Margaret Thatcher Ronald Reagan

Claim Thatcher said SNP Westminster majority would be mandate for independence is Unsupported

The SNP conference took place this week, with the party’s strategy on independence a central part of the agenda. 

Deputy leader Keith Brown made a speech on Monday, claiming that the party’s plan would have been supported by an unlikely figure. 

In his address, he said that former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher “explicitly” recognised that nationalist MPs getting a majority in a general election in Scotland constituted a mandate for Scottish independence.

“But the point is Margaret Thatcher was explicit in recognising the fact that if we win, the SNP win a majority of seats at a Westminster election that is a mandate for independence”. 

Keith Brown

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it Unsupported.

Evidence

The SNP’s conference agreed a new strategy for gaining a second independence referendum. 

In the party’s manifesto for the next UK general election, on “page one, line one” will be the statement: Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country.

If the SNP then gains a majority of the general election seats in Scotland, the party will see this as a mandate to start negotiations with the UK Government. The manifesto will also request the UK Government transfer power to legislate for a referendum to the Scottish Parliament. 

If this is not agreed to by the UK Government, the SNP may use the next Scottish Parliament election as a ‘de-facto’ referendum on independence, and if the party gets a majority of seats they may attempt to begin independence negotiations. 

SNP deputy leader Keith Brown echoed this stance, stating that former prime minister Margaret Thatcher was a surprising supporter of the SNP’s position. He claimed that she was “explicit in recognising” that if the SNP “win a majority of seats at a Westminster election that is a mandate for independence”. 

This is not the first time a similar quote has been attributed to Thatcher. A widely-shared graphic on social media attributes the following quote to the former prime minister. 

“Scotland does not need a referendum on independence. She just needs to send a majority of nationalist MPs to Westminster to have a mandate for independence.”

Ferret Fact Service could find no reference to the quote in published Thatcher speeches, her statements in the House of Commons, or in her published autobiographies. 

A statement from her 1993 autobiography, The Downing Street Years, may be the source that a misquote has developed from. 

In the book, she writes on her legacy in Scotland, saying that some Scots resent a perceived domination of the union by England.

She writes: “As a nation, they have an undoubted right to national self-determination; thus far they have exercised that right by joining and remaining in the Union. 

“Should they determine on independence no English party or politician would stand in their way, however much we might regret their departure. What the Scots (nor indeed the English) cannot do, however, is to insist upon their own terms for remaining in the Union, regardless of the views of the others. 

“If the rest of the United Kingdom does not favour devolved government, then the Scottish nation may seek to persuade the rest of us of its virtues; it may even succeed in doing so; but it cannot claim devolution as a right of nationhood inside the Union.”

This was partially quoted in a Scottish Government independence paper in 2022. 

It is also possible that a quote attributed to former Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, may have been credited to Thatcher in an altered state.

He told the BBC in 2015: “When I was in government, we used to say if the Scots wanted independence, the SNP needed a majority of seats in Scotland.” Lord Forsyth was Secretary of State for Scotland between 1995 and 1997 in John Major’s government, and served in the then-Scottish Office under Thatcher.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Unsupported

The claim from Keith Brown appears to stem from a misattributed quote, which was not stated by Margaret Thatcher. Ferret Fact Service could find no instance of the former prime minister making any reference to Scotland having a mandate for independence if nationalist MPs won a majority of seats.

Her 1993 autobiography suggests that English politicians should not stand in the way of Scotland if it backed independence, but did not back an electoral mandate.

Claim Thatcher said SNP Westminster majority would be mandate for independence is Unsupported 4

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles.

All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here.

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Photo credit: Public domain

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