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One Lady – Many Toasts

Once in a while, history will present to us the occasional man who will be remembered for leaving their mark in a way that is pleasant and agreeable to rationally thinking people. We may note that such tend to be rarer in the field of politics and they are even rarer when they are a woman.

So, with that thought in my mind, I recently headed towards a gathering at the New Club, Edinburgh to consider one such woman – Margaret Thatcher. The title under which her admirers gathered was the “Inaugural Sermon on the Mound Dinner” in order to celebrate “Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher’s address to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland delivered on 21st May 1988."

This landmark defence of free market capitalism from a Christian perspective was remarkable not only in that it came from the leader of the United Kingdom. It was further astounding to see a woman sermonising to the gathered patriarchy of left-wing ecclesiocracy in Scotland. A memorable sight to all concerned.

So, having found my way and partaken of an aperitif, the meeting began. Our host, Donald Simpson, welcomed us all and, as befitted the occasion, grace was said for the food we were about to receive. This honour fell to Frank Sensenbrenner, son of U.S. congressman James Sensenbrenner.

As we fared sumptuously, I noted the cross section of people represented at that gathering. We had students from Edinburgh and beyond, including I must note Alex Singleton. He is the President of the University of St Andrews Liberty Club and the Adam Smith tie he proudly wore agreeably betrayed their noble raison d’être.

It was also my good fortune to be seated beside David Farrer, who is finance director of the British libertarian think tank, the Libertarian Alliance. He has wisely moved back to Scotland and runs one of those new creatures the Internet has begat called a “blog” or website log. Feel free to examine his “blog” here.

Add to this demography a lawyer, a software engineer, an ironmonger and three Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) and you get the idea that liberty-minded people come from all walks of life.

And so to the toast to Margaret Thatcher. This duty fell upon Murdo Fraser, one of the Tory MSPs for Mid Scotland and Fife. Being a God-fearing man as well as a politician, he was well qualified to speak on that dichotomy of the Thatcherite address. It was assumed, he said, that to be a Christian one had to be left of centre in their politics. Margaret Thatcher blew that notion out of the water and sent a seismic shock through the State-addicted Christians of the day. The Presbyterians present may not have agreed with her, but they would certainly not forget her.

Having charged our glasses, the toast was duly observed with unanimity.

At this point, we were each invited by our host to take up copies of Mrs. Thatcher’s speech and read a paragraph or two in clockwise succession. This symbolic and corporate act progressed as various Biblical injunctions spoke from across the centuries such as two wise statements from St. Paul. The first, being a broadside against Social Security limpets, said, “if a man will not work he shall not eat." The second against those who assume they have a right to abandon their families to the same Welfare State – “he who does not provide for his own house is worse than an infidel."

Strong words, sound speech.

Having finished, the response fell to Mr. Brian Monteith, also a Tory MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, who ably and entertainingly took us through the reaction of the media to that speech 14 years ago. Even the left-leaning press of the day could not ignore it and had to admit it stood as a landmark speech.

After this, the floor opened to anyone who wished to add their own tributes to Margaret Thatcher and there was not much time to pause between willing volunteers. Some had met the lady herself and so added that extra sense of the personal to the anecdotes and even yours truly pitched in with his own word of thanks to Mrs. T. for her Christian approach to the free market and her undoubted effect on privatising a generally bloated and uncompetitive swathe of nationalised industries.

Now, it was at this point that I began to lose count of the number of toasts being proposed. I wondered if the Liberty Club members had something to do with this as their 18th century hero once moved in a society notorious for such toasting marathons (Henry Cockburn of old noted that “when there were ten people, there were ninety healths drunk”). Indeed, Scotland around the time of Hume and Smith was described as “the most drunken nation upon the face of the earth."

As it transpired, I managed to keep my head above water being suitably restrained by conscience and the prospect of the traffic police. Nevertheless, any remark became a feeble excuse for a toast and when it was learnt that an absent colleague’s dog had died, the proposal quickly went up “To Spike!” and we imbibed once more.

And so, after the final eulogy to Thatcher was offered up, the proceedings drew to a close but the conversation continued. I left the club feeling more satisfied with my lot in life and the assurance that even in socialist Scotland, there were like-minded people who were intent on and confident in the success of personal liberty and responsibility.

Indeed, as the Iron lady herself was quoted that night: “I cannot understand why the Scots do not like free market capitalism; after all they invented it!”

May 25, 2002