The following was published on August 28 2014 as a letter to the Lanark and Carluke Gazette, the local newspaper where I grew up, in the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence.
As a child in the late ’60s/early ’70s, I well remember taking the train from Carluke up to Glasgow. By the time Wishaw was reached, the signs of heavy industry were obvious. Engineering and steelmaking were to the fore, with the Ravenscraig steelworks at the core. Hallside was passed, then onto Glasgow with its rail yards and shipbuilding. The scale of it all left a huge impression. I could only imagine what was happening around the glowing furnaces.
I soon began to appreciate the degree to which friends’ families were working in and around these, and related, industries. The presence of Ravenscraig, an integrated steelworks, meant employment and job opportunities. Oil and gas had just been discovered in the North Sea, the extraction of which would require vast quantities of steel for production platforms, pipeline transmission systems, processing facilities, and related infrastructure. Entering my teens, with an admittedly abnormal interest in politics for my age, I felt the future looked bright for my generation – despite the ongoing malaise within the broader UK economy. I doubt I wasn’t the only one to feel such optimism, a new dawn for Scotland; maybe wider complacency began to set in. After all steel making would always be there and had been for generations. Scottish steel had helped defeat the Nazis. In the ’80s even BMW used Ravenscraig steel! And now there was a new end user, requiring thousands of tons of steel largely destined for offshore. When I left Lanark Grammar in 1979, days after the election of the Thatcher government, pessimism did not enter my head. This soon changed.
The rest is history, scarring Lanarkshire. Essentially, Ravenscraig was sacrificed. There was no will to retain it, despite valiant efforts and its relative productivity. After hundreds of years, iron and steel making was eliminated from Scotland. An industry, generations in the making, essentially wiped out during the years of Thatcherism. Simultaneous to the need for steel for developing North Sea oil and gas fields, too. Such severe deindustrialization would not have happened in an independent Scotland. Employment opportunities gone forever. Personally, my reluctant emigration.
It is now 2014 and if I am accused of living in the past so be it. I have heard it said that voting “No” in the coming referendum is tantamount to agreeing to the legacies of Thatcherism. I think that is harsh as I recognize why, out of self-interest, nostalgia and/or fear, people would choose to vote “No”. But make no mistake voting “No” has risks that economic potential will again fail to be realized, and that generations to come will again be failed. That Scottish soldiers will be repeatedly committed to further acts of overseas adventurism masquerading as foreign policy. That nuclear weapons will remain on the Clyde estuary. That Scotland’s natural resources will continue to be squandered. That the pound will continue to lose value. That Westminster will continue to govern for the benefit of the City of London, rather than for the nations and regions of the UK as a whole.
Voting “Yes” to independence has risks, too. Any action does. But, make no mistake, many of the politicians focused on these risks would stick a proverbial knife in your back, their purpose is in manufacturing propaganda for “Project Fear”. Their goal is to keep Scotland’s resources tied to Westminster and the City of London. After all, the Bank of England is able to generate pounds out of thin air to maintain a debt-based economy. Natural resources and energy, particularly oil in the North Sea and Atlantic Shelf, cannot so be created. The political establishment at Westminster is terrified of the macroeconomic consequences of a “Yes” vote; no tactic will be too low for “No”. But Lanarkshire and Scotland needs reindustrialized, long term the best way to achieve that is with a “Yes”.