New York Times Plants Scottish Flag of Independence in Its News Pages, Digs at Thatcher

September 10th, 2014 9:43 PM

In the heated run-up to the September 18 independence vote in Scotland, where Scots will vote on whether to separate from the United Kingdom after 307 years, the New York Times has planted its flag on the liberal, pro-independence side in its coverage, with jabs at the ruling Conservative Party and some old-fashioned Margaret Thatcher-bashing thrown in.

Though independence is not a strict left-right issue, Scots who favor separation tend to be further left than those who would maintain the union between England and Scotland – and they also really hate the late British Prime Minister (and U.S. conservative icon) Margaret Thatcher. The Times obliged those opponents, casting Thatcher as someone who many Scots see as "embody[ing] an attack on Scottish values."

In Wednesday's "The Push to Keep Scotland in the Fold," reporter Stephen Castle cast a vote for independence as representing increased "social inclusion" – in other words, state spending – in a country that already leans heavily to the left.

With nine days left before Scotland votes on whether to become independent, Britain’s leaders went into overdrive on Tuesday with efforts to keep the country intact.

Jolted by recent polls suggesting that the outcome is very much in doubt, Prime Minister David Cameron and his counterparts in the other main political parties announced that they would put aside their parliamentary duties on Wednesday and fly north to campaign against dismemberment of the 307-year-old union with England.


But in Easterhouse, one of Glasgow’s down-at-the-heels suburbs, neither promises of more autonomy nor pledges of English affection nor warnings of economic disruption seemed to be blunting momentum in favor of the pro-independence movement.


The Scottish National Party, which is campaigning in favor, seems to have struck a chord with voters in Easterhouse by calling for a more socially inclusive country that it says can be built only with the powers that independence would bring. Ms. McGeachy, a former care worker who is disabled by a spinal problem, said she was comfortably off because her husband owns an engineering business, but she remembers hard times when they were both on welfare and has friends who use food banks.

Politicians of all political hues are unpopular here, and the British Parliament in Westminster is seen by many voters as remote and out of touch. The Conservative Party, which leads the current coalition government, has been little loved in Scotland for years, and now holds just one of Scotland’s 59 seats in Parliament.

“The Tories have created a society for the greedy people,” Ms. McGeachy said.


Meanwhile, Alex Salmond, the leader of the “yes” campaign and Scotland’s first minister, seems to have had success in persuading people here that Scotland’s oil wealth could be deployed more equally across society, and that Scots could keep the pound as their currency even if they declared independence.


The positive language of the “yes” campaign, emphasizing freedom and opportunity and a once-in-a-lifetime chance for self-determination, is attractive to many who are still undecided. By contrast, the “no” campaign has struggled to shake off a reputation for negativity.

Castle, writing with Alan Cowell the same day, focused on the "panicked" "political elite" trying to shore up the "No" vote.

As Britain’s political leaders embarked on a last-minute foray to Scotland on Wednesday before a referendum on independence next week, Prime Minister David Cameron coupled an impassioned appeal for Scots to remain part of the United Kingdom with a warning that “there will be no going back” if they vote to leave.


The politicians’ journey to Scotland -- a rare display of common purpose among the main players in London -- seemed intended to raise the referendum stakes significantly and to persuade undecided voters to reject independence.

But the tone of Mr. Cameron’s words also reflected what critics of the political elite called a panicked reaction to opinion surveys showing that the Yes campaign spearheaded by the pro-independence Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, may have nudged ahead for the first time or is at least tied with the No vote.

Katrin Bennhold's August 31 dispatch from a coastal town in Wales got in another dig at Thatcher.

Tremors from the Scottish debate can already be felt across Britain. Whatever happens on Sept. 18, growing demands for more regional autonomy will reshape the country. In Northern Ireland, nationalists spy an opportunity to revive dreams of a united Ireland. Cornwall recently won minority status for its Celtic inhabitants. Even the long-neglected north of England has turned up the volume, questioning an ever greater concentration of wealth in London and the southeast.

But in Wales, perhaps more than anywhere else, nationalists have made the Scottish independence bid their own in the hope that it will stir passions at home -- if not for full independence, at least for more self-government.


Ever since Margaret Thatcher, the conservative prime minister, shut their heavy industries, Scottish and Welsh voters have cast their ballot to the left of the English. There is, said Peter Florence, director of Wales’s Hay literary festival, a shared sense of not being represented in Westminster.

Thatcher (and Scotland's one Conservative Party member of the British Parliament) were also jabbed in an August 18 Castle piece, "The Chasm Tilting Scots Toward Independence," with Thatcher characterized as one of the worst things to even happen to Scotland.

David Mundell, the only Conservative Party member among 59 British lawmakers elected from Scotland, would love to have a colleague or two to help out with appearances on morning TV and radio shows.

While easing his workload, it would also answer the jibe that, as a Conservative member of the British Parliament, Mr. Mundell is rarer in Scotland than a giant panda. (There are two in the Edinburgh Zoo.)


If Scots vote “yes” in September in the independence referendum, it will be at least partly a rejection of the Conservative Party, which under Margaret Thatcher reshaped British politics in the 1980s and is now in a governing coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats. It will also reflect a desire for economic, social and diplomatic policies well to the left of anything on offer from the British government.


Sitting on a bank of grass opposite the shipyard in Govan, near Glasgow, where he has worked since 1968, Jamie Webster, an official of the G.M.B. trade union, talks of Scotland’s disdain for Mrs. Thatcher, who for many here came to embody an attack on Scottish values.

“She was one of the worst things that ever happened politically to this country,” Mr. Webster said.