. And they are politically extreme.

Their message is a contradiction of all Scotland really stands for. A denial of its historic role. Inward looking and introverted.

They thrive on negative resentment, the culture of criticism. They kick traditional institutions just to feel good. It’s a dangerous game to play.

The SNP’s approach boils down to one phrase. Socialism in one country.

It has never worked. It can never work. And our task is to make sure that it is never tried.

Scotland would pay a high price for independence.

Taxes here would soar and soar again.

Independence would be an unpriced menu.

But I do not rest my opposition to independence solely on that.

For Scottish independence would hurt not only Scotland, but the rest of the United Kingdom as well.

All of us – Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish – would find ourselves citizens of a lesser county, with a smaller voice in the world, and with less chance to influence our future.

So we are and will remain the Conservative and Unionist Party. We believe in the Union and in Scotland’s place in it.

I believe the Union is in the lifeblood of our party and our nation. It’s our duty to stand up and defend it. We won’t shirk that duty.

So long as I have heart and voice I will defend the Union against all who would weaken it.

In the interests of all our country some causes are bigger than the transitory rancour of politics. And this is one.

Those who would seek to marginalise Scotland must be defeated. And with the help of those in this hall they will be.