Thatcher's heart clothedin a Highland tartan

3rd May 1996 at 01:00
The Secretary of State is a Lowland Scot, raised in Arbroath and a graduate of St Andrews University. Yet his heart appears to be in the Highlands. He delights in offering encouragement to the university planned north of the Great Glen and to the revival of the area's once prevalent language.

In lineage Michael Forsyth hails from those who fought for the Duke of Cumberland, but he likes to sport the white cockade. His recently evinced enthusiasm for Highland affairs, seen last week in his lecture at Stirling University, cannot be entirely party political, since surely he does not seriously expect sweeping Conservative gains at the next election.

But nor is he a true Jacobite. He could not be since he abhors the culture of failure that imbued Jacobitism and which he regards as characteristic of a wider Scotland today. Much of his lecture was given over to attacking dependency, reliance on the state, an unwillingness to carve out one's own destiny and with it a prosperous future for the country. The press and the Scottish National Party at its Dundee conference latched on to his contrast between William Wallace, an acclaimed failure, and Robert Bruce, the ignored victor. But the real attack was on the country's socialist legacy and not its attachment to Hollywood heroes.

In Scottish Conservative circles there is puzzlement, anger and contempt over a people who were given the opportunity to buy their own homes and who, having done so in large numbers, remain loyal to the party who had given them decades of feather-bedded treatment. Much of the criticism of "dependent" Scots is wrongly directed. Mr Forsyth contrasted the get-up-and-invent spirit of previous generations with today's girning demand for subsidies. He wants competitiveness restored as the hallmark of a successful education system. In strange disregard of history, he condemns comprehensive schools as "the ultimate anglicisation", forgetting for example the all-inclusive traditions of schools in his native Angus.

Eighteenth and 19th-century inventors and entrepreneurs whom Mr Forsyth praises did not neglect the importance of society as he does and Lady Thatcher, his idol, went out of her way to do in her famous "Sermon on the Mound". They accepted the need to help those less fortunate and to encourage the next generation. Gradually, it became clear that private philanthropy and civic good works could not alone answer society's needs. The state had a role to play, for example, in improving the national education system.

Today's young people want to make their mark and earn a good living exactly as their forebears did, and as Mr Forsyth counsels. But for many the dice are too heavily loaded against them. To argue a role for the state in ensuring that young people do not have to rely on street charity is not to encourage pusillanimity. It is to recognise the waste of too many of today's young talents, as Mr Forsyth himself does in the campaign he has launched against drugs.

In expecting education to play its part in creating a climate of enterprise and innovation, the Government has a role to fulfil alongside those of committed teachers and ambitious pupils.

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