There is a story that did the rounds a few years ago which is probably apocryphal but which I really hope is true. Apparently when Margaret Thatcher was on one of her infrequent visits to Scotland she was piped into the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party event by a piper in full regalia giving it laldy on his bagpipes.

What no-one in the room knew was the piper’s choice of tune – that jaunty old air the Hen’s March o’er the Midden.

Like a lot of the “history” of Thatcher, there may be some invention involved in that tale, and I suspect you are asking yourself why tell us the history of a woman who only died a little over five years ago.

I am not much interested in Thatcher’s life after 1990 when she stopped being Prime Minister, but in her time in Downing Street she changed so much – the Conservative Party, British politics, Europe, the UK, arguably the world, and definitely Scotland. It is a matter of historical fact that she changed Scotland utterly, and it is long enough ago for people to have forgotten that.

It is a simple fact that no-one under the age of 49 can have voted either for her or against her – she fought her last election in June 1987. That’s a huge part of the population which may not be fully aware of how Thatcher devastated Scotland, which can be the only conclusion once you look at the sheer facts of what happened to Scotland in the 1980s.

Many people reading this will be old enough to know all about that period, but if so, please show this article to some younger person, say people under the age of 35.

What did Margaret Thatcher do to Scotland?

So why does Thatcher get the blame for Scottish misery in the 1980s? It’s simple – she caused it, as Nicola Sturgeon has often said.

She surrounded herself with sycophants, some of them true believers in the policy of monetarism, which was dressed up as a cod philosophy by the likes of Sir Keith Joseph, but by any analysis, it was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who caused untold pain to Scotland and its people, and if viewed strictly through political and economic eyes, most of it was unnecessary.

In one sentence … monetarism required strict control of the money supply and that meant a lack of public investment in industries which desperately required it, and those mainly heavy industries were the key linchpins of the Scottish economy – shipbuilding, steel, coal, engineering, manufacturing of everything from cars to textiles.

Thatcher cynically and deliberately set out to favour the financial sector, the City, above all, and began effectively decimating the industrial and manufacturing capacity of the UK because the companies and the nationalised steelworks and mines could not get investment they needed to remain competitive.

Worse still, she began the wholesale privatisation of the nationalised sector, and workers suffered while the City fat cats prospered – for how many of the so-called ordinary people who bought shares in British Telecommunications in 1984 still have them?

And all the time she lectured Scotland about her philosophy of laissez-faire economics and individual self-determination, and truly believed that these were Scottish virtues.

She didn’t in fact say to the Church of Scotland General Assembly “there is no such thing as society”, because she actually said it in a magazine interview shortly before that infamous Sermon on the Mound, to which we shall return, but her definition of Christian values stretched the concept somewhat.

Who was Margaret Thatcher?

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, on October 13, 1925. Her father Alf was a grocer, a Methodist and an alderman on the local council – he served a term as mayor – while her mother Beatrice née Stephenson was a housewife and shopkeeper whose life was devoted to Margaret and her sister Muriel.

Margaret Roberts was a highly intelligent girl and had tremendous willpower from an early age. Grantham was also spared the worst of the Depression, but the Roberts household was spare and spartan in keeping with Alf’s Methodist beliefs, and as a youngster Margaret knew one thing – she wanted a different life from her mother’s and wanted out of Grantham.

She won a scholarship to the fee-paying Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, a grammar school, and excelled in chemistry and other studies, so much so she was made head girl in 1942-43.

From an early age she was determined to go to Oxford University, and did so in 1943. She actually failed in her first attempt to enter the all-female Somerville College but an unexpected vacancy arose and she enrolled in the four-year chemistry Batchelor of Science course.

At university she immediately joined the Conservative Association and some fellow students later recalled she was a bit of a Tory bore – until she discovered ballroom dancing at which she became expert. It did not stop her growing interest in politics, for in her final year she became president of the Conservative Association.

She graduated with a second-class honours degree, and began a short career with chemical companies that ended when she met Denis Thatcher, a divorced businessman, while she was trying to become Tory candidate in Dartford in Kent.

In 1953 she gave birth to twins, Mark and Carol, and in the same year qualified as a barrister, her studies paid for by Denis. She had failed in three election attempts before she finally won the safe seat of Finchley in 1959.

Her political career was one marked by drive and ambition. She served in junior ministerial and shadow ministerial roles until Tory leader Ted Heath made her first the shadow transport minister and then shadow education secretary. In 1970 Heath’s government included her as education secretary, she becoming infamous for her policy of ending free school milk that led to her nickname of “milk snatcher”.

Out of government in 1975, she beat Heath to become leader of the Conservative Party and leader of the Opposition, and this is when she started to cause problems for Scotland.

On her first visit to Glasgow in 1975, she declared: “The establishment of a Scottish Assembly must be a top priority to ensure that more decisions affecting Scotland are taken in Scotland by Scotsmen.”

She did not like Labour’s plans, however, and instructed her MPs to vote against their devolution bill.

In 1979, Callaghan’s government fell as a direct result of the failure of that year’s fixed referendum and she swept to victory. One of her first acts as Prime Minister was to cancel all talk of devolution.

Immediately she embarked on monetarist policies, increasing interest rates to slow inflation and cutting investment in the nationalised industries while reducing public expenditure all round. Cue recession …

Was she to blame for deindustrialisation?

It is too simplistic to blame Thatcher for the collapse of the Scottish economy, and deindustrialisation had been happening for two decades, but one thing is certain – the government subsidies that had kept many industries alive in the 1970s just disappeared overnight.

The effect on Scotland was catastrophic. Unemployment soared to almost Great Depression levels as factory after factory was sacrificed to her cause of monetarist efficiency. Some 20% of the total Scottish workforce lost their jobs in the years 1981 to 1983, with Scottish unemployment regularly 15 to 20% worse than down south, and the government in London only did one thing – they changed the method of calculation so that the figures did not look so bad. Yet still by January, 1985, Scottish unemployment reached 400,000 for the first time since the 1930s.

In 1981 Thatcher had said: “My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with – an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, live within your means, put by a nest egg for a rainy day, pay your bills on time.”

Yet how could working people do any of that with no work? The list of closures seemed interminable – Linwood car plant cost 4800 jobs alone; Leyland and Plessey in Bathgate, more than 4000 jobs lost; Scott Lithgow privatised in 1984 and defunct less than a decade later; and many, many more.

Above all the two great nationalised heavy industries, British Steel and the National Coal Board, went into even steeper decline.

Thatcher’s stand against the National Union of Miners hastened the already-happening decline of deep mining – Polkemmet in West Lothian in 1985 and Polmaise, the first colliery to strike in 1984, was closed in 1987. In all, 13 Scottish pits closed in Thatcher’s time.

British Steel’s rationalisation programme under Ian MacGregor chipped away at Scotland’s steel-making capacity. Ravenscraig survived until after Thatcher went, but closed in 1992.

Scotland changed as a result of the industrial carnage. The country had to – and with great Scottish resilience and know-how, the economy slowly recovered. The finance sector grew exponentially, and there were successes in the electronics industry, though these retrenched in the 2000s.

Most importantly, Scottish culture, Scottish identity, began to change. People really did see Thatcher’s government as an enemy of Scotland.

Margaret Thatcher and the poll tax

And then came the Poll Tax. It seems almost absurd now, but even as the Conservatives were becoming ever more unpopular – and don’t forget that on 1955, the Conservative and Unionist Party won a still-record 55% of the popular vote in Scotland – Thatcher and her Scottish acolytes, especially George Younger, brought in the Community Charge a year earlier in Scotland than in England and Wales.

It was madness. In one fell swoop Scotland found out its true status within the Union. Cabinet papers released in 2014 show that the Tories did indeed see Scotland as an experiment for the Poll Tax.

Ostensibly a “fair” alternative to rates, the Poll Tax backfired all over the UK spectacularly. For many in Scotland, it was the last straw and from then onwards the Scottish Constitutional Convention began the process that would lead to the devolution referendum in 1997. Many people signed up to its ideas as a rejection of Thatcherism.

The public showed their disdain – at the 1988 Scottish Cup Final almost the entire crowd held up a red card to show their rejection of Thatcher.

A week later she delivered the Sermon on the Mound with this key passage: “We are told we must work and use our talents to create wealth. ‘If a man will not work he shall not eat’ wrote St Paul to the Thessalonians. Indeed, abundance rather than poverty has a legitimacy which derives from the very nature of Creation.

“Nevertheless, the Tenth Commandment – thou shalt not covet – recognises that making money and owning things could become selfish activities. But it is not the creation of wealth that is wrong but love of money for its own sake.”

Considering that she had denied so many Scots the chance of creating wealth for themselves, no wonder the words struck many as hypocritical.

Scotland had to change under Thatcher, was forced to change, but it did not need to be so painful, so dreadful. That is why Margaret Thatcher will always be detested by a great many Scots.