Thatcher’s time in power destroyed industries in Scotland and still casts a shadow over the over the independence referendum


Daily Record Lion

By  9 Apr 2013 07:31

SHE swept like a wrecking ball through the mines, the steel industry, the car factories, shipbuilding and engineering and oversaw the demise of the communities which had built their livelihoods around them.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Stirling campaigning for the Conservatives in 1997.
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Stirling campaigning for the Conservatives in 1997. Ian Torrance

IN the south, she is revered for her hardline approach to Europe and victory in the Falklands – but north of the Border, her legacy remains the death of Scotland’s industries.

She once referred to the miners as the “enemy within” and so often, it felt that she held the same sentiment for Scotland.

Our country became a wasteland scorched by Thatcherism, which left it disenfranchised politically and constitutionally impotent.

Thatcher swept like a wrecking ball through the mines, the steel industry, the car factories, shipbuilding and engineering and oversaw the demise of the communities which had built their livelihoods around them.

As the Proclaimers sang in Letter from America:

“Bathgate no more, Linwood no more, Methil no more, Irvine no more.”

Thatcherism brought the worst recession since the 1930s between 1981 and 1983, destroying one fifth of our industrial base and doubling unemployment – and that was before war was declared on the miners.

In 1983, one in six of Scotland’s workers was on the dole and the number of unemployed under-25s had doubled to 1.5million.

Unemployment raged through Scotland like a cancer and small towns and their residents developed poverty’s sickly pallor. Only the drug industry thrived and Scotland’s very heart seemed broken.

Many families now face the prospect of third-generation unemployment.

Back in 1981, Thatcher said:

”My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with – an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, live within your means, put by a nest egg for a rainy day, pay your bills on time.”

Her words rang hollow for working Scots who found themselves fighting for just that, their right to an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

It wasn’t that workers didn’t live within their means but that they were robbed of the means to live – and any nest egg soon dwindled to nothing.

In all, 250,000 people would be thrown on the dole during her reign.

The casualty list was horrifying. The Linwood car plant in Renfrewshire shut in 1981 with 4800 jobs lost. 

Coal miners dispute in March 1984 at Bilston Glen Colliery
Coal miners dispute in March 1984 at Bilston Glen Colliery


The closure also sealed the fate of thousands more local workers whose jobs relied on the plant.

Plessey Electronics in Bathgate closed in 1982 and though it prompted an occupation by workers, ending in a takeover, just 62 jobs were saved.

Leyland’s lorry factory at Bathgate closed in 1986 with 1800 jobs lost.

Ravenscraig steelworks closed in 1992 with the loss of 1200 jobs. Various Clyde shipyards wound down or closed, including Scott Lithgow in Greenock in 1988.

Thatcher’s Tories refused to do anything. They insisted that while other countries subsidised their yards to maintain a vital industry, the Clyde had to take its chances on the world market with no help.

And from the 1984 miners’ strike onwards, there was a steady closure of pits. Fifteen were reduced to just two during Thatcher’s reign.

The miners’ strike was to become a defining moment of her premiership.

Heather Wilson’s late husband Gordon was a striking miner from Kirkcaldy’s Seafield colliery and she and the other wives and daughters were the first women to stand on a picket line as men had always done.

The 50-year-old from Cowdenbeath joined a thousand women protesting against Thatcher, who was due to visit Seafield. In the end, the Iron Lady didn’t turn up.

Heather said:

“Our income was so limited in the strike that we would have starved had it not been for the soup kitchen, friends and relatives and the local shops feeding us.

“Thatcher had no compassion, no idea of the poverty we faced. She was heartless and would have happily let us all starve.” The miners walked out on March 12, striking against the Coal Board’s 5.2 per cent pay offer and a programme of pit closures.”

On March 4, 1985, almost a year after the strike began, it ended in defeat for the miners. Heather said:

“We wanted to kill Thatcher.

“We had given a year of our life fighting for nothing. I hope she rots for the damage she did. No one will shed a tear for her round here.”

After the strike, the mining towns of Fife, like those across the UK, fell to their knees and never got back up. Many miners never worked again and unemployment became endemic in their communities.

Ravenscraig steelworks closed after Thatcher’s tearful departure from Downing Street. Although she didn’t swing the axe, she had signed the death warrant.

The closures of the plant in Motherwell – known as the production capital of Scotland – left thousands of workers directly and indirectly linked to the steelworks unemployed.

Thatcher had privatised British Steel four years earlier, paving the way for the shutdown.

And while European governments supported their steel industries to help them compete against cheap imports, the Tories stood by and let Ravenscraig go to the wall.

Workers were thrown on the dole, despite furious protests from Labour and many others that the plant could have had a profitable future.

John Pentland, Labour MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw, said he would not speak ill of the dead – but he added:

“I think Thatcher will be remembered for all the wrong reasons in my constituency with regards to Ravenscraig.”

Former shop steward Jim Swan didn’t just lose his own job when the Leyland factory at Bathgate closed – two of his kids were thrown on the scrapheap with him.

As shop stewards’ convener at the West Lothian plant, Jim did his best to save it. Now 71, he said:

“I remember reading that Thatcher and others had it laid out how they were going to take on the unions, the steelworkers and the car workers. It was all planned and they did it.”

Thatcher’s victory over the striking miners led to a radical shift in industrial relations in Scotland and she introduced several employment-related Acts between 1980 and 1990 which dismantled union power.

Mass picketing was outlawed, ballots had to be held before industrial action could be taken, secondary action was made illegal and union leaders had to be regularly re-elected.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s traditional industries were run down and destroyed by the government.

In Thatcher’s first two years in power, Scotland lost a staggering 20 per cent of its workforce.

In an ideological drive to lower inflation, she cut public expenditure and pursued a ruthless policy of privatising public utilities.

The loss of the industries sparked public anger and a series of confrontations between protesters and police.

All these policies saw a weakening of Tory support in Scotland and a growing desire for the country to have its own devolved parliament.

By the time Thatcher stood down as Tory leader, just 10 Scottish Tory MPs remained. Seven years later in 1997, that number fell to zero.

And while Thatcher remains a hate figure in Scotland, her legacy still casts a long shadow over the independence referendum in September next year.

The Scottish Daily Record


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7 thoughts on “Thatcher’s time in power destroyed industries in Scotland and still casts a shadow over the over the independence referendum

  1. Peter Morris says:

    Camoron is a child of Thatcher and he is doing his best to repeat the same mistakes as Thatcher did. Reducing spending is turning the UK into a downwards economic spiral.

  2. RG says:

    My only comment is, if this woman hadn’t decimated heavy industry how much of it would be left today? The writing was on the wall we could not compete with the rising countries of the world. This was due to the fact their overheads were far less. How many mines would be left now? with the green lobby, I bet not many.

  3. Robert says:

    Thatcher was the grownup in the room who knew that socialism didn’t work and was willing to pull the plug on the industries that were proving her right. Small wonder that victimization-minded Scots hated her; she had balls enough to say out loud what they haven’t yet admitted even to themselves: your labor is worth what other people are willing to pay for it and not a penny more.

  4. jed goodright says:

    well thanks for that RG, your thorough analysis of the issues, with all the relevant data and economic costings plus the requirement to look after indigenous communities really does help – not!

  5. Mike Parnell says:

    I went to a swim school today and they asked me what my favourite stroke was Apparently ” the one that killed Margaret Thatcher ” wasn’t what they were looking for

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