Brian Monteith: Faslane’s worth 2 Ravenscraigs

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When it comes to iconic names and images that have seared the mythical devastation wrought on Scotland by Margaret Thatcher, Ravenscraig would possibly be my choice as top of the pops.

Those three vast cooling towers set between Motherwell and Wishaw that dominated the skyline with the big white letters on the blue Gasometer; Ravenscraig – the mausoleum of Scottish heavy industry.

I say mythical because it actually closed in 1992, two years after Thatcher had herself been cynically shut down by her own party, and although at its height it employed thousands of workers by the time its gates finally shut 770 employees lost their jobs.

For those younger readers who might not have known Ravenscraig (some of today’s voters were born after the steelworks came to an end twenty years ago) it was the totem by which the virility of Scottish industrial muscle was measured. On its last day it was still the largest hot strip steel mill in Western Europe and had one of the longest continuous casting, hot rolling steel production facilities in the world.

The Barr’s Irn-Bru slogan “Made in Scotland, from girders” summed up in the modern Scottish consciousness the work ethic of places such as Ravenscraig – and yet the mill’s foundations were only laid in 1954 and despite much socialist rhetoric it was privately owned at the beginning by Colvilles and at the end by the privatised British Steel – almost half of its lifespan.

You might think with the stigma that has been attached to Ravenscraig’s demise that there is now no steelmaking in Scotland, but you would be wrong, for both the Dalziel Works in Motherwell and Clydebridge in Cambuslang are still in operation. That their owner, Tata Steel Europe, is Indian tells you everything about the direction steel making was heading when Ravenscraig succumbed to market forces.

Why do I recount all of this? Is it because of this year’s twentieth anniversary of its closure? Maybe an affection for Scotland’s hard working, hard drinking and hard playing past? Or maybe the tragic narrative of the steelmen who worked through the miners’ strike only to see the works closed in favour of a Welsh mill eight years later?

No, I thought it worth thinking about because bad though the closure of Ravenscraig was, its devastating economic and social consequences were like nothing compared to the damage that the SNP wishes to bestow on Dunbartonshire if Scotland chooses independence. For with independence will come the closure of the Faslane nuclear submarine base and its associated facilities with the projected loss of at least 6000 jobs.

If the closure of Ravenscraig was bad then the closure of Faslane will be catastrophic and here’s why.

Firstly the decline at Ravenscraig was gradual, with numbers shrinking slowly due to contracting demand for Scottish steel. At Faslane it will be sudden, with the departure of the Trident submarines and then the Royal Navy the fall in jobs will be steep with little time for individuals or communities to adjust.

Then there’s the undoubted fact that Motherwell had a number of advantages for replacing jobs lost; it is in the heart of Scotland, well placed between Edinburgh and Glasgow with excellent motorway and rail links. Indeed the nature of Lanarkshire’s relative economic health has surprised people compared to what was expected when Ravenscraig closed.

There will be fewer opportunities to diversify and bring employment to Dunbartonshire; a lovely part of Scotland it may be but its infrastructure is poorer and it is not between the two main cities but to the rural north of Glasgow. Indeed its quietness is one of its major attractions, hardly a help to creating all those jobs needing replaced.

Then there’s the sheer scale of Faslane relative to the working population it’s located in compared to Ravenscraig which was one aspect of other metal bashing industries. The hole left by Faslane would be much, much bigger – probably about twice the size.

Of course few people have shed a romantic tear for the fate of Faslane workers; they are not part of the macho Scottish tradition that so many hanker back to (along with our heavy drinking wife-beating culture that is far less attractive). Instead they are associated with the nuclear defence of our country and that’s controversial, although I for one am glad they do what they do.

It will no doubt be said that they will get jobs making white goods like washing machines, microwaves or dishwashers – but we all know where they are made these days and jobs like that ain’t coming to Dunbartonshire.

It is even being said that Faslane could be ceded to “England” just like Guantanamo in Cuba is an American naval base. Don’t make me laugh – if independence is for anything it is to throw out that base.

No, Faslane and the thousands of jobs linked to it will be a casualty. The quicker Alex Salmond and those diehard socialists like Brian Cox who choose to live in the United States go over to Faslane and explain what work they will get after independence the better. Oh sorry, American chat shows come first. I rest my case.