Cabinet files have revealed the names of the advisers who persuaded Margaret Thatcher to use Scotland as a guinea pig for the poll tax.
From the TribuneMagazine :The tax that ended her political career and revived Scottish nationalism was conceived by Lord Victor Rothschild and championed by Oliver Letwin, a 29 year old adviser in her policy unit who is now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in David Cameron’s government.
Nigel Lawson, Mrs Thatcher’s chancellor of the exchequer, described the proposed tax as ‘completely unworkable and politically catastrophic’. When Thatcher asked William Waldegrave to find an alternative to taxing homeowners under the long-established rating system, Lawson said it was a ‘fatal invitation’:
Rothschild prided himself on having no political judgement. He was above that sort of thing. William Waldegrave seemed to regard this as an advantage
In a secret memo now released into the National Archive, the young Oliver Letwin suggested in November 1985:
If you are not willing to move to a pure residence charge in England and Wales immediately, you should not introduce a mixture of taxes but should rather use the Scots as a trail-blazer for the real thing.
If the Scottish experiment worked, it could make a pure residence charge look sensible rather than extreme, and thereby pave the way for its introduction in England and Wales.
The memo proves the long-held suspicion that the Conservative Party were prepared to use Scotland as a test-bed for risky social experiments.
The Guardian reports that neither Lord Rothschild nor Mr Letwin possessed political judgment of any kind. Lord Rothschild continued to insist that the poll tax was “a winner”. Meanwhile Mr Letwin successfully urged Lady Thatcher to “use Scotland as a trail-blazer”, a discriminatory approach for which the Conservative party is still paying in Scotland and of which the ultimate price may yet be the dismemberment of the United Kingdom